Below are excerpts from "The Soul of an Indian", writings of Ohiyesa (Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman) who was born in 1858 near what is now Redwood Falls, Minnesota.
Our religion is the last thing about us that the person from outside will ever understand.
We of the twentieth century know...that all religious aspiration, all sincere worship, canhave but one source and goal. We know that the Creator of the educated and the Creator of the child, the Creator of the civilized and the Creator of the primitive, is after all the same Creator; and that this Creator does not measure our differences, but embraces all who live rightly and humbly on the earth.
There are no temples or shrines among us save those of nature. Being children of nature, we are intensely poetical. We would deem it sacrilege to build a house for The One who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or on the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and in the vast jeweled vault of the night sky ! A Creator who is enrobed in filmy veils of cloud, there on the rim of the visible world where our Great-Grandfather Sun kindles his evening camp-fire; who rides upon the rigorous wind of the north, or breathes forth spirit upon fragrant southern airs, whose war canoe is launched upon majestic rivers and inland seas-- such a Creator needs no lesser cathedral.
We believe profoundly in silence -- the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind, and spirit. Those who can preserve their selfhood ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence--- not a leaf, as it were, astir on the tree; not a ripple upon the shining pool -- those, in the mind of the person of nature, possess the ideal attitude and conduct of life. If you ask us "What is silence ?" we will answer, "It is the Great Mystery. The holy silence is Creator's voice." If you ask, "What are the fruits of silence ?" we will answer, "They are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity, and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character." "Guard your tongue in youth," said the old chief, Wabasha, "and in age you may mature a thought that will be of service to your people."
We have always preferred to believe that the Spirit is not breathed into humans alone,but that the whole created universe shares in the immortal perfection of its Creator...We believe that the spirit pervades all creation and that every creature possesses a soul in some degree, though not necessarily a soul conscious of itself. The tree, the waterfall, the grizzly bear, each is an embodied Force, and as such is an object of reverence.
We original Americans have generally been despised by our white conquerors for ourpoverty and simplicity. They forget, perhaps, that our religion forbade the accumulationof wealth and the enjoyment of luxury. To us, as to other spiritually minded peoplein every age and race, the love of possessions is a snare, and the burdens of a complexsociety a source of needless peril and temptation.
All who have lived much out of doors, whether Indian or otherwise, know that there is amagnetic and powerful force that accumulates in solitude, but is quickly dissipated bylife in a crowd.
In a broader sense, our whole life is prayer because every act of our life is, in a very realsense, a religious act. Our daily devotions are more important to us than food. We wake at daybreak, put on our moccasins and step down to the water's edge. Here we throwhandfuls of clear, cold water into our face, or plunge in bodily. After the bath, we stand erect before the advancing dawn, facing the sun as it dances upon the horizon, and offer our unspoken prayer. Our mate may proceed or follow us in our devotions, but never accompanies us. Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone.
Beauty, in our eyes, is always fresh and living, even as Creator, the Great Mystery, dresses the world anew at each season of the year.
Let us not forget that even for the most contemporary thinker, who sees a majestyand grandeur in natural law, science cannot explain everything. We all still have to face the ultimate miracle -- the origin and principle of life. This is the supreme mystery that is the essence of worship and without which there can be no religion. In the presence of this mystery all peoples must take an attitude much like that of the Indian, who beholds with awe the Divine in all creation.
© 2006 VANESSA BYERS, Vanessa: Unplugged