Hai-ya, hai-y­­hai-ya, hai-ya­­
All my song is lost and gone.
Sad at heart is the bluebird,
All my song is lost and gone,
Woe is me, alas! Alas!
All my song is lost and gone.
All My Song is Lost and Gone ­­Pima Indian

Although writing appears to have been invented independently in Central America some time before 600 BCE, its use was restricted and it does not seem to have spread into North America. For North American Indian, therefore, the wisdom of the tribe was passed along orally for the most part. Even pictographs recording the history of migrations depended on an oral tradition of interpretation. Similarly, hide paintings and birch bark scrolls required oral interpretation by elders.

The following extracts are the spoken words of North American Indians as written down by anthropologists, sociologists, editors, or by Indians themselves. They deal with attitudes towards children, the passing on of skills, the relationships between men and women, life in Indian society, the role of the family, farming, health, and traditional stories.

The ceremony for a child at birth is recognition of the participation of a human person in the natural world. The four hills are the four ages of a person. The teachings that Crashing Thunder received from his father are the oral equivalent of the wisdom literature of Egypt. The songs about butterflies, pollen, corn, and rain are the poetic expression of hopes of desert people for an abundant harvest. The Mountain Chant is ceremony of healing.

A Newborn Is Introduced to the Cosmos
Ho! You Sun, Moon, Stars,
All you that move in the heavens,
I bid you hear me!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Give your consent, I implore you!
Make its path smooth, that it may reach
The brow of the first hill !
Ho! You Winds, Clouds, Rain, Mist,
All you that move in the air,
I bid you hear me!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Give your consent you, I implore you!
Make its path smooth, that it may reach
The brow of the second hill!
Ho! You Hills, Valleys, Rivers, Lakes, Trees, Grasses,
All you of the earth,
I bid you hear me!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Give your consent you, I implore you!
Make its path smooth, that it may reach
The brow of the third hill!
Ho! You Birds, great and small, that fly in the air,
Ho! You Animals, great and small, that dwell in the forest,
Ho! You Insects that creep among the grasses and burrow in the ground‹
I bid you hear me!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Give your consent you, I implore you!
Make its path smooth, that it may reach
The brow of the fourth hill!
Ho! All you of the heavens,
All you of the air, all you of the earth:
I bid you all to hear me!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Give your consent, all of you, I implore!
Make its path smooth‹then shall it travel
beyond the four hills!
Omaha Indian

Hopi Lullaby
Sleep, sleep, sleep.
In the trail, the beetles
On each other's backs are sleeping,
So on mine, my baby, you.
Sleep, sleep, sleep.
Hopi Indian

Children of the Land

Lakota Children in their play, either alone or in groups, roamed far and wide over the countryside. They grew up without a sense of restriction and confinement. Their faculties became accustomed to space and distance, to skies clear or stormy, and to freedom in its. full meaning. The 'Great Out-doors' was reality and not something to be talked about in dim consciousness. And for them there was perfect safety. There were not the dangers that seem to surround childhood of today. I can recall days‹entire days‹when we roamed over the plains, hills, and up and down streams without fear of anything. I do not remember ever hearing of an Indian child being hurt or eaten by a wild animal.

Every now and then the whole village moved ten or fifteen miles to a grassier spot, but this was not considered much of a job. It was less trouble than moving a house from the front to the back of a city lot. Miles were to us as they were to the bird. The land was ours to roam in as the sky was for them to fly in. We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as 'wild.' Only to the white man was nature a 'wilderness' and only to him was the land 'infested' with 'wild' animals and 'savage' people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it 'wild' for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was that for us the 'Wild West' began.

Luther Standing Bear, Lakota Indian

Learning To Hunt

My grandfather came and asked my father if I would make a trip with them to the mountains where they hunt for deer, as well as mountain sheep, and gather huckleberries. They caught salmon from the spawning beds there and dried them for their provisions while they were staying in the mountains. Naturally, they depended for their livelihood on what they could catch and kill, as well as catch small fish from the streams.

When we began, first I was to learn how to control my horse, which was given to me with a complete outfit, as well as a gun. Then we came to the first camp. Early in the morning my uncle started to assume his responsibilities, got me out of bed, and he says, "Nephew, let's hurry down to the creek. It's my duty now to train you, to equip you with the wisdom and knowledge that I have acquired. First of all, we're going to go down to this swift stream and we're going to plunge in that stream and we will disturb the old lady." (We referred to the stream as an old lady.) "We'll disturb her and the old lady will rub you down and soothe up your sore muscles and give you an endurance for the rest of the day." I knew I had to do the things that I was told.

We went down and we stripped off and jumped into this swift water, very cold, we stayed in the water until my body was numb. We came up and pranced around, jumped up and down to get our circulation going. We put on our clothes and by the time we got back to the camp, the breakfast was ready.

Again, we were taught how to care for the horses and how to handle them. As we traveled, the same processes were conducted until we reached our destination. As soon as we reached our destination, I was told that the sweat house and the hot rocks which were prepared for the sweat house were blessings taught and handed down from the Great Spirit. This hot steam caused by pouring cold water on the rocks would cleanse you and purify your scent, so the wild animals wouldn't detect you. You would have the scent the same as the fir bough and reeds that grow in the mountains. So naturally I had to believe that this was the case.

I followed through this system and we had to do this every morning about three o'clock while we were in the mountains. At the end of our trip, I was wiry; I could walk, probably for days and weeks if I had to. I had gone through my course of training for survival. I learned every herb, root, berries and how to take care of them. This kind uncle of mine and his wife took time to explain these things step by step. They didn't leave one thing untold and it was shown physically to me, then asked me if I could do it.

Alex Saluskin, Yakima Indian

Song of the Rain Chant
Far as man can see,
Comes the rain,
Comes the rain with me.
From the Rain-Mount,
Rain-Mount far away,
Comes the rain,
Comes the rain with me.
O'er the corn,
O'er the corn, tall corn,
Comes the rain,
Comes the rain with me.
'Mid the lightnings,
'Mid the lightnings zigzag,
'Mid the lightnings flashing,
Comes the rain,
Comes the rain with me.
'Mid the swallows,
'Mid the swallows blue,
Chirping glad together,
Comes the rain,
Comes the rain with me.
Through the pollen,
Through the pollen blest,
All in pollen hidden,
Comes the rain,
Comes the rain with me.
Far as man can see,
Comes the rain,
Comes the rain with me.
Navajo Indian

Teachings of My Father ­ For a Daughter

Be good and virtuous in your married life. If you do not listen to what I am telling you, you will become bad and men will make fun of you. They will do whatever they wish with you; joke with you familiarly on any subject. If you do not listen to me you will injure yourself. Thus did the old people speak to one another and thus did they hand down these precepts from one generation to another, warning young girls against committing wrong actions. They also said that when a girl is growing up, one should admonish her and that is why I am now speaking to you.

Never think a home is yours unless you make one yourself. If you are living with people and have put them in charge of your household, do not behave as though the home were still yours.

Do not be haughty with your husband. Do whatever he says. Kindness will be returned to you and he will treat you in the same way as you treat him.

If you have a child and it is naughty, do not strike it. In olden times when a child was naughty, the parents did not strike it, but instead made the child fast. Then when he is quite hungry he will reflect upon his disobedience. If you hit the child you will merely be putting more naughtiness in him. It has also been said that mothers should not lecture their children, that they merely make them bad by admonishing them. If your husband scolds them, do not take their part for then they will become bad indeed.

If a stranger makes your children cry, do not speak to the stranger in your children's presence and take their part, If you wish to take the children's part, prevent such a thing from happening and keep your children there at home, take good care of them and think of the best means of letting your children get to know you. When you are bringing up children, do not imagine you are taking their part if you just speak about loving them. Let them see it for themselves. Let them see what love is by observing you give things away to the poor. Then they will see your good deeds and then they will know whether you have been speaking the truth or not.

Do not show your love for other children so that other people notice it. Love them but let your love for them be different from your love for your own. . .

Do not hurt the feelings of your relatives, the old people used to say. If you hurt their feelings you will make your brothers-in-law feel ashamed of themselves on account of the evil things you say about them.

The old people said, "Never hit your relatives." You may be on bad terms with one of them, for instance, and he may die. Then people will say that you used to quarrel with the deceased when he was alive. They may even claim that you are overjoyed at his death, that you want to dance with joy. Then indeed will your heart be sore and you will think to yourself how best you can make amends. Even should you have a performance of the Medicine Dance given in his honor, if you wish to bury him with honor, even then people will say, "What does all this mean? She used to be partial and jealous when he was alive. Now that he is dead she loves him! She should not do such things. She is merely wasting her wealth. She need not have spent so much." Thus will people speak of you. Then indeed will your heart ache to its very depths. Perhaps you will even get angry when people say these things to you. It is to prevent this from happening that the old people used to say, "Love one another." If you have always loved a person then when he dies you will have the right to feel sorry. All your relatives will love you; indeed every one will love you. If you behave like a true woman you will be beloved by all and then if you meet with some crisis in life, all will turn their hearts to you in your trouble. . .

Crashing Thunder, Winnebago Indian


When Our Earth Mother Is Replete
When our earth mother is replete with living waters,
When spring comes,
The source of our flesh,
All the different kinds of corn,
We shall lay to rest in the ground.
With their earth mother's living waters,
They will be made into new beings.
Coming out standing into the daylight
Of their sun father,
Calling for rain,
To all sides they will stretch out their hands.
Then from wherever the rain makers stay quietly
They will send forth their misty breath;
Their massed clouds filled with water will come out
and sit with us,
Far from their homes,
With outstretched hands of water they will embrace the corn,
Stepping down to caress them with their fresh waters,
With their fine rain caressing the earth,
And there, wherever the roads of the rain makers come forth,
Torrents will rush forth,
Silt will rush forth,
Mountains will be washed out,
Logs will be washed down,
There all the mossy mountains will drip with water.
The clay-lined hollows of our earth mother
Will overflow with water,
Desiring that it should be thus,
I send forth my prayer.
Zuni Indian


Teachings of My Father - For a Son

Help yourself as you travel along the road of life. The earth has many narrow passages scattered over it. If you have something with which to strengthen yourself, then when you get to these narrow turns you will be able to pass through them safely and your fellow men will respect you. See to it that people like you. Be on friendly terms with every one and then every one will like you. You will be happy and prosperous. . .
When you have your home, see to it that whoever enters your lodge obtain something to eat, no matter how little you yourself may have. Such food will be a source of death to you if withheld. If you are stingy about giving food, some one might kill you in consequence; some one may poison you. If you ever hear of a stranger passing through your country and you want to see him, prepare food for him and have him brought to you. In this manner you will be doing good and it is always good to do good, it is said.
If you see a helpless old person, help him if you have anything at all. If you happen to possess a home take him there, and feed him, for he may suddenly make uncomplimentary remarks about you? You will be strengthened thereby. . .
Never do any wrong to your children. Whatever your children ask of you, do it for them. If you act thus people will then say that you are good natured. If any one in the village loses a friend through death, should you at all be wealthy, cover the expenses of the funeral of the deceased, if you can. Help the mourners likewise in defraying the expenses of feeding the departed. If you act thus, you will do well. All the people you have helped will then really know what kind of a man you are. For the good you do, people will love you. . .
It is not good to win at gambling. You may possibly become rich thereby but that is no life to lead. If you are blessed with luck in cards, if you are blessed with luck at gambling, you will perhaps win things and have plenty of wealth, but none of your children will live. . .
My son, when you get married, do not make an idol of the woman you marry; do not worship her. If you worship a woman she will insist upon greater and greater worship as time goes on. This is what the old people used to say. They always preached against those men who hearken too strongly to the words of women; who are the slaves of women. Now it may happen that a man has received many warnings as to his behavior in this regard and that he pays no attention to them. It may go so far that when he is asked to attend a war-bundle feast he will refuse to go; it may be that when he is married he will listen to the voice of his wife and refuse to go on a warpath. . .
Now again, my son, let me enjoin you. Do not abuse your wife. Women are sacred. If you make your wife suffer, then you will die in a short time. Our grandmother Earth is a woman, and in abusing your wife you are abusing her. Most certainly will you be abusing your grandmother if you act thus. Since after all it is she who is taking care of us, by your action you will be practically killing yourself.
Remember this too, that women cannot be watched. If you try to watch them and are jealous about them, then your female relatives will also be jealous of them. Finally when your jealousy has developed to the highest pitch, your wife will leave you and run away with some one else. You have allowed her to see by your actions that you worship a woman, and one alone, and, in addition, you have been watching her all the time. Because of this incessant annoyance she will run away from you. . .

Crashing Thunder, Winnebago Indian


Twelfth Song of the Thunder
The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice above,
The voice of thunder.
Within the dark cloud
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land
The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice below:
The voice of the grasshopper.
Among the plants
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.
Navajo Indian


In Beauty May I Walk
In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.
With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty,
Lively, may I walk.
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty,
Living again, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
Navajo Indian


Fire-Fly Song
Flitting white-fire insects!
Wandering small-fire beasts!
Wave little stars about my bed!
Weave little stars into my sleep!
Come, little dancing white-fire bug,
Come, little flitting white-fire beast!
Light me with your white-flame magic,
Your little star-torch.
Ojibwa Indian


Warrior Song
I shall vanish and be no more,
But the land over which I now roam
Shall remain
And change not.
Omaha Indian