May 23, 2014
- Vine Deloria Jr.
Let's settle down, get comfortable, and consider this subject of tribes and the tribal way of organizing ourselves. Take a moment to breathe into the subject, the idea of belonging the possibility of a community that you may call your own and would support you and be supported by you.
When I ask you "have you lost your tribe?" I should describe what I mean by the word "tribe".
There are over three hundred million indigenous people in the world today. Most of them indentify with a tribe and actually live among their people in traditional tribal areas.
I am a person of a mixed background, but I have a primary identity as an Assonet Wampanoag, which is the largest part of my own heritage. I am also one sixteenth Swedish and feel very at home with my wife's welcoming family in Sweden.
So my notion of tribalism stems from our practices, as well as from my association with many first nations across North America, rather than from other tribes around the world with whose histories and cultural traditions I am unfamiliar.
Our traditions, as I was taught by our elders, relate tribal life to the circle. In a circle all are equal, all are heeded.
"In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came from the sacred hoop of the nation. As long as that hoop remained unbroken the people flourished."
I learned from the elders and saw for myself what were the benefits of the circle way of living; being a scholar I also studied to understand what happened to the circle in history. It was clear this way was the most ancient and most successful form of society ever used by human beings.
I am planning a longer study of history and pre-history to investigate what happened to the circle and why it was not incorporated into the beginnings of civilization. The overly simple answer to that is that civilization in most places began with sudden explosions of population that obliterated the tribal circles with sheer numbers of people.
The newly ordered warrior societies began to conquer their neighbors and forced them to submit to their warrior rule. And so proceeds all of history for past ten thousand years, wrestling all power from the women and oppressing the children. Our people, the natives of North America, were one of the last to be conquered and brought under this rule of of man-made law and violence.
Many years ago I listened to Liberian exile's description of the history of his people.
"What we lost was this. What we lost was love."
- the structure of law
- enforcement and punishment and of the "free" market,
- terror and terrorism
Most of the world has accepted this state of things because they see no alternative.
- uprisings of young people against oppressive governments
- terrorism by people feeling powerless and unheard
- craziness of individuals breaking under the stress and killing loved ones, children and random strangers
You could call these communities tribes, they are certainly living together cooperatively, in mutual support of each other to some degree, and caring for the land that supports them. Most of these people would not object to being called tribal, and indeed some of them think of themselves that way.
For that I want you to consider these aspects of tribal societies, and in the future I will refer to them together as the Circle Way, which is how I call what I explore and teach in our workshop and camps.
Now I want you to know that I do not believe that any society has ever been perfect any more than any individual person has. There have been and are tribal societies that have gone out of balance and acted in less than human ways.
But in my experience of the many indigenous peoples of the world I am convinced these fearful practices are not common, are in fact rare anomalies overall.
Imagine now that you were experiencing a life in such a community. As a baby being born you would open your eyes to a group of loving women, the midwives and helper assistants who have been waiting for the magical moment of your appearance, to help you into this world in the softest and gentlest way. There is nothing but wonder and gratitude at your arrival.
Growing up when there are confusions and frustrations, conflicts losses and other unavoidable hurts, there are many to learn from, wise elders and storytellers, clan mothers, aunties, uncles, older children. Through the years of your life you stay close to these people, and as you grow old the love received and the love you give reach ever deeper dimensions.
You work and play and celebrate together, through laughter and through grief, through the birth of babies, their growing to adults, and the coming of new generations. All helping one another, learning together, planting harvesting, building together, dreaming together, and filling the seasons with celebration.
This is the Circle Way...
Even when we lose all that and begin to hurt ourselves and others, the circle can heal us. The circle can make us human again.
I was touched the other night by a man called Little Wolf in one of those circles.
"I don't want to leave, because that means I leave my family behind, the only real family I have."
That is the goal for all of us, if we want to live a truly human life, to keep growing our circle, expanding our love, our capacity to give and receive affection and encouragement and appreciation, to listen and to understand and support one another.
What made us human was this experience of living tribally, in a circle of equals, in groups larger than the extended families of our primate relatives but small enough that the individuals were able to know each other well.
The whole tribe, therefore, has a sense of involvement and responsibility for each child, which takes a lot of burden off the parents. As well as the elders, clan leaders and band chiefs, the siblings, the grand parents, the aunts and uncles, the cousins, all have roles in helping and guiding the little children.
Consider too the effect on all the adults of the tribe of being with, caring for and guiding the children. When we honor the children, when we listen to them and pay attention to their thoughts and feelings, it has a wonderful effect on us. It nurtures our own sense of caring and our thoughts for their welfare.
To children the world is still viewable from the simple stance of what is pleasant or unpleasant, sweet or sour, fun or not fun, interesting or boring, kind or mean, healing or hurtful.
Little children, feeling safe and cared about, excited just to be alive, finding the world a curious and interesting place, want above all to have fun and to laugh. Imagine what it really means to any community to have such teachers with them, to have free happy children to show us about freedom and happiness, to make us laugh and to teach us how to play.
Children are always in the moment. They have not yet narrowed their concerns and everything is interesting and a kind of miracle.
Living closely together, cooperating, communicating, learning from each one, making each one important, developing our caring and understanding and therefore our love and compassion, listening to the old and young alike and honoring all - that is how we evolved into Homo sapiens sapiens, the wise, wise ones.
But we are in danger of turning that evolution back, returning to the world of baboons that are always fighting or indifferent to on another. Because we have lost our tribes, we have been isolated from each other when we all need each other. We have substituted nations for tribes.
Still the wealthy few are unsatisfied.
The lack of love, our most precious capacity and experience, is illustrated every moment of every day just by watching what is presented on television, the window to our culture.
the endless flow of crime dramas capitalizing on people's fears and playing up the horrors created by socio- or psychopathic villains.
And over all that is the constant, pounding repetition of the commercials, reminding us that the only important thing in our lives is stuff. Stuff to make you attractive, stuff to make others envy you, stuff to make you feel important or powerful, stuff to at least reduce your pain, but stuff that will never actually satisfy you.
There is good news, however. We are learning. The desire to change society in ways better suited to our humanity is growing. It is a desire that may be as old as civilization itself.
Confucius and Lao Tse told of better, more ideal ways to act in society, Buddha, Socrates, Hillel, Jesus, Mohammed, Rumi, St. Anthony, Francis of Assisi, George Fox, Karl Marx, Robert Owen, Sri Aurobindo, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.,
Here you may learn of that desire turned into action.
In this book you will find brief introductions into the stories of some of the people who have aspired to change the world in the twentieth century. They are people who absented many of the structures of civilization to build communities that might more closely respond to their ideas of an ideal society.
I therefore very humbly submit these findings to all the many communities and eco-villages now flourishing around the globe.