June 2011 Archives

 I belong to Group on Facebook that encourages members to share their cultural beliefs. A few days ago a member posted an opinion on consuming alcohol and attending ceremonies.  A couple member responded with their thoughts on the subject. I did to. Here is what I wrote:

 

"I agree that people should not drink and attend ceremonies at the same time.

 

If a person is truly addicted to alcohol and behaves accordingly yes, that person should not attend ceremonies and pretend that they are walking the Red Road.

 

However, I also agree with many of the points _________ _________ made. One or two drinks once or twice a month does not make a person an alcoholic. I have been sober for 27 years but I have not forgotten the harm alcohol has done to our Indian Communities. On the other hand I am not one of those recovering alcoholics who looks upon anyone who picks up a can of beer every now and then as an evil person.

 

I admit I am not a regular at our ceremonies although I do attend them at special times in my life. The last time I attended a sweat was a couple years ago when I took a young man as my son in a ceremony.

 

My concern is not so much the people who drink and attend ceremonies as it is about those who attend ceremonies and continue to lie, cheat, steal and are moral cowards in their daily lives. I know an elder who attend many ceremonies but is known by many as one of the biggest liar in the community. And man, can this person use vile language at basketball games.

 

In many ways we have become like Christians who go to church every Sunday and then go out and "sin" the rest of the week. And back to church on Sunday.....

 

Because many of us were not raised from infancy with our traditional values we have a hard time following them every single day.

 

I would like to see more of us practice our traditional values of courage, honesty, perseverance and generosity every single day... instead of just verbalizing them at ceremonies."

 

A couple of other members posted comments warning about "judging others".  My response was this:

 

"Prior to being exposed to Christianity we ndn were pretty much a live and let live type of society. Blaming and judging other probably comes from Christian influence.

However, we had rigid standards of behavior that tribal members were expected to follow. For example, among my ancestors, the Dakota, lying was considered evil and if a person lied too much he/she was put to death to prevent the evil from spreading.

My point is, let's not confuse the expectations of the people who truly follow the Red Road with the Christian's habit of judging and condemning."

 

In the meantime, a couple of the members who were discussing what and what isn't "judging behavior" had their conversation between them sort of go down hill, if you know what I mean. This resulted in one person leaving the group. 

 

Let me go back to my assertion that, "Blaming and judging other probably comes from Christian influence."  

 

As a child I attended several different churches, when I became old enough to understand what "You are going to hell if..." meant, or what was in store for me if I wasn't a good Christian I became worried that "God" was always watching (judging) me and I would end up in hell for sure. The more I went church, the more I became deathly scared of going there (hell). And the older I became, the more convinced  I was that I was going to end up there (in hell), which would frighten me even more.

 

This scare tactic, which was really "judging", by the Christians priests and ministers was very effective. We Indians soon learned to judge others Indians in the same manner as well.

 

The priest and minister were not the only one who frowned upon my behavior as child. Many older Indians also disapprove of my behavior but there was never a mention of hell or what would happen to me in the Spirit World if we didn't behave.

 

However, that is not to say we did not disapprove of certain types of behavior. Let me repeat what I said earlier:

 

"However, we had rigid standards of behavior that tribal members were expected to follow. For example, among my ancestors, the Dakota, lying was consider evil and if a person lied to much he/she was put to death to prevent the evil from spreading."

 

In other words, punishment (judgment) was swift and certain if you deviated from your tribe's standards (values) of behavior.  Why this quick punishment? Because back than the traditional values of courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity was instilled in a person from infancy.  Therefore, when a person did commit a grievous offense there was no "judging" or arguing if they were guilty or not. Why? Because when you live by traditional values you do not make an untrue accusation and the accused would not try to lie their way out it.   

 

I recall a story I read in which a young Indian man was accused of murder and sentenced to death. Instead of defending him the father asked to die in his place. The father said he was old and could not take care of his son's family if he (son) is executed. So "I am going to take his place...", the father said. "What are a few more years more or less when you're old."  The father goes on to say.  The father is summarily executed in his son's place.

 

Compare that with what would happened today.  Today, a person or his family would make up many excuses, many of them outright lies, to prevent a person from being held accountable for his or her actions.

 

My point of this blog, and yes I do have one, is this; the majority of us were not raised from infancy by our tribe's traditional values. Therefore, we need to be very careful that we do not "judge" others unfairly, and/or maliciously, at the same time we should not become overly defensive when we perceive someone is judging us. This extremism in either direction will only reveal our character weakness to others. 

(Although I haven't always followed the values my Dakota mother taught me they did surface at various times in my life and they helped me endure whatever particular crisis my lack of values got me into.)

 

From the moment I gave up alcohol 27 years ago I was always searching for something. Within three years of becoming sober I had obtained a teaching degree and was teaching 3th grade at our tribal school. I was also appointed to the college board of regents around this time. After teaching third grade for three years I went to work at our tribal college as the Academic Dean.  Within fourteen years after achieving sobriety I was a tribal college president. Although, I became a single parent during around this time - my life was great. I eventually went on to obtain a doctorate degree and a form Spirit Lake Consulting with my good friend Dr. Ann Maria De Mars - we made a lot of money the past several years. 

 

However, in spite of my satisfaction from my professional accomplishments, beyond the joy of raising three boys and one daughter there was always something missing in my life. I would try to fill this void by moving on to a new project or taking on a new challenge. However, the satisfaction I felt from another accomplishment and overcoming another challenge would last only briefly then I would have to move on to something new to keep that nagging feeling of emptiness at bay.

 

Once I returned to my Dakota values I realized that the void inside me, that feeling of emptiness, was caused my own deceitfulness about who I really was. This  recognition of my character weaknessws was hard to accept at first. After all no one was complaining.  In fact my children loved and respected me, many of my relatives and friends spoke highly of me.  So what was the problem?  Here was the problem; by not practicing the values my Dakota mom instilled in me, I wasn't living up to the potential the Creator has instilled in me. I should have been a much better parent, I should have been a much better brother to my brothers and sisters, I should have been a much better relative to my many cousins, nieces and nephews, I should not have taken advantage of my friends and I certainly could have had a better work ethic.

 

And deep down I knew it... I knew I did just enough to get by, not what I should have done or what I was capable of.  But I didn't try to become that person because I was lazy, I was selfish and at times I was a moral coward.


As time when by, the older I grew, I begin to return to the values taught to me during my youth. As result, it became harder to keep lying to myself... and it was this unwanted knowledge that was making me so unhappy at times.

 

So I begin to tried to live by the values my mother taught me.  However, it wasn't until four years ago when I begin researching, writing and talking about our traditional values of courage, honesty, perseverance and generosity that I slowly came to the realization how powerful our Dakota value are - if you choose to live by them. 

 

Our values appear so simple and in many ways they are. Once a person begin to incorporate them into their lives they will soon realize how much more rewarding their lives will be. When this happens they will get a glimmer of understanding of just how wise our ancestors were to have adopted the values courage, honesty, perseverance and generosity to guide them is everything they did.

 

Although I have a long, long way to go in truly understanding the full extend of our traditional values the little I did learn about them and by incorporating this knowledge into all aspect of my life has brought me that inner peace that has eluded me all these years. 

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