By Victoria L. Cochran, grade 11
2011 Reconnecting The Circle Essay Winner
What exactly are modern day American morals? Take a glance at the media and controversy appears everywhere, from drinking to sexuality and various scandals of the sort. In today’s society, it seems nearly impossible to pinpoint a set of values that all Americans agree on. However, when all else fails, a look into the past can usually provide insight into present problems. In this case, it can be helpful to go back to first recorded people to live in America, the Native Americans. Despite being unjustly cast in the roles of savage warriors, the Native Americans must have been doing something right to survive thousands of years, European invasion, and the American people. Though no Native American tribe’s culture is identical to another, they share key values possessed by most groups and other outside cultures, as well. Native Americans found successful, prosperous living in three values that can be agreed upon universally: wisdom, generosity, and courage.
In the modern world, knowledge is growing by leaps and bounds, but what happened to the idea of wisdom? Most Native American societies had elders and religious leaders who passed down morality tales to teach the younger ones wise pieces of advice. One such lesson can be found in the prevalent Native American phrase, “Certain things catch your eye. Pursue only those that capture your heart” (Shimeld). This wisdom is even more applicable in a world with more knowledge than ever before. While it is extremely beneficial for the world to amass as much information as possible, to the individual, more knowledge is not necessarily better, for a more fulfilling life can be found in pursuing passion. The mind will never be able to know every piece of information available, so instead of relentlessly pursuing this impossible task, the individual should use his inner convictions to find accomplishment where it really matters: internally. Americans need to realize that success is not solely measured based on quantitative values and achievement in the business world. True success can be found in self-fulfillment and finding out what makes you happy through wisdom.
Along with wisdom, generosity is a value at the heart of most Native American societies. This can most prevalently be seen in the characteristic of tribal living, where Native Americans are considerate of one another’s needs as well as the needs of Mother Nature. In one sense, Americans have begun to connect with Native American values in that action has been taken to protect nature, which has started to form more balance in transforming man versus nature into a healthy relationship of man at one with nature. However, many people in today’s society are so occupied by their own problems, they neglect relationships with others, which tie into wisdom through internal gratification. One myth created by the Ojibwe people relates a tale of one physically crippled brother’s love for the other to the extreme of taking care of his brother’s wife, despite his brother’s ongoing selfishness. For instance, “Bokwewa was extremely kind to his brother, and did everything to render his life happy” (“Bokwewa or The Humpback”). Despite his own deformity, Bokwewa takes time to assist his brother in any way that he can, which shows an amazing amount of generosity. In response to this story, the Native Americans of this tribe tried to the greatest extent they could to uphold this standard. Likewise, Americans today can achieve more balance in their lives by considering the emotions of others and offering support. Working as a community balances out all of the good deeds and continues to pass on the kindness.
More than any other trait, I see courage as an outstanding value that Native Americans retain. Countless times in history, it can be observed how Native Americans remain steadfast in their central, cultural values. As a current student in AP United States History, I see the most prominent example of bravery appearing in the character by the name of Tatanka-Iyotanka, more commonly known as Sitting Bull. Most people remember that “Sitting Bull’s courage was legendary” because of his gallantry in fighting, such as at the Battle of Wounded Knee (“Sitting Bull”). However, the greatest instance of courage that I revere in Sitting Bull is his cultural perseverance of himself and his people. Sitting Bull’s death, a precursor to the Massacre of Wounded Knee that took hundreds of people’s lives due to the ban of the Ghost Dance, shines as the ultimate unyielding stand in his beliefs. The Ghost Dance, a ritual that showed resistance to white American culture, “clearly promoted pacifism and warned before making any trouble with the whites or refusing to work for them” (Kyrova). Since they were of no threat to the United States, the Lakota natives had the complete right to exercise their cultural beliefs. Most defended their culture to the greatest extent. Whether in physical battle or peaceful, passive resistance, the courage of Native Americans cannot be understated in fighting against all odds. As a high school student, I see many of my peers simply attempting to fit in and blend into the cultural surroundings rather than taking a stand for their internal convictions. I believe it would benefit the balance of society if everyone could find courage and stand firmly in his/her beliefs. This can range from defending a peer from hurtful remarks to simply sharing one’s values without self-consciousness in class or with friends. The most important principle to possess is the courage to be yourself and to have your own values, which the Native Americans represent as thriving, unique cultures in the melting pot of America.
By and large, in a fast-paced world with lots of change, it can be beneficial to observe a lesson or two from a group of people who have survived thousands of years through the growth of the United States: the Native Americans. As a healthy lifestyle revolves around balance, Americans can seek wisdom to supplement the abundant knowledge in the world to provide an inner satisfaction to balance outward achievements. Generosity, in turn, spreads the wealth and counteracts all of the negativity in humanity. Just as numerous Native Americans fought to preserve their cultures, the courage to be oneself in a time of alternating trends results in a well-rounded society. Above all, reconnecting to these core Native American values can ensure that internal self-fulfillment and morality is not surpassed by material and intellectual gain.
“Bokwewa or The Humpback.” Learning to Give. Points of Life Institute, n.d. Web. 3 Jan. 2012. <http://www.learningtogive.org/materials/folktales/Bokwewa.asp >.
Kyrova, Lucie. “Let’s Dance: The Ghost Dance Movement.” Teaching American History in Maryland. Maryland State Archives, n.d. Web. 4 Jan. 2012. <http://teachingamericanhistorymd.net/000001/000000/000138/html/t138.html>.
Shimeld, Susan. “American Indian Wisdoms.” Nature in Fine Art. N.p., 2002. Web. 3 Jan. 2012. <http://www.natureinart.com/links_wisdoms.html>.
“Sitting Bull.” New Perspectives on the West. Public Broadcasting Service, 2001. Web. 4 Jan. 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/s_z/sittingbull.htm>.