Spending time with different peoples can not only reveal their Beauty, their Challenges, and their Wisdom, but also reveals aspects of our own way of being that we may take for granted. This is a Story about the Nuche, a People of Substance, who are often called “Utes,” by English speakers. And it’s a story about those of us who are “modern,” a word that is far more revealing than we imagine. It comes from the Latin modo: “just right now.” “Just right now” is a very restricted perspective for understanding ourselves. It convinces us that we are “at the cutting edge” while blithely ignoring what exactly is getting cut by and at our edges. At the rub between “a People of Substance” and “just-right-now people,” something may be discovered.
There are many things that are invisible to us from within our cultural programming. Everybody who shares our culture is swimming in something similar. If I ask you “where do you live?” you do not answer “in the air” or “on top of the ground,” although that has been the truth ever since you emerged from living in the Water World of your Mother’s Womb.
So, too, with culture. We do not say “I live in a post-conquest” or “an imperial culture.” That’s a given that is as invisible, ignored, and profoundly consequent – in most of its impacts upon our health, physiology, intellect, relationships, economies, and society – as the air we breathe.
I took a Journey to visit the Nuche – a People of Substance, – whose homelands are the Rocky Mountains of Colorado out into Utah, a state which was named for the name the white folks gave to them: the Utes, or the Ute Nations.
“Our word for (Ute tribe) ourselves is Nuche, a person of substance, meaning, soul. In our way of thinking, you’re a person who has a heart; it doesn’t matter the shell of the body. It’s the inner part of the soul that emanates things consistent with the environment — wind is love; sunshine, hope. That is how we connected ourselves to the environment.”
In 2009 one of my close friends graciously invited me to enjoy his home in Western Colorado while he traveled. Over that summer the Ute People, the Nuche, the People of Substance, were having a Pow-Wow at the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, Colorado. While I avoid intruding upon Indian People, unless invited or visiting close friends, I see attending public events, and helping out whenever possible, in places I am residing, as a sign of respect, especially when one walks upon the lands and in the forests that grow out of the bones, the songs, the care and the love of a People.
I go to keep my eyes and ears open, to observe quietly, participate when invited, and maybe learn, and thus necessarily unlearn, something – not just about other people and their ways, but about myself, and my people, and our ways, as well. I offer to lend a hand and inform the People that I am available to work and help out, as needed, as is to be expected from a functional adult.
Going to this Pow-Wow was that kind of Invitation to Learn, and Unlearn.
I arrived around 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon. The Pow-Wow was well on its way, the drum playing heart-based rhythms, singers singing for Pow Wow dancers, and a very beautiful and gracious Nuche woman who told me, as soon as I arrived, “there’s plenty of buffalo stew and food and there’s a line right there.” She showed me a long line which wound around a large park-like area in the back of the museum. I love buffalo stew and Indian cooking. So I thanked her and got in line.
I had been writing on the deep relational aspects of how the conquest of European ancestors has altered our most intimate family dynamics. I became aware of this, starting in 1985, when I began to have friends from the Original Peoples of the Americas. I saw that many treated their children, and each other, in a very different way than people of European descent, and certainly the people of my Polish-American and Belgian families do.
I had spent all morning writing and was glad to take a break. It’s a topic that hits close to home for me. The REALITY of imperial anti-culture is not necessarily pleasant to face, especially when we see how it plays out in our homes. Contrary to New Age delusions, we do not find our way out of a conundrum by ignoring the reality of what’s actually going on. Writing on these topics also brings my stuff up for me to face, embrace, integrate and lead to a way of being that’s more Alive.
Many of us spend a lifetime seeking “clarity” in our lives and relationships. We often ignore how these dynamics continue to wreak havoc in our lives and intimacy. Finding clarity challenges us to first see reality clearly. It rarely occurs to us that “seeking clarity” while ignoring reality and developing real response-abilities is, literally, unreal.
Without a context or a contrast to make us aware of any other natural, healthy possibilities modeled for us, it is easy to come to all kinds of cynical conclusions about “the nature of humankind” or to seek refuge in wishful “thinking” that doesn’t reflect reality. “Just-right-now people” are hardly representative of “humanity.” We are expressions of a humanity confined to a “just right now” relationship to Life. Consider that. It is not a very promising nor generous approach as far as the coming generations are concerned, quite the contrary. It’s very much a “scorched earth” policy to approaching living.
So, in order to find some relief from all of these considerations, and to feed my Heart’s Desire for the company of People who are not at odds with themselves, the Land, their own Relatives, and the Beauty of Being Human, I went to the Pow-Wow.
I was glad to be in the cool shade on a hot Western Colorado summer day. Beautiful People of many ancestries were gathered, wearing clothes expressing Beauty and Relatedness to ALL of Life. Great, powerful music reconnected listeners to the rhythm of our Heart. There were many smiling and kind People about the place. It was a Good Feeling. In line, in front of me, was a white couple with three children. I said hello and they smiled and said hello back. The children looked at me and smiled.
The youngest was a bright, angelic, beaming young lad of about 4 years old. He had a harness around his torso with a metal D ring on the back and a leash attached to it, held by his mother. His sister looked to be about 8 years old. His elder brother was around 10. Beautiful children, full of intensity and a somewhat wary look in their eyes that I know well.
Pretty soon the little one saw a bright red tractor parked not far from where we were standing. He pointed to it and wanted to go check it out. His mother gave him a big, long lecture about not climbing on it, and not running off, and coming back when he was called and on and on. His sister grabbed the leash and off they went, with the sister jerking back on the leash repeatedly when the little fellow, in his eagerness, set off at a run. This caused some distress in the little boy, and his sister lectured him, with plenty of finger-wagging, much like their mother just had.
The older brother took off in the opposite direction as soon as his parents turned their back to him, while they were giving instructions to the little one about the tractor. Pretty soon the mother was running around yelling and looking for him, found him, dragged him rather roughly over to where the other two children had already climbed on the tractor, at the invitation of a kind, smiling Ute elder in Pow-Wow Dance regalia. She dragged them off the tractor and back into line, with a lot of yelling, screaming, scolding and more finger-wagging and grabbing and jerking the little one’s arms roughly, on her part. There was a lot of upset all around, and the little one was crying.
“Uff,” I breathed deeply as I took in the dynamics discretely without staring. I felt my heart. I felt discomfort in my chest, like nausea. It brought up something for me. I experienced this white family like an all-too-familiar family hell. I listened to the woman’s cutting words and watched her sharp gestures with her children. She was “being reasonable in public,” but the nastiness intruded anyone within listening distance.
More people had joined the line behind me. Right behind me was an Indian couple with children in what appeared to be the same age-gender distribution; one young boy around 5 years old, a young girl perhaps around 9, and an older boy who was maybe 11. I said hello and they smiled back and nodded in acknowledgement, quietly, graciously.
After a while, I noticed the Indian children were also discretely taking in what was going on with the white family in front of me, where the scolding continued, generating a cloud of “crisis.” The children were discretely observing the white children with what seemed to me to be looks of concern and dismay. They stood quietly, centered, with their backs gently pressed into their mother and father’s torsos and bellies. They stood together in what could have been a composition for a family photo. They were connected, as a family. The parents, however, seemed unfazed at the crisis with the white family in front of me. They had been around a lot of people whose “just-right-now” relationship to BEING generates crisis after crisis.
Few imagine that the reason Indian People open such gatherings to non-Indian is to extend the experience of connection to something other than a crisis: to LIFE, to BEING WELL, to GETTING RELATED, to CONNECTING TO OUR HEARTS, to BEING WELCOME, to BEING FED, to EXPERIENCING KINDNESS, even from those abused by people who brought “Crisis culture” to their homelands..
I had spent all morning writing about this. Now I was standing between two worlds. In my heart I could feel the contrast of what those worlds offer as an invitation to our hearts.
Then the Indian children walked off, together. No hurry, no instructions or words of caution from their parents. They walked into the park-like grounds, looking around, walking each in his own space and at his own pace. They weren’t “trying to stay together” or “asserting their independence.” They were together, and they each walked in their own way in connection. Then they walked back to where their parents were in line, all five of them quietly together, touching, and pressing their backs into their parents’ bodies, all of them connected, as if posing for a family picture again. Connected.
The daughter draped her father’s arm over her shoulder as she held his hand in front of her. Nobody was “managing” anybody else’s behavior. These People were in full communication. It didn’t require words. They were together in a way where each was naturally themselves, in their own way and connected. Nobody was managing anybody else’s behavior. They moved from Connection, in Connection, for Connection. Connection allowed each one to move in his and her own way and remain Connected.
As I stood in that line, between two very different ways of being, I stood between two worlds. In one of those worlds “familÿ” was synonymous with “deeply-rooted welcome, freedom, well-being, connectedness.” In the other it was synonymous with “endless crisis, interference, violence, and distress.” I felt and I noticed. I tasted, with my senses and my BEING.
In front of me, there was more yelling, instruction-giving, correction-giving, scolding, negotiations about whether the youngest white boy would be on the leash or not, fights with the sister who wanted to hold the leash and lecture her youngest brother, temper tantrums, and on and on it went.
I could see the transmission of inter-generational crazy-making at-work.
The white parents and their children were totally out of sync. It was one of those experiences of “family” that I find painful and emotionally exhausting to be in the midst of. The mother, out of control, yelled at her children “I cannot do this anymore! If you guys can’t control yourselves then we are just NOT going to go out like this anymore!”
The mother was out of control. She blamed her children. With the mother out of sorts, the family had no center. I could see her children wanting to get as far away from her, as soon as possible. They were the containers for her poison.
The father seemed to be bearing it and quietly seething. I felt him, and I felt for him. He was taking barbs from his wife for not saying anything. He looked like a guy that was doing his best to keep his mouth shut lest the whole situation degenerate even further. He said nothing. What he left unsaid was palpable. I wondered how that was going to eventually come out. Somehow I sensed that it was not going to be pretty, or elegant. I saw “people” divided against themselves and each other, and teaching their children to live in self-separation.
The Indian children were looking at all the chaos, yelling and mayhem going on with the white children with increasing concern. Their parents looked off in the distance, quietly, as if all too used to “white family dynamics” and enjoying a while at an Indian gathering where… well… there were white people who were all worked up… Somehow they seemed tolerantly used to their world being overrun by folks who can’t even get along with each other and spend a lot of time “getting all worked up” whether that’s about the Indians running around the mountains, the gold in the hills, or their own children.
But the Indian children were NOT used to this. It was apparent by the expressions of concern on their faces.
They would continue to walk off, occasionally, the three of them together, and then come back to the quiet, grounded presence of their parents, and the mayhem and shouting in front of them and of me. I didn’t hear the Indian children or parents say anything in the 45 minutes or so we waited in a very long line. They didn’t need to. Their communication was total and ongoing. They were connected in a deep welcome-to-BE
I stood there, in between those two very different ways of being together, taking it all in within the larger context of the gathering, the summer heat, the Pow-Wow music percolating into the park from the other side of the museum, People walking in a Way that reflected Kindness, Generosity, Open Hearts.
Many years earlier a very dear Klamath elder whose sweat lodge I had the privilege of frequenting for years in Eugene, Oregon once told me, very simply, “If you keep your eyes and ears open, you might learn something.” That was a complete teaching.
Being there brought stuff up for me; every yell, scream, shout and reprimand from the white mother and father, the way they were at odds with themselves and each other brought up feelings, sensations and reactions from my childhood that were uncomfortable for me.
At the same time, I was fine. The drum playing connected me to my heart. The songs connected me to the trees, the sun, the birds, and Big Aliveness. I didn’t feel threatened. I did feel triggered, inside. So I felt it. I took it as an opportunity to feel even more deeply. I breathed. I tuned into my body. I could feel my chest tighten, my shoulders stiffen, and the way those words, tones and gestures revealed my own patterning. I breathed, deeply. I felt, deeply. I knew the cutting nastiness of this wounded white woman. I knew how that kind of cutting had cut into me.
At one point the the beautiful little 4 year old white boy on the leash saw the youngest Indian boy, who was looking at him with a look of concern and compassion, and walked over to him. The little Indian boy had a “Thomas the train engine” sticker on his shirt. The white boy said, “Oh! Thomas!” pointing at it. His brother and sister followed him to the three Indian children. The two groups of children were together.
The Indian boy, without hesitation, peeled the sticker off of his shirt and placed it on his new white friend’s shirt. “It’s for you,” he said with a generous smile of open-hearted and spontaneous kindness that was not self-conscious. I have seen this kind of generosity among indigenous People countless times. It always amazes me, because it’s so natural. There is no “should” behind it. It flows from an abundance that is so full that it pours out at any opportunity for connection and relatedness. It comes from this deep sense that there is nothing that could enrich us more than connecting and getting related, to everything.
I’ve learned not to admire something in my Indian friends’ home because there is a good chance they will give it to me. The little white boy beamed smiles and didn’t know what to say. He looked overwhelmed with delight. He looked, quite frankly, LOVED in the simplest, kindest, most direct way imaginable. He had been SEEN and WELCOMED in a way that his family certainly hadn’t seen him or welcomed him, and he just GLOWED with all of the Beautiful Energy and Aliveness that he was so full of and which his family tried to harness and leash, literally.
“Tell him thank you,” his mother intoned from the background. “Thank you,” he said, eyes full of delight and what seemed like surprise. That beautiful little white boy looked truly happy and welcomed for the first time. I could see a wave of well-being finally settle in his body. Someone had simply been kind to him. Kind, and welcoming.
It took a perfect, young stranger to welcome this little boy. His entire being transformed in that exchange. Someone finally welcomed that beautiful little white child in his magnificence, his radiance. I felt happy inside. I felt like crying. I felt like something about that nasty, unwelcoming way of that white woman and how she related to her own son, the small nastiness he was leashed into, literally, opened up into something bigger. Someone had seen him and welcomed him.
I watched, marveling. This was exactly what I had been writing about earlier in the day. Somehow, it had come to show me the lesson, yet again.
There was a calm, happy moment there for those white children. The white parents relaxed, as well. Something about that moment allowed them to land. Their son had been welcomed. In a very real way. They too were invited to an experience of welcome in the Presence of a young Indian boy whose parents did not treat their son like a dog on a leash in need of obedience training. That young Indian boy’s Natural, Relational Wisdom brought a moment of peace to everyone in that white family. Welcome came and touched them. From the Heart of a Young Indian Boy from a People of Substance the substance of BEING Welcome extended to people who have difficulty living in welcome.
The Indian parents stood there quietly, respecting their youngest son’s gift to another, without any need to guide, interfere, congratulate, or instruct. I felt a deep sense of peace and connection in that moment, as well. My heart came to rest in that Young Boy’s Big-Hearted Naturalness.
A connection, a grounding had been made. It came from a 5 year old Ute, or Nuche, boy, from a People of Substance, whose immediate, natural instinct was to give, to help, to share, to do something kind to comfort people who were obviously not well, not at ease, and to provide welcome with utmost simplicity. It was a Good Feeling.
Those Ute children and their parents showed me what it means to be Nuche, to be a People of Substance. It was a stunning example of precisely what I had spent the morning writing about.
Relationships Shape the Substance of a People
I considered what profoundly different experiences “family” and “childhood” would conjure up in the lives the hearts of these children from different peoples. On the one hand, the Nuche, treat their own children as People of Substance. Those children displayed precisely that: they were present, centered, respectful, aware.They were welcome and free to SEE, to HEAR, to TOUCH, and to MAKE sense, connectively, with their world, from their own will.
On the other hand were people who were displaced, disoriented, misattuned, even with each other. Their brightest, youngest son was on a dog leash, literally. Their children were treated like budding fools by people well-ensconced in their own disorientation and certain that their children had less capacity to navigate reality than they did. They presumed that their children were in need of constant reorientation and interference; a form of “protection” that was persistently intrusive and violent. The greatest threat and violence came from the mother who “loved” them into frustration and distress.
I finally arrived at that long-awaited bowl of buffalo stew, served by a very kind and gracious elderly woman who smiled at me with tremendous kindness and welcome. I found a nice spot in the shade and the Pow-wow singing, in which to savor the Flavors, the Presences, the Contrasts, and the Lessons Gifted Most Graciously to me, by the Nuche, a People of Substance.
For those who have been reading the free newsletter and learning along with me, you already know that this article is not about “different cultures.” It points to something far deeper than that, which we have been exploring all along.
Relationships are consequent. Ways of BE-ing are consequent. They create People of Substance, or people continually in search of a sense to life, but remain somehow cut off, from inside.
I wonder about that little 4 year-old boy, already on a leash and made a “problem.” He was born to people in overwhelm, and probably repeating a multi-generational pattern. A 4 year-old mind can’t navigate the dimensions of confusion that he is already adapting to, and that distort and pathologize his bright, eager being. We live in a culture where the vast majority of children are not invited to an experience which supports their full development. Instead they are forced to adjust to perpetual interference and interruption of their experience. Then they get labeled and stigmatized for wanting to actually touch, interact with, and connect with their world, as they are designed to.
The presence of someone who invites us to a different quality of connection and welcome is powerful in all of our lives. It was amazing to see the spontaneous concern and generosity of his newfound Indian friend.
Certainly there are people of all Colors and Ancestries who have this Calm, Grounded Connection of the American Indian family I described here. Certainly there are people of all Colors and Ancestries who display the sort of relational disarray, also portrayed here. The ways we relate in our most profound intimacy has been shaped in structures that are pre-conscious. They get repeated, almost mechanically, as soon as we’re triggered, from generation to generation.
We are Shapes of Aliveness. The Nature of our Aliveness is revealed by the Shapes, Sounds, Gestures, Movements and Sights that our Aliveness projects into the world. Each one of us is adaptive. The Nature of our Adaptation is revealed to our senses, if we pay attention.
It is easy for me to praise the centeredness of the Indian People I met there and to reject the disarray of the white family there. If I do that, I reject something inside myself. If I do that, then I also exclude myself from finding my center, from healing my disconnection by embracing it, not rejecting it. Can I be honest about my own sadness, my own anger, my own distress and embrace them all the way back to CONNECTION, or am I going to try to shut off my real sense-abilities?
Many of my friends want to run off and hang out with the Indians. The hard work awaits us in the company of people we’d often like to get away from, with the courage to feel, to reconnect, and to begin consciously finding a way to treat each other, our children and ourselves in a way where what we call “love” actually heals, makes us whole and happy, enlivens us, and invites us to become aware, not just of the happy parts of our experience, but of the challenging parts, the parts that call us to Finding a Way, to Wisdom, to Attention, to Compassion, to Becoming, once again, a People of Substance, of Soul, of Spirit.
Gather Seeds, my Relative,
That We May Find Our Way
To Becoming a People of Substance,
A People Whose Love Heals and Does Good to those We Love,
Rather than Hurting, Confusing or Putting them at odds with themselves.
Have a Good Journey.