White Man Red Road
White Man Red Road
I was sitting one day around a table with a man named Thomas One Wolf. Thomas is considered to be a messenger among his people. His job is to travel between great numbers of tribes and convey information passed from one set of Elders to another.
Thomas was talking about how his brother had passed away, and in doing so took with him the knowledge of how to mix and make the paints his people used for their ceremonial totems. He went on to say that there had been a time in his life when he would never have imagined that he would sit down with the White Man to discuss the ways of the American Indian.
Thomas said that over the years the youth of his people had lost interest in the traditional ways. He sat one day with his Elders discussing this problem. One of the Elders spoke up and said, "Uncle, we've run out of Indians! We have to be willing to share what we have with all those who have an open heart".
It seems to be true. I have been on the reservation and seen the kids there emulating a culture blown in on radio waves and television signals. I have listened to the Medicine Teachers sadly talk of parents discouraging their children from learning the traditional ways. I have sat in ceremony and noticed that at times half or more of the participants were non-Indian.
Thomas One Wolf told me, "When an Indian talks about his culture you will hear about Wounded Knee. You will hear about the Trail of Tears. You will hear about suffering and persecution along with all of the beautiful things about his people. But when an Indian talks about his Spirituality, you will hear about harmony with the Creator, respect for our Grandmother Earth and all her living creatures. These will be two different conversations".
Wherever I have gone, I have found a willingness to share from Elders based in large part upon my willingness to honor and respect those who are teaching. It would be naïve to think you can separate the Spirituality of the Indian completely from the Culture and I believe no one should try. Still, I wonder if it is necessary to be an Indian to experience the power and beauty of their Spirituality, often called "Walking the Red Road", any more than it is necessary to be Tibetan to experience Buddhism. Because Jesus was Jewish, does that mean only a Jew can truly be a Christian? Millions would beg to differ, not to mention some obvious conflicts in ideology. The rocks in the dreamer's (sweat) lodge do not ask to see tribal enrollment papers before they giveaway their energy in ceremony, they give away equally to all who sit in the ceremony.
This is important to me for many reasons. This is in part because this story is not about "trying to play Indian".
More importantly, I have come to believe in the power and healing of the good Red Road, and would like to see its traditions and teachings survive and be better understood, especially by non-natives. I believe a great deal of good can come from their practice and that people of all races can benefit from them.
I also believe that there are aspects of the Red Road that a non-
native may never fully comprehend if they were raised outside the Culture of a traditional Indi