Lakota leaders "back in the day" were widely respected and led for much of their lives (often times for decades), though they were far from dictatorial or authoritarian. In fact, Lakota society and decisions were largely made in a fully collaborative manner. Additionally, there is considerable evidence that there was no such thing as mental illness, delinquency or significant criminal activity in Lakota society prior to the encroachment of the Europeans. So, how was it that a society prospered with consistently inspiring, unifying and healthy leadership generation after generation? And how did that society keep mental illnesses, violence and criminal activity at bay for literally thousands of years?
The Lakota Elders alive today talk about several factors that kept their society healthy -- and their leaders strong and capable:
1) Lakota leaders knew that they were servants to their People, not the other way around. The great warriors would seek Visions on how they could help their People, not on how they could advance their individual interests. They would go to war and sometimes stake themselves to the ground in battle so as to inspire their own people at the expense of their own lives. After battle or a hunt, it was routine that the great warriors or chief would bring the best meat or horses to the weakest in the tribe so that that person could be strengthened and made strong.
2) Lakota society was grounded in its Spirituality and rejection of material wealth. They were also the original "minimum impact" campers and sought out only what was necessary for their People's survival. They saw happiness and fulfillment emanating out of their connection to Spirit/Tunkasila, each other and the living world around them, not out of inanimate objects or the accumulation of material items.
3) Lakota society was also structured around the respect of their Elders -- and those Elders knew their responsibility in carrying the wisdom and stories of their People. There was no room for self- centeredness or ego as this would only serve the one and not the whole tribe. Both the young and the old knew that their survival and happiness depended on each other and the carrying out of their unique roles and responsibilities.
4) The youth of the tribe were taught early that they each had a unique gift and promise to their People. This gift was their responsibility to manifest and share as soon as it could bear fruit. And so, they were prepared, taught and expected from early adolescence to bring their focus to that responsibility. To that end, there were significant, challenging and meaningful rites of passage led by Elders who were wizened by age and experience.
5) Lakota society was governed by uncompromising and inviolable Natural Laws and Values. Every individual and group decision was made honoring these Laws and Values and there was a deep and abiding respect and adherence to those Laws and Values. They were passed down from generation to generation, taught and learned on a daily basis and integrated into virtually every aspect of daily life.
I listen to the stories and ways of the Lakota traditions and culture and know that there is a lot of wisdom and hope there. Humanity today is different, more complicated and diverse than it was for the Lakota People prior to the 1800's. However, I am absolutely convinced that there is a way of living in the modern world that can be both informed and bettered by learning from the Lakota (and perhaps all indigenous) traditions and teachings. Those principles are, I believe, as relevant and necessary today as they were 500 hundred years ago.
There is a quote from Crazy Horse that was translated by Joe Chasing Horse, a relative of Crazy Horse, who heard the words from his grandmother. She had been sitting with Crazy Horse when he met with Sitting Bull in the Sacred Paha Sapa (Black Hills) four days before Crazy Horse was assassinated.
Crazy Horse's words were:
Upon suffering beyond suffering; the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world.
A world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations.
A world longing for light again.
I see a time of seven generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again.
In that day there will be those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things, and the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom.
I salute the light within your eyes where the whole universe dwells.
For when you are at that center within you and I am in that place within me, we shall be as one.”
We are living at the time seven generations after this great Lakota leader's assassination. And so, there is now a responsibility, opportunity and challenge to be met and realized. . . . .