This is a letter to the men’s group I attend, the Conscious Amigos. The pre-assigned subject of the evening was jealousy. Eventually the conflict at Standing Rock came up. I have strong feelings about it and voiced them. I think some of the men were taken aback so I wrote this letter to clarify. I think it has validity for anyone interested in the implications of that particular battle and any others we feel called to engage.
Thanks again for the conversation the other night at men’s group.
I want to apologize to an extent if I seemed cynical about Standing Rock, but I’ve been in and around Native American communities for about eight years now. I’ve suffered and bled with them in ceremonies their recent ancestors preserved at great personal expense. I’ve cried and commiserated with them. I’ve sat with them in council and I carry a chanupa. I can talk with some authority about why I was not only unsurprised by the Tribe backing down, but that I expected it and knew how it would happen. I’d like to talk about this for a minute or ten.
The thing to remember is that “Native American spirituality” doesn’t begin to explain what they had when the whites landed here in force. I can’t speak with any degree of authority about the eastern tribes, but it doesn’t matter. East, west, north, south… it’s all one, really. Only the stories differ. And those differ because the plants and animals that are indigenous to those regions differ.
Why do the plants and animals have such an impact?
Because the Native Americans in each of those areas were relatives to those things, not to mention the mountains, waterways, caves, skies, trees… all the life in the area. So, you’ll have, for instance, Creation Stories from the Mohawk, Apache, Lakota and Inuit, for example, that all point to the same truths, the same ideas. The point is there was no separation between Nature and the human. There was no Genesis story of being cast out of a Garden. Rather, they lived in the garden. Technology aside, there was no way a “Standing Rock” scenario involving something as sacred as water could ever have happened. The waters were a relative.
So were the prairies. If an area was getting overgrazed, they knew the earth was suffering and moved on to the next pasture. They didn’t spend time trying to figure out how to increase the yields of the prairie grass so the earth would withstand more pressure. Those kinds of things never crossed their minds because if the grass looked clipped down by their herds, it meant the earth was tired there and had given enough so it was time to go. And she responded, year after year, generation after generation. (The prairie grasses the whites encountered were so full of nutrition the cattlemen were astounded, increasing their lust for the land.) All the Natives had experienced, really, was abundance. It was their reality, not some mental concept.
Of course there were lean years and fat. But in all, the earth provided for her children, and the Lakota were included in that calculus. The indigenous were the last real stewards of the land because it was literally the only thing they could be. She was their mother. And their Mother fed all life under the watchful eye of Tungashila, the sun or sky. The Wakinyan (or Thunder Beings) cried out and the sacred rains came and went with the seasons. The cycle of life coursed through their very veins. The bison hunts were the very expression of life itself. Again, this was no mere experiment. This was their life.
So, when the white men came in force to the Lakota – it was really the Oregon Trail that was the beginning of the end – they observed a race of people that had no spiritual connection to land of any type; not their own ancestral lands and certainly not the lands they encountered from the Missouri River west. They were like a race of floating heads, with no connection to anything except mental concepts; lines on maps, papers that provided human ownership of the sacred. They Lakota literally looked at them as an insane, monstrous race. In the current vernacular, they were like zombies, imprisoning and eating their own relatives. And if they could, they would make the Lakota zombies just like them.
This was exactly the plan. And it worked.
I won’t bore you with quotes from National leaders at the time of the push west. Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and generals fresh out of the civil war had one thing on their minds; “taming the west”. This meant exterminating the people that had the audacity to waste all that good pastureland, all those waterways and forests that were so expansive they say a squirrel could travel from Florida to Texas and never hit the ground. Extermination could happen via war or ideologically, by cutting their connection to their Mother Earth and making them like the conquering race. They tore families apart, cut their hair (this is one reason why I don’t cut mine anymore), outlawed their ceremonies and starved or beat them into submission.
The families of the men who were poor hunters were the first to go. The forts provided enough offal to subsidize small and then larger bands with steel for arrows and knives, bright fabrics, pots and pans – not to mention interesting foods like pejuta sapa, literally the “black medicine” we call coffee, and “sugar, the white juice of the tree” (Black Elk).
These first ones were viewed by the wild Lakota as lazy, unlucky or unskillful at first. Known as “Hangs Around The Fort People”, these were the first to start down the road we’re seeing now. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, on the other hand, would have nothing to do with the whites. Neither came close to them until towards the ends of their lives. The first time Crazy Horse showed up at a fort, Fort Robinson, was the last time. They lied to him and killed the great mystic warrior right there, fulfilling his own dream/prophesy. By the time Sitting Bull was killed because of his support of the Ghost Dance, the great Dream had been essentially dead for about a decade and the US sponsored and approved genocide at Wounded Knee was only two weeks away.
I mentioned in our meeting last night that since Red Cloud, the natives have always been subject to bribes. That’s a little unfair to Red Cloud. He was as kickass a warrior as had ever been on the northern plains. He could gather a raiding party almost immediately, just by saying he was going. He and Crazy Horse’s mentor, Hump, were among the most feared warriors anywhere for decades. Regarding the whites, Red Cloud was just as steadfast as Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull for a long time. But he eventually saw the writing on the wall. He went back east and came back with the belief that without bullets or agreements he could trust, the Lakota had no chance to hold off the whites indefinitely. Moreover, the white way of warring had nothing to do with honor. It was all about the numbers killed, and he was tired of bloody footprints in the snow.
Let me wax philosophical here and say that evil has no compunction; there’s no low too low. That’s why, within an insane (western) culture, “evil” will always win. You can’t battle within the culture and expect to win, ever, because the battle AND the culture are based on Separation; separation from one another and separation from God. If you engage the Separation Culture with it’s own tool (war), all you get is more separation; more us vs. them, righteous vs. wicked, right vs. wrong. That’s why revolutionaries that overthrow “evil dictators” usually become as bad as those they overthrew. The only thing one can do with a culture of separation is to withdraw from it, ignore it in increasing ways and create a new culture, one dedicated to Life and deep connection rather than death and conquest. There’s no space to get into it here. You’ll have to do your own research. But this is what you’ll find, I promise you.
So, Red Cloud eventually capitulated. It was Red Cloud that was the most powerful advocate of selling the Black Hills, the holiest of sites known to the Lakota. Seeing that the free-roaming ways of the Lakota were essentially over, he understandably wanted to take care of as many of his own people as he could. So, he “sold out” and got his own reservation, a big chunk of land where they could live without the whites (until the Dawes Act, that is).
Eventually another great warrior, Spotted Tail “came in”. This was a warrior that had, in one battle, killed ten soldiers with a stolen sword before being wounded badly enough to get him to stop fighting. He was taken to Leavenworth. When he was released from prison, he was a fattened and cowed – but still influential – man. He was ready to play ball with the whites. He also got his reservation. In the end, it was gossip about Crazy Horse potentially getting the prized Powder River area for his own reservation that upset both Spotted Tail and Red Cloud enough to start rumors about him. They said, incorrectly, that he was getting ready to go to war with the whites again. This was essentially what got him killed at Robinson.
There’s more to it, but can you see the pattern? It’s interesting that we were talking about jealousy last night. The end result of it for Crazy Horse was death.
So… I wasn’t surprised at all when I first heard that so-and-so was “selling out”. It’s one reason it took me so long to engage directly in the struggle. It had a “musical chairs” feeling about it; the last tribal man standing was going to get paid. And he/they reportedly did.
But it doesn’t matter. Why? Because it’s not about the tribes. It’s about two things: water and consciousness. The tribes are simply the victims du jour. It’s easy to rally behind them because, spiritual path or not, they’ve been mistreated and maligned, besides being essentially voiceless in the US government. Moreover, they’re powerless spiritually as a whole because they’re not united as a unit and, like whites as a race, they’re disconnected from their power source (the Earth Mother). They’re just people like anyone else now. Some are conscious, some aren’t. Alcohol, meth and rape are rampant – and I mean rampant – on reservations. But more, the people aren’t connected to their base, the land, just like the whites aren’t. You have pockets of spirituality, but that’s true anywhere, isn’t it? That’s why this can’t be about the tribes. In fact, to make it about the tribes is rather bigoted.
The thing about Separation is that it’s such a prolific ideology these days. All the pain and death we’re seeing in the world today is a result of the “floating head zombie syndrome”. We’ve become disconnected from the oracle of the Earth, which was and always will be the mouthpiece of God. So, what can we do?
Get back to the Earth. It’s that simple. Choose a modality. It can be as simple as Benjamin and his acre of love and Erika with her bees or as complex as engaging in the Sun Dance and shamanism. For the record, in my opinion shamanism is the only way to save the human race, because it IS the ability to hear the Earth Mother’s voice. Fight within the culture where it speaks to you, but realize that it’s an exercise in compassion only. It has to be done, but the only lasting difference that will ever be made is outside the culture. Everything is energy, simply everything. So take your energy and engage the Earth and it will have an effect on the water if your intent is pointed that way. To use your energy up with anger towards the system only encourages the system. It’s not about fighting; that’s Separation. It’s about deep Unification. Again, and I hate to flog a dead horse here, that happens outside the culture only. Not within it.
There’s a few thoughts. This isn’t perfectly fleshed out, but it’s a start. I think about this a lot. I’ve withdrawn from Native spirituality a couple times because I was disenfranchised with how much white culture bullshit – the lie of Separation – was coursing though Native culture when it’s so foreign to the spiritual side. But when I experienced how much power the ceremonies still have to influence and bring my brothers back from the brink of death – to a man, they’re all in recovery – I got off my high horse and decided to stay engaged. I love them. Not because they’re native, but because they’re my brothers.
I love you guys, too. It’s an honor to walk alongside you.
Eric “Aspen” Marley
Photo Credit: Getty Images