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Steven C. Schiavi


TRADITION

Sometimes, we can hang on to a thing or a way of doing something so tightly that we choke the life out of it. The Spirit is a living Spirit. Visions, real visions, are now, not just "back then". I am of two minds about traditional ways. It is necessary and desirable to retain certain forms intact, in the way they have been passed down to us.

It is neither necessary or desirable to become so obsessed with these forms that they overshadow the substance they are meant to embody. To use an example from the Jesus road...he criticized the religious authorities of his day for paying so much attention to the outer forms of their religion. He said they were like a tomb...beautifully carved and molded on the outside, but filled with decay and death on the inside. This can happen to anyone, not just the jewish priests 2000 years ago. if the Creator is truly with us, we will not do anything "wrong". If your heart tells you to wear a certain object around your neck that from time immemorial has traditionally been carried in a belt pouch.... should you be afraid to make a change?

Or would you be better off remembering...ah, a powerful word, "remembering"! that the very essence of what is Indian is that unique and individual re- lationship each of us has with our Creator, and all our cousins? We need to respect the Creator and the creation. Motion is the essence of life; all things are alive. Changing, moving, dancing thru many forms and seasons and passages of time and space.

A good heart; humility before the Creator (and this is only common sense; how can anyone look at the night sky and be anything less than humble before its author?); a sense of humor and honor and respect for oneself and all one's relations.

These are the breath of life, as the steam coming off of a white-hot stone. Water becoming steam; wood becoming fire, becoming new life, a new birth, a chance to start over.

Nature is constantly breaking things down and building them again. a new elm tree looks like an old elm tree, but it is made of different stuff. It is not like its parent; it is unique. It is alive. There is a constant renewal in creation as the seasons circle around again and again. Every summer is "summer"; but no two summers are alike. Every winter has its cold, but no two snowflakes are alike.

A lot of the patterns we see repeating around, and even within, ourselves, are more a matter of what we expect to see than they are of any "ultimate truth" - which, if there is such a thing, is the exclusive property of the Creator. We two-leggeds can't begin to comprehend such a thing. Traditional ways are spring, summer, fall and winter. They are rain, and thunder; they are lakes and rivers. They are forms of power.

The spirits that move within them can move differently from time to time. If they did not, every day would be exactly like every other day. Every storm would be the same storm. Every leaf would be the same as every other leaf. It would be very much like the dominant culture would like to see things. The same, the same, the same. Row houses. Factories. Cars. A multimedia box in your living room to suck out any pretensions you might have towards owning a soul.

Fortunately, as long as there are a few real human beings around, that won't happen to everybody. Although it has already happened to a lot of people, and will happen to a lot more. But Mother doesn't like all this unnatural behavior. It hurts Her in more ways than one. So She's going to cry, and Her sobs will shake Her body. She will cry out to the sky, and people will wonder at the sound. She will lift up Her arms, and the waves will rise high. but She will hear our prayers.

What is traditional? Prayer, and awareness of the living Spirit in all things. Respect, and love. Consideration for the generations gone before, and those to come. I am of two minds about tradition; but then, I am of two minds about everything.


Survival of the Spirit

Out there, there is a culture of greed. Out there, the living dead walk; their spirits have fled their homes or walked quietly, sadly away. If the spirit cannot grow, and move, and change, and rejoice in the life it has been given, it leaves, or it dies. Out there, there is a culture of soul eaters. They suck out the life and leave the empty shell. But like a cancer, when the host dies...so dies the soul eater. Survival is dancing with our faces warmed by the Sacred fire. We know what lies outside, beyond the living wheel we shape with our bodies, our spirits, joined in prayer and gladness. We need not fear it. We need to be aware; we need to be careful. But we must beware of dancing with our backs to the Sacred fire. Our strength is in unity with that central fire. Creator will keep us strong as long as the light of his fire glints in our eyes...but not if it bounces off of our backs. Beware of dancing with your back to the fire.


Alienation

So much of what we read, and see and hear and are concerned about in Indian affairs concerns the relationship of the Indian with the land. Very simply put, without that relationship, there is no Indian. Looking at it from a perspective a non-Indian would not understand, maybe not believe, without the Indian, there is no land. When the caring and care-taking spirit is not present; when bulldozers bulldoze and backhoes dig without prayer, without permission, without thanks; when there is no relationship of respect, the land becomes sick, the people become sick, the animals and plants become sick. They lose their spirit, their heart. The mystery is gone and with it, the life.

If we live in the dominant culture, we have nothing but paper and plastic invested in our food, our clothing, our shelter. We have none of our toil or sweat or prayers involved with meat from the deli; we have not asked permission to take the life of the canned corn; we have not nurtured and protected and honored the frozen squash.

Where is our relationship with the real world? We need that; we need land to love, and to honor; we need animals and plants and children to protect.

If we do not go out of our way to plant our gardens, and talk to our trees, and walk in the woods; if we do not get up at dawn and greet the sun, and say our prayers with tobacco grown in the old way; if we do not observe at least some of these things, we are spiritually dead, as natural people understand the meaning of being alive.

Without these relationships with our relatives, the plant people and four- leggeds and all the rest, we have no source of strength. We cannot hope to overcome the obstacles inherent in being a natural being in an unnatural environment. Our love and caring, not only for each other, but for every being the creator has set upon the earth, and for the earth herself.... This is where our strength comes from.

If we live in cities, we are already cut off from our roots. All humans are; but most of them don't know or care to know. We can still pray, and use the sacred herbs, and love our relatives....but we need to get out, to get away at least once in a while. We need to feel our feet in contact with the earth; feel the wind on our faces, and hear the rushing of a stream. We need birdsong, and squirrels playing, and ants toiling and leaves dancing in the breeze. All of these things are to the life of the spirit what water and air are to the life of the body. But let us not forget, it was not the Indian who decided to separate the two, put the spirit in one place and the flesh in another. It was not the Indian who put first the Creator, and then himself and everyone he could run fast enough to catch in a square box. It was not the Indian who admired the beauty of the earth so much he thought he could own it. It was not the Indian who first believed that to love is to own, and that greed is good.

Let us not forget who we are. Ever. Not even for a moment. Let us not forget what we have always known, that life, for predator and prey, for the hawk and the fieldmouse, is a dance. Let us dance.

Indians have always danced; pray that we never stop.

Rainbow Walker


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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.