Read an Excerpt
From the Introduction
Long ago, the wise old chiefs and the wise old women taught the children how to grow up and to love one another. All the land belonged to all the people and all the children felt that every man or woman was a father or a mother. So there was no hurt child wandering alone and unloved and there was no old person who did not have people who looked after him or her. When the young, strong hunters went out to kill buffalo or antelope or deer or elk, they would bring back to the old people, and to the widow and the weak, the best of the meat. So there was goodness and a common purpose among the people . . . [who were] in tune with something far more wonderful, the Spirit of Life.
Native Americans have always stressed the importance of cultural ways and traditions as taught by the elders from our ancestors. Attitudes and behaviors associated with various Native American values have been expressed by Riles as follows.
Values, Attitudes, and Behaviors
Cooperation There is a sense of belonging in being a member of the group and in not being placed in a position above or below others by being singled out; improving on one's past performances is encouraged, though not to the detriment of the group.
Group harmony The needs of the group are considered over those of the individual. Consensus is sought in times of decision.
Modesty Boasting and loud behavior that attract attention to oneself are discouraged. Personal achievement and humbleness go hand-in-hand.
Autonomy People are not meant to be controlled or manipulated. One is taught not to interfere with the affairs of another by asking questions or offering advice.
Silence Silence should be comfortable as it is a reflection of self-control, endurance, patience, dignity, and reverence. Silence can also be used to mask feelings of discomfort in the presence of others in order to determine what is expected.
Patience The ability to wait quietly is considered the quality of someone possessing a great deal of inner strength and wisdom.
Generosity The ability to share and give freely of such things as property and food reflects a sense of connectedness with the group and the Circle of Life.
Reciprocity Universal interdependence dictates that for everything taken something must be given in return, in order to maintain harmony and balance.
Humor Humor is used among trusted persons to connect and relate.
Moderation in speech Ideas and feelings are conveyed through behavior rather than speech. Talking for the sake of talking is discouraged. Emphasis is placed on the feeling component rather than the verbal one.
Avoidance of eye contact Avoiding prolonged direct eye contact is a sign of respect. There are appropriate times for looking at respected persons.
Careful listening Listening skills and keen perceptive abilities are emphasized as evidenced by the importance of storytelling and oral recitation. Insincerity is easily detected.
Careful observation Nonverbal messages as relayed by facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice are easily perceived and understood. Children learn through observation and patience.
Imagery Any topic can be spoken of in terms of legends, anecdotes, or stories that relate a specific idea or feeling through metaphor and visualization. Thoughts and action emphasize similarity to other relevant situations through the use of images.
View of time as relative Time is constantly flowing and always with us. Things are done as they have to be done; events begin and end when everyone is ready. Time is not "to use us" but "to be used by us" since it has no beginning and no end.
Present-time orientation One lives each day as it comes. We should be more interested in "being" in the present than "becoming" in the future. Everything has its place.
Veneration of age Wisdom comes with experience and age. Tribal elders are treated with great respect and dignity; their knowledge and abilities are utilized for the continuance of the circle (family, clan, tribe).
Respect for nature Humankind and nature are thought to exist as one-in-the same. Lifestyle is formed by living in harmony and balance with nature. Disharmony arises from breaking the balance with nature, whether it be in the mental, physical, or spiritual realms.
Spirituality Spiritual practices emphasizing harmony with nature and the entire Circle of Life pervade every aspect of a person's existence.
Importance of the family "Family" denotes a relatedness experienced with all aspects of nature and other living creatures, including blood relatives. Emphasis on extended family provides support and a strong sense of belonging. "Fictive kin" are often claimed as legitimate family members.
Holistic view of health Illness implies an imbalance within a person or between a person and his or her universe. People can either be "in step" with the universe or "out of step" based on lifestyle and choices.
Caution Information about one's family is not freely shared. Personal and family problems are generally kept to oneself, in part due to hesitancy about how one will be received by others.