Saturday, July 12, 2014

What Is A Tribe and Why Would You Want One?

by Manitonquat
May 23, 2014
from News-Beacon Website
This is an excerpt from the book "Have you lost your Tribe?" by the native American elder Manitonquat. He is the author of several books (non fiction and fiction). They are available through As the discussion is unfolding how we can change humankind's direction his thinking and wisdom is a major contribution. Together with his wife Ellika he brings the knowledge of the Circle Way of living to interested people all over the world in camps and workshops. To learn more visit

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.

The rest of the world is either of mixed tribal heritage or has lost connection and knowledge of any tribal lineage in their families.

It is my experience that most people today feel isolated and unconnected with the communities around them and very many of them feel the longing for the kind of closeness and mutual support that the idea of a tribe conveys to them.
(Medicine Story)
“Only tribes will survive."
- Vine Deloria Jr.
It seems Old Man Winter doesn't want to move on yet.
He threw some more snow on us last night, and the wind outside is pretty chilling. So it's good we have plenty of firewood and we have our stove making it warm and cozy in here now.
I burned some sweet grass to give us a nice clean new atmosphere in the room, and I put my prayers for opening our minds together into a pinch of tobacco that I gave to the fire.

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".
The word has a bad reputation these days with so many tribes led by hereditary chieftains that in many places are absolute autocrats of patriarchal fiefdoms that are often abusive and brutal to women and children. That is certainly not what I think about when I hear 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.
The rest of the world is either of mixed tribal heritage or has lost connection and knowledge of any tribal lineage in their families. It is my experience that most people today feel isolated and unconnected with the communities around them and very many of them feel the longing for the kind of closeness and mutual support that the idea of a tribe conveys to them.

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.
The Assonet Band of the Wampanoag, on the mainland of southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island is autonomous and has a chief, male or female, who is appointed by the clan mother at the behest of the women of the band after they have conferred with the men.
If the chief were to do something the women disapproved of, they would let him know, and if he continued to defy them, they would choose another chief to conform to the will of the people. In modern times this has not ever happened.

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.
The way that Black Elk, the Oglala holy man, put it,
"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."
My elders assured me that, although the instructions to live in a circle was transmitted through our traditions, it was a way for all people, not just for us. Not an "Indian way" but a "human being way".
As they instructed me to do I have been passing along this information to others around the world for forty years now.

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 energy that held circles together was mutual protection and support that developed our very human attributes of cooperation and caring. The energy, in other words, of love.
When the mutual support and caring of the circles was no longer available, the new world of strangers was frightening. Out of that fear arose individuals desperate to survive and using their strength and cunning to do so, generally by means of violence.
The chaos of population without circles was soon replaced by a different order: the order of warlords, of authority and hierarchy, held together by the threat of violence, of death or enslavement.
The energy, in other words, of fear.

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.
In his lifetime he had seen the transition from the circle, from the equality of all people, from the simple village life - no ownership but complete sharing and cooperation - to the imported civilization and the autocracy of bureaucracy and U.S. corporations.
We stood in a circle there in Shoshone country, our arms about each other, and there were tears flooding his eyes as he told us,
"What we lost was this. What we lost was love."
The social form of fear which gave rise to,
  • individualism
  • competition
  • hierarchical
  • the structure of law
  • enforcement and punishment and of the "free" market, well as,
  • loneliness
  • hopelessness
  • terror and terrorism
We have not created this society, but it has a hand in creating us.
In making us feel powerless, forcing us to conform, using its wealth to isolate us, to keep us from creating a more human system and convincing us that happiness is being able to buy a lot of material stuff, keeping us tied to deadening jobs to pay for them, as their acquisition depletes the earth.

Most of the world has accepted this state of things because they see no alternative.
They make the best of it, even if it means taking on more jobs and cutting themselves further from closeness with their children and families, from friends and elders.
There are signs now of worldwide discontent:
  • 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
But the need for a more human way of life has also been moving in a more positive and creative direction.
The consideration of that and how you might use it to make a better life for yourself and a better society for everyone is the subject of these talks. This direction, which has been building for many decades, slowly over half a century, has been picking up speed because of our environmental crisis.
The term that has been adopted by many people involved is "eco-village".
Thousands of people around the world with the understanding that "small is beautiful", are networking and learning from each other how to create sustainable lifestyles that will not deplete the planet's resources or harm other life forms.

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.
But I would like to propose a further investigation of the benefits to be gained by living the circle way of life.

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.
If you ask me why of course I do not know, but I feel quite sure that the origins of inhumanity are to be found in fear. It is fear that prompted societies to propitiate the gods in blood, in violence and mistreatment. The monotheistic religions of the world have also suffered from that affliction.

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.
So, even as we might consider an ideal human being upon which to model our actions, I would propose we describe an ideal society to be a model for our community.

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.
The faces you see are smiling with love and gleaming with tears of joy. You are here at last!
The whole tribe is waiting to meet you and cheer you into their world. You look to make connections and each one wants to connect with you, to help and guide you. Your coming has brought new happiness to the people. You have many relatives: the whole village is your family.

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...
Human beings became human because they came together to help each other and we have evolved with helpfulness as a basic ingredient of our nature. I that way each one was equally important, each must be listened to, to be understood and appreciated.
This is why as long as the circle was unbroken the people flourished. When we lose the circle we lose each other, we become afraid, and we lose our humanity. And that is why we live today in such a inhuman world.

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.
That is what happens in our prison circles. Simply by learning respect, by treating each other respectfully, listening to one another, being there to support each other, the circle members begin to heal.

I was touched the other night by a man called Little Wolf in one of those circles.
He was considering the coming prospect of his release and said,
"I don't want to leave, because that means I leave my family behind, the only real family I have."
That closeness, feeling at home with the people around us, that feeling of family-hood, is what we all need, and now the goal for Little Wolf must be when he gets out to find a circle or to make one and to keep getting close and building family wherever he is.

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.
A true tribe must provide protection and support to every member equally. I a truly human society there can be no discrimination against any individual regardless of age, physical or mental capacity, sex, or sexual preference.

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.
The child grows with a sense of belonging, of being cared about, of having a place and a value among his or her people.

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.
And when we have that attitude of caring and paying good attention to them, we are constantly being confronted by the innate wisdom that we once ourselves possessed, that we brought into this world in our nature.
That wisdom which the exigencies of survival in our complicated and confusing world have buried in forgotten closets of our consciousness. Consider the effect that living so close to the children in the community would have had on our evolution as social beings. Consider how far from that closeness and humanity our society has come in our isolation from each other.
Imagine how having that wisdom again, living such closeness with respect, compassion, caring, growing and learning with our children might affect the world today.

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.
My friend Robert Alter learned from his daughter when she was a little girl that everything in life could be described as either "yum" or "yuck!"

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.
They want to learn and understand it all. Today we send them to institutions to learn – institutions that uniformly destroy all their curiosity and make learning drudgery and hardly ever any fun.

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.
Nations that demand our loyalty, our praise, our money, but give so little in return that the majority of people in even the richest nations are struggling for survival while a fortunate few have more wealth than they can use.
(The income gap is huge and growing. At this time in the U.S. the average income of the bottom 90% of people is $31,244 a year while the top 1% earn 1.1 million. Since World War II the share of the nation's income for the lowest 80% of people has been falling and continues to fall.)

Still the wealthy few are unsatisfied.
They do not want to share or to help others have a fair share of the Earth's resources. They do not even enjoy the moment. They want more. They don't have deep and satisfying relationships. They don't spend fun-time with their children, they are only driven to make more stuff, or to make money from their money. To be smarter dealers and more conspicuous consumers.

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.
First, of course, the news, full of wars and violence and political attacks and acrimony, of local crimes and corruption; then there are the soap operas about people unable to communicate, consummate or enjoy relationships; we see "reality" shows set up to pit people against each other, talk shows with people making sly put-downs of others, and silliness that passes for humor, game shows that are only about winning big a prize.
Especially telling:
the endless flow of crime dramas capitalizing on people's fears and playing up the horrors created by socio- or psychopathic villains.
Only sporting events seem comparatively untouched by all that and sometimes even seem to counteract the isolation, as when teams and individuals publicly show affection for one another after the game.
Yet even that is spoiled by the fanatical fans that riot at many European football matches.

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.
You must crave more and more until our already denuded and polluted planet is stripped beyond what it can bear. Your value to society, to the nation, and to your peers is not for the interesting and loving person you are, but only as a consumer.

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.
For nearly ten thousand years most human beings have accepted the world they were born into, but there are exceptions, models that are woven into our dreams and hopes - and our tales.
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.,
...are only a few of the thousands of thinkers who dreamed of a better world, a list that should include the Peacemaker of the Six Nations, Sweet Medicine, Wovoka, and Black Elk.

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.
More of the book will recount my own experiences and observations among some of these successful alternatives which are making lives more satisfying and fun…

I therefore very humbly submit these findings to all the many communities and eco-villages now flourishing around the globe.
I hope that many will wish to take them to develop for themselves, in their community processes, interpersonal relationships, and most importantly in their relations with their children, learning from them, staying close and helping them, and making the world our playground, the Earth our garden.

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