Last week I read this statement by a Shoshone elder:
“Do not begrudge the white man his presence on the land.
Though he doesn’t know it yet, he has come here to learn from us.”
It’s from a book by Kent Nerburn – VOICES IN THE STONES: Life Lessons From The Native Way– and it reminded me of a lesson I’d learned years ago.
Three of us had gone to a Native American museum in the Four Corners area and as we left we saw a man from the nearby Indian lands selling something in the parking lot from the open trunk of his car. When we went over to meet him we saw that he was selling ceremonial gourd rattles that he had made. They were beautiful.
As I was about to pay him for the one I’d chosen, I noticed a young girl, probably about ten years old, standing on the other side of the car. She was selling a single, smaller rattle, one that she had decorated. I asked if I could buy that one also. The price was only $5.00, far less than the man, her uncle, was charging for his rattles. When I asked him if I could pay more he said, “no.” I was puzzled. He then explained that if I paid a higher price his niece would have more money than her friends, and that wouldn’t be right.
This was a sense of what is right for a group of people that was entirely new to me. I don’t know any adult in our “white man’s land” who has been brought up with that cultural value and we would never think to teach it to a child. In fact we teach the opposite – that it’s everyone for themselves and the whole point is to get more than the next person. We live in a world where we teach our children to compete fiercely and to succeed by gaining what others don’t have.
Maybe we can learn this good lesson from the first people to live here. Maybe the individual supersized life isn’t simply the best life after all. Maybe the dominant national goal of “me first,” “getting to the top,” and “having it all” doesn’t lead, by itself, to building the healthy communities and well-functioning nation that we want.
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VOICES IN THE STONES: Lessons from the Native Way, by Kent Nerburn, New World Library, 2016.