IN THEIR OWN WORDS:

 TRIBAL ELDERS, LEADERS & 
 TRADITIONAL TEACHERS (PAST AND PRESENT)
 SPEAK TO THE WORLD
(Background entitled "Before Me")

Now, more than ever,  knowledgeable Elders are needed to guide Native people in a deeper understanding of who they are as Canada's proud first citizens. The wider world also needs to know, differences must be reconciled. The twenty-first century is a critical time -- church, state and Indigenous people are only now beginning the onerous task of righting historical wrongs. 

Indigenous people are working hard at rebuilding communities, coming together in a manner that celebrates rather than denigrates who they are. Wise Elders and Traditional Teachers are vital to the healing process. Listen to their words spoken from the present, and from the whispers of ages past - they tie Native people to their past and present, and keep them grounded in the guidance of 'Elder Love and Wisdom' into a positive future.

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.

(Ancient Native Saying)

"So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and Demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, Beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long; Its purpose is in the service of your people.

Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, Even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and
Bow to none. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and
For the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, The fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no living thing, For abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts Are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes They weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again In a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."

Tecumseh, Shawnee

GREAT SPIRIT PRAYER

O great spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, Whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me.
I need your strength and your wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hand respect the things that you have made, and my ear sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things that you have taught my people.
Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me.
Let me learn the lessons hidden under every leaf and rock.
Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others.
Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me.
I seek strength not to be greater than my brothers and sisters, but to fight my greatest enemy - Myself.
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes, so when life fades as the fading sunset my spirit will come to you without shame. All my relations.

BRAVE BUFFALO
(late 19th century)

"I have noticed in my life that all humans have a liking for some special animal, tree, plant, or spot of earth. If humans would pay more attention to these preferences and seek what is best to do in order to make themselves worthy of that toward which they are so attracted, they might have dreams which would purify their lives. Let Humans decide upon their favourite animal and make a study of it, learning its innocent ways. Let them learn to understand its sounds and motions. The animals want to communicate with humans, but Wakan Tanka does not intend they shall do so directly – humans must be the greater part in securing an understanding."


MOURNING DOVE,
Salish, 1888-1936

"Everything on earth as a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence."

 

Luther Standing Bear
 Oglala Lakhota Chief,
1868-1939

"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."

 

Hin Mah Too Lah Yah Keht (Chief Joseph,
Nimii-puu
(Nez Percé) 
1830 - 1904

"The earth is the mother of all people, and all the people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases."

Chief Dan George, Salish,
British Columbia, 1899-1981

"There is a longing among all people and creatures to have a sense of purpose and worth. To satisfy that common longing in all of us we must respect each other. In the olden times man and creature walked as friends who carried the beauty of the land in their hearts. Now each one of us is needed to make sure the salmon can find a place to spawn and the bear cub a tree to climb. There is little time left and much effort is needed!"

George Copway, Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh-Stands Fast,
 
Ojibwa Chief,  1818-1863

"Among the Indians there have been no written laws. Customs handed down from generation to generation have been the only laws to guide them. Every one might act differently from what was considered right did he choose to do so, but such acts would bring upon him the censure of the Nation....This fear of the Nation’s censure acted as a mighty band, binding all in one social, honourable compact."

Chief Joseph, Nimii-puu (Nez Percé) 

"Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we will have no more wars. We shall all be alike -- brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky above us and one country around us, and one government for all."

Chief Joseph
 

"I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk. It does not require many words to speak the truth."

 

 Matthew Coon Come, Former Chief, 
Assembly of First Nations - 2001

"It is often difficult for non-aboriginal Canadians who have not spent time on a remote reserve, or with urban aboriginal people, to grasp how serious our situation is."

Mary Hayes,
Born 1915 - 
Clayoquot, Aesousite Reserve, B.C.

"We were taken away from our parents to go to school. We were so lonely it wasn't funny. I  didn't know a word of English....My older sister took sick...she died shortly after. I don't know why they didn't try to find out what was wrong....My little sister died a couple of hours after her."

 

Leonard George, Chief Counsellor, Coast Salish, Born 1946

"There are three great oppressions: Government because it is based on materialistic values which don't include any spiritual values and doesn't look after people; Religion because it created a fear in people. Most religions built up a fear of God rather than building up a firm relation....Hollywood...gave us an awful image of one another.  The Hollywood image is devastating: we're savage, dirty, unreliable -- all those negative things."

Adelaide Haffter, Lytton, B.C.

"I think ahead for my kids. Some people don't seem to think that far. I don't see anything very good for the future. It's not very long from now, I think, anyway, that the world's really gonna be in a turmoil. It's heading there very fast. That's why I want to have a house...so if my family have nowhere to go, they can at least have a roof. They can at least plant something to live on....They told me about the hungry thirties. I don't remember it.  This is gonna be worse than the hungry thirties."

Emma Hunt,  Kwakwaka'wakw

"I grew up in those big houses....I caught the tail-end of the way our ancestors lived....I enjoyed the life growing up the real Indian way. They used to tell us stories when we were little, teaching us how to behave, how to be honest, and to be brave. Never to disgrace the family...we really had strict rules. Never to make them ashamed of us - wrong doings and such."

Margaret Joseph-Amos,

 Clatoquot, Aesousista Reserve, B.C.

"Respect was a big word for us when we were growing up. We were taught that the meaning of respect was to have your own self-respect and respect others, to love others as well as yourself.  We were raised to obey our parents and listen to what they say. Teachings we had...while we were sitting down eating, because a child swallows and it digests into the brain."

Gandoox,
Oct. 23
1913 - Feb. 8, 2014

Coast Tsimshian

(Photo circa 1931)

"We must broaden our way of thinking so that it recognizes the world as one human family. We are all children of one blood. It can be no other way, for there has to be a central source of all humanity where all living beings were created. Our Ancestors gave us the ability to find out things for ourselves and put them together usually for the greater good....Remember, when the flood recedes, clear water and an enriched land is left."

"Dignity is always on the side of the person on the receiving end of a racial slur."
 

Chief Plenty Coups, A Lek Chea Ahoosh, Mountain Crow,
1848-1932

"Learn to associate with the White man, learn his ways, get an education. With an education you are his equal; without it, you are his victim."

Sarah Smith, Mohawk

"I stand for the children of tomorrow. I believe in the constructive aspect of humanity. We need each other. We need to come together in the circle of life, and not leave anyone behind. We need to reach out to each other and accept each other unconditionally. More than ever, it is necessary for people to face the light and walk in balance. In every darkened valley there us a light source; walk toward it. Stand in your own truth. No one is like you. You have your own particular gift, and your own contribution to make."

Poundmaker, Plains Cree Chief
1842-1886 - his dying words

"It would be so much easier just to fold our hands and not make this fight..., to say, I, one man, can do nothing. I grow afraid only when I see people thinking and acting like this. We all know the story about the man who sat beside the trail too long, and then it grew over and he could never find his way again. We can never forget what has happened, but we cannot go back nor can we just sit beside the trail".

BLACK ELK - Oglala Lakhota Holy Man

1863-1950

"Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being."

 

JIM PELL

Principal Chief, North Alabama Cherokee Nation

"There is no such thing as part Cherokee. Either you're Cherokee or you're not. It isn't the quantity of Cherokee blood in your veins that is important, but the quality of it...your pride in it.  I have seen full bloods who have virtually no idea of the great legacy entrusted to their care. Yet, I have seen people with as little as 1/500th who inspire the spirits of their ancestors because they make being Cherokee a proud part of their everyday life."

RINA SWENTZELL

Santa Clara Pueblo, Born 1939

"People when they walk on the land leave their breath wherever they go. So wherever we walk, that particular spot on earth never forgets us, and when we go back, we know that the people who have lived there are in some way still there, and that we can actually partake of their breath and their spirit."

Sitting Bull - Tatanka Iotake

Hunkpapa Lakhota
1831-assassinated, 1890

"The love of possessions is a disease with them [Americans]. They take tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own and fence their neighbours away. If America had been twice the size it is, there still would not have been enough; the Indian would still have been dispossessed."

 

GERONIMO, Goyathlay -One Who Yawns

1829-1909 (Prisoner of War in his own land)

'We took an oath not to do any wrong to each other or to scheme against each other. I cannot think that we are useless or God would not have created us. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all the children of one God. The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what we have to say. When a child, my mother taught me to kneel and pray to Usen for strength, health, wisdom and protection. Sometimes we prayed in silence, sometimes each one prayed aloud; sometimes an aged person prayed for all of us... and to Usen. I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures."
 

Jake (Jacob Ezra Thomas)
Hadajigrenta, He-makes-the-clouds descend.
Sandpiper Clan, Cayuga Nation,  Hereditary Chief
,
1922 - 1998

"I don't know much but what I do know is a lot."

"I can only perfect myself with each new day. I can't be better than someone else but I can become a better Jake Thomas today then I was yesterday."

"I am not going to listen to gossip. If the people don't like what I'm doing it's their problem not mine. I close my ears. I am going to do what I think is right."

"All I can give to you, my people, is what I know."

"One cannot hide from Creator. Creator is watching us whatever we do on earth. We must always be honest with one another, and to have love and peace among ourselves. Life is too short. We cannot afford to waste our lives on wrong doings by hurting one another's feelings."

 

Chief Sealth (Seattle), Dkhw'Duw'Absh (Duwamish),
1786 - June 7, 1866

"At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.

Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds."

 

 

 

Red Cloud, Makhpiya-Luta, Oglala Lakhota 1822-1909


"The Great Father [President Andrew Jackson] sends us presents and wants us to sell him the road, but the white chief goes with soldiers to steal the road before the Indians say yes or no!"

Part of his dying Words at age 87:
"My sun is set. My day is done. Darkness is stealing over me. Before I lie down to rise no more, I will speak to my people. "Hear me, my friends, for it is not the time for me to tell you a lie. Great Spirit made us, the Indians, and gave us this land we live in. He gave us the buffalo, the antelope, and the deer for food and clothing. We moved our hunting grounds from the Minnesota to the Platte and from the Mississippi to the great mountains. No one put bounds on us. We were free as the winds, and like the eagle, heard no man's commands....Taku Shanskan is familiar with my spirit and when I die I will go with him. Then I will be with my forefathers. If this is not in the heaven of the white man I shall be satisfied. Wi is my father. The Wakan Tanka of the white man has overcome him. But I shall remain true to him.... Shadows are long and dark before me. I shall soon lie down to rise no more. While my spirit is with my body the smoke of my breath shall be towards the Sun for he knows all things and knows that I am still true to him."

Crowfoot,
 Blackfoot Warrior and Orator, 1821-1890

 

"What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset."

 

 

FLAT-IRON (MAZA BLASKA), Oglala Lakhota Chief

"From Wakan-Tanka, comes all power. It is from Wakan-Tanka that the holy man has wisdom and the power to heal and make holy chrms. Man knows that all healing plants are given by Wakan-Tanka, threfore they are holy. So too is the buffalo holy, because it is gift of Wakan-Tanka."

Eagle Chief, Letakos-Lesa
Pawnee

In the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals, for Tirawa, the One Above, did not speak directly to man. He sent certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beast, and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and moon should man learn.. all things tell of Tirawa.

All things in the world are two. In our minds we are two, good and evil. With our eyes we see two things, things that are fair and things that are ugly.... We have the right hand that strikes and makes for evil, and we have the left hand full of kindness, near the heart. One foot may lead us to an evil way, the other foot may lead us to a good. So are all things two, all two


William Commanda,
Mamiwinini,
Algonquin, Quebec, 1913 -
2011

"Traditional people of Indian nations have interpreted the two roads that face the light-skinned race as the road to technology and the road to spirituality. We feel that the road to technology.... has led modern society to a damaged and seared earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction, and that the road to spirituality represents the slower path that the traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again? The earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there."

Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute,
1844-1891

"The traditions of our people are handed down from father to son. The Chief is considered to be the most learned, and the leader of the tribe. The Doctor, however, is thought to have more inspiration. He is supposed to be in communion with spirits... He cures the sick by the laying of hands, and payers and incantations and heavenly songs. He infuses new life into the patient, and performs most wonderful feats of skill in his practice.... He clothes himself in the skins of young innocent animals, such as the fawn, and decorated himself with the plumage of harmless birds, such as the dove and hummingbird"

Unknown Wintu Woman, 19th Century

"When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don't ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don't chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the white people plow up the ground, pull down the trees, kill everything. ... the White people pay no attention. ...How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? Everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore."

Floyd  Westerman
Lakhota Musician , Actor. Activist - 1936 - 2007

"I would like to quote a very prejudicial doctrine that was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1823. It was written by the Church. This doctrine should be denounced...in some formal way. It said that the Indian Nations do not have title to their lands, they only have title of occupancy, because they weren't Christians when the Europeans first got here. That the first Christian Nations to discover an area of heathen and infidel lands has the ultimate dominion over those lands and the absolute title."

This should go to the Pope and also to the President of the United States to withdraw and renounce this document and to establish a new basis for relationship between indigenous peoples and other peoples of the world.

SHANNON THUNDERBIRD (Wa'as My'een Soog Tsi'itsmti Hana'a), Coast Tsimshian Speaker, Singer, Writer

"At its most fundamental level, the Medicine Wheel teaches that in order to live a good life, we must show up and engage in it. We must be mindful of how we treat each other, Mother Earth, as well as being responsible and accountable in all our commitments. Mindfulness, which means staying in the present and acting in non-judgmental ways, creates an entrance to our souls, where our life's journey starts on a path of seeking the truth of our existence. The Tsimshian call it, Ama't'ilgoolsk, Ama'diduuls, or "Good Thoughts, Good Life",  

 

 

 

 

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