My friends and relatives.. I have thought long and hard about whether I should say anything about this recent presidential election. I have always kept my political views private, but after careful consideration, I have decided this moment in our collective history is too important for me to remain silent, and so I offer my thoughts....
Let me begin by stating that I am a political centrist. I am not a 'D' or an 'R'. In fact, I have values and views reflected in both, and have always welcomed healthy political discourse. So this commentary is not a partisan rant, it is simply one man's conclusion....
Although he privately opposed slavery and was the only prominent founding father to arrange in his will for the freeing of all his slaves following his death, President George Washington remained a slave owner his entire life, having received his first 10 slaves as a gift at age 11. President Abraham Lincoln was responsible for the largest mass execution in U.S. history (38 Dakota Sioux Indian men were all ordered by Lincoln to be hanged on December 26th, 1862). Two beloved American Presidents, both stained with the blood of the racial prejudice of their time. Since the words 'all men are created equal' were penned in 1776, wars have been waged, and thousands have suffered and died as this country inched its way forward in its painful struggle to collectively comprehend what was supposed to be a 'self evident' truth. There is wisdom in those old handwritten words, wisdom that far exceeded the scope of the era in which they were penned. Wisdom that pointed the way to what was morally, ethically and legally right, despite the mindset of the majority at the time they were written. And despite the fact that there are still people in America today who have yet to learn that all are created equal, the majority now understand that when it comes to equality, there can be no compromise....
My friends, if we put our politics aside and are honest with ourselves for a moment, I think we can all agree that some of the words and deeds of Mr. Trump during his campaign were perceived with giddy enthusiasm by some who espouse bigotry, racism and prejudice. That enthusiasm emboldened these unsavory sorts to come out of the dark recesses of society and publicly align themselves with this candidate. It gave them a green light to openly attack those they hate, and I have been shocked, hurt and saddened by what I saw, both at campaign events and online. And now, post election, I hear well meaning folks saying we should all sing 'Kumbaya' and come together in unity. I hear some people saying we owe Mr. Trump an open mind. Well, I have to respectfully disagree on both counts. I want to make this abundantly clear; no one should ever unify, unite or align themselves with bigotry in any form. Nor do Americans owe Mr. Trump anything. On the contrary, he owes America an apology for having inflicted damage on the hardly fought progress that has been made to live up to the wisdom in that credo that says all of us are created equal. As for me, I have friends who are Black, Brown, Mexican, Immigrants, Muslim, LGBTQ, Female, etc.. I love these people. So I must kindly ask anyone who is a closet bigot or is prejudiced against any of these groups of human beings.. please refrain from sharing/saying/posting things that are obviously bigoted. I don't want to see or hear it anymore, as I do not share your prejudice nor do we see the world through the same lens. And if you are one who thinks most Black people are thugs, most Mexicans are crooks and most Muslims are terrorists.. and you cannot or will not refrain from sharing or speaking these kinds of sentiments, I'm afraid our friendship will suffer greatly, as I am one who strongly espouses that credo that ALL are created equal. The same goes for anyone who hated President Obama because he was Black or because you thought he was a 'secret Muslim'. So no, I'm sorry, but I will not be singing 'Kumbaya' or agreeing to align myself in any way to the presidency of a man whose path to the White House was made possible in part by the inciting of bigotry, fear and hate, and whose actions since being inaugurated already pose dangerous threats to Mother Earth and Native people. I will continue to hope and pray, and to contribute my efforts for a better, kinder, more inclusive world as I always have, but I just cannot and will not espouse or get behind most of what this deeply troubled man and his increasingly questionable administration stand for, so don't ask me to. For again, when it comes down to these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...", there can be no compromise. And anyone who compromises on that indisputable wisdom remains in need of a change of heart....
This photo is a favorite of mine. I took it while on tour in Ireland. In the photo are two of my favorite people on this earth. On the left is Morten Wolf Storeide, who is from Norway. On the right is Brother Seamus Byrne, who is a monk from Ireland. They stand at the base of a tower that was built by the Irish monks in ancient times as an escape from the Norse, who would come to kill and destroy them. To see these two beautiful men – one of Norse heritage and the other of Irish monastic heritage – together as dear friends in this historically painful spot is a testament to the healing that can happen when love and peace reign supreme. It is easy – perhaps too easy – to look at the global picture and become cynical about the idea of human beings ever living together on this earth in peace. After all, for thousands of years up to the present we have demonstrated again and again how impossible we can make it to be at peace with each other. It seems almost an alien concept to us, this ‘peace’ idea. After all, I don’t think the way you do about lots of things, so how could I possibly live in total peace with you, right?
What is ‘peace’?
Is it the total absence of disagreement? Is it some kind of utopia in which no one has a differing opinion or an opposing view? I don’t think it is either of these things. Peace is a state of existence in which human beings with widely diverse views do not consider the inflicting of physical violence an option for intellectual discourse, period. Peace is not some gloomy place where people have all had a frontal lobotomy. Nor is it an idea that only makes sense to hippies and flower children. My friends and relatives, if humanity does not learn what real peace is, and find a way to it globally, well… I think we all know the answer.
So what will it take?
After countless centuries of war, it will at the very least take plenty of healing, education and enlightenment for humanity to find a worldwide peace. Or it may very well take a global cataclysmic event large enough to draw all of humanity together. Climate change would be such a thing. Regardless of the catalyst, the onus is on us. Peace will not be achieved by an angry minister shouting that he doesn’t care about offending someone he disagrees with any more than it will be achieved by an angry fundamentalist taking the life of another human being because he disagrees with them. Both are guilty of hate, and hate is not the way forward for humanity on this earth. We must learn – or relearn – the meaning of love. We must learn the power of humility, compassion, empathy and kindness. These virtues are not the traits of weakness. They require great strength and wisdom. This is the way to peace. Peace is not void of turbulence. It is the ability to navigate that turbulence with love….
Oh, by the way, Morten Wolf Storeide is the facilitator of The World Drum Project, a global vision that has sent a handmade drum to every continent on earth for people of all walks of life to touch it, play it and pray for world peace and healing.
And Brother Seamus Byrne is a healing music recording artist and spiritual teacher who has traveled the world sharing his message of grace, compassion and love. Both know the meaning of peace....
As always, I continue to pray and work for world peace, and ask you to join your unique and beautiful prayers, positive energy and love with mine....
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As a new year begins, we look ahead and consider what it may bring. What does that mean to First Nations people? What do Indigenous, Native people hope for when considering the future? Here are some things I feel most American Indian and Indigenous people would agree are the dreams of new beginnings....
The other night, Leonardo DiCaprio won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his role in ‘The Revenant’, a film which has a fair amount of First Nations actors. At the end of his acceptance speech, he strongly asserted that it is time the world heard the voice of Indigenous people. I applaud him for making that statement. For centuries, the Native voice has been twisted and misunderstood, forcibly silenced or utterly ignored by mainstream America and the rest of the western world. Humanity needed to hear that voice. It still does. The damage of the silent Indigenous voice can be seen globally, as the world now wrestles with human-inflicted climate change and an epidemic of dangerous religious extremism. The wisdom in the old ways of First Nations peoples is needed now more than ever, and that only comes if the world will listen and hear that voice. Also, if the voice of Native people is truly heard, mainstream society will no longer be able to ignore the continued use of tired, antiquated stereotypes and racially offensive terms and imagery which are in prominent every day use still today. A new voice for Native people requires those outside of our communities to join their voices with ours to affect positive change of all kinds.
There is a new day rising in Native communities across North America. I see it in my own Lakota community. There is a new generation of young, Indigenous people who are finding a deep strength in the traditions of their culture, and are passionate about ensuring a positive future for not only Native peoples, but for the planet and the world. First Nations communities everywhere are turning back to the traditional foods that once nourished a strong and healthy people. Native communities are looking at alternative energy sources like solar and wind to power the homes of their people. We have always known the way. We have just never had a voice. Part of the reason for that is the perpetuation of false, fantasy type imagery of our people by the mainstream society. How can you hear the voice of a people and take it seriously when all you know of them is a ridiculous stereotype? You cannot. So the new direction for Native people will require a new view of who and what we are (and were) by those outside of our communities.
A New Day
We can, and we must change. Humanity has no guarantee from the universe that we are to remain. What Indigenous people around the world have always known is that we are part of the web of life. We are not above it. We have always known that what we do to the delicate balance of that web, we do to ourselves. We must return to that balance. We must seek the wisdom of old ways for a new day. Native people have always known the way to a new beginning. Perhaps the time has finally come for the world to listen....
“What is the meaning of life?”, a question human beings have pondered for centuries. And yet, the answer is surprisingly simple. It’s only the explaining and understanding of that simple answer that can get complicated! So… is it purpose? Yes, having a reason for your life does give it meaning. In our Lakota way, we seek out that purpose through a custom called Hanbleciyapi — the crying for a vision, or vision quest, in which we go up on the mountain alone for several days and nights to ask Spirit to give us a vision for our life. So purpose is definitely a part of the meaning of life. But so is laughter! Yes, I said laughter. Finding and enjoying things that make you smile and laugh are also necessary to give meaning to our life.
What about service? Of course! There is nothing that enriches our lives more than those times when we serve. Whether it be another human being, or just the greater good, when we serve, we find meaning. We also find meaning through learning and enlightenment. Spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth help us to see the world and our lives through eyes more open, more illuminated and with more meaning. And then there is the biggie… love. Ohhhh yes, experiencing the power of love gives great meaning to our lives in both broad and intimate ways. But even love is only a part of that simple answer to the question, ‘what is the meaning of life?’.
So, what is it? What is the answer?!! My friends, the profoundly simple answer is this: the meaning of life, is to live. Yes, it is that simple, and yet how many of us do it? How many of us really live, and live fully? Having a vision, being enlightened, serving and loving, and experiencing laughter and happiness are the tenets of a life fully lived. Listen to your inner voice, it will tell you of your purpose, the gifts you have to give. Take the time to breathe in the beauty of your world, to celebrate its wonder and its mystery. So live, my friends. Live fully. Fully present in all your moments. Fully alive all of your days. For when you are fully alive, there is no need to ask, ‘what is the meaning of life?’.
~ John Two-Hawks
As I sit here tonight in Olympia, Washington, I find myself half way through the west coast leg of my ‘Horse Spirit’ U.S. Tour. Along the way, we have shared time with many wonderful, beautiful souls, and have witnessed the healing power of this new ‘Horse Spirit’ music. The concert experience takes the audience on a deeply moving journey, inviting all to ‘ride back into the wounds’ of the past, and rise up out the other side transformed and healed.
The Native flute itself is an instrument that can and does heal. It is a humble vessel, empty inside, with its ego out of the way, that allows spirit to flow freely through it. It was born of love, and of a broken and then mended heart. That power to mend became another of its uses, which continues to this day. It survived terrible cultural upheaval, and is now experiencing a worldwide renaissance. And why? Because the world is hurting and humanity has lost its connection to the earth, to simplicity, humility and wisdom. The essence of all Native music is its earth connection. Whether it is a Native flute, a hand drum or a powwow drum, the songs Native people bring forth from these instruments are about connection, honor and spirit.
With ‘Horse Spirit’, the music is weaved into a braid with the stories of the Chief Bigfoot Memorial Ride, the history of the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, and reflections about how we all must address our wounds in order to truly heal them, and that when we do, we restore our health, our purpose and our happiness. The response to this musical journey has been deeply moving for me. People are resonating with it, finding inspiration and meaning for their lives. What an incredible, humbling honor!
Wopila (Great Thanks) to all who have come out to attend my ‘Horse Spirit’ concerts, bought the album, and connected with it’s message. Together, we ride into the shadows, that we may claim the light....
Etiquette with Native People
And so we broach what can be a sensitive topic with this blog – etiquette – as it pertains to interacting with American Indian people. Right out of the gate we will address one. You notice I said ‘American Indian’, instead of ‘Native American’? Well my friends, that is on purpose. The term ‘Native American’ is a term that was invented by the U.S. Government, and a majority of First Nations people prefer other identifying terms. Having said that, no First Nations person is going to be upset by the term ‘Native American’! To keep things simple, I will use the term ‘Native people’ for this blog.
So, what does it mean to exercise etiquette toward Native people? Why is it even necessary?
The reason it is necessary is both historical and cultural. Historically, Native people were grossly misunderstood, misrepresented and often characterized in unflattering, inaccurate and even demeaning, insulting ways by the American government, mainstream media and society. A quick peruse through newspaper articles of the past about American Indian issues will plainly illustrate the warped historical view most Americans had of Native people in those times. Those warped views continue today in many ways, some subtle and some more obvious (obvious at least to Native people). The problem with these misconceptions is that they cause injury to Native peoples, injury in the form of racism, teenage suicide (3 times the national average), violence against Native people, alcoholism, epidemic poverty and many other socio-economic issues. This is why it is very necessary to understand and exercise etiquette with Native people.
So, to keep things light and positive, I will focus more on the ‘dos’ than the ‘don’ts’! Here are a few for you:
There are, of course, a lot more ‘dos’ and many ‘don’ts’, but the basic message here boils down to respect. To give someone, anyone, respect, you must see them as an equal. You must see them as human, and not a caricature, a villain, a hero, a mascot or a romanticized fantasy character. To respect a Native person, one must treat them as just that – a person - and not anything more or anything less. We are people. We are human beings; human beings with incredibly diverse human traits, complex cultural traditions and ancient complicated histories. We are not the two dimensional buffalo head nickel, Edward Curtis portrait, sports team mascot cartoon characters much of the mainstream western world has painted us to be. It is necessary to discuss etiquette toward Native people, frankly because it is so often not practiced. So, in summation, etiquette just means to be decent, polite, respectful and gracious. Apply those simple graces to your interactions with Native people as you would any other person, and we may just get to know each other for who we really are!
My friends, as I write this the time is 1:00am. I have been outside tonight, looking up at the sky and breathing in the silence of the forest that surrounds my Ozark Mountain home. It is in these quiet moments alone that I have always found my solace. The forest has always been my teacher. Even as a boy, I never did well learning inside of a square box. I still have an elementary school teacher’s report card informing my mother that I did ‘too much daydreaming’ in class. Indeed, it was true. My daydreams were my escape from the coldness of that square box. I did not fit there in that place with the desks all in their neat little rows and life’s questions in tidy numbered lines on paper. No, the lessons that have guided me throughout my life have always come from the wonderfully untidy, vastly complex, nonlinear order of nature.
Tonight’s lesson was in the sky. The air was warm, and the clouds were thick, yet patchy. And they were rolling, moving fast. As I sat with my eyes cast upward, every so often the clouds would part, revealing the starry sky and the moon behind them. Then they would close back up and hide the stars from my sight once again. It was beautiful to watch this atmospheric motion of life. So, what’s the lesson? Allow me…
Sometimes our life can fill up with things that block out the light, things that keep us from seeing clearly. Those things are like clouds, swirling and billowing and impeding our view. In cloudy times, we can get confused; we can lose our perspective and even our faith. It is easy to want to look away and not face things. And yet, if we find the courage to fix our eyes on the swirling, billowing things we can’t make sense of, an amazing thing happens; the clouds part and the truth is revealed. The light shines through, even if only for a moment, and wisdom is given to us. Answers are given to us. Direction is given to us. And clarity is given to us. So, no matter how dim your view may be; no matter how hard it may be to see clearly, keep your eyes fixed on those cloudy things, because they will open up when the moment is right and show you the way to the stars…