There’s nothing hidden.
There are always witnesses around,
both good and bad spirits.
The above quote from Wall’s To Become a Human Being is very telling about the Native American way of life and religion, specifically their view of the spirits. Native Americans believe that when you die, your spirit lives on. Depending on whether you lived “upright”, your soul with either live on with the creator, or you could be a bad spirit–on who wanders around in the after life looking for trouble. These restless spirits are always looking for humans to slip up or to do something unrighteous, then they will try to bring the human down.
There are those who can talk to the spirit; they call on the spirits to check on someone or see what is happening with them. When the spirits are asked to do something, they go out and do it, and report what they have found to the spiritual reader who has called on them. Shenandoah warns us that we are never alone, the spirits are always watching, and they can report what they witness.
Shenandoah warns us against acting in evil ways; again he tells us that if we want to be good Human Beings, then we must follow the path that the creator has made for us, and live an “upright life.” As soon as we do something to hurt others or if we stray from the path, the spirits will notice, and they will tell what they have seen.
Think about your home. The land that either you or your family owns. Maybe it has been passed down through your family for generation after generation. Maybe it is the first piece of property you have ever owned yourself. Maybe it is a property that is owned by someone else that you or your family rent. Leon Shenandoah, however, laughs at the notion of “owning” land in To Become a Human Being, on page 22 in the chapter entitled “Return.”
Europeans were not planted here,
but you came here because you wanted to be free like us.
In our original instructions we were told that nobody owned the land
except the Creator. That’s why we welcomed you.
But Europeans claimed the land they lived on was theirs.
That was funny to our people because we knew
that nobody could own the land.
This quote from Shenandoah shows the stark contrast between how the Native Americans view land as opposed to our view on it. We typically don’t even think about the actual concept of owning land. Who has a right to own land? Who has a right to sell land? Trading parts of the Earth amongst ourselves with some notion of ownership is a path of thinking entirely different from what the Native Americans believe. And when you really think about it, that idea makes an awful lot of sense.
This expanded view on property is but one of many of the cultural “norms” present today that Leon Shenandoah provides an alternative view on in To Become a Human Being.
When we think of Native American People, what do we see? Perhaps you imagine a warrior riding a horse, spear in hand, or a straight-faced gathering of people. We hold many incorrect stereotypes of the Native people that Leon Shenandoah attempts to break in the book To Become a Human Being. One of these is lack of laughter that many people view as a part of the Native American Culture- which could not be further from the truth!
There must be laughter
That’s one of our instructions.
When the Peacemaker was leaving us
To go back to the Creator,
He told us to have laughter.
That would show him how much
We were enjoying being on Earth And being a part of the creation.
When times are the toughest
We’re supposed to have laughter.
This excerpt from page 13 of To Become a Human Being shows that laughter isn’t frowned upon in Native traditions- it almost has an essence of sacredness. Joy is something that they feel should be part of their lives, present every day. The stereotype of joylessness that we often associate with the Native American People couldn’t be farther from the truth!
This is only one example of the incorrect ways we assume Native Americans live. How many others do we think of without even noticing our error? What incorrect ideas do we associated with Native American reservations, spiritual traditions, and way of life in modern times? I encourage you to open your mind, break away from these stereotypes, and learn more about who Native Americans really are, rather than just what we’ve always thought.
As we begin our planning and organization of the community read of To Become a Human Being by Steve Wall, it seems important to elucidate the connection between this book and the Haudenosaunee Nation; namely, the man who essentially narrates the work, Tadodaho Chief Leon Shenandoah.
To begin, we should come to an understanding of what it means to be called Tadodaho. This is the term given to the spiritual leader of the Haudenosaunee people, who are members of the Six Nations. Not only is this individual a spiritual leader, but they are also a sort of political leader and keeper of the Haudenosaunee history. This position is usually a lifetime appointment, held until the individual passes, is no longer capable of fully leading the people, or starts working for themselves in stead of the people. According to tradition, when the Tadodaho passes away, the chiefs of the Six Nations select the new leader.
The book To Become a Human Being is a collection of brief reflections on Native American wisdom in the words of Leon Shenandoah. Leon Shenandoah was chief of the Onondaga Nation, and Tadodaho of the Six Nations Confederacy, or
Tadodaho Chief Leon Shenandoah
Haudenosaunee, for twenty-five years. He became Tadodaho in 1969. This seemingly daunting position was not just his path in life, but his mission; he was a spiritual leader who worked for the benefit of all people. To him, this literally meant all of the Creator’s people, wherever they may be in this world, which reflected his immense spirituality. According to Leon, the greatest strength is gentleness because it comes from spirituality. He taught that becoming a human being is more than simply being human; it is to rise above all worldly things and recognize that we are all spiritual beings. To reach this is to reach the highest level in this life. However, he also stressed that we are free; free to do what we please, yet being human requires that as we go about our day in the manner we choose, we must still show respect for each other and for all other aspects of the Creator’s work. Leon Shenandoah passed away on July 22, 1996 at the age of 81.