[an error occurred while processing this directive]

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. Mexico 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 others."

(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, Sacred Lands And Human Understanding
DeLoria says:

 "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 earth says:

 "Milton:...somewhere along the way, in the novels you have written based upon your grandfather, gold for him becomes something other than the money.

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 gold.

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 Peak?

Waters: I think everyone is trying to find a meaning in life. They 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 Indian."

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: becoming indigenous.

 "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 idiom." 

(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. 41)

 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 novels.

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:

  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 itself. 

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 at present.

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 Berry says:

"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 future.

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 in grief?"

"Have courage, son. You but leave the lesser mother for the greater."

"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 infinity."

"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 this womb."

"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.)

Back to Hoka Hey main page

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]