In 1971, Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote “Indian Sunset,” a song about a young warrior in the latter part of the 18th century who was slowly watching his “People being crushed” – as the Europeans and new Americans inexorably and overwhelmingly moved across and invaded the continent. The song follows the warrior, on horseback, and his small family as they see the bison disappear, their People lose hope and pride and their way of life become overrun by the wave of invaders coming to chase “hills of gold.” He searches for his ancestors’ help, his chiefs and the lands that give healing water. The song makes clear the desperation, futility and crushing of the Soul that must have been evident for some – and certainly were for the protagonist of the song – during this time in history.
It is not the first time – and clearly won’t be the last – that a People, a warrior and his family, a way of life and a culture have been threatened by an invasion, another tribe, a Power or a change in history. Natural occurrences have also shifted and threatened humanity, and indeed all living life, in similarly cataclysmic ways for thousands . . . . even millions, of years.
The current pandemic, which stubbornly persists, could arguably be seen as a possible harbinger of similar times. In the same way, and almost inconceivably, there are reasonable arguments now being made in this modern time, that a second American Civil War is . . . . . conceivable (not likely perhaps, but . . . . conceivable?!). Melting glacier shelves, virtual infernos that are anything but virtual, Texas-sized “islands” of toxic plastic floating in the middle of the planet . . . . perhaps this is the sort of seemingly unstoppable destruction and finality that the warrior saw in that Indian Sunset.
Wise Elders from Indigenous Peoples all over the planet used to guide their People through times like this with hard-earned and time-tested wisdom. Lakota wisdom. Navajo wisdom. Hopi wisdom. Aboriginal wisdom. Minoan, Inuit, Caucasus, Saami, Mayan, Mbenga, Bedouin wisdom. From all over the world. From all races. From every corner of the globe. The wisdom from each of our ancient ancestors was available to guide and inform those who were – and are – willing to listen.
We are approaching two years of exceptionally challenging times for many of our families, for the relatives, friends and volunteers with whom we work, play, ride and travel with – and, indeed, for our organization as a whole. How does a small non-profit with limited resources continue to carry out its already complicated and challenging mission when the volunteers that are its lifeblood are literally threatened by a pandemic? How does a community such as Ti Ikciya Pa Slata Pi (The Tipi Raisers) in the best of times navigate an effective way through the trauma, historical trauma, mistrust, remoteness and depth of need that are sometimes seemingly insurmountable hurdles to carrying out our goals and intentions? During a pandemic with its economic challenges and also a time when many of our long standing institutions and communities are now under attack, the mission becomes layered in even deeper levels of complexity and challenge.
And so, we have learned again to listen to Indigenous wisdom and to allow it to inform our modern reality. The Lakota have a word, “wowancin tanke,” that roughly translates into “perserverance”. A Lakota elder describing that word summons up the image of the bison turning to face the incoming blizzard, instead of running from it as the domesticated cow does.
Photo Credit: Barbara Edit (Gerlach) Photography
A Hopi storyteller tells of how the omnipresent crows circling their villages were the court jesters of the People, reminding them with their “Caw!! Caw!!” of the absurdity in which they were carrying on in their daily human lives.
The Papuan of New Guinea – and Indigenous Peoples from South America, Africa, Australia and other continents also – all taught their warriors through the scarification of their young men’s bodies -- of the value of struggle, sacrifice and connection to God, Spirit, the Unknowable.
The Christians, Buddhists, Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples from virtually every corner of the Earth taught about, knew and unfailingly rested on the foundation of disciplined, humble and consistent prayer – similarly through the burning of a wide variety of plants, incense, fire. Wocekiye, the Lakota call it (“crying out to the Sacred”); “Precatio”, the Christians call it; “Tefliah” (Hebrew); “Sodizon” (Navajo); “Inua” (Inuit).
Taupin and John wrote their beautiful and mournful song from their perspectives and understanding as English storytellers. And so, perhaps they miscalculated the perseverance, patience and resilience of the American Indians. From that perspective, their warrior gives his life and his People die. In reality, however, we know that was not how the story unfolded over time. Native American cultures and ways of life have, in fact, endured and will endure to inform and benefit the Modern World, as will most Indigenous teachings . . . . for those willing to listen and learn. In that way, history is written over generations, not in headlines and moments of time. It is more important than ever to pay homage to, and honor all ancestral wisdom. To trust in their truth and take comfort in their wisdom.
And so, as we look ahead to 2022, we envision navigating these difficult and challenging times - in community with you - and leaning into Indigenous wisdom from around the world to guide us.
There is much to look forward to in the year ahead! While a work in progress, our calendar is already filling up with Gen7 gatherings and with opportunities for all generations to be in service and community with one another. And we look with eager anticipation to share information with you - as we have it - about the development of a more accessible and sustainable infrastructure to support and expand our activities and services.
We are grateful for our community around the world - for your ongoing support – in the myriad of ways in which it is offered. For that too is a lesson from those who walked through difficult times in the past: We are so much stronger when we stay together in community and family.
Wishing you and yours peace and health in the New Year!
Waylon Belt riding Crazy Horse on 2018 Tipi Raiser's Ride
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