Article writen by Joseph M. Marshall III Author, 'The Lakota Way of Strength and Courage: Lessons in Resilience from the Bow and Arrow'

The word wisdom is used frequently every day, whether it is spoken and heard or written and read. Yet it is debatable, in my opinion, if most of us know what it is. In most dictionaries it is defined as "the quality or state of being wise, sagacious, discerning and insightful."

There are wise people in the world from all walks of life, from many nations and cultures. But there is one unalterable reality: No one who is truly wise is young. By the same token there are many old cultures on this planet of ours. Therefore, if we universally regard elders as repositories of wisdom, than those old cultures would have much to offer.

Many indigenous cultures were already populating every nook and cranny of what came to be called North America when the migration of Europeans began, roughly 500 years ago. Those peoples that greeted the newcomers with varied degrees of curiosity and apprehension had, by then, lived on and with this land for thousands upon thousands of years. Consequently they had evolved societal values and ways that enabled them to not merely survive, but thrive for all those millennia. Without going into the sad and difficult details and consequences of the interaction between Europeans and indigenous North Americans, it is important to note that the indigenous people were deeply and traumatically impacted; to the point where our cultures were diminished and, in some cases, entirely lost. The good news is that some of us have survived: just over 480 ethnically identifiable native tribes or nations in the United States.

A popular axiom says that "whatever does not kill you will make you stronger." If that is true, native societies have endured much to survive to the present day, so we should be among the strongest people in the world. That strength is not physical, however, and certainly has nothing to do with military might. That kind of strength has to do with the experiences we had and the insights we gained from it.

Furthermore, all of us, as indigenous cultures and nations, are older than any of the modern nations of North and Central America. As societies, therefore, as with individuals, we have acquired wisdom. It would be accurate to say that we are among the elders in the global village.

When I was a teenager, my paternal grandfather made an interesting observation. He said that native peoples of this country (meaning the United States) needed to hang on to their ways and their values, but not only for themselves. He said that we might have to save this country from itself with our ways and our wisdom as native peoples. Unfortunately, he did not elaborate beyond that. It would have been extremely helpful for him to have laid out a blueprint as how we should that. But as I get older the more I see the truth in his observation.

I know little of the specific traditions, customs, languages and values of other native tribes and nations. But I do know something of the Lakota third of our nation that also includes the Dakota and Nakota. What I have learned is that the foundation of our wisdom is all the realities of the physical world. Some are obvious: the sun comes up in the east and goes down in the west; there are four seasons in the yearly cycle -- winter, spring, summer and autumn -- and each has its own whims and characteristics. Others are a bit more subtle, but no less unrelenting, such as the knowledge that it is impossible to survive without knowing those realities, and living within them. That is why we did not place our villages on a known flood plain, therefore precluding having to blame the river when it flooded. Furthermore, because all our values, traditions and customs are based on reality, the wisdom derived from practicing them is real, and not based on myth and legend.

Therefore, what is wisdom? There are many answers. Here are a few:

*Wisdom always takes the path of reason.

*A wise person never speaks before immersing himself or herself in a long and thoughtful moment.

*Wisdom is the most effective antidote to fear and the absence of reason.

*The wisest man or woman is also the most humble.

Perhaps my grandfather was, and is, right. However, I do know that we Lakota (as well as other indigenous peoples) have much to offer to the world at large. Among our ancestors there were some values that were held very high, among them humility, compassion, courage and generosity. But all values lead to the one we consider the greatest: wisdom. And it is our hope that one day wisdom -- rather than might, arrogance and bluster -- will rule the world.

Joseph M. Marshall III is a teacher, historian, writer and a Lakota craftsman and archer. He has won multiple awards for his screenplays, fiction and historical books, including "The Lakota Way" (Viking Compass, 2002), and is the recipient of the Wyoming Humanities Award. His most recent book is "The Lakota Way of Strength and Courage: Lessons in Resilience from the Bow and Arrow" (Sounds True, February 2012).

Raised on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, he is one of the few voices empowered to share authentic wisdom teachings of his people to non-Native Americans.
BOOK: The Lakota Way of Strength and Courage: Lessons in Resilience from the Bow and Arrow

RELATED VIDEO : Check out here video of Indian elder, Oren Lyons, speaks of the path we are on and the upcoming point of no return we are collectively approaching.

Indian Elder Speaks - Point of No Return

Responses to "Lakota Wisdom: Why Native American Truths Can Heal the World"

  1. Braeboy says:

    What your grandfather said about hanging on to native ways and values not just for them but to save the country(and world for that matter) is a very true and wise observation. I am always impressed with the native values of generosity and compassion and that we(all people) share this earth. Many people today do not think of this or their fellow man and just out to get all they can for themselves. Perhaps native culture and values should be taught to all in schools beginning at an early age.

  2. Anonymous says:

    wow thank god i was enlighten i see all our wrong doing and i can say i do not want this live i lead . my heart bleeds when i see the evil in mans live were did we go wrong may the light of the day bless you and you grow like a flower to the end of time .

  3. I beleive all men and women was once native, somewhere on mother earth... some men and women stay close to their essence, to their roots and some don't... I feel just like you about life. I´m european, but I could be in wherever other place on earth I would feel the same! the important is the inside :)

  4. Singingma says:

    Thank you for your posts. I see them on Facebook thru others who share them. May you be as blessed as I feel in seeing them, and I feel very blessed. Again, a most sincere thank you.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for posting this...As a Cherokee/Irish American I believe this with all my heart. Our ancestors had better ways of living than we do today...they did not think of I/me, they lived as a tribe...helped each other and cared about tradition and survival...our generation has lost too much....

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your wisdom and good understanding - the dominate race is w/out humility, generosity and respect mainly - it's my vision that many will return to harmony to live tribally again - as we're all suppose to - we are all related. In Love and Light, Patty Tawiyaka

  7. Anonymous says:

    You have posted here what I believe too. I am not 'of any indigenous peoples' biologically, but have learnt much from those who are and I feel no different to them. We are all related - and all connected to the world we inhabit in this life in this physical body. To respect others and the world we inhabit is to respect ourselves.
    Mother WILL let us know when the degree of disrespect she is being shown becomes too great. She already is.
    Either we all learn from those who still know enough of the wisdom the ancient tribal peoples knew or we will not survive.

  8. tree frog says:

    I am happy today to hear an elder say we may not have reached the point of no return. Some days I wonder. Thank you grandpa Oren for reminding me it is my responsibly to walk the best way I can everyday and for giving me hope

  9. Anonymous says:

    yes, my brother we to have lost our way from our great spirit! We must get in harmony with the earth and we will gain our respect back from our Great Spirit. Our people are disrespectful to our earth, we need to respect our Great Spirit!!

  10. Anonymous says:

    thank you

  11. Brenda Long says:

    I will try to read your book. I agree the wisdom of our ancestors and most importantly the prophets of the Holy Scriptures. Please visit

  12. Marie Culleton says:

    I do believe that the knowledge is in us all as human beings i see no separation to my brothers an sisters of all faiths colors creeds, as we are all born, one with Mother Earth. Love is universal no need for that to stop at the borders. it is what surrounds us dictates to our being if we allow it against our own moral guide and we all no our morals from instinct, for it is that which leads us to seek faith in the first place. We are all born of Morality the world you come into is what has been passed to you. And to be honest those that have gone before have been selfish greedy power crazed and unequal, and demanded you be the same an fit the matrix of the machine.I am of the original indigenous tribe of Briton Pagan Celtic Tribe or rainbow community as we call ourselves, where everyone round us and no one, but we all no who we are we are the ones that follow Gaia our Mother Earth.

  13. betty says:

    wisdom the application of knowledge

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