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The Soul of An Indian: The Best Quotes on Nature and Spirituality from Charles Eastman, Ohiyesa

Before America had words like 'Mindfulness,' or 'Intentional Living,' or we were moved, because of the plight of our planet, to 're-sacralize nature,' and re-examine earth-based religion, there was Indigenous spirituality, which had no name, no organization, or even a label - it was just part of the web of life itself.  

If there was One Book that first encouraged me to reappraise what I was taught about religion, it is “Soul Of The Indian” by Ohiyesa, or Charles Eastman.  The common threads of spirituality earth-based religion. 

There is so much to say about this book and this man that we are offering a free download of “Soul Of The Indian” on the homepage. It’s a great, short read - perfect for a long weekend soaked in gratitude!

Ohiyesa, or Charles Eastman (his school name) has a fascinating and complex history. He was a Minnesota Sioux and lived from 1858-1939.   He was a physician, writer, national lecturer, and reformer.  He was not only a doctor who graduated from Dartmouth, he was one of the founders of the Boy Scouts and had a started a summer camp for girls (he believed that white kids should learn about nature and the spirituality of the Indians.)  He was one of the first Native Americans to write about “the Indian experience,"  publishing eleven books, was an international lecturer, and activist for Native American welfare.  

His father was called “Many Lightnings” (Tawakanhdeota), and his mother was the granddaughter of the Sioux Chief “Cloud Man” and the daughter of Stands Sacred (Wakan inajin win.)  At the age of four, the “Sioux Uprising of 1862” occurred and he became separated from his father and mother, elder brothers and only sister, whom the tribe thought had been killed by the whites.  For the next eleven years he lived the original nomadic life of his people in the care of his uncle and his grandmother in Canada. His uncle was a prominent hunter and warrior and provided Ohiyesa the training to carry on the nomadic tribal heritage, including all of the secrets of virgin nature. Both his uncle and grandmother instilled in him the spiritual philosophy of the Indian. Ohiyesa always regarded this period of his life as his most important education.

 At fifteen, Ohiyesa had just entered Indian manhood and was preparing to embark on his first war-path to avenge the assumed death of his father, when he was astonished by the reappearance of his father. He learned that not only had his father survived, but that he had adopted the religion and customs of "the hated race," and had come to Canada to take home his son.

 His father was part of a small group of progressive Indians who earned a living with a combination of farming and ranching on homesteads in Flandreau, Dakota Territory. After Ohiyesa’s first experience with a mission day school, he contemplated rebelling and leaving his new log home to return to the wild and his native ways. However after a long discussion with his father, he cut his long hair, began to wear white man’s clothing and applied himself to his new school life.  He eventually graduated from Dartmouth in 1887, and then studied medicine at Boston University, where he graduated in 1890 as orator of his class. He spent a total of seventeen years in primary, preparatory, undergraduate college, and professional education, which is significantly less time than is required by a typical student.

 His first medical position was as Government Physician for the Sioux at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. He was at Pine Ridge before, during and after the “Ghost dance” rebellion of 1890-91, and he cared for the wounded Indians after the massacre at Wounded Knee.

 In 1897 Dr. Eastman went to Washington as the legal representative and lobbyist for the Sioux tribe. From 1899 to 1902 he again served as a Government physician to the Sioux at Crow Creek Agency, South Dakota. In 1910 Eastman began his long association with the Boy Scouts, helping Ernest Thompson Seton establish the organization based in large part on the archetype of the American Indian. It was also at about this time that he started to become in high demand as a lecturer and public speaker, traveling extensively in the US and abroad.

 He was considered the foremost Indian spokesman of his day and his contribution to our understanding of the American Indian philosophy and religion are so significant that at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, Eastman was presented a special medal honoring the most distinguished achievements by an American Indian.

10 of Charles Eastman's best quotes on nature and spirituality:

  1. As a child, I understood how to give; I have forgotten that grace since I became civilized. I lived the natural life, whereas now I now live the artificial. Any pretty pebble was valuable then, every growing tree an object of reverence.
  2. Now I worship with the white man before a painted landscape whose value is estimated in dollars! Thus the Indian is reconstructed, as the natural rocks are ground to powder and made into artificial blocks that may be built into the walls of modern society.
  3. Nearness to nature... keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with the unseen powers.
  4. Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth and the Great Silence alone.
  5. There were no temples or shrines among us save those of nature.
  6. More than this, even in those white men who professed religion we found much inconsistency of conduct. They spoke much of spiritual things, while seeking only the material.
  7. What boy would not be an Indian for a while when he thinks of the freest life in the world? We were close students of nature. We studied the habits of animals just as you study your books. We watched the men of our people and acted like them in our play, then learned to emulate them in our lives.
  8. No people have better use of their five senses than the children of the wilderness. We could smell as well as hear and see. We could feel and taste as well as we could see and hear. Nowhere has the memory been more fully developed than in the wild life.
  9. The Indian sees no need for a setting apart one day in seven as a holy day, because to him all days are God's days.
  10. Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new, sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone!


11. Seek the Great Mystery in silence, In the deep forest, or in the height of the mountain. 

If you enjoyed this article, you might like:

"Thanks - Giving: The Five Best Quotes on Gratitude from the Ancient Philosophers"





1 comment

  • I’ve always felt, the native indians are the only ones of our species to live within the boundaries of nature, without harming the earth.

    Dennis Kiper

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