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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Court Statements Exceprt from "Walking with the Grandfather: Wisdom of the Lakota Elders"
Exceprt from "Walking with the Grandfather: Wisdom of the Lakota Elders" PDF Print E-mail
by Joseph M. Marshall III, quoted by Stephen Schweitzer in his court statement, January 28, 2008

From the audio commentary CD

Walking With Grandfather: Shadow Men

There are seven or eight chapters in this book and I want to talk specifically about perhaps three or four of them. One of the chapters I entitled "The Shadow Men," and it has to do with Lakota thinking about warfare and the warrior.

War has been part of human beings for as long as we've been around - way back when - in the dim past when one person wanted something else that another had, be it a tool, a weapon or even a home or a territory - that forced the other party to defend themselves.

And so we developed the attitude that we had to defend ourselves, or after a while we developed the concept of imperialism where we wanted to take something that belonged to someone else.

In any case, as far as I'm concerned, this was the basis for war and warfare. In this day and age, it's all about killing and destruction and we've refined warfare into a fine art. We're very specialized in how we can destroy and how we can kill. That wasn't always the case.

The plains tribes of North America - I'm talking about that area that encompasses the current states of Nebraska, Kansas, SD, ND, parts of MT & WY, the northern plains, those tribes - took or developed a different slant on war and warfare and the warrior.

Over time, they made it an arena within and which a man or any combatant could prove himself.

Killing was not the objective.

Proving and demonstrating one's courage and skill was the primary objective.

People were still injured and killed, so there was always the threat of that, so even in that sort of a context, combat or warfare was a very daunting experience and the prospect of being involved in combat or facing combat was still a very scary thing to face.

Before you Europeans came to the northern plains there was a lot of fighting.

Not as much as we're led to believe, most of the tribes there were small.

A few hundred... a couple thousand. The Lakota, Nakota, Dakota - the three parts of the overall nation that are more commonly known as the SIoux, were the largest nation on the plains.

Probably 15 - 20 thousand around 1850 or so. And because of our population, we were able to control a greater geographic area. At one time our territory included all of SD, the southern part of ND, the northern slice of Nebraska, eastern Wyoming, SW Minnesota, and NW Iowa and SE Montana. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands square miles, millions and millions of acres.

The Lakota were the largest part of the confederacy. We were more nomadic than the Nakota and the Dakota. But as people who control a very large territory, we also had to defend it. From everyone else who wanted to come in or take it away from us, fortunately for us probably, most of the tribes who were our opponents or enemies were smaller than we were in terms of population.

So although we did have to fight off incursion, or attempts at it, we were by and large very successful in maintaining our territories primarily because of our population. But also because of the attitude we developed in our fighting men or the warrior.

Before the Europeans came the typical confrontation between native tribes was something like this: two groups of people came together. It was never ever the massive armies that we read about in the Civil War for example, where tens of thousands of people were killed in one battle. It was more like 20-30, maybe even 50, men opposing each other on one side. And a like group on the other side. And the objective was not to kill off everybody else, the objective was very simple.

To prove that your medicine, or the power that you have as an individual man, as an individual warrior, and as a group was better - even if it was just for that day - than the enemy that you faced.

And one of the things that happened was very very simple. But very very difficult to do.

The objective of every man who faced the moment of combat was to touch a live enemy and get away and live to tell about it.

And if you stop to think about it, this is not as simple as it sounds. Because you're risking your life, you're risking injury, you're certainly risking death. But the objective was two-fold: one, it was for you to demonstrate your bravery and courage in the most daunting circumstance. And the other, was to defeat the spirit of the enemy. If you defeated his spirit, it was better than taking his life. Because once you defeated his spirit you owned him. So that the next time he faced you and you faced him in combat, he remembers that incident in which you bested him. So that was the kind of attitude with which we approached warfare. And it's considered quaint and archaic, because we didn't want to kill and slaughter everything in our path. We realized a long time ago how despicable warfare was. So this is what we evolved it into. And, some people think it's a more civilized attitude towards warfare, and a more civilized way of carrying it out.

War is not civilized by any means, but we found a way to make it work for us in a positive way, as it were.

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