Friday, August 18, 2017

On My Way Home With Ohiyesa

I found myself standing at the counter returning a book to the Spooner Memorial Library yesterday. The book I was returning, like usual, was a few days overdue. And, like usual, the friendly young lady working the counter waved the fine. As I was standing there I noticed to my right, sitting on the counter ready to be checked in, a small red book titled, "The Soul of an Indian." Since the title contained "soul" and "indian" I was automatically interested. Writing this I think it's interesting that at one time there was question and great debate amongst intellectuals in various institutions of The West if indians even had souls. Here, it's 2017, and I'm looking at a soul book by Ohiyesa (Charles Alexander Eastman). So after outwardly expressing my turmoil to the young lady of whether or not I need another book to read I decided to check it out. She smiled, laughed, and did what she had to do on the computer and in the system to make this happen. Moments later I was on my way out the door with Ohiyesa and the book I attempted to return in the first place. Admittedly, the accumulation of books "to be read" is becoming a greater weakness of mine. There could be worse habits, I guess.

Well, less then 24 hours later I am 15 pages into it. I couldn't resist the temptation to put down another book and pick this one up (another worsening habit). I had to know if Ohiyesa's orientation was in line with the worldview layed out by Daniel Quinn in Ishmael and his other teaching tool novels. I know, I know, I was warned by Jim Britell's words on the cover of Ishmael when I first picked the book up around the turn of the century: 

"From now on I will divide the books I have read into two categories--the ones I read before Ishmael and those read after."

Another book, this time Ohiyesa putting his soul to paper, that reaffirms Britell's observation. And to take it perhaps a bit deeper is its affirmation that there really is a different way to be ("B") in the world, and things really don't have to be this way despite the stories most of the modern mythmakers make up. Take these words of wisdom by Ohiyesa, the indian with one foot in the white man's world and the other in the way of the ancestors and ancients of our tribal past:

"In our view, the Sun and the Earth are the parents of all organic life. And, it must be admitted, in this our thinking is scientific truth as well a poetic metaphor.

"For the Sun, as the universal father, sparks the principle of growth in nature, and in the patient womb of our mother, the Earth, are hidden embryos of plants and men. Therefore our reverance and love for the Sun and the Earth are really an imaginative extension of our love for our immediate parents, and with this feeling of filial devotion is joined a willingness to appeal to them for such good gifts as we may desire. This is the material or physical prayer." (Pg. 8-9)

In a world collapsing into fundamentalism, literalism, extremism Ohiyesa's words, to me, are a balancing act, and perhaps a lifeline if taken seriously.   

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