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First People :: Words of Wisdom Index :: Charles A. Eastman
 
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Charles Alexander Eastman - Santee Sioux

It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. Its appeal is to the material part, and if allowed its way, it will in time disturb one's spiritual balance. Therefore, children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving.

If a child is inclined to be grasping, or to cling to any of his or her little possessions, legends are related about contempt and disgrace falling upon the ungenerous and mean person ...

The Indians in theor simplicity literally give away all that they have - to relatives, to guests of other tribes or clans, but above all to the poor and the aged, from whom they can hope for no return.

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

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The Indians were religious from the first moments of life. From the moment of the mother's recognition that she had conceived to the end of the child's second year of life, which was the ordinary duration of lactation, it was supposed by us that the mother's spiritual influence was supremely important.

Her attitude and secret meditations must be such as to install into receptive soul of the unborn child the love of the Great Mystery and a sense of connectedness will all creation. Silence and isolation are the rule of life for the expectant mother.

She wanders prayerful in the stillness of great woods, or on the bosom of the untrodden prairie, and to her poetic mind the imminent birth of her child prefigures the advent of a hero - a thought conceived in the virgin breast of primeval nature, and dreamed out in a hush that is broken only by the sighing of the pine tree or the thrilling orchestra of a distant waterfall.

And when the day of days in her life dawns - the day in which there is to be a new life, the miracle of whose making has been entrusted to her - she seeks no human aid. She has been trained and prepared in body and mind for this, her holiest duty, ever since she can remember.

Childbirth is best met alone, where no curious embarrass her, where all nature says to her spirit: "It's love ! It's love! The fulfilling of life!" When a sacred voice comes over to her out of the silence, and a pair of eyes open upon her wilderness, she knows with joy that she is borne well her part in the great song of creation.

Presently she returns to the camp, carrying the mysterious, the holy, the dearest bundle ! She feels the endearing warmth of it and hears its soft breathing. It is still a part of herself, since both are nourished by the same mouthful, and no look of a lover could be sweeter than its deep, trusting daze. She continues her spiritual teaching, at first silently - a mere pointing of the index finger to nature - then in whispered songs, bird-like, at the morning and evening. To her and to the child the birds are real people, who live very close to the Great Mystery; the murmuring trees breathe its presence; the falling waters chants its praise.

If the child should chance to be fretful, the mother raises her hand. "Hush! Hush!" she cautions it tenderly, "The spirits may be disturbed!" She bids it be still and listen - listen to the silver voice of the aspen, or the clashing cymbals of the birch; and at night she points to the heavenly blazed trail through nature's galaxy of splendor to nature's God. Silence, love, reverence - this is the trinity of first lessons, and to these she later adds generosity, courage, and chastity.

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

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What boy would not be an Indian for a while when he thinks of the freest life in the world ? We were close students of nature. We studied the habits of animals just as you study your books. We watched the men of our people and acted like them in our play, then learned to emulate them in our lives.

No people have better use of their five senses than the children of the wilderness. We could smell as well as hear and see. We could feel and taste as well as we could see and hear. Nowhere has the memory been more fully developed than in the wild life.

As a little child, it was instilled into me to be silent and reticent. This was one of the most important traits to form in the character of the Indian. As a hunter and warrior, it was considered absolutely necessary to him, and was thought to lay the foundations of patience and self-control. There are times when boisterous mirth is indulged in our people, but the rule is gravity and decorum.

I wished to be a brave man as much as the white boy desires to be a great lawyer or even president of the United States.

I was made to respect the adults, especially the aged. I was not allowed to join in their discussions, or even speak in their presence, unless requested to do so. Indian etiquette was very strict, and among the requirements was that of avoiding direct address. A term of relationship or some title of courtesy was commonly used instead of the personal name by those who wished to show respect.

We were taught generosity to the poor and reverence for the Great Mystery. Religion was the basis of all Indian training.

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

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The true Indian sets no price upon either his property or his labor. His generosity is limited only by the strength and ability. He regards it as an honor to be selected for a difficult or dangerous service, and would rather :"Let the person I serve express his thanks according to his own bringing up and his sense of honor."

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

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Friendship is held to be the severest test of character. It is easy, we think, to be loyal to family and clan, whose blood is our own veins. Love between man and woman is founded on the mating instinct and is not free from desire and self-seeking. But to have a friend, and to be true under any and all trials, is the mark of a man!

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

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Whenever, in the course of the daily hunt, the hunter comes upon a scene that is strikingly beautiful, or sublime - a black thundercloud with the rainbow's glowing arch above the mountain, a white waterfall in the heart of a green gorge, a vast prairie tinged with the blood-red of the sunset - he pauses for an instant in the attitude of worship.

He sees no need for a setting apart one day in seven as a holy day, because to him all days are God's days.

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

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Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new, sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone!

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

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As a child, I understood how to give; I have forgotten that grace since I became civilized. I lived the natural life, whereas now I now live the artificial. Any pretty pebble was valuable then, every growing tree an object of reverence.

Now I worship with the white man before a painted landscape whose value is estimated in dollars! Thus the Indian is reconstructed, as the natural rocks are ground to powder and made into artificial blocks that may be built into the walls of modern society.

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

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The first American mingled with his pride a singular humility. Spiritual arrogance was foreign to his nature and teaching. He never claimed that his power of articulate speech was proof of superiority over "dumb creation" ; on the other hand, speech is to him a perilous gift.

He believes profoundly in silence - the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind, and spirit.

The man who preserves his selfhood ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence - not a leaf, as it were, astir on the tree, not a ripple upon the surface of the shining pool - his, in the mind of the unlettered sage, is the ideal attitude and conduct of life ..... Silence is the cornerstone of character.

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

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They are a heartless nation, that is certain. They have made some of their people servants - yes, slaves! We have never believed in keeping slaves, but it seems that the white people do! It is our belief that they painted their servants black a long time ago, to tell them from the rest - and now the slaves have children born to them of the same color!

The greatest object of their lives seems to be to acquire possessions - to be rich. They desire to possess the whole world.

For thirty years they tried to entice us to sell our land to them. Finally, their soldiers took it by force, and we have been driven away from our beautiful country.

They are indeed an extraordinary people. They have divided the day into hours, like the moons of the year. In fact, they measure everything. Not one of them would let so much as a turnip go from his field unless he received full value for it. I understand that sometimes their great men make a feast and invite many, but when it is over, the guests are required to pay for what they have eaten before leaving the house ...

I am also told, but this I hardly believe, that their Great Chief compels every man to pay him for the land he lives upon and all personal goods - even those he needs for his own existence - every year. I am sure we could not live under such a law.

In war they have leaders and war-chiefs of different grades. The common warriors are driven forward like a herd of antelopes to face the foe. It is because of this manner of fighting - from compulsion and not from personal bravery - that we count no coup on them. A lone warrior can do much harm to a large army of them - especially when they are in unfamiliar territory.

Charles Alexander Eastman's uncle - Santee Sioux

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