Luther Standing Bear (December 1868 – February 20, 1939) was an Oglala Lakota chief notable in American history as a Native American author, educator, philosopher, and actor of the twentieth century. Standing Bear fought to preserve Lakota heritage and sovereignty and was at the forefront of a Progressive movement to change government policy toward Native Americans.
Standing Bear was one of a small group of Lakota leaders of his generation, such as Gertrude Bonnin, and Charles Eastman, who were born and raised in the oral traditions of their culture, educated in white culture, and wrote significant historical accounts of their people and history in English.
Luther’s experiences in early life, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Wild Westing with Buffalo Bill, and life on government reservations present a unique view of a Native American during the Progressive Era in American history.
Standing Bear’s commentaries on Native American culture and wisdom educated the American public, deepened public awareness, and created popular support to change government policies toward Native American peoples. Luther Standing Bear helped create new 20th century image of the Native American culture and their holistic approach and respect toward nature; his classic commentaries appear in college-level reading lists in anthropology, literature, history, and philosophy, and constitute a legacy and treasury of Native American wisdom.
Throughout his life he had published 4 books and was the leader at the forefront of the progressive movement aimed at preserving Native American heritage and sovereignty, known as the voice of the Native American way of life in the education of the white man.
Here are 10 quotes from the great Sioux Indian Chief – Standing Bear – that will be sure to disturb much of what you think you know about “modern” culture.
1) Praise, flattery, exaggerated manners and fine, high-sounding words were no part of Lakota politeness. Excessive manners were put down as insincere, and the constant talker was considered rude and thoughtless. Conversation was never begun at once, or in a hurried manner.
2) Children were taught that true politeness was to be defined in actions rather than in words. They were never allowed to pass between the fire and the older person or a visitor, to speak while others were speaking, or to make fun of a crippled or disfigured person. If a child thoughtlessly tried to do so, a parent, in a quiet voice, immediately set him right.
3) Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regardful of the rule that ‘thought comes before speech.’…and in the midst of sorrow, sickness, death or misfortune of any kind, and in the presence of the notable and great, silence was the mark of respect… strict observance of this tenet of good behavior was the reason, no doubt, for his being given the false characterization by the white man of being a stoic. He has been judged to be dumb, stupid, indifferent, and unfeeling.
4) We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, the winding streams with tangled growth, as ‘wild’. Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him was it ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery.
5) With all creatures of the earth, sky and water was a real and active principle. In the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.
6) This concept of life and its relations was humanizing and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all.
7) It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth… the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.
8) Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature learns, and that was to feel beauty. We never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensified human futility, so whatever came we adjusted ourselves, by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint.
9) …the old Lakota was wise. He knew that a man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his children close to nature’s softening influence.
10) Civilization has been thrust upon me… and it has not added one whit to my love for truth, honesty, and generosity.
Painting the touch of the old school, these quotes have deep meaning in modern times too. They deeply moved me, and made me question our society. I hope they did the same to you.
Originally inspired by Wisdom Pills
Image was taken from Indian portrait, bust – NARA – 523598/Wikimedia