The Wisdom of the Native Americans

Edited by Kent Nerburn

This book is filled with quotes and speeches that give the reader an inside look at the wisdom, spirituality and culture of the Native American people. When the Europeans arrived, this continent was filled with various tribes of people whose customs, languages and housing were different. The different tribes governed themselves and lived according to different rules.?But, according to Nerburn, they all shared a common belief that the earth is a spiritual presence that “must be honored, not mastered.”

Nerburn’s book looks at how the Native Americans approached life. Part 1 includes quotes compiled from various Native people that take a deeper look into the culture, customs and thoughts.

Part 2 includes writings from Ohiyesa, who was born in the Redwood Falls, MN area in 1958. He was later given the name Charles Alexander Eastman, a Santee Sioux child of the woodlands and prairies who would go on to become the adviser to presidents and an honored member of the New England society. According to Nerburn, Ohiyesa spent his life trying to build bridges of understanding between the Native and non-native people.

Part 3 includes speeches by Chief Red Jacket, Chief Joseph and Chief Seattle. Nerburn calls these speeches “the songs of the spirit of great men who spoke for a great people. In their words, between their words, beneath and above their words, is the love, the faith, the anger, and the pathos of a people who believed in the ways of their ancestors and could not make these ways understood to the European settlers who were so intent upon changing them.” The speech by Chief Joseph paints a poignant portrait of the Native American experience.

I learned a lot about the Native people of this land through this book, and believe the description Chief Joseph gave of what his people went through speaks volumes for the experiences of all the different tribes. I was humbled by the respect given to the earth, and I wonder why we, as a culture, are set on destroying it.





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