Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of life of the Indigenous people of the Great Plains before, and during, the arrival and subsequent spread of the European pioneers.

 Raised in the traditions of his people until the age of eleven, he was then educated at the Carlisle Indian Industrial Boarding School of Pennsylvania, where he learned the english language and way of life. (Though a National Historical Landmark, Carlisle remains a place of controversy in Native circles.)

Like his above mentioned contemporaries, however, his native roots were deep, leaving him in the unique position of being a conduit between cultures. Though his movement through the white man’s world was not without “success” — he had numerous movie roles in Hollywood — his enduring legacy was the protection of the way of life of his people.

By the time of his death he had published 4 books and had become a leader at the forefront of the progressive movement aimed at preserving Native American heritage and sovereignty, coming to be known as a strong voice in the education of the white man as to the Native American way of life. Here, then, are 10 quotes from the great Sioux Indian Chief known as 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.

Responses to "10 Quotes From Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society "

  1. Anonymous says:

    Very Powerful, oh, if we could only go back...

  2. Anonymous says:

    White man came to America thinking he knew all....exterminated wolves, bison and hunted to near extinction beavers and poisioned smaller predators...and tried with all might to exterminate the native americans....instead of learning from them how to live in tune with the earth, now we live stressed out, unhealthy lives, polluting water, air and soil...eating animals who suffers from birth to slaughter, sick or medicated or modified to make more MONEY...suffering from cancers, autism, ADHD and obesity/diabetes........if we could turn back time and do better...

  3. Unknown says:

    We should progress, mature and develop. We should live WITH nature as our ancesters did. Not ON it like we do today. Through away the stones and papers in our wallets. Help others so they can help you.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Only the greedy and the people who could not make it work in their own countries. ie the drop outs and scumbags who felt oppressed came to the Americas and did the same to the natives that they accused others of doing to them and as an Irishman myself I would have no hesitation in pointing the finger at the Irish as being probably the worst only being beaten to first place by the Spaniards who were more organised and did it in the name of God.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Reminds me of the stories in a book. I think it was called The Green Light Exhibition. Was written b a woman who was among the first western people to go up the Amazon River in South America. In her closing remarks, she said something about the challenges of the world today. She likened the various native peoples of the world to ones who were living atop of Gods mountain. The rest of the people were struggling up a adjoining mountain. Atop of this adjoining mountain was this Just civilization, unified and peaceful, another mountain of God. The challenge she presented was how to get the people atop the first mountain, to the top of the second one without dragging them through the valley of moral decadence and crass materialism.

  6. Unknown says:

    Truer words were never spoken. Long live truth, nature, and our connection to it.

  7. Unknown says:

    Nice. I think respect for our native brothers of old runs deep in Americans' veins. It s too bad the story bacame one of the goverment "taking care" of them rather than one of them finding a path to thrive in the society that came to be. There is a real warning in their story.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Makes me reflect on my own behavior.

  9. Truth is simply the most beautiful essence of living... I can mass in waves both you and all your enemies to be my slaves, but if you live in truth, its beauty will overwhelm all else... m.l. farahay

  10. Anonymous says:

    Simple guide words.

  11. Unknown says:

    There are 2 ways of man. Round & square. Square started a little b4 the pyramid builders. Bricks & straighg lines..trying to master & control Nature.
    Round are the people who live with the planet, the native tribes, bushmen, the celts etc

  12. Unknown says:

    I taught my child to respect all life. She still carries a spider outside and releases it. I also taught her to respect and not stare at handicapped or disfigured people. She was treated badly in her youth because she was always trying to protect those less fortunate than her. So many of you say, if we could go back - let's change - and you blame someone else for today's troubles. I say Forget the blame - it does not matter any more who did what. What matters is that we accept each other, respect Mother Earth! Be kind to each other. Get rid of GREED!! We could do this, but I really doubt it will happen in my life time. I will keep trying to change things. I know I am in a good space. So is my child. Are you??

  13. Unknown says:

    "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". -Luther Standing Bear

    I read the above quote long ago, and marveled at the wisdom of a great human being, it helped me understand that to this part of the planet, calling the immigrants "Early Pioneers" is a soft euphemism that is simply an offensive term to refer to the conquerors, murderers and those thirsty for land.
    History can not be undone, but history keeps records of literature and words of wisdom where we can learn to shape our own existence.


  14. Anonymous says:

    Yes, it IS truly the most horrible treatment of animals, human beings and the land (GOLD RUSH and now OIL) for the Power Elite and the privileged FEW at the top to benefit from the labor of less privileged immigrants who did their share of ABUSING to get ahead. Shameful, dishonorable, HEINOUS disregard for human life of the Native Americans who did NOT deserve this horrid INHUMANE treatment. If ONLY we could go back and do it all over again the RIGHT WAY. The HUMANE way. Not the INVADING murderous greedy land grabbing way. Please forgive us and our wicked ancestors who HAVE done you wrong, my Native Brothers. I have some Native ancestry to psychically empathize and KNOW of the undue pain and suffering caused by the white European barbarians. ~ Katona Mani

  15. "All of us here on Turtle Island know the difference between right and wrong. It's the choice that defines us... Mitakweyas." -Spirit Horse

  16. Anonymous says:

    For goodness sake! This is just a version of the noble savage nonsense. Native Americans have and had no greater claim to being true stewards of nature than any other people do. Nor were they fountains of virtue and goodness. They were and are people just like any other people living in the world; some good, some bad, some wise, some foolish, some honest, some dishonest etc etc etc. That they were cheated, attacked, killed etc is true, horrible and undeniable. That they still suffer because of the ethnicity is also true, horrible and undeniable. But it does not grant them some sort of free pass or special exemption. What they make of their lives as individuals and as a society is up to them. Blaming others based on past or current injustice is a cop out.

  17. Anonymous says:

    No where in his comments does he place blame. I believe if you actually read the quotes that he was telling us the difference between respecting nature and abusing it. How children are taught to respect elders and guests. That thinking before speaking shows respect. Family comes first. Sounds to me like some pretty good principles we should all live by.


    Words of wisdom are written and heard and should be used every day on Mother Earth so that our children will pass them on to their children remembering that words of the past are for the future.

  19. Where is the # 7?

  20. Anonymous says:

    I would have enjoyed more direct quotes from Standing Bear, such as #4. To read his actual words rather than principles he and the Lakota believed would have made me feel closer to them.

  21. Joanne says:

    Wonderful photographs of a brilliant Culture

  22. Anonymous says:

    Can we get equal time from a Pawnee chief? It might open some eyes among the non-Christian Irishmen in our midst.

  23. Anonymous says:

    This is very true. I may not be Native, but I can empathize with these thoughts.

  24. Anonymous says:

    While everything he says is true an sincere and thoughtful and also the way to live by, not all tribes were compassionate and kind. In many instances they were cruel to each other and had many wars and ingenious way of torture and held slaves.. I don't know the history of the Lakota, but I do know there were tribes that were not so kind. They were men after all and possessed the good and bad qualities that we all possess. It is a very sad shame that there was such a clash of culture and it ended so badly, but that is also the story of civilizations from time immemorial. I wish we all could live in peace and love and harmony with nature and never go after another persons territory and goods. That would be Utopia. It is not here yet.

  25. Anonymous says:

    thanks. same nightmarish empire stole my pagan tribal culture in Europe not too many generations before http://youririshheritage.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/MAP1150AD_edited-1.jpg

  26. Unknown says:

    I am grateful to you for having post this and to the insight of Luther Standing Bear and the Oglala Sioux. Beats what I was exposed to in Catechism and Sunday School by a long way. I am passing it on. I am so sorry for the Terror War by White Male European Colonial Settlers against all North AmerIndian Natives and for the ongoing genocide against AmerIndians throughout the Western Hemisphere and indigenous peoples around the Earth.

  27. Hunter-gatherer societies are often known for their thoughtful politeness, humor, and adaptability to the elements. Neolithic farming societies are known for their hospitality, community, festivity, but also sometimes horrible goings-down. Metallurgical societies are known for their brutal conquests but enduring monuments. Industrial societies are known for having a minority of brilliantly educated elite, but also mobs of angry men pushed to insanity by the merciless clock, and insidious economic-legal systems that always find a way to supply consumers at the expense of poorer civilizations outside their borders.

  28. I had the opportunity to attend a sweatlodge conducted by Wallace Black Elk. Extraordinary is is putting it mildly.

  29. The question is how to translate this basic wisdom into something useable in the 21st century.

  30. Dave Robinson says:

    Words to live by I especially relate to 6 and 9 those of us that experience closeness with animals and nature are blessed these days with the disconnect from it experienced by so many. My horses and dogs are my friends, in fact I am not sure if they are mine or I am theirs

  31. Unknown says:

    Nature finally teaches us that "there is no 'them.'"

  32. Anonymous says:

    Thats all so True.

    I am a "white man from Germany.In my Time in the Germanarmy i can speak with many Cherokee soldiers from the US Army.I learn a lot about The Creator and the Spirit. The Cherokee give me the Name:Shadowhunter

  33. I have deep and higrespect of the Native American people and tge wisdom of their elders.

  34. Unknown says:

    The beauty and simplicity of the old ways have always stricken my heart with love - and pain , because it is no longer. I do pray for it's full return despite my sitting in a house with electricity and heat and comforts of the new world. Much Honor and Respect to The Elders

  35. Truth is so amazing

  36. Wise words!

  37. Unknown says:

    Lovely to read truth comes out from their way of life ....The Lakota I have some sort of connection ??

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