Erdoes/Lame Deer. Lame Deer Seeker of Visions: The Life of a Sioux Medicine Man. Simon and Schuster. New York, 1972.
(1) Indian children are never alone. They are always surrounded by grandparents, uncles, cousins, relatives of all kinds, who fondle the kids, sing to them, tell them stories. If the parents go somewhere, the kids go along.
- Continuum Concept
(22) My father was loved by everybody. He was a kind, smiling man. He had great patience and it was very hard to get him angry. He was the silent type, kept his mouth shut and did very little talking. Some men have their mouths open all the time, but they only have one horse or no horse at all. My dad had over two hundred. He used to tease me, pat me on the head, showing that he loved me in a hundred different ways, but for weeks he did not say one goddamn word to me.
(27) I was the tekoja - the pampered grandson - and like all Indian children I was spoiled. I was never scolded, never heard a harsh word. “Ajustan - leave it alone” - that was the worst. I was never beaten; we don’t treat children that way. Indians kids are so used to being handled gently, to get away with things, that they often don’t pay much attention to what the grownups tell them. I’m a grandfather now myself and sometimes I fell like yelling at one of those brash kids, “hey, you little son of a bitch, listen to me!” That would make him listen all right, but I can’t do it.
When I didn’t want to go to sleep my grandma would try to scare me with the ciciye - a kind of boogeyman. “Takoja, istima ye - go to sleep, sonny,” she would say, “or the ciciye will come after you.” Nobody knew what the ciciye was like, but he must have been something terrible. When the ciciye wouldn’t work anymore, I was threatened with the siyoko - another kind of monster. Nobody knew what the siyoko was like either, but he was ten times more terrible than the ciciye. Grandma did not have much luck. Neither the ciciye nor the siyoko scared me for long. But when I was real bad, Grandma would say, “wasicun anigni kte - the white man will come bring you to his home,” and that scared me all right. Wasicun were for real.
(33) My first day in school was also the first time I had beans, and with them came some white stuff, I guessed it was pork fat. That night, when I came home, my grandparents had to open the windows. They said my air was no good. Up to then I had eaten nothing but dry meat, wasna, papa, dry corn mixed with berries. I didn’t know cheese and eggs, butter or cream. Only seldom had I tasted sugar or candy. So I had little appetite at school. For days on end they fed us cheese sandwiches, which made Grandma sniff at me, saying, “Grandson, have you been near some goats?”
(34) When I was fourteen years old I was told that I had to go to boarding school. It is hard for a non-Indian to understand how some of our kids feel about boarding schools. In their own homes, Indian children are surrounded with relatives as with a warm blanket. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, older brothers and cousins are always fussing over them, playing with them or listening to what they have to say. Indian kids call their aunt “Mother,” not just as a polite figure of speech but because that aunt acts like a mother. Indian children are never alone. If the grownups go some place, the little ones are taken along. Children have their rights just as the adults. There are rarely forced to do something they don’t like, even if it is good for them. The parents will say, “He hates it so much, we don’t have the heart to make him do it.”
To the Indian kid, the boarding school comes as a terrific shock. He is taken from his warm womb to a strange, cold place. It is like being pushed out of a cozy kitchen into a howling blizzard.
(36) I think in the end I got the better of that school. I was more of an Indian when I left than when I went in. My back had been tougher than the many straps they had worn out on it.
(44) The rancher calls the pest control officer to kill these animals…and the prairie becomes something without life - no more prairie dogs, no more badgers, foxes, coyotes. The big birds of prey used to feed on prairie dogs, too. So you hardly see an eagle these days. The bald eagle is your symbol. You see him on your money, but your money is killing him. When a people start killing off their own symbols they are in a bad way.
The Sioux have a name for white men. They call them wasicun - fat takers. It is a good name, because you have taken the fat of the land. But it does not seem to have agreed with you. Right now you don’t look so healthy - overweight, yes, but not healthy. Americans are bred like stuffed geese - to be consumers, but not human beings.
- force fed cows and chickens become force fed humans
(45) We aren’t divided up into separate, neat little families - Pa, Ma, kids, and to hell with everybody else. The whole damn tribe is one big family; that’s our kind of reality.
(46) We make lousy farmers, because deep down within us lingers a feeling that land, water, air, the earth and what lies beneath its surface cannot be owned as someone’s private property. That belongs to everybody, and if man wants to survive, he had better come around to this Indian point of view, the sooner the better, because there isn’t much time left to think it over.
(47) Old Uncle would sometimes leave a heifer or steer in front of a poor cousin’s house. He used to tell me, “there’s more to food than just passing through your body. There are spirits in the food, watching over it. If you are stingy, that spirit will go away thinking, ‘this bastard is so tight, I’ll leave.’ But if you share your food with others, this good spiritwill always stay around.” I was brought up to regard food as something sacred. I can foresee a day when all you have to give us are capsules with some chemicals and vitamins instead of food, with the missionaries telling us to fold our hands over a few tablets on our plates, saying, “heavenly father, bless our daily pill.” I’m glad I won’t be around to see it.
(49) Then the day came when I swapped or sold the last of my livestock…now I no longer had any property to take care of, to tie me down. Now I could be what I wanted - a real Sioux, an ikce wicasa, a common, wild, natural human being.
(49) I found out that I needed a hunting license if I wanted to go after deer or antelope. The idea of an Indian having to pay for a fancy piece of paper in order to be allowed to hunt on his own land to feed his own, genuine, red man’s belly seemed like a bad joke to me. It made me laugh, but it also made me angry. The same people who killed off the buffalo, who were chopping up the last wild horses into dog food, now were telling me that I was a danger to wildlife preservation if I wanted some red meat on my table, that I had to be regulated. Why couldn’t I be satisfied with the starches that they were handing out to me? They told me I should be flattered, that having to buy a license put me up there on the same level with the white gentleman hunter. I answered, through an interpreter, that I was no goddamn sportsman, just a hungry, common, natural Indian who did not like fancy stamped papers and knew of only one way he could use them.
(50) I was like many other full bloods. I didn’t want a steady job in an office or factory. I thought myself too good for that, bot because I was stuck up but simply because any human being is too for that kind of no-life, even white people. I trained myself to need and want as little as could be so that I wouldn’t have to work except when I felt like it.
(56) Somebody tried to give me a steady job as a ranch hand. I told him, “I want to raise cain, not cattle.”
(56) oyumni - time of wandering, roaming.
(61) The ghost dancers were massacred at Wounded Knee and their dream wiped out with Gatling guns. Dreams are dangerous to the green frog-skin world [money], which tries to keep them away with cannons.
(64) At the time I quit peyote I had found out what a real Sioux vision was like. If you dream, that’s no vision. Anybody can dream. And if you take an herb - well, even the butcher boy at this meat counter will have a vision after eating peyote. The real vision has to come out of your own juices. It is not a dream; it is very real. It hits you sharp and clear like an electric shock. You are wide awake and, suddenly, there is a person standing next to you who you know can’t be there at all. Or somebody is sitting close by, and all at once you see him also up on a hill half a mile away. Yet you are not dreaming; your eyes are open. You have to work for this, empty your mind for it.
(66) You could tell that this man was all right by the many trees that surrounded his place. In Nebraska and Dakota a lot of those hog and corn farmers are so stingy they won’t have more than four trees standing on their property, two at the front porch to give a little shade and two in back. All the rest of the trees go under to make room for whatever they are growing. They don’t waste a square foot, because they could maybe lose a nickel or a dime that way. And those stingy frog-skinners with their shriveled up souls raise only one cash crop and live out of tins.
(68) ..the next pay day, the day the eagle shits, they called it..
(68) A lot of nonsense is talked and written about war: fight for your country, for America, for democracy, for your loved ones. Hell, a soldier fights only to protect himself. Somebody shoots at him, so he shoots back before the other guy can kill him. He runs like a deer. He comes back and brags, “I fought for my flag.” That’s a lot of ta-chesli, a lot of bull. When he’s shot at, nobody thinks of a piece of cloth.
(74) Before our white brothers came to civilize us we had no jails. Therefore we had no criminals. You can’t have criminals without a jail. We had no locks or keys, and we had no thieves. If a man was so poor that he had no horse, tipi, or blanket, someone gave him these things. We were too civilized to set much value on personal belongings. We wanted to have things only in order to give them away. We had no money, and therefore man’s worth couldn’t be measured by it. We had no written law, no attorneys or politicians, therefore we couldn’t cheat. We really were in a bad way before the white man came, and I don’t know how we managed to get along without the basic things which, we are told, are absolutely necessary to make a civilized society.
(77) I figured out a few reasons for our drinking. They might not be the right ones; I’m just speculating. We call liquor mni wakan - holy water. I guess visions were so important and sacred to us that having our minds altered and befuddled by whisky impressed us in the beginning like a religious experience, a dream, a vision.
(79) I am no wino or pishko, but I am no saint either. A medicine man shouldn’t be a saint. He should experience and feel all the ups and downs, the despair and joy, the magic and the reality, the courage and the fear, of his people. He should be able to sink as low as a bug, or soar as high as an eagle. Unless he can experience both, he is no good as a medicine man.
- Jung’s “everything contains its own opposite.”
(79) Sickness, jail, poverty, getting drunk - I had to experience all that myself. Sinning makes the world go round. You can’t be so stuck up, so inhuman that you want to be pure, your soul wrapped up in a plastic bag, all the time. You have to be God and the Devil, both of them. Being a good medicine man means being right in the midst of the turmoil, not shielding yourself from it. It means experiencing life in all its phases. It means not being afraid of cutting up and playing the fool now and then. That’s sacred too.
Nature, the Great Spirit - they are not perfect. The world couldn’t stand that perfection. The spirit has a good side and a bad side. Sometimes the bad side gives me more knowledge than the good side.
- vs. the Platonic/Christian “most real/most perfect/most good,” which are abstract ideas, not physical things, of western thought.
(93) They could just as well have carved this mountain into a huge cavalry boot standing on a dead Indian [Mt Rushmore].
(95) He went off and started working on Thunderhead Mountain, which is about twice as big as Mount Rushmore. Now Ziolowski says he is a friend of the Indians. He says he wants to do something for us. If a white man says this, it’s time for us Indians to run.
- “when an industrious fellow comes from town to ask me to partake in some lucrative endeavor, I run in the opposite direction..” Thoreau
(96) There are two things wrong with this statue. Crazy Horse never let a white man take his picture. He didn’t want white people to look at him. He died fighting before he would let white soldiers shut him up in a stone guard house. He was buried the way he wanted it, with nobody knowing his grave. The whole idea of making a beautiful wild mountain into a statue of him is a pollution of the landscape. It is against the spirit of Crazy Horse.
(100) Most of our Indians wind up being serfs on their own land. About ninety percent of the Pine Ridge reservation is leased out to white ranchers and farmers..
(108) I’m an Indian. I think about ordinary, common things like this pot. The bubbling water comes from the rain cloud. It represents the sky. The fire comes from the sun which warms us all - men, animals, trees. The meat stands for the four legged creatures, our animal brothers, who gave themselves so that we should live. The steam is living breath. It was water; now it goes up to the sky, becomes cloud again. These things are scared. Looking at that pot full of good soup, I am thinking how, in this simple manner, Wakan Tanka takes care of me. We Sioux spend a lot of time thinking about everyday things, which in our mind are mixed up with the spiritual. We see in the world around us many symbols that teach us the meaning of life. We have a saying that the white man sees so little, he must see with only one eye. We see a lot that you no longer notice. You could notice if you wanted to, but you are usually too busy. We Indians live in a world of symbols and images where the spiritual and the commonplace are one. To you, symbols are just words, spoken or written in a book. To us they are part of nature, part of ourselves - the earth, the sun, the wind and the rain, stones, trees, animals, even little insects like ants and grasshoppers. We try to understand them not with the head but with the heart, and we need no more than a hint to give us the meaning.
What to you seems commonplace to us appears wondrous through symbolism. This is funny, because we don’t even have a word for symbolism, yet we are wrapped up in it. You have the word, but that is all.
(112) White man’s symbol is the square. Square is his house, his office buildings with walls that separate people from one another. Square is the door which keeps strangers out, the dollar bill, the jail. Square are white man’s gadgets - boxes, boxes, and more boxes - TV sets, radios, washing machines, computers, cars. They all have corners and sharp edges - points in time, white man’s time, with appointments, time clocks and rush hours - that’s what the corners mean to me. You become a prisoner inside all these boxes.
More and more young white people want to stop being “straight” and “square” and try to become round, join our circle. That is good.
- polychromic time vs monochromic time in Beyond Culture, Edward T Hall
(115) Inyan Wasicun Wakan - the Holy White Stone Man - that’s what we call Moses. He appeals to us. He goes up all alone to the top of his mountain like an Indian, to have his vision, be all alone with his God, who talks to him through fire, bushes and rocks. Moses, coming back from the hill carrying stone tablets with things scratched on them - he would have made a good Indian medicine man.
(120) There is power in an antelope, but not in a goat or a sheep, which holds still while your butcher it, which will eat your newspaper if you let it. There was great power in a wolf, even in a coyote. You have made him into a freak - a toy poodle, a pekingese, a lap dog. You can’t do much with a cat, which is like an Indian, unchangeable. So you fix it, alter it, declaw it, even cut its vocal chords so you can experiment on it in a laboratory without being disturbed by its cries.
..chickens who have to spend all their lives stooped over makes an unnatural, crazy, no good bird. It also makes unnatural, no good human beings.
That’s where you fooled yourselves. You have not only altered, declawed and malformed your winged and four legged cousins; you have done it to yourselves. You changed your men into chairman of boards, into office workers, into time clock punchers. You have changed women into housewives, truly fearful creatures. I was once invited into the home of such a one.
“Watch the ashes, don’t smoke, you stain the curtains. Watch the goldfish bowl, don’t breathe on the parakeet, don’t lean your head against the wallpaper; your hair may be greasy. Don’t spill liquor on that table; it has a delicate finish. You should have wiped your boots; the floor was just varnished. Don’t, don’t, don’t..” That is crazy. we weren’t made to endure this. You live in prisons which you have built for yourselves, calling them homes, offices, factories. We have a new joke on the reservation: ‘what is cultural deprivation? Being an upper middle class white kid living in a split level suburban home with a color TV.’
(121) Sometimes I think that even our pitiful tar paper shacks are better than your luxury homes. Walking a hundred feet to the out house on a clear wintry night, through mud and snow, that’s one small link with nature. Or in the summer, in the back country, leaving the door of the privy open, taking your time, listening to the humming of insects, the sun warming your bones through the planks of wild; you don’t even have that pleasure anymore.
Americans want to have everything sanitized. No smells!…soon you’ll breed people without body openings.
I think white people are so afraid of the world they created that they don’t want to see, feel, smell, or hear it. The feeling of rain and snow on your face, being numbed by an icy wind and thawing out before a smoking fire, coming out of a hot sweat bath and plunging into a cold stream, these things make you feel alive, but you don’t want them anymore. Living in boxes which shut out the heat of summer and chill of winter, living inside a body that no longer has a scent, hearing a noise from the hi-fi instead of listening to the sounds of nature, watching some actor on TV having a make believe experience when you longer experience anything for yourself, eating food without taste - that’s your way. It’s no good.
(122) Your idea of war - sit in an airplane, way above the clouds, press a button, drop the bombs, and never look below the clouds - that’s the odorless, guiltless, sanitized way.
(123) Coyotes eat mostly rodents, field mice and such. Only once in a while will they go after a stray lamb. They are our natural garbage men cleaning up the rotten stinking things. They make good pets if you give them a chance. But their living could cost some man a few cents, and so the coyotes are killed from the air. They were here before the sheep, but they are in the way now; you can’t make a profit out of them.
(127) To come to nature, feels its power, let it help you, one needs time and patience for that. Time to think, to figure it all out. You have so little time for contemplation; it’s always rush, rush, rush with you. It lessens a person’s life, all that grind, that hurrying and scurrying about. Our old people say that the Indians of long ago didn’t have heart trouble. They didn’t have that cancer. The illnesses that they had they knew how to cure.
- “modern man’s life span is the shortest in the history of mankind..” Beyond Culture?
- P Shepard “managerial diseases” of modern life, Tender Carnivore
(131) Remember when we were together last in the Black Hills? When it suddenly snowed after a very hot day? Those six big black bulls [buffalo] we saw near Blue Bell, just like six large pick up trucks. They were so happy over that snow. Gamboling, racing around, playing like kittens. And afterward, we came across the tame cattle, hunched over, miserable, pitiful. ‘Moo, moo, moo - I’m cold.’ The real, natural animals don’t mind the cold; they are happy with the kind of fur coat and galoshes the Great Spirit gave them. White hunters used to call the buffalo stupid because they were easy to shoot, weren’t afraid of the gun. But the buffalo was not designed to cope with modern weapons. He was designed to deal with an Indian’s arrows.
(133) We use a badger’s bone puzzle, his penis, for sewing, or as an awl. You polish it, make it shiny. It lasts forever. This is a good tool, so valuable that you get a good horse in exchange for it.
(137) Sometimes I feel like the first being in one of our Indian legends. This was a giant made of earth, water, the moon and the winds. He had timber instead of hair, a whole forest of trees. He had a huge lake in his stomach and a waterfall in his crotch. I feel like this giant. All of nature is in me, and a bit of myself is in all of nature.
(155) The wicasa wakan wants to be by himself. He wants to be away from the crowd, from everyday matters. He likes to meditate, leaning against a tree or a rock, feeling the earth move beneath him, feeling the weight of that big flaming sky upon him. That way he can figure things out. Closing his eyes, he sees many things clearly. What you see with your eyes shut is what counts.
(157) Only human beings have come to a point where they no longer know why they exist. They don’t use their brains and they have forgotten the secret knowledge of their bodies, their senses, or their dreams. They don’t use the knowledge the spirit has put into every one of them; they are not even aware of this, and so they stumble along blindly on the road to nowhere - a paved highway which they themselves bulldoze and make smooth so that they can get faster to the big, empty hole which they’ll find at the end, waiting to swallow them up. It’s a quick, comfortable super highway, but I know where it leads to. I have seen it. I’ve been there in my vision and it makes me shudder to think about it.
- Dave Abrams, Derrick Jensen
(162) I respect other religions, but I don’t like to see them denatured and made into something else. You’ve made a blondie out of Jesus. I don’t care for those blond, blue eyed pictures of a sanitized, cloroxed, ajaxed Christ. How would you like it if I put braids on Jesus and stuck a feather in his hair? You’d call me a very crazy Indian, wouldn’t you? Jesus was a Jew. He wasn’t a yellow haired Anglo. I’m sure he had black hair and dark skin like an Indian. The white ranchers around here wouldn’t have let him step out with their daughters and wouldn’t have liked him having a drink in one of their saloons. His religion came out of the desert in which he lived, out of his mountains, his kind of animals, his kind of plants. You’ve tried to make him into an Anglo-Saxon Fuller Brush salesman, a long haired Billy Graham in a fancy night shirt, and that’s why he doesn’t work for you anymore. He was a good medicine man, I guess…So I don’t mind a young white man with long hair and a beaded headband coming to me, asking to learn about our Indian religion, even praying with us. But I would mind it if he tried to change our beliefs, adapt them to his kind of culture, progress, civilization and all that kind of stuff. I would mind that very much. You can’t take our beliefs out of our Badlands and prairies and put them into one of your factories or office buildings.
(163) Our beliefs are rooted deep in our earth, no matter what you have done to it and how much of it you have paved over. And if you leave all that concrete unwatched for a year or two, our plants, the native Indian plants, will pierce that concrete and push up through it.
(170) A medicine man has to be of the earth, somebody who reads nature as white men read a book
(173) I have been to New York, Chicago and some other big places, stayed in your house many times, met a lot of people and kept my eyes open. So I know a little about what you call psychology. I have heard about group therapy and encounter meetings and found out that some white people have a way of acting out their troubles in a play. Well, I must tell you that we Indians knew about these things a long time before you did. For longer than anybody can remember, many Sioux ceremonies always ended with a kind of Indian “group therapy” - with everybody taking his turn in a circle, talking about problems, about what’s wrong with him. And a heyoka, a thunder dreamer and clown, always has to act out his dreams in public, no matter how embarrassing that may be. At least it doesn’t cost him thirty-five bucks an hour.
(173) I haven’t told you all I know about the herbs and about the ways of our holy men. You understand that there are certain things one should not talk about, things that must remain hidden. It all was told, supposing there lived such a person who could tell all, there would be no mysteries left, and that would be very bad. Man cannot live without mystery. He has great need of it.
- compare to Laplacian Demon of modern science, the impulse to know everything, therefore control, manipulate it all to our advantage
(186) I have heard that in all the prehistoric caves the world over, one finds painted pebbles used in religious rites. Your bible is full of stories of sacred rocks set up in high places. Think of the rock of ages, of St Peter, whose name means rock. Think of Stonehenge. White people have forgotten this and have lost the power which is in the rocks.
(199) Nowadays clever people study sun spots through giant telescopes, and your man-made little stars zoom around the earth as if they were late on the job. You have even landed on the moon and left a few plastic bags of urine there and a few chewing gum wrappers. But I think the Indian knew the sun and the moon much better in those long forgotten days, were much closer to them.
(201) I have said much about the pain of the sun dance, little about its joys. We Sioux are not a simple people; we are very complicated . We are forever looking at things from different angles. For us there is pain in joy and joy in pain, just as to us a clown is a funny man and a tragic figure at one and the same time. It is all part of the same thing - nature, which is neither sad nor glad; it just is.
(208) The difference between the white man and us is this: you believe in the redeeming powers of suffering, if this suffering was done by somebody else, far away, two thousand years ago. We believe that it is up to every one of us to help each other, even through the pain of our bodies. Pain to us is not “abstract,” but very real. We do not lay this burden onto our god, nor do we want to miss being face to face with the spirit power. It is when we are fasting on the hilltop, or tearing our flesh at the sun dance, that we experience the sudden insight, come closer to the mind of the Great Spirit. Insight does not come cheaply, and we want no angel or saint to gain it for us and give it to us second hand.
(216) We believe all religions are really the same - all part of the Great Spirit. The trouble is not with Christianity, with religion, but with what you have made out of it. You have turned it upside down. You have made the religion of the protest leader and hippie Jesus into the religion of missionaries, army padres, Bureau of Indian Affairs officials. These are two all together different religions, my friend.
(217) I mistrust visions come by in the easy way - by swallowing something. The real insight, the ecstasy does not come from this.
Instant light by flicking on a switch, instant coffee, instant TV dinners, instant visions through pills, plants or mushrooms - that’s what I want to get away from. To my thinking that’s part of the white “instant” culture.
(231) [Sitting Bull] liked to talk about the little white children in New York to whom he had given candy when he was in the Buffalo Bill show, saying that children were all alike, whether white or red, that people could get along if they kept a child’s mind.
(252) ..desire has killed many…If this earth should ever be destroyed, it will be by desire, by the lust of pleasure and self-gratification, by greed for the green frog skin, by people who are mindful only of their own self, forgetting about the wants of others.
- the Four Noble Truths
- “the lust for possessions is a disease among them” Sitting Bull
Epilogue (R Erdoes)
(277) I think it was a sense of being completely swallowed up by nature that gave the prairie its powerful attraction. There is nothing like it in all of Europe. Even high up on a Swiss glacier one is still conscious of the toy villages below, the carefully groomed landscape of multicolored fields, the far away ringing of a church bell. It is all very beautiful, but it does not convey the prairie’ssense of liberation, of losing oneself, of utmost escape. I believe, with the Indians, that a landscape influences and forms the people living on it and that one cannot understand them and make friends with them without also understanding, and making friends with, the earth from which they came.