Native American Wisdom

native american villageThe Great Spirit is in all things:
He is in the air we breathe.
The Great Spirit is our father,
but the Earth is our Mother.
She nourishes us;
that which we put into the ground
she returns to us.
—Big Thunder (Bedagi), Wabanaki Algonquin

O’ Great Spirit, help me always to speak the truth quietly, to listen with an open mind when others speak, and to remember the peace that may be found in silence. —Cherokee prayer

Chief Seattle (1786-1866)
Chief Seattle
or Sealth (Ts’ial-la-kum)
Suquamish and Duwamish tribes
Washington State, USA

This we know. The Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth. All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the children of the Earth. We do not weave the web of life; we are only a strand of it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. —Chief Seattle

You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts. —Cochise (Hardwood), Chiracahua Apache

When all the trees have been cut down;
When all the animals have been hunted;
When all the waters are polluted;
When all the air is unsafe to breathe;
Only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
—Cree prophecy

Respect means listening until everyone has been heard and understood, only then is there a possibility of balance and harmony, the goal of Indian spirituality. —Dave Chief, grandfather of Red Dog

Chief Tecumseh (1768-1813)
Chief Tecumseh
or Tecumtha “Crouching Panther”
Shawnee Nation
Ohio, USA

Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. —Chief Tecumseh

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself. —Chief Tecumseh

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. —Chief Tecumseh

Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. —Chief Tecumseh

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes, they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home. —Chief Tecumseh

In the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals, for Tirawa, the One Above, did not speak directly to man. He sent certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beast, and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and moon should man learn. All things tell of Tirawa. All things in the world are two. In our mind we are two—good and evil. With our eyes we see two things—things that are fair and things that are ugly . . . We have the right hand that strikes and makes for evil, and the left hand full of kindness, near the heart. One foot may lead us to an evil way, the other foot may lead us to a good. So are all things two, all two. —Eagle Chief (Letakots-Lesa), Pawnee

We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees. —Chief Edward Moody (Qwatsinas), Nuxalk Nation

Chief Crowfoot (1830-1890)
Chief Crowfoot
or Isapo-Muxika (Issapóómahksika) “Crow-big-foot”
Siksika First Nation
Alberta, Canada

What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
—Chief Crowfoot

Among the Indians there have been no written laws. Customs handed down from generation to generation have been the only laws to guide them. Every one might act different from what was considered right did he choose to do so, but such acts would bring upon him the censure of the Nation. This fear of the Nation’s censure acted as a mighty band, binding all in one social, honorable compact. —Chief George Copway (Kah-ge-ga-bowh), “He Who Stands Forever,” Mississaugas Ojibwa

Lose your temper and you lose a friend; lie and you lose yourself. —Hopi proverb

We return thanks to our Mother, the Earth, which sustains us.
We return thanks to the rivers and streams which supply us with water.
We return thanks to all herbs which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.
We return thanks to the moon and stars which have given to us their light
when the sun was gone.
We return thanks to the sun that has looked upon the Earth with a beneficent eye.
Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit in whom is embodied all goodness,
and who directs all things for the good of her children.
—Iroquois prayer

Sitting Bull (1831-1890)
Sitting Bull
or Ta-Tanka I-Yotank “Slow”
Lakota Sioux
South Dakota, USA

Behold, my brothers, the spring has come; the Earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love! Every seed has awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being; and we, therefore, yield to our neighbors, even our animal neighbors, the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land. —Sitting Bull

When I am dead, cry for me a little. Think of me sometimes, but not too much. It is not good for you or your wife or your husband or your children to allow your thoughts to dwell too long on the dead. Think of me now and again as I was in life, at some moment which is pleasant to recall, but not for long. Leave me in peace as I shall leave you, too, in peace. While you live, let your thoughts be with the living. —Ishi, Yahi

If this earth should ever be destroyed, it will be by desire, by the lust of pleasure and self-gratification. —Lame Deer

I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself. —Lone Man (Isna-la-wica), Teton Sioux

The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears. —Minquass proverb

Everything on the Earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence. —Mourning Dove, Okanogan First Nations

Chief Joseph (1840-1904)
Chief Joseph
or Hinmuuttu-yalatlat “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain”
Wal-lam-wat-kain Nez Perce
Washington State and Oregon, USA

The Earth is our Mother. She should not be disturbed by hoe or plow. We want only to subsist on what she freely gives us. Our fathers gave us many laws, which they had learned from their fathers. These laws were good. I have carried a heavy load on my back ever since I was a boy. I realized then that we could not hold our own with the white men. We were like deer. They were like grizzly bears. We had small country. Their country was large. We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit chief made them. They were not, and would change the rivers and mountains if they did not suit them. —Chief Joseph

We are taught to believe that the Great Spirit sees and hears everything, and that he never forgets; that hereafter He will give every man a spirit-home according to his deserts . . . This I believe, and all my people believe the same. —Chief Joseph

It does not require many words to speak the truth. —Chief Joseph

If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace . . . Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The Earth is the Mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself, and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty. —Chief Joseph

We live, we die, and like the grass and trees, renew ourselves from the soft clods of the grave. Stones crumble and decay, faiths grow old and they are forgotten, but new beliefs are born. The faith of the villages is dust now . . . but it will grow again . . . like the trees. May serenity circle on silent wings and catch the whisper of the winds. —Chief Joseph

Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture your heart. —Native American proverb

Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. —Native American proverb

I have been to the end of the Earth.
I have been to the end of the waters.
I have been to the end of the sky.
I have been to the end of the mountains.
I have found none that are not my friends.
—Navajo proverb

Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman (1858-1939)
Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman
or Ohíye S’a “Wins Often”
Wahpeton Santee Sioux
South Dakota, USA

It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. Its appeal is to the material part, and if allowed its way, it will, in time, disturb one’s spiritual balance. Therefore, children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving. —Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman

The Wise Man believes profoundly in silence—the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind, and spirit. The man who preserves his selfhood, is ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence; not a leaf, as it were, astir on the tree, not a ripple upon the surface of the shinning pool. His, in the mind of the unlettered sage, is the ideal attitude and conduct of life. Silence is the cornerstone of character. —Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman

Hold on to what is good, even if it’s a handful of Earth.
Hold on to what you believe, even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do, even if it’s a long way from here.
Hold on to your life, even if it’s easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand, even if someday I’ll be gone away from you.
—Pueblo prayer

Our plans miscarry if they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind. —Seneca proverb

I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, But rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man. —Sun Bear, Chippewa

Black Elk (1863-1950)
Black Elk
or Hehaka Sapa
Oglala Lakota Sioux
South Dakota, USA

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers; and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Taka (the Great Spirit); and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals; and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all, you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men. —Black Elk

The growing and dying of the moon reminds us of our ignorance which comes and goes; but when the moon is full, it is as if the Great Spirit were upon the whole world. —Black Elk

And while I stood there, I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of things in the Spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. —Black Elk

Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus should we do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the world. —Black Elk

And so do not forget . . . every dawn, as it comes, is a holy event; and every day is holy, for the light comes from Wakan-Tanka, and you must also remember that the two-leggeds and all other peoples who stand upon this Earth are sacred and should be treated as such. —Black Elk quoting White Buffalo Woman

When you are in doubt, be still, and wait; when doubt no longer exists for you, then go forward with courage. So long as mists envelop you, be still; be still until the sunlight pours through and dispels the mists, as it surely will; then act with courage. —Chief White Eagle, Ponca

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice. —White Elk

When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up.
When we dig roots, we make little holes.
When we build houses, we make little holes.
When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don’t ruin things.
We shake down acorns and pine nuts.
We don’t chop down the trees. We only use dead wood.
But the white people plow up the ground, pull down the trees, kill everything . . .
How can the spirit of the Earth like the white man?
Everywhere the white man has touched it, it is sore.
—Wintu woman

Luther Standing Bear (1868-1939)
Luther Standing Bear
or Ota Kte (Mochunozhin) “Plenty Kill”
Oglala Lakota Sioux
South Dakota, USA

Praise, flattery, exaggerated manners and find high-sounding words were not 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. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause, giving time for thought, was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation. —Luther Standing Bear

The old Lakota was wise. He knew that a man’s heart away from nature becomes hard. —Luther Standing Bear

Honor the sacred.
Honor the Earth, our Mother.
Honor the Elders.
Honor all with whom we share the Earth:
Four-leggeds, two-leggeds, winged ones,
swimmers, crawlers, plant, and rock people.
Walk in balance and beauty.
—Author Unknown

If you take the Christian bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible is the wind. —Author Unknown

Chief Dan George (1899-1981)
Chief Dan George
or Dan Slaholt (Geswanouth Slahoot)
Salish First Nations
British Columbia, Canada

If you talk to the animals, they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them, you will not know them; and what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys. —Chief Dan George

Where no one intrudes, many can live in harmony. —Chief Dan George

The time will soon be here when my grandchild will long for the cry of a loon, the flash of a salmon, the whisper of spruce needles, or the screech of an eagle. But he will not make friends with any of these creatures; and when his heart aches with longing, he will curse me. Have I done all to keep the air fresh? Have I cared enough about the water? Have I left the eagle to soar in freedom? Have I done everything I could to earn my grandchild’s fondness? —Chief Dan George

May the stars carry your sadness away,
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong.
—Chief Dan George

Wakan Tankan Nici Un (May the Great Spirit walk with you)