Voices from the Past
Author: Priestess Jean
History, without some relationship to our own lives, or a lesson to teach us about our own society and ourselves as human beings, would be worthless… nothing more than an idle amusement, at best. The value of history, therefore, lies in its relevance to our own time and place. In a very real sense, it isn’t about the past… it’s about the future. Once we understand that, we realize why the study of history is absolutely essential to our own survival and progress, in the modern world.
In this essay, we will attempt to investigate the beliefs and values that sustained the Goddess cultures of Europe and the Middle East, during the period before the Kurgan invasion. Although we have previously examined a great deal of archeological evidence, another way that we might obtain some further insights is to study similar cultures, about which more is known.
When Europeans first encountered Native Americans, just a few centuries ago, they found a completely intact Mesolithic culture, of the type that our own ancestors may have had, millennium earlier. It’s a pity that in their haste to colonize and exploit the New World they failed to realize the value of this discovery, to say nothing of their abysmal failure to treat the Native American peoples in a just and honorable way. Never the less, we are fortunate enough to posses some records of the statements of Native Americans, which I believe are very significant and enlightening.
I would now like to present a small sample of these statements.
Luther Standing Bear
“From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things – the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals – and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery.”
“Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle. In the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close did some of the Lakota come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.”
“The animals had rights – the right of a man’s protection, the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, and the right to man’s indebtedness – and in recognition of these rights the Lakota never enslaved an animal, and spared all life that was not needed for food and clothing.”
Luther Standing Bear was a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, born on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota in 1868. After initially working as a clerk and a teacher, in 1898 he began touring with the Wild West show of Buffalo Bill Cody, and later transitioned to a successful career in motion pictures. Privately, he was active in various “Indian Rights” organizations, and wrote numerous books about Indian life and government policy. He died in California, in 1939.
“The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass speaks to me. The summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me. The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning, the dewdrop on the flower, speaks to me. The strength of the fire, the taste of salmon, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away, they speak to me. And my heart soars.”
Dan George was born in British Colombia in 1899, and served as Chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation from 1951 to 1963. He was also a wonderful actor, writer and poet. Dan George died in Vancouver Canada, in 1981.
“Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the Earth is our mother? What befalls the Earth befalls all the sons of the Earth. This we know; the Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
Chief Seattle was born in the state of Washington, around 1780. He was Chief of the Duwamish tribe, and advocated a policy of accommodation towards white settlers. He is best remembered for his love of nature and his attempts to preserve the environment, as well as his dislike of the white man’s god, which he perceived as violent and racist. Chief Seattle died on the Suquamish reservation, at Port Madison, Washington, in 1866.
“At last I was granted permission to come to Washington and bring my friend Yellow Bull and our interpreter with me. I am glad I came. I have shaken hands with a good many friends, but there are some things I want to know which no one seems able to explain.”
“I cannot understand how the Government sends a man out to fight us, as it did General Miles, and then breaks his word. Such a government has something wrong about it. I cannot understand why so many chiefs are allowed to talk so many different ways, and promise so many different things. I have seen the Great Father Chief; the Next Great Chief; the Commissioner Chief; the Law Chief; and many other law chiefs, and they all say they are my friends, and that I shall have justice, but while all their mouths talk right I do not understand why nothing is done for my people.”
“I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country now overrun by white men. They do not protect my father’s grave. They do not pay for my horses and cattle.”
“Good words do not give me back my children. Good words will not make good the promise of your war chief, General Miles. Good words will not give my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves. I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.”
“If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them the same laws. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect all rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases.”
“If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect he will grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of earth and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented nor will he grow and prosper. I have asked some of the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.”
Chief Joseph was born in the Wallowa Valley of Oregon, in 1840. He succeeded his father as Chief of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce in 1871. They had provided valuable assistance to the Lewis and Clark expedition as early as 1805, and afterwards had maintained friendly relations with white settlers.
In 1855 the Nez Perce were granted a 7.7 million acre reservation, but when gold was discovered in the area in 1863 the United States government attempted to reduce that to about one-tenth of the original size. The Wallowa band refused, and finally in 1873 Chief Joseph secured an agreement that his band could remain in the Wallowa Valley.
In 1877, the United States government again violated the treaty and demanded that the Wallowa band relocate to a small reservation. Although they reluctantly agreed and were preparing to comply, a group of 4 white settlers were killed in the area during this time, which resulted in an immediate attack on the Wallowa by over 2000 heavily armed U.S. troops.
Leading his band of 800 Wallowa, most of whom were women and children, Chief Joseph attempted to reach safety in Canada, fighting one of the most amazing rear-guard actions in Native American history. While fighting off their pursuers they traveled over 1600 miles in 105 days and came to within 40 miles of the Canadian border, but were finally overtaken and forced to surrender in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana.
The surviving 600 Wallowa were promised a place on a reservation in Oregon, but were actually loaded into unheated cattle cars and taken to a prison camp in Kansas, held there for 10 months, then moved to a reservation in Oklahoma, where many of them died of disease. In 1879 Chief Joseph was allowed to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with President Hayes, and finally in 1885 the remainder of his people were relocated to a reservation in Idaho. Chief Joseph, however, was held prisoner for the rest of his life at the Colville reservation in the state of Washington, where he died in 1904.
“All we ask is that we have peace with the whites. We want to hold you by the hand. You are our father. We have been travelling through a cloud. The sky has been dark ever since the war began. These braves who are with me are willing to do what I say. We want to take good tidings home to our people, that they may sleep in peace. I want you to give all these chiefs of the soldiers here to understand that we are for peace, and that we have made peace, that we may not be mistaken by them for enemies. I have not come here with a little wolf bark, but have come to talk plain with you.”
Black Kettle was born near the Black Hills of South Dakota, around 1803. As a young man, he traveled south and joined the Wuhtapiu band of the Cheyenne tribe. They signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851, which granted them autonomy over a large area of the southern Great Plains, however the treaty collapsed in 1858, when gold was discovered in Colorado, and a massive wave of settlers entered the area. By that time, Black Kettle had become Chief of the Wuhtapiu band, and although other bands of Cheyenne reacted violently, he pursued a path of peace and restraint.
In 1861, Black kettle and the Chiefs of 5 other Cheyenne bands, as well as those of 4 Arapaho bands, signed the Treaty of Fort Wise, in which they agreed to give up their claim to the majority of their land, in exchange for a small reservation in eastern Colorado, where they would be safe from involvement in the conflict between the warring Cheyenne bands and U.S. military forces.
In late November of 1864, the Wuhtapiu band was encamped on the reservation, in the area of Sand Creek. Unknown to them, a local cavalry commander, Colonel John Chivington, after drinking heavily, declared that he intended to rid the world of Indians, and marched his troops to the Wuhtapiu camp. At the time, most of their braves were away on a hunting trip. Of the 150 persons Chivington killed, nearly all of them were women and children. It would be called the Sand Creek massacre.
In 1864 Black Kettle signed the Treaty of Little Arkansas River, exchanging the Sand Creek reservation for a smaller one in southwestern Kansas. This was superseded by the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867, which required them to relocate one again, to a smaller but supposedly safer reservation in Oklahoma. They were also promised food and other supplies in the treaty, which in fact were never delivered.
Three years later, in November of 1868, as the Wuhtapiu were encamped on the banks of the Wash*ta river, well within the boundaries of the reservation, the forces of Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer mistook them for a hostile band of Cheyenne and attacked. Black Kettle and the majority of his band were killed, and Custer then used captured Wuhtapiu women and children as human shields, to facilitate his escape when other Cheyenne bands prepared to counter-attack. This action is now referred to as the Wash*ta massacre.
“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”
“This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.”
Black Elk was an Oglala Sioux holy man, born in 1863. He knew Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, and was present at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee Massacre. Black Elk died on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, in 1950. During the years of 1930 and 1931, he recounted the story of his life to John Neihardt and Joseph E. Brown who published it in a book, entitled Black Elk Speaks.
I have sometimes heard it said that Native Americans were primitive, their understanding limited and unsophisticated… yet if we consider their belief that we should take only what we need from the Earth, so that mankind can continue to exist indefinitely, and compare that with our own unbridled consumption of natural resources, which is really the more primitive and unsophisticated view?
If we consider the Native American belief that animals had spirits that were to be honored at the time of their death, and compare that with modern slaughterhouses, where animals are killed by the thousands without the slightest regard for their lives, which is really the more primitive and unenlightened view?
Finally, if we consider the Native American belief in treating others with respect, honoring agreements, and living in peace with neighbors whenever possible, and compare that with the actions of our own government, then again I must ask, where do we perceive the more primitive and uncivilized behavior?
The statements of these Native Americans provide insights into the philosophy and beliefs of our own distant ancestors… but more than that, their words lead us to consider the deeper nature of our society. In that process, as we come to realize the wisdom of the harmonious and sustainable lifestyle that they have advocated, we become better prepared to deal with the modern challenges on which our survival depends.
2. “Black Elk Speaks”, 1932, William Morrow and Company.
3. Chief Dan George
4. Chief Seattle’s speech, by Dr. henry A. Smith, pub. 1887
5. Black Kettle’s statement, Congressional Testimony of Mr. John S. Smith: Washington, March 14, 1865.
6. Luther Standing Bear (1933) . “What the Indian Means to America”.
7. Chief Joseph’s statement; Wilson, James. “The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America” 2000.