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Spiritual deliverance (04/29/2007)
By Janet Lewis Burns
"If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come." -Arapaho proverb

I have marked oodles of noteworthy lines throughout Kathleen Norris's "Dakota - A Spiritual Geography", a most intriguing keepsake. She writes, "We are seeking the tribal." ""¦non-Indian students are desperately searching for spirits, for their own souls..."

"What they want is their own life, their own love for the earth, but when they speak their own words about it they don't believe them, so they look to Indians, forgetting that enlightenment can't be found in a weekend workshop, forgetting that most Indian people are living the crisis of American life, the toxins of chemical waste, the pain of what is repressed in white Americans. There is not such a thing as becoming an instant shaman, an instant healer, an instantly spiritualized person."

Have I been romanticizing about the Native American persona? Those of us who feel a deep connection with the natural world cannot avoid some of that, I suppose. From the time My Uncle Hilbert Wollin gave me a yellowed Winona Daily News article, dated Jan. 30, 1972 and written by Vi Benicke, along with pictures of my late Great- Uncle Walter Schubert dressed in full Indian garb, I have been enthralled.

I had remembered Uncle Walter as robust, pleasant, and quiet. When widowed, he joined our family during Sunday dinners, following Bethany Moravian Church services, on the Wollin homestead or at our home in Lewiston. His Indian connection escaped my youthful interest. How I wish I could speak to him now!

The newspaper article tells the story of his life as a friend of the Sioux, that he lived with 1,500 of them on the Standing Rock Reservation at Fort Yates, N.D. from 1908 to 1911. He was inducted into their tribe and given the Indian name "Hokshila Tanka", meaning "big boy". There he ran the livery and stage business. His plan to make Fort Yates his home was dashed when he returned to Utica Township and married Edna Schwager, my Grandma Wollin's sister. Schuberts farmed and raised their three At the heart of his Sioux experience are his observations concerning the treatment of the Native Americans by the U.S. government. He states that he found them to be friendly and lovable. His words ring with injustice: "They were so restricted it seemed I was dealing with prisoners. They held no real estate, and had only the right to live on the reservation."

He tells that, when the government decided that the Indians should farm and ranch, they were allowed only the poorest land, "where only a prairie dog could live." The equipment they were given was useless.

Among his many souvenirs, the canvas tent he made in memory of his Sioux Indian friend Blue Thunder once stood on the Schubert lawn each summer.

Norris suggests that monks and rural Dakotans, "can teach us how to live more realistically. These unlikely people might also help us to overcome the pathological fear of death and the inability to deal with sickness and old age that plague American society." "We learn to live with a hard reality: nothing lasts."

Mainstream Americans are in denial when it comes to mortality, shying away from isolation, indulging in consumerism. Fulfillment and contentment is all wrapped up in what is labeled today as "progress".

The writer says it so well: "A person is forced inward by the sparseness of what is outward and visible in all this land and sky."

No race is self-sufficient. The belief that hard work, dedication, and fortitude can overcome all obstacles is a thorn in the spirit. We are vulnerable. We need compassion and emptiness of soul to see the small things, to live realistically. It is then that we can open up to love, which is everything.

What is it that binds all humankind to one another? What besides the earth and all its bounty? What besides the evil and the goodness that exist side by side in all the universe? What besides the Creator? He has chosen not to bestow upon himself a face. Though the races of man see Him with a multitude of eyes"¦

"¦it is what burns within the spirit that can never sever our brotherhood.  


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