The 12 Virtues (Lakota)

Our return to the Old Ways begins here

About Each of the Virtues

Humility (Úŋšiič’iyapi)

Of all the 12 Virtues, úŋšiič’iyapi (humility) stands out as the one which validates the other eleven. In plain wašíčuiyapi (English), humility is the opposite of boasting, arrogance, haughtiness – anything used to draw attention to oneself and feed the ego.

There is a story about an old Lakota man many centuries ago who was on his deathbed. As he was a well-known warrior for most of his life, many came to honor him before he made his journey. He instructed his wife to invite several of the visiting elders into their lodge, in order to tell them a story of true bravery.

When he and his wife were first married many winters earlier, there was an enemy attack on their village. Two young wíŋyaŋ (women) were captured, so the young warrior and several others went after them. Although they rescued the women, the young warrior was captured and held prisoner. He was treated in severe and humiliating ways for a long time, until feared he would never see his new bride again. So he prayed to Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka (the Great Mystery) for death. Then one night, he thought he saw his young bride but thought it to be a hallucination However, it was really her. She had come alone to rescue him. They got away but were quickly pursued by the enemy warriors on foot. At one point, after hiding for many days and nights, the young bride took here moccasins and placed them near the river, so as to fool the enemy warriors. It worked, and they both eventually got back to their village safely. However, upon returning, the young bride said nothing about what she had done, and gave the credit to her warrior husband.

The old warrior, who was now near to death, told the visiting elders, in order to set the record straight after all these years. He needed to honor the woman who had rescued him but refused to take the credit, so as not to draw attention to herself. In not boasting or even recounting the story to anyone else, she demonstrated the 1st Lakota virtue,  úŋšiič’iyapi – humility.

Similarly, the 19th century Oglála holy man and war chief, Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse) led many successful battles, especially victory at Greasy Grass against George Armstrong Custer and the United States 7th Calvary in 1876 (what so-called history records as the “Battle of Little Big Horn”). In Lakota tradition – old way – warriors were often asked to tell their stories of victory, as a way of encouraging others to be brave and to instruct the young men who were to become warriors when they were older. This was known as waktóglaka (the telling of the deeds). But one of the things which drew others to him as a leader was that Tȟašúŋke Witkó refused to talk about his victories. Again, one of the best examples of humility – ever.

If we are to rise again as the Red Nation to be medicine for a sick world – as grandfather Crazy Horse saw in a vision – we must become strong through healing, which can only happen if all us Natives eháŋni wičhóȟ’aŋ eúŋkičhetupi (return to the old ways). And that means living the 12 virtues, starting with humility.

Perseverance (Wówačhiŋtȟaŋka)

Wówačhiŋtȟaŋka (perseverance) is an incredible power each one of us has deep within us. The tricky bit sometimes is remembering we have it – and then not being afraid to use it. It is the virtue which gives us the ability to persist, to keep going, to strive toward what we must do despite difficulties.

Ancient Lakota knowledge (and probably knowledge held by many other tribal nations) tells of a time of giants. One story passed down from generations past tells of one such relative (yes, they were still relatives, as is all of creation) and his encounter with a young man who had much wówačhiŋtȟaŋka. The young man and his new bride had just been married. All the people were very happy for them. One night, a giant who was ravenously hungry came bounding toward their camp where the people were for the spring and summer. In the midst of the chaos and before the young wičháša (man) could stop him, the giant picked up and swallowed his wíŋyaŋ (woman) whole, along with several others.

After the dust cleared and the shock wore off, the young wičháša and five of his warrior brothers left their camp to try and rescue them, even though they were in the giant’s belly. They tracked the giant for several days, each day growing weaker and more tired. But the young wičháša just kept thinking about the suffering his new bride must be going through in the belly of the giant. That was the fuel that kept his fire – his perseverance – burning.

Finally, when he was almost too weak to keep going, he devised a plan. Four of his brothers would dig a huge hole in the earth, while he and the 5th brother would act as bait and lure the giant towards it. After many days journey, they came upon the giant who was still hungry and wanted another “snack.” So, just as the young wičháša figured, the giant started lumbering after them, his stride being so much more longer than theirs. Several times, he almost caught them, but the vision of his suffering bride gave him the desire to keep going no matter what. When they finally came close to the pit, which was now covered with many branches and leaves, the young wičháša made one last desperate leap towards it. The hungry giant very nearly caught him, but the Great Mystery protected him, and the giant fell to his demise.

After much struggling to breathe as the dirt started filling his lungs, he finally stopped moving. As exhausted as he was, the young wičháša leapt down into the hole, took his knife, and began slicing open the giant’s belly. After much effort, he found his wíŋyaŋ and the others – barely alive. The brothers took them to the nearby stream, gently washed them off and revived them all. His inner strength, thanks to the virtue of wówačhiŋtȟaŋka he had been taught, enabled him to save them.

Sometimes, this will often happen when we have reached our limit, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Like a sleeping giant (no joke intended), it awakens when we need it the most, enabling us to go completely beyond what we think out limitation are. And honestly, anyone can tap into it, once they realize there are no other options left – except to just keep going.

Respect

The Cambridge Dictionary says very little about respect, other than it is an "admiration felt or shown for someone or something that you believe has good ideas or qualities."  This is a shallow definition, to say the least. Indigenous people respect the natural power that comes from the wisdom and knowledge elders carry forward. People who are participating in the dominant culture tend to respect positions of power and wealth. Indigenous people love and respect Uŋčí Makȟá (our earth mother who we Lakota call grandmother). Those participating in the dominant culture are only interested in what the earth as a planet can give them, there is no sense of the earth being living, only ownership and control.

Respect is about living in the right way, honoring the earth, the people, and all of creation. We do so because we instinctively understand that all creation is alive, and has the same Spirit that is in us two-leggeds. Therefore, we are all connected, we are all related. Unfortunately, we also live in their world, which means we are constantly being bombarded with their preoccupation with money and whatever they deem necessary to continually procure more – even the destruction of the very earth they live on. Notice I said live on – and that is the basis of the problem, because we Indigenous live with and respect our Earth Mother. They do not.

Honor

Honor is similar to respect yet very different. A person of honor is one who upholds their own values and the values of the tribe. A person of honor has a high moral character, and is consistent in the way they behave in life. They are a person of integrity with a keen sense of right and wrong, and a keen sense of what is best for the tribe. They will live by all twelve of the virtues.

The honorable person takes care of their responsibilities in life: they love and respect Uŋčí Makȟá our earth mother and do everything they can for their people.  Having honor, like all the virtues, starts now. So if you haven't been leading an exactly honorable life to this point, or you had failures and a rough time, don’t sweat it, just turn it around, and start now!

Love

Love is having the flame of emotion in one’s heart, an intense feeling deep in the heart of being connected to others, to self, and to creator/creation. The whole universe exists because of love: the motive of all creation. The newborn baby instinctively feels this love from the touch of its parent’s skin when being held. And, although not always expressed in the same manner, it should always be as intense. It is a deep sense of caring for others that drives us all...

...unless someone has learned to turn it off by replacing it with something such as money – the way of the disconnected ones. All too often, the term is used in a frivolous way, devoiding it of all meaning, for example, “ I love that purse!” The person really likes the way the purse looks, but they do not really “love” the purse. Taking this thought further, some people love money. They cannot get enough of it. They become consumed by it, and that is where greed sets in. This leads to corruption, destruction, dislocation, disconnectedness, and death. It is, in the end, not a result of love.

There is love of family, love of self, love of your spouse, love of a non-human relative (what the others call a “pet”), love of Uŋčí Makȟá, love of Creator. There is platonic love, romantic love, unconditional love; the most difficult to achieve is unconditional love for all our relations. Yet this is the love we must strive for. Living all of the virtues requires unconditional love.  This leads us to the next virtue, sacrifice.

Sacrifice

In its most basic form, sacrifice is the giving of oneself in some real way. It may be the giving of your time to sit with an elder because they need to be with someone, and you know you need to put them first. It may be the giving of your own resources, such as food or other necessity, because someone else needs them. It might be the literal giving of some of your own flesh and blood through intense prayer during ceremony, such as Sundance. For us Natives, it is a very natural thing, often even leading to physical suffering for the good of the people. Giving is central to our lives as Indigenous people.

This is where love comes into play – unconditional love. I give you my last cup of coffee because I love you. I might not even like you, but I love you and I make the sacrifice because of it. We must have love in our hearts to make sacrifices and we realize that what we do is for the good of our family or our tribe. Think of a stone dropping into a still pool of water and the ripples that emanate out from where the stone touched the water. So is your behavior today, in this moment, like the stone. Your actions can be a sacrifice for the good and touching one, may impact the many.

Truth

Truth is being honest about yourself and the world around you. There is ultimate truth and then there are all of our individual truths. In this world of illusion we must rely upon our inner truth to know which way to go. Through gaining an understanding of life we learn to see beyond the illusions into what is real for us. We all have our own individual perspectives but it is relying upon our own perception within the greater reality that allows us to be in truth.

Compassion

Compassion basically means with passion. Passion is love, desire, feeling strongly towards someone or thing. To show or have compassion is to have mercy, demonstrate unconditional love, give of oneself to the other, and sometimes, even to sacrifice oneself for the good of another. This is not the Western understanding of the word compassion, which is to have sympathy, or pity someone else. Once again many of the other virtues are tied into this one.

Courage / Bravery

When we think of someone as being brave or having courage, we often think of great warriors like Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, or Geronimo. Whereas those great warriors were certainly brave, most of us are not in their position or think we are like them. So for common people, what do we do that takes courage? What is courage? What does it really mean to be brave?

My friend who left her spouse because he was abusing her was brave in that moment, and it takes much continued courage to forge a new life away from that spouse. My friend who battles cancer and faces death before her two children will be grown is brave. The man, newly back from the Middle East, now suffering from PTSD seeking counseling and help – and talking about it – is certainly courageous. My daughter's friend who was a meth user, and is now in treatment and trying to learn how to be in recovery is brave.

Bravery takes inner fortitude. It takes guts. Courage is persevering through the fear and pain to find healing. Communities can be brave. Tribes can be brave. Nations can be brave, as they forge new roads, new ways of being and communicating, new ways of truth holding, and new ways of caring. There are many battles. Not all are fought with weapons.

Fortitude

Fortitude is stick-to-itiveness. Fortitude is grit. It is inner strength based on a belief. A belief that things will improve, that they will be okay   It is the quiet, gentle voice of a Grandmother with wisdom, and understanding. It is what the buffalo do in the snow storm when the wind and snow is blowing at them really hard: the lead buffalo puts his head down, watches his hooves form a new path for the rest of the herd to follow single file, and then plows right into the storm. The Buffalo knows that if he plows ahead one step at a time, into the storm, it will be okay He will make it through and the herd will as well. His stick-to-itiveness is aimed at the good of all.  To me, that is fortitude.

Generosity

“To have a heart” is the literal translation of this Lakota word which is a timeless virtue residing in the heart. True generosity has always been encouraged and exemplified in Lakota society. “Giveaways” as we call them are done frequently to honor others. This helps redistribute wealth in the community. In the “Old times” accumulating material possessions was greatly discouraged.  Keeping the tribe or family's wealth distributed more evenly helped keep everyone on the same level, kept people from being in poverty, and kept a certain peace. Community health and welfare was more important than individual wealth. True generosity embodies love.

There is also the thought that Mother Earth provides us with everything, and we should, in return, give everything back to her. We need to care for her by not polluting, not drilling into her, not taking things carelessly or more than we need. So, that said, we need to really sit with our idea of what it means to be in relationship with our Earth Mother. In what ways are we being generous with each other? With our Mother Earth?

Wisdom

Only after one has learned about life and is able to act within the confines of the other virtues, can one be considered wise; even then it is dependent on your actions! Wisdom comes at a price though. Wisdom comes at the price of making mistakes. Wisdom is having great knowledge coupled with common sense, an inner knowing, experience and taking actions based on that. A wise person embodies the 12 virtues and understands their use and consequences.  Wisdom requires great love. Wisdom is a reward from life for persevering.

Copyright © 2020 Indigenous Nations Rising.
All rights reserved.
Web Design by SingingEagle.

The 12 Virtues (Lakota)

Our return to the Old Ways begins here

About Each of the Virtues

Humility (Úŋšiič’iyapi)

Of all the 12 Virtues, úŋšiič’iyapi (humility) stands out as the one which validates the other eleven. In plain wašíčuiyapi (English), humility is the opposite of boasting, arrogance, haughtiness – anything used to draw attention to oneself and feed the ego.

There is a story about an old Lakota man many centuries ago who was on his deathbed. As he was a well-known warrior for most of his life, many came to honor him before he made his journey. He instructed his wife to invite several of the visiting elders into their lodge, in order to tell them a story of true bravery.

When he and his wife were first married many winters earlier, there was an enemy attack on their village. Two young wíŋyaŋ (women) were captured, so the young warrior and several others went after them. Although they rescued the women, the young warrior was captured and held prisoner. He was treated in severe and humiliating ways for a long time, until feared he would never see his new bride again. So he prayed to Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka (the Great Mystery) for death. Then one night, he thought he saw his young bride but thought it to be a hallucination However, it was really her. She had come alone to rescue him. They got away but were quickly pursued by the enemy warriors on foot. At one point, after hiding for many days and nights, the young bride took here moccasins and placed them near the river, so as to fool the enemy warriors. It worked, and they both eventually got back to their village safely. However, upon returning, the young bride said nothing about what she had done, and gave the credit to her warrior husband.

The old warrior, who was now near to death, told the visiting elders, in order to set the record straight after all these years. He needed to honor the woman who had rescued him but refused to take the credit, so as not to draw attention to herself. In not boasting or even recounting the story to anyone else, she demonstrated the 1st Lakota virtue,  úŋšiič’iyapi – humility.

Similarly, the 19th century Oglála holy man and war chief, Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse) led many successful battles, especially victory at Greasy Grass against George Armstrong Custer and the United States 7th Calvary in 1876 (what so-called history records as the “Battle of Little Big Horn”). In Lakota tradition – old way – warriors were often asked to tell their stories of victory, as a way of encouraging others to be brave and to instruct the young men who were to become warriors when they were older. This was known as waktóglaka (the telling of the deeds). But one of the things which drew others to him as a leader was that Tȟašúŋke Witkó refused to talk about his victories. Again, one of the best examples of humility – ever.

If we are to rise again as the Red Nation to be medicine for a sick world – as grandfather Crazy Horse saw in a vision – we must become strong through healing, which can only happen if all us Natives eháŋni wičhóȟ’aŋ eúŋkičhetupi (return to the old ways). And that means living the 12 virtues, starting with humility.

Perseverance (Wówačhiŋtȟaŋka)

Wówačhiŋtȟaŋka (perseverance) is an incredible power each one of us has deep within us. The tricky bit sometimes is remembering we have it – and then not being afraid to use it. It is the virtue which gives us the ability to persist, to keep going, to strive toward what we must do despite difficulties.

Ancient Lakota knowledge (and probably knowledge held by many other tribal nations) tells of a time of giants. One story passed down from generations past tells of one such relative (yes, they were still relatives, as is all of creation) and his encounter with a young man who had much wówačhiŋtȟaŋka. The young man and his new bride had just been married. All the people were very happy for them. One night, a giant who was ravenously hungry came bounding toward their camp where the people were for the spring and summer. In the midst of the chaos and before the young wičháša (man) could stop him, the giant picked up and swallowed his wíŋyaŋ (woman) whole, along with several others.

After the dust cleared and the shock wore off, the young wičháša and five of his warrior brothers left their camp to try and rescue them, even though they were in the giant’s belly. They tracked the giant for several days, each day growing weaker and more tired. But the young wičháša just kept thinking about the suffering his new bride must be going through in the belly of the giant. That was the fuel that kept his fire – his perseverance – burning.

Finally, when he was almost too weak to keep going, he devised a plan. Four of his brothers would dig a huge hole in the earth, while he and the 5th brother would act as bait and lure the giant towards it. After many days journey, they came upon the giant who was still hungry and wanted another “snack.” So, just as the young wičháša figured, the giant started lumbering after them, his stride being so much more longer than theirs. Several times, he almost caught them, but the vision of his suffering bride gave him the desire to keep going no matter what. When they finally came close to the pit, which was now covered with many branches and leaves, the young wičháša made one last desperate leap towards it. The hungry giant very nearly caught him, but the Great Mystery protected him, and the giant fell to his demise.

After much struggling to breathe as the dirt started filling his lungs, he finally stopped moving. As exhausted as he was, the young wičháša leapt down into the hole, took his knife, and began slicing open the giant’s belly. After much effort, he found his wíŋyaŋ and the others – barely alive. The brothers took them to the nearby stream, gently washed them off and revived them all. His inner strength, thanks to the virtue of wówačhiŋtȟaŋka he had been taught, enabled him to save them.
Sometimes, this will often happen when we have reached our limit, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Like a sleeping giant (no joke intended), it awakens when we need it the most, enabling us to go completely beyond what we think out limitation are. And honestly, anyone can tap into it, once they realize there are no other options left – except to just keep going.

Respect

The Cambridge Dictionary says very little about respect, other than it is an "admiration felt or shown for someone or something that you believe has good ideas or qualities."  This is a shallow definition, to say the least. Indigenous people respect the natural power that comes from the wisdom and knowledge elders carry forward. People who are participating in the dominant culture tend to respect positions of power and wealth. Indigenous people love and respect Uŋčí Makȟá (our earth mother who we Lakota call grandmother). Those participating in the dominant culture are only interested in what the earth as a planet can give them, there is no sense of the earth being living, only ownership and control.

Respect is about living in the right way, honoring the earth, the people, and all of creation. We do so because we instinctively understand that all creation is alive, and has the same Spirit that is in us two-leggeds. Therefore, we are all connected, we are all related. Unfortunately, we also live in their world, which means we are constantly being bombarded with their preoccupation with money and whatever they deem necessary to continually procure more – even the destruction of the very earth they live on. Notice I said live on – and that is the basis of the problem, because we Indigenous live with and respect our Earth Mother. They do not.

Honor

Honor is similar to respect yet very different. A person of honor is one who upholds their own values and the values of the tribe. A person of honor has a high moral character, and is consistent in the way they behave in life. They are a person of integrity with a keen sense of right and wrong, and a keen sense of what is best for the tribe. They will live by all twelve of the virtues.

The honorable person takes care of their responsibilities in life: they love and respect Uŋčí Makȟá our earth mother and do everything they can for their people.  Having honor, like all the virtues, starts now. So if you haven't been leading an exactly honorable life to this point, or you had failures and a rough time, don’t sweat it, just turn it around, and start now!

Love

Love is having the flame of emotion in one’s heart, an intense feeling deep in the heart of being connected to others, to self, and to creator/creation. The whole universe exists because of love: the motive of all creation. The newborn baby instinctively feels this love from the touch of its parent’s skin when being held. And, although not always expressed in the same manner, it should always be as intense. It is a deep sense of caring for others that drives us all...

...unless someone has learned to turn it off by replacing it with something such as money – the way of the disconnected ones. All too often, the term is used in a frivolous way, devoiding it of all meaning, for example, “ I love that purse!” The person really likes the way the purse looks, but they do not really “love” the purse. Taking this thought further, some people love money. They cannot get enough of it. They become consumed by it, and that is where greed sets in. This leads to corruption, destruction, dislocation, disconnectedness, and death. It is, in the end, not a result of love.

There is love of family, love of self, love of your spouse, love of a non-human relative (what the others call a “pet”), love of Uŋčí Makȟá, love of Creator. There is platonic love, romantic love, unconditional love; the most difficult to achieve is unconditional love for all our relations. Yet this is the love we must strive for. Living all of the virtues requires unconditional love.  This leads us to the next virtue, sacrifice.

Sacrifice

In its most basic form, sacrifice is the giving of oneself in some real way. It may be the giving of your time to sit with an elder because they need to be with someone, and you know you need to put them first. It may be the giving of your own resources, such as food or other necessity, because someone else needs them. It might be the literal giving of some of your own flesh and blood through intense prayer during ceremony, such as Sundance. For us Natives, it is a very natural thing, often even leading to physical suffering for the good of the people. Giving is central to our lives as Indigenous people.

This is where love comes into play – unconditional love. I give you my last cup of coffee because I love you. I might not even like you, but I love you and I make the sacrifice because of it. We must have love in our hearts to make sacrifices and we realize that what we do is for the good of our family or our tribe. Think of a stone dropping into a still pool of water and the ripples that emanate out from where the stone touched the water. So is your behavior today, in this moment, like the stone. Your actions can be a sacrifice for the good and touching one, may impact the many.

Truth

Truth is being honest about yourself and the world around you. There is ultimate truth and then there are all of our individual truths. In this world of illusion we must rely upon our inner truth to know which way to go. Through gaining an understanding of life we learn to see beyond the illusions into what is real for us. We all have our own individual perspectives but it is relying upon our own perception within the greater reality that allows us to be in truth.

Compassion

Compassion basically means with passion. Passion is love, desire, feeling strongly towards someone or thing. To show or have compassion is to have mercy, demonstrate unconditional love, give of oneself to the other, and sometimes, even to sacrifice oneself for the good of another. This is not the Western understanding of the word compassion, which is to have sympathy, or pity someone else. Once again many of the other virtues are tied into this one.

Courage / Bravery

When we think of someone as being brave or having courage, we often think of great warriors like Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, or Geronimo. Whereas those great warriors were certainly brave, most of us are not in their position or think we are like them. So for common people, what do we do that takes courage? What is courage? What does it really mean to be brave?

My friend who left her spouse because he was abusing her was brave in that moment, and it takes much continued courage to forge a new life away from that spouse. My friend who battles cancer and faces death before her two children will be grown is brave. The man, newly back from the Middle East, now suffering from PTSD seeking counseling and help – and talking about it – is certainly courageous. My daughter's friend who was a meth user, and is now in treatment and trying to learn how to be in recovery is brave.

Bravery takes inner fortitude. It takes guts. Courage is persevering through the fear and pain to find healing. Communities can be brave. Tribes can be brave. Nations can be brave, as they forge new roads, new ways of being and communicating, new ways of truth holding, and new ways of caring. There are many battles. Not all are fought with weapons.

Fortitude

Fortitude is stick-to-itiveness. Fortitude is grit. It is inner strength based on a belief. A belief that things will improve, that they will be okay   It is the quiet, gentle voice of a Grandmother with wisdom, and understanding. It is what the buffalo do in the snow storm when the wind and snow is blowing at them really hard: the lead buffalo puts his head down, watches his hooves form a new path for the rest of the herd to follow single file, and then plows right into the storm. The Buffalo knows that if he plows ahead one step at a time, into the storm, it will be okay He will make it through and the herd will as well. His stick-to-itiveness is aimed at the good of all.  To me, that is fortitude.

Generosity

“To have a heart” is the literal translation of this Lakota word which is a timeless virtue residing in the heart. True generosity has always been encouraged and exemplified in Lakota society. “Giveaways” as we call them are done frequently to honor others. This helps redistribute wealth in the community. In the “Old times” accumulating material possessions was greatly discouraged.  Keeping the tribe or family's wealth distributed more evenly helped keep everyone on the same level, kept people from being in poverty, and kept a certain peace. Community health and welfare was more important than individual wealth. True generosity embodies love.

There is also the thought that Mother Earth provides us with everything, and we should, in return, give everything back to her. We need to care for her by not polluting, not drilling into her, not taking things carelessly or more than we need. So, that said, we need to really sit with our idea of what it means to be in relationship with our Earth Mother. In what ways are we being generous with each other? With our Mother Earth?

Wisdom

Only after one has learned about life and is able to act within the confines of the other virtues, can one be considered wise; even then it is dependent on your actions! Wisdom comes at a price though. Wisdom comes at the price of making mistakes. Wisdom is having great knowledge coupled with common sense, an inner knowing, experience and taking actions based on that. A wise person embodies the 12 virtues and understands their use and consequences.  Wisdom requires great love. Wisdom is a reward from life for persevering.

Copyright © 2020 Indigenous Nations Rising. All rights reserved.
Web Design by SingingEagle.

The 12 Virtues (Lakota)

Our return to the Old Ways begins here

About Each of the Virtues

Humility (Úŋšiič’iyapi)

Of all the 12 Virtues, úŋšiič’iyapi (humility) stands out as the one which validates the other eleven. In plain wašíčuiyapi (English), humility is the opposite of boasting, arrogance, haughtiness – anything used to draw attention to oneself and feed the ego.

There is a story about an old Lakota man many centuries ago who was on his deathbed. As he was a well-known warrior for most of his life, many came to honor him before he made his journey. He instructed his wife to invite several of the visiting elders into their lodge, in order to tell them a story of true bravery.

When he and his wife were first married many winters earlier, there was an enemy attack on their village. Two young wíŋyaŋ (women) were captured, so the young warrior and several others went after them. Although they rescued the women, the young warrior was captured and held prisoner. He was treated in severe and humiliating ways for a long time, until feared he would never see his new bride again. So he prayed to Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka (the Great Mystery) for death. Then one night, he thought he saw his young bride but thought it to be a hallucination However, it was really her. She had come alone to rescue him. They got away but were quickly pursued by the enemy warriors on foot. At one point, after hiding for many days and nights, the young bride took here moccasins and placed them near the river, so as to fool the enemy warriors. It worked, and they both eventually got back to their village safely. However, upon returning, the young bride said nothing about what she had done, and gave the credit to her warrior husband.

The old warrior, who was now near to death, told the visiting elders, in order to set the record straight after all these years. He needed to honor the woman who had rescued him but refused to take the credit, so as not to draw attention to herself. In not boasting or even recounting the story to anyone else, she demonstrated the 1st Lakota virtue,  úŋšiič’iyapi – humility.

Similarly, the 19th century Oglála holy man and war chief, Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse) led many successful battles, especially victory at Greasy Grass against George Armstrong Custer and the United States 7th Calvary in 1876 (what so-called history records as the “Battle of Little Big Horn”). In Lakota tradition – old way – warriors were often asked to tell their stories of victory, as a way of encouraging others to be brave and to instruct the young men who were to become warriors when they were older. This was known as waktóglaka (the telling of the deeds). But one of the things which drew others to him as a leader was that Tȟašúŋke Witkó refused to talk about his victories. Again, one of the best examples of humility – ever.

If we are to rise again as the Red Nation to be medicine for a sick world – as grandfather Crazy Horse saw in a vision – we must become strong through healing, which can only happen if all us Natives eháŋni wičhóȟ’aŋ eúŋkičhetupi (return to the old ways). And that means living the 12 virtues, starting with humility.

Perseverance (Wówačhiŋtȟaŋka)

Wówačhiŋtȟaŋka (perseverance) is an incredible power each one of us has deep within us. The tricky bit sometimes is remembering we have it – and then not being afraid to use it. It is the virtue which gives us the ability to persist, to keep going, to strive toward what we must do despite difficulties.

Ancient Lakota knowledge (and probably knowledge held by many other tribal nations) tells of a time of giants. One story passed down from generations past tells of one such relative (yes, they were still relatives, as is all of creation) and his encounter with a young man who had much wówačhiŋtȟaŋka. The young man and his new bride had just been married. All the people were very happy for them. One night, a giant who was ravenously hungry came bounding toward their camp where the people were for the spring and summer. In the midst of the chaos and before the young wičháša (man) could stop him, the giant picked up and swallowed his wíŋyaŋ (woman) whole, along with several others.

After the dust cleared and the shock wore off, the young wičháša and five of his warrior brothers left their camp to try and rescue them, even though they were in the giant’s belly. They tracked the giant for several days, each day growing weaker and more tired. But the young wičháša just kept thinking about the suffering his new bride must be going through in the belly of the giant. That was the fuel that kept his fire – his perseverance – burning.

Finally, when he was almost too weak to keep going, he devised a plan. Four of his brothers would dig a huge hole in the earth, while he and the 5th brother would act as bait and lure the giant towards it. After many days journey, they came upon the giant who was still hungry and wanted another “snack.” So, just as the young wičháša figured, the giant started lumbering after them, his stride being so much more longer than theirs. Several times, he almost caught them, but the vision of his suffering bride gave him the desire to keep going no matter what. When they finally came close to the pit, which was now covered with many branches and leaves, the young wičháša made one last desperate leap towards it. The hungry giant very nearly caught him, but the Great Mystery protected him, and the giant fell to his demise.

After much struggling to breathe as the dirt started filling his lungs, he finally stopped moving. As exhausted as he was, the young wičháša leapt down into the hole, took his knife, and began slicing open the giant’s belly. After much effort, he found his wíŋyaŋ and the others – barely alive. The brothers took them to the nearby stream, gently washed them off and revived them all. His inner strength, thanks to the virtue of wówačhiŋtȟaŋka he had been taught, enabled him to save them.

Sometimes, this will often happen when we have reached our limit, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Like a sleeping giant (no joke intended), it awakens when we need it the most, enabling us to go completely beyond what we think out limitation are. And honestly, anyone can tap into it, once they realize there are no other options left – except to just keep going.

Respect

The Cambridge Dictionary says very little about respect, other than it is an "admiration felt or shown for someone or something that you believe has good ideas or qualities."  This is a shallow definition, to say the least. Indigenous people respect the natural power that comes from the wisdom and knowledge elders carry forward. People who are participating in the dominant culture tend to respect positions of power and wealth. Indigenous people love and respect Uŋčí Makȟá (our earth mother who we Lakota call grandmother). Those participating in the dominant culture are only interested in what the earth as a planet can give them, there is no sense of the earth being living, only ownership and control.

Respect is about living in the right way, honoring the earth, the people, and all of creation. We do so because we instinctively understand that all creation is alive, and has the same Spirit that is in us two-leggeds. Therefore, we are all connected, we are all related. Unfortunately, we also live in their world, which means we are constantly being bombarded with their preoccupation with money and whatever they deem necessary to continually procure more – even the destruction of the very earth they live on. Notice I said live on – and that is the basis of the problem, because we Indigenous live with and respect our Earth Mother. They do not.

Honor

Honor is similar to respect yet very different. A person of honor is one who upholds their own values and the values of the tribe. A person of honor has a high moral character, and is consistent in the way they behave in life. They are a person of integrity with a keen sense of right and wrong, and a keen sense of what is best for the tribe. They will live by all twelve of the virtues.

The honorable person takes care of their responsibilities in life: they love and respect Uŋčí Makȟá our earth mother and do everything they can for their people.  Having honor, like all the virtues, starts now. So if you haven't been leading an exactly honorable life to this point, or you had failures and a rough time, don’t sweat it, just turn it around, and start now!

Love

Love is having the flame of emotion in one’s heart, an intense feeling deep in the heart of being connected to others, to self, and to creator/creation. The whole universe exists because of love: the motive of all creation. The newborn baby instinctively feels this love from the touch of its parent’s skin when being held. And, although not always expressed in the same manner, it should always be as intense. It is a deep sense of caring for others that drives us all...

...unless someone has learned to turn it off by replacing it with something such as money – the way of the disconnected ones. All too often, the term is used in a frivolous way, devoiding it of all meaning, for example, “ I love that purse!” The person really likes the way the purse looks, but they do not really “love” the purse. Taking this thought further, some people love money. They cannot get enough of it. They become consumed by it, and that is where greed sets in. This leads to corruption, destruction, dislocation, disconnectedness, and death. It is, in the end, not a result of love.

There is love of family, love of self, love of your spouse, love of a non-human relative (what the others call a “pet”), love of Uŋčí Makȟá, love of Creator. There is platonic love, romantic love, unconditional love; the most difficult to achieve is unconditional love for all our relations. Yet this is the love we must strive for. Living all of the virtues requires unconditional love.  This leads us to the next virtue, sacrifice.

Sacrifice

In its most basic form, sacrifice is the giving of oneself in some real way. It may be the giving of your time to sit with an elder because they need to be with someone, and you know you need to put them first. It may be the giving of your own resources, such as food or other necessity, because someone else needs them. It might be the literal giving of some of your own flesh and blood through intense prayer during ceremony, such as Sundance. For us Natives, it is a very natural thing, often even leading to physical suffering for the good of the people. Giving is central to our lives as Indigenous people.

This is where love comes into play – unconditional love. I give you my last cup of coffee because I love you. I might not even like you, but I love you and I make the sacrifice because of it. We must have love in our hearts to make sacrifices and we realize that what we do is for the good of our family or our tribe. Think of a stone dropping into a still pool of water and the ripples that emanate out from where the stone touched the water. So is your behavior today, in this moment, like the stone. Your actions can be a sacrifice for the good and touching one, may impact the many.

Truth

Truth is being honest about yourself and the world around you. There is ultimate truth and then there are all of our individual truths. In this world of illusion we must rely upon our inner truth to know which way to go. Through gaining an understanding of life we learn to see beyond the illusions into what is real for us. We all have our own individual perspectives but it is relying upon our own perception within the greater reality that allows us to be in truth.

Compassion

Compassion basically means with passion. Passion is love, desire, feeling strongly towards someone or thing. To show or have compassion is to have mercy, demonstrate unconditional love, give of oneself to the other, and sometimes, even to sacrifice oneself for the good of another. This is not the Western understanding of the word compassion, which is to have sympathy, or pity someone else. Once again many of the other virtues are tied into this one.

Courage / Bravery

When we think of someone as being brave or having courage, we often think of great warriors like Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, or Geronimo. Whereas those great warriors were certainly brave, most of us are not in their position or think we are like them. So for common people, what do we do that takes courage? What is courage? What does it really mean to be brave?

My friend who left her spouse because he was abusing her was brave in that moment, and it takes much continued courage to forge a new life away from that spouse. My friend who battles cancer and faces death before her two children will be grown is brave. The man, newly back from the Middle East, now suffering from PTSD seeking counseling and help – and talking about it – is certainly courageous. My daughter's friend who was a meth user, and is now in treatment and trying to learn how to be in recovery is brave.

Bravery takes inner fortitude. It takes guts. Courage is persevering through the fear and pain to find healing. Communities can be brave. Tribes can be brave. Nations can be brave, as they forge new roads, new ways of being and communicating, new ways of truth holding, and new ways of caring. There are many battles. Not all are fought with weapons.

Fortitude

Fortitude is stick-to-itiveness. Fortitude is grit. It is inner strength based on a belief. A belief that things will improve, that they will be okay   It is the quiet, gentle voice of a Grandmother with wisdom, and understanding. It is what the buffalo do in the snow storm when the wind and snow is blowing at them really hard: the lead buffalo puts his head down, watches his hooves form a new path for the rest of the herd to follow single file, and then plows right into the storm. The Buffalo knows that if he plows ahead one step at a time, into the storm, it will be okay He will make it through and the herd will as well. His stick-to-itiveness is aimed at the good of all.  To me, that is fortitude.

Generosity

“To have a heart” is the literal translation of this Lakota word which is a timeless virtue residing in the heart. True generosity has always been encouraged and exemplified in Lakota society. “Giveaways” as we call them are done frequently to honor others. This helps redistribute wealth in the community. In the “Old times” accumulating material possessions was greatly discouraged.  Keeping the tribe or family's wealth distributed more evenly helped keep everyone on the same level, kept people from being in poverty, and kept a certain peace. Community health and welfare was more important than individual wealth. True generosity embodies love.

There is also the thought that Mother Earth provides us with everything, and we should, in return, give everything back to her. We need to care for her by not polluting, not drilling into her, not taking things carelessly or more than we need. So, that said, we need to really sit with our idea of what it means to be in relationship with our Earth Mother. In what ways are we being generous with each other? With our Mother Earth?

Wisdom

Only after one has learned about life and is able to act within the confines of the other virtues, can one be considered wise; even then it is dependent on your actions! Wisdom comes at a price though. Wisdom comes at the price of making mistakes. Wisdom is having great knowledge coupled with common sense, an inner knowing, experience and taking actions based on that. A wise person embodies the 12 virtues and understands their use and consequences.  Wisdom requires great love. Wisdom is a reward from life for persevering.

 

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