GrandFather's Wisdom




We do not call him a medicine man because he gives medicine to the sick, as your doctors do. Our medicine man cures the sick by the laying on of hands, and we have doctresses as well as doctors. We believe that our doctors can communicate with holy spirits from heaven. We call heaven the Spirit Land. --Sarah Winnemucca, Northern Paiute.

Memory is like riding a trail at night with a lighted torch, some of the old ones like to say. The torch cast its light only so far, and beyond that is the darkness. --Lakota.

Will you ever begin to understand the meaning of the very soil beneath your feet? From a grain of sand to a great mountain, all is sacred. Yesterday and tomorrow exist eternally upon this continent. We native are guardians of this sacred place. --Peter Blue Cloud, Mohawk.

We have lived upon this land from days beyond history's records, far past any living memory, deep into the time of legend. The story of my people and the story of this place are one single story. We are always joined together. --Pueblo Elder.

The landsacpe is our church, a cathedral. It is like a sacred building to us. --Zuni saying.

You can look back at the old Mimbres pottery, at petroglyphs and rock art...there is that presence there...people are aware of where they came from and they are leaving images for other people to see. --Gail Bird, Laquna Pueblo.

The Pueblo have no word that translates as "religion." The knowledge of a spiritual life is part of the person 24 hours a day, every day of the the year. Religious belief permeates every aspect of life; it determines man's relation with the natural world and with his fellow man. The secret of the Pueblo's success was simple. They came face to face with nature but did not exploit it. --Joe S. Sando, Jemez Pueblo.

Our art is not a separate entity. It is a universal gesture of prayer...And it harmonizes with the expression of life...Art is always there. There is always something done, something woven, something painted, something sculpted. --Jose' Rey Toledo, Jemez Pueblo.

There are stories and stories...There are the songs, also, that are taught. Some are whimsical. Some are very intense. Some are documentary....Everything I have known is through teachings, by word or mouth, either by song or by legends. --Terrance Honvantewa, Hopi.

The most important of the traditions is to recognize the value of what is the Hopi way of life. It is not only ceremonies...you grow up into these traditions. It is a whole social structure that is involved. --Errance Honvantewa, Hopi.

Priest used to see the curing ceremonies, the medicine men. They were allowed to see a lot of this, in the beginning. But...they were proselytizing Christianity, and at the same time turning the people against their own way. They burned up the chambers and they punished the shamans. They killed them....That is when the ceremonies went underground. --Joe Herrera, Cochiti Pueblo.

You always work as a group, not somebody just singled out. There is no such thing as that with the Apache. We say, "I walk with you," not "I walk before you" or "I walk behind you"....You are not a leader, you are a part. --Philip Cassadore, Apache.

We had no churches, no religious organizations, no sabbath day, no holidays, and yet we worshipped. Sometimes the whole tribe would assemble to sing or pray; sometimes in a small number, perhaps only two or three. Sometimes we prayed in silence, sometimes each one prayed aloud. --Geronimo, Apache.

Lightning is good. When lightning strikes a tree, people say that tree has been blessed and go to gather that wood for special purposes. --Delmar Boni, Apache.

There is a circle of people, so many hundreds of people there, watching and being a part of it. Young and old alike are out there dancing towards the center, where the dancers are....When you are there in that circle you can't help but feel the energy go around and around and around....You can just feel it. --Delmar Boni, Apache.

The Colorado River, you bless it. Every time you go across it, you say a few prayers. To go across it, you get your corn pollen -- we carry it aroud all the time, corn pollen -- so we take it out and bless the water. If we don't have water, we can't get anywhere. --Navajo medicine man.

All the mountains have their prayers and chants...as have the stars and markings in the sky and on the earth. It is their custom to keep the sky and the earth and the day and the night beautiful. The belief is that if this is done, living among the people of the earth will be good. --Sandoval, Navajo.

This covers it all, the Earth and the Most High Power, whose ways are beautiful. All is beautiful before me, All is beautiful behind me, All is beautiful above me, All is beautiful around me. --Navajo Song.

Of all these various kinds of holy ones that have been made, you the first one will be their thought, you will be called Sa'ah Naghai, Long Life...and you who are the second one, you will be their speech, and will be called Bik'eh Hozho, Happiness. All will be long life by means of you two, and all will be happiness by means of you two. --from creation story told in the Blessingway.

I guess those old people, our great ancestor people, they said that one day you will forget all your religion and your culture and all that....If we forget all about our culture and religion, we have nowhere to go, we don't know how to pray, we don't know how to use our corn pollen, corn meal, anything that we pray with, we forget all about that. Before that happens, we'd better do something. --Jimmy Toddy, Navajo.

Now we will speak again about him. Our Creator. He decided, "Above the world I have created....I will continue to look intently and to listen intently to the earth, when people direct their voices at me." Let there be gratitude day and night for the happiness he has given us. He loves us, he who in the sky dwells. He gave us the means to set right that which divides us. --From Iroquois Thanksgiving Ritual.

You think that the Axe-Makers are the eldest in the country and the greatest in possession. We Human Beings are the first, and we are the eldest and the greatest. These parts and countries were inhabited and trod upon by the Human Beings before there were any Axe-Makers. --Sadenkanaktie, Onondaga Iroquois, 1694.

Our religion is not one of paint and feathers; it is a thing of the heart. --Follower of Handsome Lake, Seneca.

There is not a lake or mountain that has not connected with it some story of delight or wonder, and nearly every beast and bird is the subject of some storyteller...Night after night for weeks I have sat and eagerly listened. The days following, the characters would haunt me at every step, and every moving leaf would seem to be a voice of a spirit. --George Copway, Ojibwa.

These are the words that were given to my great-grandfather by the Mast of Life: "At some time there shall come among you a stranger, speaking a lanquage you do not understand. He will try to buy the land from you, but do not sell it; keep it for an inheritance to your children." --Aseenewub, Red Lake Ojibwa.

My son, you are now flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. By the ceremoy performed this day, every drop of white blood was washed from your veins; you were taken into the Shawnee nation...you were adoped into a great family. --Black Fish, Shawnee, recalling 1778 adoption of Daniel Boone into tribe.

We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills and winding streams with tangled growth as "wild." To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. --Luther Standing Bear, Rosebud Lakota.

Oh hear me, Grandfather, and help us, that our generation in the future will live and walk the good road with the flowering stick to success. Also the pipe of peace, we will offer it as we walk the good road to success. Hear me, and hear our plea. --Black Elk, Lakota.

Often in summer I rise at daybreak and steal out to the cornfields; and as I hoe the corn I sing to it, as we did when I was young. Sometimes at evening I sit, looking out on the big Missouri. In the shadows I seem again to see our Indian village, with smoke curling upwards from the earth lodges. --Buffalo Bird Woman, Hidatsa.

The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born free should be contented penned up and denied liberty....Let me be a free man--free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade, where I choose...free to think and act and talk for myself. --Chief Joesph, Nez Perce.

I am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place. Now we are poor but we are free. No white man controls our footsteps. If we must die we die defending our rights. --Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota.

Speak, Americans...I will not lie to you; do not lie to me. --Cochise, Chiricahua Apache.

I am alone in the world. I want to live in these mountains; I do not want to go to Tularosa. That is a long way off. The bad spirits live there. I have drunk of these waters and they have cooled me. I do not want to leave here. --Cochise, Chiricahua Apache.

You came into our country. You were well received. Your lives, your property, your animals were safe. We believe your assurances of friendship, and we trusted them. --Mangas Coloradas, Mimbreno Apache.

There is no death. Only a change of worlds. --Seattle, 1786-1866 Suquamish Chief.

Great Spirit. Great Spirit, my Grandfather, all over the earth the faces of living things are all alike...Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms, that they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet. --Black Elk -1863-1950- Oglala Sioux Holy Man.

Do you know or can you believe that sometimes the idea obtrudes...whether it has been well that I have sought civilization with its bothersome concomitants and whether it would not be better even now to return to the darkness and most sacred wilds, if any such can be found of our country, and there to vegetate and expire silently, happily and forgotten, as do the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. The thought is a happy one but perhaps impractiable. --Ely S. Parker, Seneca-Iroquois Sachem.

The idea of full dress in preparation for a battle comes not from a belief that it will add to the fighting ability. The preparation is for death, in case that should be the result of the conflict. Every Indian wants to look his best when he goes to meet the great Spirit, so the dressing up is done whether the imminent danger is an oncoming battle, or a sickness, or injury at times of peace. --Wooden Leg, Cheyenne.

Often in the stillness of the night, when all nature seems asleep about me, there comes a gently rapping at the door of my heart, I open it; and a voice inquires, "Pokagon, what of your people? What will their future be?" My answer is: "Mortal man has not the power to draw aside the veil of unborn time to tell the future of his race. That gift belongs of the Divine alone. But it is given to him to closely judge the future by the present, and the past." --Simon Pokagon-- Potawatomie.

I am going to venture that the man who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures, and acknowledging unity with the universe of things was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization. --Luther Standing Bear. Oglala Sioux Chief.

Conversation was never begun at once, nor in a hurried manner. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation. Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence to the speech-maker and his own moment of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regard for the rule that, "thought comes before speech." --Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux Chief.

I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself. --Lone Man, Teton- Sioux.

We were taught to believe that the Great Spirit sees and hears everything, and that he never forgets; that hereafter he will give every man a spirit home according to his desserts...This I believe, and all my people believe the same. --Chief Joseph, Nez Perce.







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