Frank Waters: Becoming Indigenous
by Bobby Bridger
The literature of Frank Waters has been greatly appreciated and
honored during his long and prolific lifetime. He has been called "one
of the most distinguished western writers of the 20th century." Twice he
has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His The Man Who
Killed The Deer is the recognized classic on Pueblo Indian life and,
initially published in 1942, has never been out of print. As a matter of
fact, 16 of his 24 books, written over a period of 54 years remain in print.
His non-fiction studies Masked Gods, Navajo and Pueblo Ceremonialism,
and The Book of the Hopi are used today as primary source books.
Mystique; The Coming Sixth World of Consciousness is considered the
comprehensive study of the pre-Columbian culture and religion of the Toltecs,
Aztecs and the Maya in Mexico and Guatemala.
In the early days of his career, however, it must have seemed
to him at times that his chosen profession was one in which it might be
impossible to succeed. When first published, all of his novels were immediate
failures. Examining why a writer now recognized as one of the best of the
20th century met with immediate failure revels an important perspective
of American history, while also offering a deeper understanding and appreciation
of the contribution of Frank Watersí vast body of work to our past, present
and future in North America.
Our libraries are filled with books chronicling the history of
conflict between Euro and Native Americans, yet few have asked what is
really going on in this 500 year conflicting and blending of culture and
religion in North America. Episcopal priest Thomas Berry offers this thought:
"The destinies of the Indian are inseparable from the destinies
of the American Earth. As the Euro-American deals with one, so he will
deal with the other -and in the end so will he deal with
himself. The fate of the continent, of the Indian and the white man, are
finally identical. None of these can be saved except in and through the
(The Indian Future, Thomas Berry, 1987, Hoka Hey Magazine,
Spring, 1992, P. 1)
If Thomas Berry is right and the destinies of the Euro and Native
American are identically linked to the North American continent it is apparent
those destinies are being shaped and directed by the land itself. In order
to appreciate and comprehend the rhythm of the land a people must be or
become indigenous. Berry elaborated on the current situation in North America
offering insight into the question of becoming indigenous:
"The effects of this meeting have varied in South America, in
Mexico and Central America, in the United States and Canada. If the Spanish,
Portuguese, French, English and Dutch were the earliest to occupy the North
American continent, the other peoples of Europe came later. Peoples from
Africa were brought here. Then came the peoples of Asia. Among all these
peoples the Indian maintains his unique status as the original dweller
in this region of the world. He has the position of honor, however, not
merely by his temporal priority but by his mystical understanding and communion
with the continent. The continent itself and the living beings upon it
were safe and the Indian secure until the invasion took place. Since then
the continent with its rivers and valleys, its mountains and plains, has
been exploited with all the violence that modern science and technology
could summon. The Indian tribes have suffered to hold on to
their territory and to maintain their way of life. From being one of the
freest peoples who ever lived, they have become one of the most confined
culturally as well as physically... There does exist, however, a wide-spread
awareness that the Indian on this continent has a significant place in
the historical and cultural development of man. Survival and development
within his own cultural traditions concerns not only the Indian, it concerns
the other peoples of this continent, as well as the human community itself.
It concerns the destinies of the Universe."
(The Indian Future, Thomas Berry, 1987, Hoka Hey Magazine,
Spring, 1992, P. 1)
No Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, nor any religion would
admit that we are only here in North America to exploit the continent.
Why are we here if not seeking to become indigenous?
Lakota author Vine DeLoria, Jr. has written extensively about
what it means to be or become indigenous to North America. In his essay,
Lands And Human Understanding
"Luther Standing Bear expressed this process of becoming indigenous
when he remarked that: Ďthe man from Europe is still a foreigner and
an alien...but in the Indian the spirit of the land is vested; it will
be until other men are able to divine and meet its rhythm. Men must be
born and re-born to belong. Their bodies must be formed of the dust of
their fore fathers bonesí".*emphasis is mine.
(Sacred Lands And Human Understanding, Vine DeLoria,
Jr. 1991, Hoka Hey Magazine, Fall/Winter, 1992, P.6)
DeLoria elaborates on Standing Bearís observation:
"Although non-Indians are born in North America, they are not
indigenous to North America and they remain strangers in a land they do
not understand. They have not had sufficient time to set down roots that
will enable them to understand America or themselves. American Indians
are indigenous because we have paid attention to what the land is saying
to us and where there are sacred places we have become a member of the
community of those places, where there are holy places we have paid utmost
respect, and where we have consecrated the land with our lives and blood
we have truly become native to this land."
(Sacred Lands and Human Understanding, Vine DeLoria,
Jr. 1991, Hoka Hey Magazine, Fall/Winter, 1992, P. 7)
Frank Waters understood long ago that the"foreigners" invading
North America were ultimately seeking to become indigenous. Perhaps it
was in his DNA. One of his biographers wrote that Waters was born"with
a double portion of the drifter already in him." Considering Frank Waters
youth this seems understatement. He worked as a roustabout in the famous
Salt Creek oil fields of Wyoming, a telephone engineer in Imperial Valley,
California on the Mexican border and as the Editor of the weekly Spanish-English
newspaper El Crepusculo in Taos, New Mexico. He was even present
at the birth of the Atomic Age working for awhile on the Atomic Energy
Project in Los Almos, New Mexico witnessing the"awesome detonation of
almost a hundred bombs." (Frank Waters, J. C. Martin, Hoka Hey
Magazine, Summer, 1992. P. 1)
Throughout his life Frank Waters wandered from the Canadian border
into the jungles of Central and South America following Luther Standing
Bearís criteria to"divine and meet its rhythm." Instinctively Waters knew
he would not appreciate the rhythm of the western hemisphere from the"friendly
skies" of modern modes of travel. In an interview with Stephen Kress, Waters
described one of his journeys down the Colorado River:
"I made a trip down there, down the Colorado on an old cattle
boat full of fresh, green cattle hides once. I remember that delta region
which was wild as can be, so beautiful. And now thereís just nothing there.
Itís just all dried up. Itís a shame. I remember flocks of herons there;
nothingís there now." (Frank Waters: How History Looks At
A Literary Giant, Stephen Kress, Hoka Hey Magazine, Summer,
1992, P. 4.)
As my great, grand uncle, mountain man Jim Bridger was considered
to posses the broadest knowledge of the North American west of the 19th
century, it could be argued that Frank Waters holds that knowledge in the
20th century. Stephen Kressí interview with Frank Waters reveals a man
who has, in fact, experienced the western hemisphere from a perspective
few others can claim:
"Waters: Iíve always been interested, as you know, in Indians.
I never wanted to go to Europe; most people of my time and age, they always
wanted to go to Europe. I never wanted to go to Europe, but I went instead
down to Mexico, and Guatemala, and Peru, and Bolivia and so on. So Iíve
had a good time.
Kress: Latin and South America must have been very fascinating
50 years ago when they were less touched by American values.
Waters: Yes. I made one trip down there by horseback, from the
Mexican border right down to Mexico City. And then another time I lived
in Oaxaca for a year. It was great.
Kress: Why did you choose to travel by horseback that trip?
Waters: I wanted to see the country and the people, travel through
the different tribes. Thatís the way you see it. You go from one little
town to another, a little ranchito. The people were so wonderful, they
would take you in and let you sleep on the floor with them, the babies
and the dogs. And they were so generous. Theyíd always
give you food, share their beans and tortillas.
"In later years I was given a Rockefeller Foundation Grant
to research onto religion and all down there. And, of course, I was down
there for a year traveling around, but in a different way. The government
gave me a permiso to go to all these great archaeological sites. And then
I had a permiso to go to the great library at the Museo, the Natural
Museo, and read some of the old manuscripts and get them translated.
So I had it both ways."
(Frank Waters: How History Looks At A Literary Giant,
Stephen Kress, Hoka Hey Magazine, Summer, 1992, P. 7)
The"double portion of the drifter" of which Watersí biographer
spoke no doubt eluded to his father and grandfather. Frank Waters grandfather
was a gold prospector who was equally fascinated with how the land speaks
to the man. Waters grandfather served as the model for Joseph Rogier in
a trilogy of his first novels which dealt with mining days in the Pikeís
Peak region. In Conversations With Frank Waters, John Milton, interviewing
Frank Waters and revealing a familial obsession with the spirit of the
"Milton:...somewhere along the way, in the novels you have written
based upon your grandfather, gold for him becomes something other than
Waters: Yes, thatís right.
Milton: You have him digging into the heart of Pikes Peak, where
he can find out what makes Pikeís Peak tick.
Waters: That grew into an obsession. The same sort of obsession
that Ahab had for Moby Dick. Itís more than a white whale, itís more than
Milton: Roberson Jeffers, later on, as you recall, as a poet
had a good deal to say about the meaning within the rock, the rock holding
the ancient traditions of the world and becoming almost human in this respect.
Now is this something like Rogier was trying to find as he went into the
Waters: I think everyone is trying to find a meaning in life.
search for it in the medium thatís most familiar to them."
(Conversations With Frank Waters, Edited by John Milton,
The Swallow Press, Inc. Chicago, Illinois, 1971, P. 6-7.)
Frank Waters vast body of work represents a comprehensive quest
into becoming familiar with what it means to become indigenous in North
America. Although of profound importance to us in the final decade of the
20th century, the greatest contribution of Frank Watersí work will become
clear to future generations of Indian people attempting to accept and preserve
the responsibility of being indigenous and to non-Indian people as they
seek to come into harmony with themselves and the continent and struggle
to become truly indigenous to North America.
In order to full appreciate Frank Waters contribution to being
and becoming indigenous in the future, however, we must look clearly at
the recent past, to the time which his career as a writer began, to the
religious-political climate of America as Euroamericans began the"final
solution" to their"Indian problem".
In the early 20th century the general publicís attitude was still
shaped by the sad cliche,"the only good Indian is a dead Indian". The
remark itself had itís origins in an ironic religious mis-interpretation
much like thousands of others that characterize relations between Native
and Euroamericans from the beginning of their interactions.
Lewis and Clark gave out small pocket watches to Nez Perce Indians
on their historic expedition in 1804. Some years later a group of Nez Perce
elders showed up in St. Louis asking for Merriwether Lewis and seeking
ďreligious instruction". Apparently Nez Perce leaders wanted to know how
to make watches. What they got was Methodist"Circuit Rider" Jason Lee.
After several years among the western tribes Lee reported to Merriwether
Lewis that the Indians religion and culture was natural to his environment
and that the Indian would never become a Christian so long as his own culture
remained intact. Following Paulinian doctrine, in order to"save" Indians,
it became imperative to destroy their religion and culture. This attitude
evolved into Philip Sheridanís remark,"the only good Indian is a dead
After the Indian Wars period on the Great Plains ended with the
Wounded Knee Massacre, after Geronimoís defiant final surrender, and, after
400 years of general armed hostilities from Native America ended in hollow
treaties literally stealing North America, the United States government
began the final stages of military domination of the continent -the
ďAssimilation Policy". At this time entire Indian nations was parceled
out to various Christian denominations under the charge to convert Native
America to mainstream Anglo-American culture and religion.
By the 1930s, when Frank Waters was beginning his career as a
writer, three generations of Indian children had been forcibly removed
from family, tradition, religion and culture and educated into becoming
ďwhite". In missionary schools Indian children were forced to cut their
hair, dress in Anglo-American clothing and were even beaten for speaking
their own language; anything that held any link to traditional tribal Indian
religion and culture was to be completely destroyed.
This policy not only affected Indian children, but adults, and
religious and political tribal leaders as well. When asked why he became
a Roman Catholic and taught Catechism to Lakota children, Lakota Holy Man
Black Elk replied,"because my children had to live in this world." [Authorís
note: This remark of Black Elkís was told to me personally by Neihardtís
daughter, Hilda. Much information on Black Elkís Christian life can be
found in The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elkís Teachings Given To John
G. Neihardt, edited by Raymond J. DeMaille, 1984, University of Nebraska
Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, P. 6-74]. The famous story of John G. Neihardtís
initial 1930 meeting with Black Elk (which, fortunately, produced the classic
on Plains Indian religion and culture, Black Elk Speaks) perhaps
best describes the insidious effects of the governmentís policy of assimilation
and its impact on future possibilities of becoming indigenous according
to Standing Bearís and DeLoriaís criteria. When Neihardt asked around Pine
Ridge, South Dakota for Black Elk people who knew the old man told the
poet it was a waste of time as,"Old Black Elk wonít talk about the old
days."(Black Elk Speaks, William Morrow and Company, New York, 1932,
preprinted 1979 University of Nebraska Press, P. xvi)
Of course Neihardt learned through persistence that Black Elk
would talk to the person who understood and matched an Indianís rhythm
of life. Black Elk had been afraid to talk about the old days. He knew
his talk would effect the children. Besides, he was busy translating and
fusing the inherent values of Plains Indian culture and religion into Euroamerican
Christianity in order to help his children live in the white manís world
with some vestige of Indian principles and morals remaining in the subconscious
of his"hybrid" -a new North American religion.
The United States governmentís policy of assimilation struck
deep into the vital, living body of a culture and religion based upon centuries
of oral tradition, ritual and ceremonies. After centuries of armed resistance,
with its elders and leaders silenced, ancient rituals and ceremonies banned,
its lands, language and children taken from them, traditional tribal Native
America appeared finally defeated and dying. Going"underground" with oral
tradition, ritual and ceremonies was the last resort to keeping a spark
of Indian"spirit" alive and it is a great, silent statement of the faith,
courage, endurance, religious strength and general truth of Native America
that anything of the culture and religion remains at all today. As Thomas
Berry reminds us:
"The first basis for cultural survival and renewal for the tribal
peoples of America lies in their awareness of having won a moral victory
of unique dimensions during the past five centuries. Many people have been
besieged in the course of history, many have disappeared from the earth,
many have survived over long periods of time to rise in renewed vigor.
It would, however, be difficult to find a people who over such a long period
have undergone such destructive influences, yet have survived and preserved
their identity so firmly as the American Indian."
(The Indian Future, Thomas Berry, 1987, Hoka Hey Magazine,
Spring, 1992, P. 1)
As a young writer, Frank Waters wrote novels about Colorado gold
miners with Melvillian obsessions, yet as his spiritual quest throughout
North, Central and South America intensified, Waters became increasingly
involved in Native America. Waters had always been around Indians. In an
interview with Stephen Kress Waters said:
"My father was part Cheyenne Indian. When I was a child in Colorado
Springs, the Utes were allowed to come back from their reservation on the
western slope, come back to Colorado Springs and pitch their lodges west
of town. Of course the people in town eschewed going out there and having
any contact with them at all. But my father used to go out there and visit
with them, and he would take me out there in the buckboard with him. He
used to go out there in the evening and visit and eat with them. Ever since
then Iíve had an interest in Indians."
(Frank Waters: How History Looks At A Literary Giant,
Stephen Kress, Hoka Hey Magazine, Summer, 1992, P.7)
Waters reveals in his discussion with John Milton that he has
often asked himself why he was instinctively drawn to Indians. His answer:
"I have often wondered and everybody asks, Ďwhy do you write
so much about Indians? I can only answer that I have lived with Indians
all my life and they interest me. And I probably justify it rationally
by saying that, after all, we are all interested in our relationship to
our own land, to our own earth, and the Indians are indigenous to this
continent. The Indian is much different from our European white, so I think
we have a great deal to learn from their expression of it in their own
(Conversations With Frank Waters, edited by John R. Milton,
The Swallow Press, Inc. Chicago, Illinois, 1971, P. 54)
Frank Waters relationships with Indians were based on the fact
that he liked them individually as people. His unique understanding of
Indians came from a place of slowly becoming acquainted until a sincere
friendship evolved. Inherently he knew,"you canít ask an Indian a direct
question about his ceremonies because he wonít answer, but if you get to
know them, one will tell you something, and someone else will tell you
something else, and gradually you can put it all together and arrive at
something." (Conversations With Frank Waters, edited by John R.
Milton, The Swallow Press, Inc. Chicago, Illinois, 1971, P.33)
ďIf you get to know them" is the important phrase in Watersí remark
here. It was not popular to"get to know" Indians during this period of
American history, much less to write and hope to publish anything about
Native America that did not fit the"good over evil","cowboys and Indians"
formula which, in turn, fit the governmentís assimilation policy like a
glove. To complicate matters, Native American culture, naturally taciturn,
had been forced deeper underground to a silent place of holding any white
man suspect. Trust was not a state easily entered with a white man, particularly
concerning traditional tribal culture and religion. Trust had to be earned
over years of becoming sensitive to the rhythm to which Standing Bear eluded:
ďit will be until other men are able to divine and meet its rhythm.
Men must be born and reborn to belong. Their bodies must be formed of the
dust of their forefatherís bones."
In his classic, The Man Who Killed The Deer, Waters skillfully
portrayed his character Martiniano as a Pueblo man caught in between the
20th century conflict of Euro and Native American religion and culture.
He understood Martinianoís conflict intimately. The spiritual and mystical
truths Waters sought in Native American culture and religion were nearly
impossible to attain given the religious/political climate in America during
the 1930s. More difficult perhaps was finding a publisher or audience for
such work. Interviewing Waters, Stephen Kress reveals much about this time:
Kress: How difficult was it in the early days to find people
who were interested in your books?
Waters: Almost impossible. I think every book Iíve written was
a flop. Prejudice was still high against Indians. And publishers were not
interested in it. They did publish my books, but they went out of print
very quickly. It was a long time before interest developed in them. Luckily
they began to be translated into French and German, and Dutch
and Swedish, and so on, and I think that helped to get them published.
Of course, now they have a measure of acceptance. (Frank Waters: How
History Looks At A Literary Giant, Stephen Kress, Hoka
Hey Magazine, Summer, 1992, P. 7)
We are indeed fortunate that Frank Waters gifts transcended the
circumstance of the times and he was able to win the trust and friendship
of traditional tribal people and the confidence of insightful publishers.
Observing Frank Waters unique interdisciplinary synthesis of global awareness
concerning Native America, Stephen Kress says:
"What gives particular power to Frank Watersí work is his extensive
understanding of eastern religions and modern archetypal psychology, which
allows for a sympathetic and penetrating analysis of Indian concepts which
few of his contemporaries could equal." (Frank Waters: How History Looks
At A Literary Giant, Stephen Kress, Hoka Hey Magazine, Summer,
1992, P. 4)
It is true that Watersí blend of knowledge concerning various
religious disciplines and scientific thought offers unique and"penetrating"
insight into American Indian culture. In his interviews with Frank Waters
John Milton brought the analytical side of the writer into the conversation,
presenting Waters understanding of the classic modern Euro-American psychoanalytical
concepts of Freud and Jung:
Waters:...C. G. Jung, the great Swiss psychologist, visited the
Taos Pueblo many years ago and he found in several Indian myths the same
archetypal dominants and meanings expressed by the unconscious in his own
patients. Navajo and Pueblo sand painting in design and structure are mandelas
also -archetypal symbols found all over the world. So
all humanity carries the same universal values but expresses
them in different racial mediums. The mediums will change and disappear,
but the values will endure.
Milton: You think now that this is confined to the West? I have
said on occasion that I think Eastern fiction is influenced by Freud, but
western fiction has certain affinities with the Jungian principles. Would
you agree with that?
Waters: Oh, certainly. I think Freud is old-fashioned. He was
the great innovator, the pioneer, but psychology has gone far beyond him.
Jung has advanced further, into a deeper level. What he called the collective
unconsciousness embraces all the values we have preserved since we were
primitives. (Conversations With Frank Waters, edited by John R.
Milton, The Swallow Press, Inc. Chicago, Illinois, 1971, P.
If Milton had probed deeper into Frank Waters thoughts and asked
him to compare Native Americaís awareness and religious and cultural incorporation
of inherent human values to those dwelling in Jungís"collective unconsciousness",
I suspect he would have discovered Waters believes Euroamerican concepts
of human behavior are only beginning to encompass values Native America
has been living for centuries.
Considering Waters awareness of oriental philosophy and religion
we must look again to his youth and the time he spent in Southern California
when Harry Chandler of The Los Angeles Times was developing water
and irrigation interests in vast expanses of desert in order to grow cotton.
To obtain cheap labor Chandler and his associates worked with powerful
Chinese tongs in San Francisco to bring in shiploads of Chinese coolies.
Earlier they had brought in peons from the western coast of Mexico and
these two cultures blended in the tiny cottonfield town of Mexicalli. Mexicalli
was just the kind of place to which Frank Waters would be attracted
-a place where diverse cultures meet to create a third, unique, colorful
offspring culture. Waters talks with John Milton show us the way he learned
oriental thought and rhythm:
"Waters:...so there were thousands of Chinese in this little
Mexican town of Mexicalli. It was full of bars, cantinas, opium places,
and marijuana dens of all descriptions. It was a very unsafe place, but
it was a very colorful place too.
Milton: This is where you got the material for The Yogi Of
Cockroach Court -the oddest title, perhaps, of any of your
Waters: Cockroach Court got itís name from the Mexican idiom
which calls prostitutes cucarachas, or"cockroaches". So the main
red light district was known as"Plaza De Cucarachas", or Cockroach
Court. On the edge of this district lived the Yogi. His name was Tai-Ling,
an old Chinese man, a very fabulous character. I suppose he was -you
canít tell an Orientalís age by his looks, but he must have been about
seventy. He had a little shop where he sold herbs and such things. Ostensibly,
he made his living selling fish brought up the Colorado River from the
Gulf of California. On the side he peddled opium and in the
cellar he hid -you might call them wet-back Chinese. I got interested
in the old man. Iíd wander in there -his shop was like a movie set
because he was interested in fish -you know Chinese love fish, interested
in collecting odd types of fish and marine life. So all the boat masters
and fishermen who would get a peculiar catch would bring it to him in a
tin can or something, until his vast cluttered shop was full of tin cans,
bottles and aquariums of strange fish. Tai-Ling was quite a philosopher
too, a Buddhist, and I thought he was quite a wonderful old man. The Yogi
of Cockroach Court." (Conversations With Frank Waters, edited by
John R. Milton, The Swallow Press, Inc. Chicago, Illinois,
1971, P. 21)
Frank Waters learned Eastern philosophy and religion the way he
later Native American religion and philosophy -from the working people
-men like Tai-Ling, the wet-back Chinese he hid in his cellar, and the
fishermen and master boatmen who frequented his colorful shop. Awareness
grasped at this level of experience suggests an attempt to understand not
just the words and thoughts of a peoples culture, but the rhythms of those
words and thoughts in peoples everyday lives. In his talks with John Milton,
Frank Waters brings this multidisciplinary knowledge of the rhythm of philosophy,
religion and culture into sharp focus responding to a question from Karen
Kling: Well, one of the things I would ask about is the duality
motif, as it is obvious in Indian ceremonies, particularly in the Deer
Dance. In Masked Gods you explained the dualism which is represented
there, and I was wondering if you would explain this further. In The
Man Who Killed The Deer, Martiniano watches the dance. What does he
learn from it?
Waters: The problem of human duality is of course too tall an
order to fill here. Letís just say there are bi-polar tensions in man,
in all life -male and female, reason and instinct, the conscious
and unconscious, matter and spirit, etc. Their conflict has given us in
the past our greatest trouble, and their reconciliation in the future is
our greatest hope. To solve the problem of these opposites was the concern
of the ancient Chinese yin and yang doctrine, of Christianity and of the
ancient Mexicans...QuetzalCoatl, the feathered serpent, embodied the Quetzal
bird, symbol of heaven and spirit, and the serpent Coatl, symbol of earth
and matter. The myth and symbolism about him is too involved to go into
now, but reconciling the opposites Quetzacoatl became his peoples redeemer,
as was the Christ of Christianity, and established a religion that lasted
twelve centuries. So itís obvious that centuries ago the Indians on this
continent were aware of the problem of duality. Now the Deer Dance of Taos
Pueblo, still being given, is a mystery play and deals with this same problem.
As you say, I talked about it in Masked Gods -itís
symbology. The two deer mothers symbolizing the female imperative, the
instinctual forces of the unconsciousness of the earth. And the deer dancers,
the men trying to break free from the circle, symbolizing the masculine
intellect, the forces of the will of man. So thereís a bi-polar tension
here -whoops and yells, scrambles in the snow, as one breaks free
and is brought back by the deer watchers, etc. A lot of fun, a drama of
what takes place inside of us. All to show, as I see it, that we excessively
rational white, Anglo-Americans by our force of will canít break free from
the forces of the unconscious, from the realm of instinct embodied within
us. Weíve got to reconcile the two. And this is what I tried to show that
Martiniano felt in The Man Who Killed The Deer -that heíd
gone too far and had to come back to his own roots." (Conversations
With Frank Waters, edited by John R. Milton, The Swallow Press, Inc.
Chicago, Illinois, 1971, P. 66)
In taking 20th century Indians and non-Indians back to their"roots"
in North America Frank Waters has contributed great insight into Luther
Standing Bearís observations on becoming indigenous."In the Indian
the spirit of the land is still vested; it will be until other men are
able to divine and meet its rhythm."
In his conversations with John Milton Waters says:
Waters: I believe myself that indigenous people on all continents
are attuned to their own land instinctively or unconsciously. The Negro
drum beat is so much different from the Indian drum beat. I have a friend
who as a young girl lived in Africa where her father was a missionary.
Later she lived among the Navajos as a missionary herself. I would often
listen to her beat out the drum beat, the African rhythm. It is entirely
different because it does reflect the vibratory quality of the land itself.
Now I think we people, we Ango-European white people are not yet wholly
attuned, as these indigenous Indians are to their mother earth.
Milton: Can we learn to do this?
Waters: I think we are learning, if that is the word. In our
few generations here we Americans are being changed. We are not wholly
white Europeans. We are already taking on certain qualities of the land
Milton: Do you think, then, that we will let rationalism replace
this instinct? Probably not.
Waters: Thatís the problem. I think our culture is over-rational
Materialistic and excessively rational. We are losing that deep
strength of instinct of the unconscious by relying almost completely
upon our shallow rationalism. (Conversations With Frank Waters,
edited by John R. Milton, The Swallow Press, Inc., Chicago,
Illinois, 1971, P. 10)
Considering the perilous condition of our planet, and, assuming
in the"deep strength of instinct of the unconscious", Euroamericans are
spiritually seeking to come into harmony with themselves and North America,
we must do some rapid soul-searching if we hope to become indigenous. Thomas
"The Euro-American has won his battles with the Indian in the
military-political order, in the possession of property, in the power to
control the exterior destinies of the native peoples; but he has lost in
the moral sphere to such a degree that he himself is amazed to discover
the depth and violence of his destructive instincts, and this not just
as a speculative truth, but as the lived reality of his own
existence. That his deeds were done for"sacred" purposes and with the
highest cultural intentions is an irony that baffles any human effort at
understanding." (The Indian Future, Thomas Berry, 1987, Hoka
Hey Magazine, Spring, 1992, P. 1)
Frank Waters appeared at a pivotal point in the history of the
relationship of Native and Euroamericans. At a time when Native America
faced extinction he won their trust and brought portions of oral tradition
to the printed page. Many Native people -half assimilated-half tribal-
found their way back to accepting responsibility for being indigenous through
Frank Waters body of literature. Frank Waters preserved and protected many
oral rituals and ceremonies in which future Native Americans will find
the values of their ancestors.
Those of us seeking to become indigenous might do well to listen
to Father Thomas Berry:
"Survival and development within his own traditions concerns
not only the Indian, it concerns the other peoples of this continent, as
well as the human community itself. It concerns the destinies of the universe.
If we assume that the Indian peoples have such significance,
it is all the more important that the other peoples of this continent develop
attitudes that will make the next five centuries a creative period for
the Indian. It is especially important that the Euro-American develop confidence
in the extensive human resources that are available to these
original inhabitants of the continent. If we have broken their rhythm of
development it is important that we assist in the recovery of this rhythm.
Only if we recognize and appreciate this rhythm will we be able to step
aside and let the deeper qualities of the tradition develop from within."
(The Indian Future, Thomas Berry, 1987, Hoka Hey Magazine,
Spring, 1992, P.1)
Those of us who are beginning to"recognize and appreciate this
rhythm" and"step aside" and"let the deeper qualities of the tradition
develop from within" have a complicated task ahead of us to reach Luther
Standing Bearís standard for becoming indigenous. Vine DeLoria, Jr. reminds
us that we"have not had sufficient time to set down roots that will enable
us to understand America or ourselves." Becoming indigenous is our childrenís
Frank Waters grandfather took us into the heart of Pikeís Peak
obsessively searching for"meaning" in the rock. Frankís father introduced
him to Indians."Men must be born and reborn to belong. Their bodies
must be formed of the dust of their forefathers bones."
In 1942 Frank Waters took us into the earth in a kiva ceremony
in The Man Who Killed The Deer. Considering that Euroamericans have
been in the Americas for only 500 years, metaphorically we are much like
Napita, the 12 year-old Pueblo boy about to enter the kiva for a year and
a halfís instruction before initiation:
"Father, Oh father! I hear weeping. Is it my mother I leave
"Have courage, son. You but leave the lesser mother for the
"Father, my father! Where do I go? It is round and black and
steep, this hole."
"Have no fear, son. It is an open womb you enter."
"But from the womb I came. Its lips thrust me out into the sunlight.
I saw cornfields and the pine slopes, I saw the birds of the air, the beasts
of the earth, the fish of its waters. I saw people. Like them I born to
life. Why must I return to this black hole, this womb again, so soon?"
"You cry out like a frightened child. You cry out in ignorance.
That is why you must enter. Go down the ladder son."
"Oh Father! This chamber is deep and round and black. It is
empty and stuffy. I cannot breathe. I see nothing but these embers and
this little hole in the floor. Where am I, how long must I stay, why am
I here, my father?"
"Hush son! You are in the womb of our Mother Earth. You will
be here many, many months, a long, long time. You have entered a child.
You will be reborn from here a man. Then you will know why it is you must
stay. Let there be no more whimpering, no more questions, son. You are
in the womb: in it the eyes, the ears, the nose and babbling mouth do not
function. The knowledge that will come to you is the intuitive truth of
spirit, the quiescent wisdom of the blood, transmitted through senses you
do not use outside. The pulse of the earth throbs through these walls which
enclose you; the embers there reflect the heat of its glowing heart; that
little hole runs into the center of the world, onto the lake life itself.
Remember you are in a womb child."
"Listen, son. In your motherís womb you were conceived from
an individual human womb you were born to an individual human life. It
was necessary, it was good. But individual human life is not sufficient
to itself. It depends upon and is part of all life. So now another umbilical
cord must be broken -that which binds you to your motherís affections,
that which binds you to the individual human life she gave
you. For twelve years now you have belonged to your lesser mother. Now
you must belong to your greater mother. And you return to her womb once
again to emerge once again, as a man who knows himself not an individual
but a unit of his tribe and part of all life which ever surrounds him."
"Listen, son. You were born into the human-animal life of sense
and nerve and will. But it is necessary that each man sometime be born
again: into the consciousness of an even greater life."
"You have learned what in your ordinary animal-existence is
necessary for your earthly body."
"Now you must be taught the laws of world creation and world
maintenance, the laws of all life whatever form it takes: the living stones,
the breathing mountains, the tall walking rain, as well as those of bird
and fish, beast and man."
"You must learn that each man has the debt of arising and his
individuality of existence to pay; that this debt must be discharged as
early and quickly as possible so that you, as I, as all, may assist in
turn the most rapid perfecting of other beings -those like ourselves, and
those units of life advanced to the degree of self-individuality."
"For only in this way can life progress, can life exist."
"What is more fitting then, son, that to learn this you must
return to the womb of the earth which is the mother of all life. That you
be reborn from it into the greater spiritual life as you were born into
lesser life of the flesh?"
"Peace, my son. And with it understanding. This period of gestation
will be twice-as long as was the first, for the life it bears will be likewise
longer. The lessons will be difficult, but they will be unceasing. Voices
will speak them over and over until their meaning flows though your blood,
through the words which must never be repeated be unintelligible
to those who have no heart to understand."
"...But behind all this you will learn of previous emergences.
Of the significance of the four elements, corresponding to the four worlds
from which man has successfully risen. The fire world of rampant primordial
forces; the world of air which separated from it; the third world of water
which then came from the vaporous air; and the present world of earth.
From your understanding that the body of man is itself a world derived
from these four and hence composed of their elements and corresponding
attributes, many things will be plain."
"You will perceive his kinship to all the living creatures of
these four kingdoms of fire, air, water, earth. Not only his chieftainship
over them, but his responsibility to them. For you will begin to understand
that there is another world, a fifth world, to which we must all arise,
and for the gaining of those attributes this initiate is a preparation."
"Hence you will be taught, as those Old First Ones were taught,
that the pine tree, the corn plant, have a life as we, but that they may
be used and that they accede to their sacrifices for the maintenance of
all life. You will be taught that the eagle, the trout, the deer, each
has life as we, but that they may be used and that they accede to their
sacrifice for the need of the progression of all life."
"But through all these truths will run one great truth: the
arising of all individual lives into one great life, and the necessary
continuances of this one great life by the continual progression of individual
lives which form it."
"You will learn that this continuous progression seems to extend
infinitely into time. But you will learn likewise that time is also an
"And that is life. Life must be lived, not learned from. And
that is why in full consciousness only is freedom. And that is why you
learn awareness. To live life, in full consciousness, in freedom. Unbound
by possessiveness, the possessiveness of your mother, the possessiveness
of you son."
"Now I can say no more. You will grind your own corn: it makes
song come easier. You make your own moccasins: busy hands free the mind
to the spirit."
"Now I, the father, having deposited his seed, withdraw from
"Now I, the father say goodbye to his child."
"We will meet again. But as brothers. As men together. As equal
parts of one great life. No longer separated. But in that consciousness
of our oneness which gives our only freedom." (The Man Who Killed The
Deer, Frank Waters, The Swallow Press, Inc. Chicago, Illinois.,
1942, P. 97-100.)
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