Listen and You Will Learn / by Thomas Lopez

Post by Ohitika Locke | Illustrations by Jackie Fawn

(This article is for the Indigenous peoples from all over Turtle Island. If you are white, don’t bother reading this. I don’t care how much percent native you are. You grew up white. To my fellow natives. I hope I done good by this article. And I pray it will help you understand my understanding of this world from my experiences.)  

There is a silence you hear when you listen to an elder speak. Becoming aware of this silence brings you to this appreciation that you are able to hear this person talk. To live and learn from the mistakes of your people. To show more gratitude towards your relatives. To live the life they wish the younger ones would live. That silence is a sound that speaks more than laughter and pain. It speaks a human life. A reminder that the people that we look up to are human. They live with regrets, fear and anxiety like the rest of us, except they know better than anyone of us.

The Power Of Living Through Music and Voice

Some of the elders I have come to love and respect, show more than words, they live through example. Philomine Lakhota, my Lakhota high school teacher, told us stories about her life. At the time, I didn't fully appreciate her stories. In a sense I knew what was going on, but my mindset at the time didn't match up to my appreciation for it now. Unci Philomine was more than a teacher in my eyes. Every time I knew she was around I felt good. Its like feeling that sense of security when someone you love and trust consensually hugs you. You feel protected and happy. I don’t know if anyone else felt the way I did. I saw her as another Unci in my life.

One of the main teachings I took from her was to express yourself when you’re happy and when you are sad. A teaching that requires self-practice but still needs that doorway to approach it. She was that doorway for me. In one of her stories about music she told us how we as Lakhota, found music sacred. We have songs for every special occasion. For love, for pain, for life and for death. We were really vocal about our feelings, our songs, instruments and words as than just art. These things are life. It was the epitome of self-healing, it helped us cope with life. She never did like sitting around when music was playing. I can hear her voice say, “Whenever I hear music, I just want to jump up! And just start dancing! Shee- All the young folks just look at me all weird.” She didn’t care if someone was watching, she was more invested in being alive and leading that example.

As Lakota we were vocal people, we didn't believe in listening to songs and not dancing. We have special events all the time for dancing and singing. It is a time to be together, it's our spirit we show to our people. It is a time for stories and laughter. It takes more than knowing every single fact of being Lakota. It takes actual self-practice. I understood she always wanted us kids to live our lives to the fullest, instead of worrying about if we looked good or if we were afraid of change. Life happens and sometimes it can be really shitty. That's okay. We have the bad moments to really live when times are good. You can learn a lot just from sitting with an elder. I think this time with our elders is sacred. It's small stepping stones like this that can really change a child’s life. It can help shape their very being.

Love Is Important

One of the key features I remember that helped me understand what being Lakhota means was spending time with my grandparents. I lived with my Grandma when I was a kid. At the time there was family drama, so I lived with my Grandma. There were a lot of bad moments but also a lot of good moments. I remember them both equally. My Grandma liked things a certain way, and it was her tradition to be like that. My Grandma is from Alaska, in the Copper River area. She is a Native known as Athna Dené, she is a Stickwan. Her family was strict and had a whole bunch of social rules. Far different from what I was used to. She liked the house clean. I remember always worrying if I remembered to clean my mess afterwards. Occasionally she would hit me with a wooden spoon. I deserved it like 97% of the time, but it wasn’t with the intent to hurt me. It was symbolic in a way if you think about it.

My Grandma had a very different childhood than from mine. When she was just a small little child she was taught how to shoot a gun. She even had her own gun. It was never used as a weapon, but as a tool for survival. You take care of your tools. It came from the Earth and shouldn’t be used as a weapon of violence. That translated into other aspects of life... to appreciate your loved ones. She always reminded us that whenever we left the house we always hugged our relatives and told them you loved them. Even if you are angry at them, you always made sure you left the space with good intent. That way, if anything ever happened to them, your last words and actions weren’t made out of anger and pain. You take care of your loved ones. Make sure they are fed, safe and happy.

My Grandma is one of the most caring people in this world I know. She may not show it that well, but it's always there. You can feel it. She always made sure if I was safe. Even when I forget to call Grandma, she’d message me or call me checking up on me, making sure I was safe and in a good place. Always treat your Grandma good. She is your Mother’s mother. Grandma is always going to love you no matter what, like your own Mother. She is another Mother. You always love your relatives, cause in the end that's all that matters. It's always going to be the people you love, you wish you spent more time in the end. These lessons all happened from multiple sittings and examples throughout my life. You may not know it, but the children see these actions, they will always remember what you did and said.

As Lakota we believe that it's important for children and elders to interact with each other. Elders have had lived their lives and are closer to death, children have their whole lives ahead of them.  Elders and children have that sacred bond, since they are so close to the beginning and ending of the circle. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for all my relatives and relationships I built throughout my life.

Living a Simple Life is Good

Like me, my Lala made a lot of relationships in his life, he has friends from all walks of life. He is a flute player, hoop dancer, and a storyteller. He traveled all over the world, been to more countries than I have toes and fingers. He is an artist in a way. He performs these stories such as Ikotmi or the creation of the walks of life. He knows flute songs and the meanings behind it. Each one is lessons about life, or the origins of life. As you learn more about the stories you’ll soon realize that both are often the same thing. We are born from the virtues our ancestors learned from.

One thing I got from him, is that the necessities of life are simple. He still lives life to his fullest, while living a life in a simple way. All you need is communication, food, art and a home. As you get to know my Lala, you see it. His clothes had history in them, holes filled with stories of time. His materials are simple. The way he cooks his food is simple, healthy foods and water. Sometimes in life you don't need all that material things. As long as you are happy with how things are, then why change them? Living a Lakhota life isn’t buying fancy phones and clothes. People’s definition of simple, when you describe someone, is often seen as bad. I wish it wasn’t. When I think of someone living a simple life, I think of someone who is content with what they have in this world. That’s how it should be. I respect people like that. Who understands that we don't own anything in this world. We take and have what we need and no more. Greed shouldn’t be in our blood.

Our blood, our lives, our souls are sacred. Living life is to learn. We as a people must better ourselves through our own teachings and education. From the stories I hear from the relationship I share with Ina (Mothers), Até (Fathers), Lalá and Unci (Grandmothers).

Knowledge is Freedom

They say my Great-Grandma Patricia Locke, was all about education. Education is the freedom of the mind to make its own choices. I don’t actually remember Unci Patricia, she died when I was just a little baby. I know she wrote books, papers as a Native scholar. She always did like reading when she was a child. She also helped start the first Seventeen Tribal Colleges.

I think our form of understanding this world, is far beyond colonized sciences and philosophy. We didn’t write books or preach how to live life. My people weren’t savages like people think we are/were. We had complex systems as a culture and relationships with other people. There were societies, stories, knowledge, survival teachings, and spiritual teachings. All of it is real and there; we live it with our very existence as Indigenous Peoples in this world. It is more than a title, it is a lifestyle. It’s the identity our ancestors left us, and for good reason too. It was, in a nutshell, a way to live life to the fullest. We respected the hard times as much as we respected the good times. Our knowledge and teachings are education. I think that is what she believed and I hope I got it right. Otherwise when I move on to the next world, I will make an apology to her.

Education is important. To even survive in this world, we need education. It’s okay to take this westernized colonized education. Going to school means life for the future generations. We are the generation that will define the line for Lakota and white colonized knowledge. Our definitions of us, peoples from all walks of life will agree to. The U.S. government took everything away from us, yet we still stand strong in this world. Our Native people have been more involved with activism than any other race on this planet. That gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. The reason why I didn’t fall into my grave to trauma we all know too well. This is my hope.

Interactions Give Hope

This hope I have, I got it from my elders. The lessons and experiences I got, are from my elders. I wouldn’t know who I am without them. I wish I had realized this sooner when I was younger, or at least fully understood it. Think about it. I didn't pay much attention because I was too focused on trying to survive in this world. I still learned from them. One sitting with an elder can change a child’s life, imagine what could happen if we were able to create a space for that to happen all the time. It would be the next huge step to bring back our Lakota culture.

Being Native is a responsibility built of out love. I love that more and more people are proud of being Native. Don't forget what it means to be born Indigenous. It means learning your history, your relatives, the teachings and helping the People. It is our identity, our culture, our very own existence. It’s more than putting on regalia and posting about it on Facebook. You carry the responsibility. No one else but you. Not white people who think it’s their job to help us. We would be doing better if they understood our futures are ours to create, not theirs. Think about it. What does it mean to be Native? What does it look like? What should it be? It’s the blood and bones you carry in your DNA. Don't let our sacrifices go to waste. Think about this, and listen to the elders when they talk about this to you.

The silence you hear when your elders are talking is experience. It’s life seeping into your brain, your blood, and your soul. I love my relatives more than I realized after writing all of this. It may sound like I might be glorifying my elders, but I’d like to remind you all that they are human. Our elders like us, make mistakes and have done things they regret later on. I learned from human beings. I’d rather learn from a person who made mistakes than some perfect deity of a person. I love the relationships I experience with the Unci(s) and Lala(s) in this life I walk. I hope you go out and learn from the relationships you share with Uncis, and Lalas. We all have a lot to learn and understand. Knowledge is the key to understanding the world. It will help save our people while saving our land. It is more intertwined than you would think. Because of this I believe Native people are the hope and saviors of this world. Saviors who practice our Lakhota ways. To practice being who we are. I hope this may bring an idea that will spark new hope for the people. I love you and I thank you for reading this.