James Giago Davies: Protection of our children is most important

The following opinion by James Giago Davies appeared in the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

An Indian family. Photo from Lakota People's Law Project / Facebook

Suffer the children
Claims of love don’t equal acts of love
By James Giago Davies

Whenever my boy Layne gets hurt or sick, he says, “Help me, Mom!” She cradles and comforts him and all I can do is stand beside them and pat his head. He doesn’t really need me in this case, but there will come a time, later is his life, when he will need a mentor as much as nurturer, and then he will turn to me as he turns to her now.

Parenting is a tough job, and in the traditional Lakota tiospaye, every adult had a responsibility to nurture and mentor the young. In a matriarchal, polygamist society, children had a wealth of positive adult role models, and should one of the adults be a harm to children, not only would the other adults intervene and end the abuse, they could use shunning to bring the offending adult back into line. This was the same shunning they used to discipline the children.

No need to resort to hitting, or lectures; children learned very quickly what was acceptable, what was rewarded, and the price for going ravenous lone wolf at another’s expense.

For untold millennia this was a highly effective way of raising children who would one day be good parents and adult role models. The Lakota lived in a harsh world full of deadly enemies, and to survive and thrive in such a world they had to be harsh people. But they could not be harsh to each other. That would be like the snake devouring himself tail first.

Within the tiospaye, kindness, forbearance and tolerance were the standard, but outside the tiospaye, the nicest thing your enemy would do to you is kill you, and so Lakota were the same way to their enemies.

This reality created fierce men capable of great violence. Just like our soldiers bring that violence home with them and sometimes terrorize their families, the tiospaye was designed to defuse the Lakota warrior from outside the tiospaye, and make him the good Lakota father, brother, and uncle inside the tiospaye.

How does a man juggle such diametric responsibilities, keep one from debilitating the other? He did it by becoming ikce wicasa, the humble man, the common man, and other ikce wicasa stood shoulder to shoulder with him, forming a line of cultural defense, internal strife or outside agitation had a hard time undermining.

Unaware or unconcerned about any of that, the Wasicu dismantled the Lakota social structure, and assumed that with time and imposed restructuring; the Lakota would adapt and assimilate eventually into an alien patriarchal society comprised largely of cooperative strangers.

By mid-20th Century most of the historical Lakota were gone, and the matriarchs could not form sisterhoods to nurture children, and the ikce wicasa could not form brotherhoods to mentor children, or protect the people from an outside enemy which was now the established authority over them, but more than any of those tragic changes combined — there was nothing now to protect the Lakota from the greatest enemy a harsh life can produce —other Lakota.

In that world mothers are not honored, they abuse and neglect their children, ikce wicasa are not honored, and so men abuse and neglect their women and children, and the children raised in such hellish dysfunction grow up to do the same to their loved ones, if they even grow up. The Lakota have become so tragically expert at self destruction, were all Wasicu to disappear tomorrow they would be perfectly capable of finishing the destruction the Wasicu started.

Children are the first and worst victims in such a reality, and given the cultural minefield they must navigate, it is a miracle so many wonderful Lakota qualities still abide inside them. Too many are abused and abandoned by parents the word “bad” can’t come close to describing, and the Tribe could step in and protect them, but it doesn’t.

The Wasicu social welfare system steps in, with programs and placements designed to provide and protect abused children, but foster parents often re-abuse the children all over again, seeing their charges little differently than a rancher sees livestock, livestock worth so much a head.

Lakota activists protest XL pipelines, Redskins mascots, and although these are causes correct in principle, they are distractions from the first, best cause, worth more than all these causes lumped together and multiplied to infinity—the love and protection of Lakota children.

We can blame the Wasicu for starting this whole mess, for warehousing children in boarding schools, for abusing them in foster care, and we can form Lakota committees and organizations targeted at child welfare, and give big speeches, and raise critically needed monies, but ultimately, the responsibility for the treatment of Lakota children begins and ends with you.

Inside your house are Lakota children, your children, and what kind of mothering are they receiving, how many ikce wicasa mentor their lives? Are they taught, humility, honor, or kindness? I was raised in that world, and all across that world I saw little evidence they are. Some will indignantly respond with, “That’s how I raise my children!” And that is the false declaration of selfish pride.

We do not need grass roots activism to save Lakota children — we need each adult to start with their own children. My three sons need their parents to pony up and provide the two most important adult role models children will ever have. That this responsibility is not being met, that it is failing all across Indian Country on an epic scale, is where the first accusatory finger needs to be pointed, is where the face of the first, worst offender will be found, staring back at you from the mirror.

(James Giago Davies can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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