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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
The old ones (04/01/2007)
By Janet Lewis Burns
"Both monasteries and the rural communities on the Plains are places where nothing much happens. Paradoxically, they are also places where being open to conversion is most necessary if community is to survive." - Kathleen Norris, from "Dakota - A Spiritual Geography".

Native Americans are a culture misplaced many moons ago, existing in a society that has robbed them of ancestral tradition, simplistic livelihood, and dignity of soul. Their faces are sad - the old ones. They have been lost a very long time. They look right through the white mans' eyes. They no longer place blame, for hate and anger corrode the soul.

Here, in today's Midwest, during our waning years, northern shores hold us captive, even though we've traveled far and wide, even as lush foreign scenery has turned our heads. Memories conjure up warm thoughts of ocean sand carried home in the bottom of our suitcases from bursting turquoise waters, another time and place, our declining years defiantly fashioned and forgiving as we strain to remember our paleface selves, tan and slim and ecstatic with energy.

Since the lost virtues of conscience and humility have turned the white man to greed, power, and dominance, Indian children are born into a concrete world with the Native American spirit, the freedom of the Plains pulsing through their veins and, soon confused and broken, a white man's world swallows them whole.

Native Americans have been exiled as acting caretakers of the once raw, open land. That departure has been an extreme disservice to the earth. For the most part, the white race today is complacent and uneducated concerning our forefathers' genocide against the Indian Nations.

Who among us has imagined their ancestors' flesh seeping through hallowed desert floors or has read of their descendants' fates? Who among us has paused to hear their women singing mournful songs, and kindred hearts beating and pulsing against alcoholism, broken treaties, and idle time that has held them hostage?

Kathleen Norris's memoir "Dakota - A Spiritual Biography" is a compelling profile of the North and South Dakota Plains. Whites, Indians, and Trappist monks live there "alone together." She returned to Lemmon, South Dakota, after college in Vermont and life in Honolulu, to manage her grandparents' ranch.

With their insular thinking, even though many have college degrees, most residents stay put in the Dakota's vast wilderness, which is, as a whole, invisible to the rest of America. Norris warns, "A refusal to grow makes any constructive changes impossible."

"I wrote of being haunted by the sense that we are all Indians here, as much in danger of losing our land as the Indians of 100 years ago. And if it happens, I fear we will meet with the same massive national indifference," Norris muses.

Its time had come when, during the 20th century, the paleface "Awaunageesuck" (strangers) began to appreciate and learn the values of these proud and noble people.

Kent Nerburn, accomplished sculptor, is a gifted writer of meditations, as well. Nerburn's compilations spring from working with the Ojibwe of northern Minnesota in their pursuit to collect the memories of the tribal elders.

Nerburn wrote this in "A Haunting Reverence": "Begin again. Begin again. This snowfall says, begin again. It is the purest absolution, and falls in vast forgiveness on us all."

Wise Native American quotes arouse the spirit. "Life is not separate from death. It only looks that way," is a Blackfoot proverb.

Kent Nerburn's "Simple Truths" are rich with wisdom. In his chapter "The Spiritual Journey", he writes, "Your task is not to judge the paths of others, but to find a path that will lead you ever closer to the murmurings that you hear in your heart."

Through centuries of adversity, the skills and beliefs of the hundreds of Native American Nations were passed on to the next generation.

This paleface will attempt to share more in future articles.



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