[Longer than usual.]

Last week when my family and I toured the "Buffalo Farm", our guide kept telling us little stories about the Lakota Sioux People and their customs as religion. Maybe it was the "overuse" of the word "sacred", that gave me the idea that the stories were based indeed on fact, but that there was little understanding about the "religion" of the people.

In my pre- and early-teens I had the privilege to roam and camp in the "wilderness". First in the Pennsylvania mountains and then in the Loblolly Pine forest and swamps of eastern North Carolina. I was strangely attracted to the great solitary outdoors and even learned to play "tag" with the deer. While camping I would devour books, fictional and non-fiction, about Indians in the days of our early colonization of this continent. The Leatherstocking Tales were favorites. This experience helped to form much of my latent philosphy[ies].

My interest continued into adulthood, but family responsibilities put many things on a back- burner. Yet, as time and opportunity presented itself, I continued to ask questions and seek reading material about the Indian. My undergraduate comprehensive major was history, and within that I studied mythology and kept bumping back to the Native American. In 1968 I learned from a cousin of my Dad's that we had Cherokee blood in our mix.

Since the time of that revelation I have paid closer attention to stories and traditions of Native Americans, for I wanted to know .... What I found out is quite surprising. I found that no matter how close I feel, I will not ever know or understand for certain the Indian religion. What I found is that the Indian will not talk about the deep matters of his religion, for he does not speak to outsiders of them. Even Tony Hillerman, who writes about the southwest of Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, admits that what he writes is observation, not from the knowledge of the non-public ceremonies, etc of the southwest Peoples. And, what has been written about these matters seem to stem from the period of introduction to the European through modern times. Thus, all is tainted by the bias' of the listener/writer and what he has been allowed to hear.

In my personal interviews, I have often felt that I'm provided with songs and folklore to fit what I am asking for. I feel as if I am reading more of Anderson's Fairy Tales and left without true understandings. Thus, I have concluded that the religion of the Indian is the very last thing about him that I, an outsider, will ever understand.

Yet, I have observed:

That never have I seen or heard of an Indian quarreling about religion.

That the Spirit of God is not exclusively in mankind, but that the entire universe shares in the creation of its Maker.

I have read a couple of different tellings of the mythology of the White Buffalo. From this I know only that this "Princess" who became the White Bison, told the women of the Lakota Sioux that they were as great as the warrior men. And, in the Bison herd, it is the cows [females] who are the leaders ... the bulls are not good for much.

© 2000, by Bill Oliver
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