A Collection of Wisdom: Native American Wisdom

The Lakota

The Lakota (or Teton Sioux) are a group of Native Americans characterized by their emphasis on ideals such as community, affinity, generosity, cooperation, and strength. The term Lakota roughly translates to "an alliance of people."

Family and the Tiyospaye

Throughout most of Lakota history, family and community were the foundations of life. And for the Lakota, family did not just end at one’s immediate relatives (i.e., siblings, parents, and children). Instead, different families that were bound by blood or marriage ties united together to form a social unit called a tiyospaye, which translates to “member extended family.”

For the Lakota, each person’s acts were often measured in terms of its impact on the entire tiyospaye, and people within the tiyospaye aligned and cooperated together for the good of all of its members. And even though several leaders headed each tiyospaye, there was still a sense of equality among all people.

Affinity

Lakota life was also based on affinity, which to the Lakota involved:

The ideal of affinity was so strong in the Lakota society that it even went outside the boundaries of one’s tiyospaye and extended to the entire Lakota nation.


Generosity

The Lakota also adhered to an emphasis on generosity. For the Lakota, resources were shared freely among people, in times of good and bad. And the sharing was not just limited to possessions. It also extended to the sharing of emotions such as sympathy, compassion, understanding, and kindness; and the sharing of personal time.

The Lakota believed that their generous acts and support for each other made them better people, and also helped them build communal harmony.

Cooperation

All the above-mentioned qualities of Lakota communities allowed them to build tremendously effective cooperation and teamwork. The Lakota properly synergized their efforts, andreaped benefits for the good of the entire tiyospaye and its individual members.

"It is observed that in any great endeavor, it is not enough for a person to depend solely on himself." Lakota Proverb

Valuing Children

In the Lakota tiyospayes, children were regarded as sacred and of primary importance, and received much of the tiyospaye’s attention. For the Lakota, the responsibility of raising a child was given to the entire community, and not just limited to a child’s mother and father. In fact, uncles and aunts also had parental duties to their nieces and nephews (especially in the case aunts on the mothers’ side and uncles on the fathers’ side).

"The ones that matter the most are the children." Lakota Proverb

"Grown men can learn from very little children—for the hearts of little children are pure. Therefore, the Great Spirit may show them many things that older people miss." Black Elk

"… A child is the greatest gift from Wakan Tanka." Robert High-Eagle

The Lakota Ideal of Strength

The Lakota also adhered to an ideal of having physical and mental strength, which also extended to having composure, determination, self-confidence, self-control, and self-belief. The Lakota were expected to face challenges with all these traits, and to find solutions to problems that would benefit everyone.

Lakota strength also applied to courage, in the sense of acknowledging the existence of fear, yet maintaining one’s resolve, and controlling and mastering fear.

Lastly, the Lakota ideal of strength was also about practice, patience, and perseverance. In the case of practice, the Lakota often gained skills and abilities from certain games and drills.

The Lakota’s emphasis on strength was particularly evident in their hunting and warrior activities, which they were both tremendously proficient at.

Viewpoint of Goals, Success, and Role Models

For the Lakota, a person who was more advanced at a skill than others was viewed as a role model, and not regarded as competition. The Lakota did not view achievement as a means to be superior to others. Instead, they viewed achievement and success in the scope of elevating oneself and one’s tiyospaye.

Lakota Symbols

Like many Native American groups, the Lakota base much of their culture on symbolism, especially the number four and the circle.

Circle

Lakota spirituality is based on the circle. The Lakota saw the journey of life and death as a circular process. They also interacted with one another in a circular fashion, rather than in a struggle for domination.

The Lakota even used the circle’s symbolism in their architecture. Their houses (which are known as tipis) had circular foundations.

"Everything the Power does, it does in a circle." Lakota Proverb

"Creation is continuous." Lakota Proverb

"I am standing at the Earth’s center." Lakota Proverb

"A man’s life is a circle from childhood to childhood, and thus it is in everything where the power moves." Black Elk

"The power of the world always works in circles." Black Elk

"The center of the universe is everywhere." Black Elk

Four

Lakota culture is also based on the number four, which the Lakota used symbolically to apply to such things as:

More Lakota Proverbs

Knowledge is rooted in all things—the world is a library.


Touching the earth equates to having harmony with nature.


When a man moves from nature, his heart becomes hard.


If you continue to contaminate your own home, you will eventually suffocate in your own waste.


True peace between nations will only happen when there is true peace within people’s souls.


No matter how hidden a force is, it will attract some kind of resistance.


Native American Proverbs, Quotes, and Chants