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The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo A Child, an Elder & the Light from an Ancient Sky

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The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo A Child, an Elder & the Light from an Ancient Sky

Kent Nerburn in dialogue with Dan, a Native American elder, about connections and Mother Earth

[Dan is talking] " 'You've heard all the stories about how the old ones knew that white men were coming before they actually got here. You know how our elders knew you white men were coming? They watched the birds and the animals. They said, "Are there new birds that weren't here before? Are there new animals?"

" 'They knew that when there were too many new birds and animals, something was wrong. They knew these birds and animals were coming west because they were fleeing from the new humans who were filling up the land.

" 'It all has to do with watching and listening. I have a friend back in the tree country who says he can hardly go outside without crying. He says all the singing he heard from the birds and all the chatter he heard from the animals when he was young is gone. He says the white man has killed all of the Creator's music.

" 'That's what I'm talking about when I talk about connections. They aren't something we make up. They're there. And that's what worries me about your people and the way you understand the world. You think you can decide what connections matter. You can't.

" 'Nature has rules. Nature has laws. You think you can ignore the rules, or if you don't like them you can change them. That's what you did with us. If you made a law with us — you called them treaties — and it didn't work for you, you changed it. You said the old rules, the old laws, didn't apply anymore. You just made new ones.

" 'Well, that doesn't work with Mother Earth. She doesn't make deals. She doesn't change the rules. It takes fifteen minutes to cut down an oak tree and a hundred years to grow another one. Are you going to change that? If you kill all the animals are you going to go to Mother Earth and say, "We made a mistake, give us another chance?"

 'You don't get another chance.

" 'I'm telling you, when you can count the animals, you're getting near the end of your chances. We can count the eagles. We can count the buffalo. I've heard that in Africa they can count the tigers and the elephants.

" 'That's Mother Earth crying out. She's giving us a warning and she's begging for her life.

" 'Let me tell you, the way we're living, the earth would be a whole lot better off if we weren't here. I said it before — we're the least important, not the most important. Your Bible got it right when it said that the Creator made us last. The other two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the things that crawl and the things that fly, they were all here before we were. They were given the knowledge that they needed to survive. They didn't need us. Not one of them.

" 'But when we came, we needed them all to survive. We still do. The plants and animals give us food and medicine. The trees give us wood for shelter. We're the naked animal. All we have is our hands and our brains. We need everything else to survive.

" 'So we ought to be helping Mother Earth and thanking her, not just taking from her. Instead we're just taking everything, using everything, thinking we got a right to everything and that we can fix everything if we get it wrong.

" 'Well, we can't fix everything. We can't make it all fit the shape of our own lives. Mother Earth thinks different than we do. She thinks in the Creator's time, not human time. She's got long patience, but she's got her laws.

" 'Here's what worries me, Nerburn. It's something your people don't seem to ever learn. There's going to come a day when things can't be fixed.'

"He swept his hand across the broad expanse of hills and sky before us. 'And you know what? It's going to be a day just like today.'

"Dan sat back and exhaled heavily, like a man who had just laid down a burden and was pausing for a well-earned rest.

' ''I'm sorry to talk like this, Nerburn,' he said. 'It's not our way to tell other people what to think or how to live. But we all live on this earth together. The elders taught us that creation is like a drum. What is struck in one place is felt in every other. Your people hold the great stick and are beating the drum. But you are so busy hitting it that you do not feel what is happening in the rest of creation.

" 'But we Indian people feel it. We feel creation shaking and we know what it means. But you won't listen to us. You think our way is a savage way. Our way might be the old way, but it isn't the savage way. It's the way of knowing that understands that the earth is made of connections and that the rest of creation came first and that it is our task as humans to find our place among the things of the earth.'

"He adjusted his sunglasses and stared into the sun.

" 'It's like I told you. We see your anthropologists here on the rez. We see your church people. But we never see your scientists. But they're the ones who should be coming. They're the ones who need to know what we know.

" 'Our knowledge is long knowledge. Deep knowledge. It is one of the Creator's laws that we become strong in what we do over and over. If we do something for a lifetime, it will make us strong in that knowledge. If we do it for a hundred lifetimes, it will make our whole people strong in that knowledge.

" 'We Indian people have been listening and watching for hundreds of lifetimes. We understand the connections. We understand the relationships. It is who we are, it is how we live, it is how we think.

" 'That's why I have wanted you to stay around. We have this knowledge. But your people won't listen to us because they see us as the ones who lost. They see our traditional ways as primitive, like we need to be lifted up into civilization. They don't see our knowledge as real knowledge.

" 'You have a loud voice in your books. Maybe you can make your people listen.' "

 


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