I have a habit of picking up books on a trip and then, on reaching home, promptly tucking them somewhere for future reading. I’ll forget about them, or where I placed them (I buy entirely too many reference books), and then one day, I’ll stumble over it. It’s like Christmas.

So it happened with a tiny book I found several days ago. It’s only about two inches by three inches, which is probably why I’ve neglected it for something like four years. But yes, my own personal Christmas came when I found it, and I delighted in it.

The book is entitled “Native American Wisdom.” Its contents were enough to make me run to the internet for more, Look up Native Indian Wisdom on the internet and you’ll find some truly fascinating sites along with very good music.

I usually like to blog about historical figures, particularly the unsung heroines of the west, but these sayings give such a unique understanding for the native Indians as well as universal truths that I just have to pass some of them on.

I might add that I love quotes. There’s one Indian quote that I’ve been using for years to conclude speeches on writing, so I’ll start with that one. I’ve always thought it described the writing life perfectly. “I go about pitying myself and all the while I am being carried on great winds across the sky.” The author is thought to be Chippawa.

But here are some more that struck a chord with me. They give  a poignant picture of the Indian in the west.

“The American Indian is of the soil whether it be the region of forests, plains, pueblos or mesas. He fits into the landscape, for the hand that fashioned the continent also fashioned man for his surroundings. He once grew as naturally as the wild sunflowers; he belongs just as the buffalo belonged.”  Luther Standing Bear, Sioux Chief

 “We had no churches, no religious organizations, no Sabbath day, no holidays, and yet we worshipped. Sometimes the whole tribe would assemble and pray; sometimes a smaller number, perhaps only two or three. The songs had a few words, but were not formal. The singer would occasionally put in such words as he wished instead of the usual tone sound. Sometimes we prayed in silence. Sometimes each prayed aloud; sometimes an aged person prayed for all of us.”  Geronimo

“In the beginning or all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals, for Tirawa, the One Above, did not speak directly to man. He sent certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beasts, and that from them, and from the stars, and the sun and the moon should man learn . . . all things tell of Tirawa.” A Pawnee Chief

“. . . everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission, This is the Indian theory of existence.”  Mourning Dove

” . . . I am poor and naked, but I am chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want peace and love.”   Red Cloud, Sioux chief.

“Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom – an intense and absorbing love for nature; a respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood . . .”   Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux Chief

” . . . The voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds, the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers. If this is Paganism, then at present, at least I am a Pagan.”   Dakota Sioux

‘I was born upon the prairie, where the wind blew free, and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures, and where everything drew a free breath . . . I know every stream and every wood between the Rio Grande and the Arkansas. I have hunted and lived over that country. I lived like my fathers before me, and like them I lived happily.”   Ten Bears, Comanche Chief

And here are some short and pithy quotes:

“It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand.”   Apache

“If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come.”   Arapaho

“What is life? It’s the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”   Blackfoot

“Do not judge your neighbor until you walk two moons in his moccasins.” Cheyenne

“Our first teacher is our heart.”  Cheyenne

“Remember that your children are not your own, but are lent to you by the creator.”  Mohawk

“He who would do great things should not attempt them all alone.”   Seneca

“Walk lightly in the spring; Mother Earth is pregnant.”   Kiowa

Have you heard of a quote or piece of Indian wisdom that remained with you? Or do you have a favorite of those above?

I’ll send one of my westerns to one of you who comment on this post. The winner will be selected by random, and I’ll announce it on Thursday.

Updated: May 29, 2010 — 2:07 pm


  1. The proverb I have always heard is attributed to Native Americans is “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Sigh, seems terribly apropos with the oil slick disaster looming.

    Thanks for posting this topic…always learn so much here.

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    I like this one:“It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand.” too many people speak before they think

  3. Of the ones listed above, I like, “Do not judge your neighbor until you walk two moons in his moccasins” by Cheyenne. I had no idea this quote was attributed to him (nor the others), so thanks for sharing them.

    Of course, the above quote reminds me of today’s similar “joke quote”: “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, if he gets angry, he’s a mile away and barefoot.” — Or something like that, LOL!

    Have a great day! I’m looking forward to reading all the other quotes submitted. What a great idea!

  4. thank you for sharing patricia!
    there were many i loved…
    i have a couple favorites…
    “One evening a Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
    He said, “My son, the battle is between 2 wolves inside of us all.
    One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
    The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
    The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
    The Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
    Author Unknown

  5. in the event of a loss i also find comfort in….

    Do not stand at my grave and weep;
    I am not there. I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow.
    I am the diamond glints on snow.
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
    I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
    When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and cry;
    I am not there, I did not die.

    An unknown member of the Hobi Native American Tribe

  6. This is a very beautiful prayer, one that puts into words my own feelings of life and death.

    Native American Prayer

    Oh, Great Spirit
    Whose voice I hear in the winds,
    And whose breath gives life to all the world,
    hear me, I am small and weak,
    I need your strength and wisdom.
    Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold
    the red and purple sunset.
    Make my hands respect the things you have
    made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
    Make me wise so that I may understand the things
    you have taught my people.
    Let me learn the lessons you have
    hidden in every leaf and rock.

    I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
    but to fight my greatest enemy – myself.
    Make me always ready to come to you
    with clean hands and straight eyes.
    So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
    my Spirit may come to you without shame.

    (translated by Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark in 1887)
    published in Native American Prayers – by the Episcopal Church.

  7. HI Pat,
    I have a high regard for the Native American so this post is a terrific one for me. I like “Walk lightly in the spring; Mother Earth is pregnant.” the best. How fitting!

    I also love finding something I’ve forgotten about! oxoxoxox

  8. Beautiful, Pat. What an inspiring way to start the week. I love Tabitha’s story about the two wolves. I was going to tell it here, then glanced at the comments and realized it had already been shared. Have a great week.

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    I am glad that I am not the only one who buys books on trips and then puts them aside on returning home. I am always finding little surprises when I try to straighten things.
    I like so many it is hard to choose. I like short and succinct so I will have to pick the last 3 or 4 of your samples.

    Three books that I have that I really like:
    MY SPIRIT SOARS by Chief Dan George – poetry and thoughts

    MESSAGE by Chief Jake Swamp A children’s picture book of a Mohawk prayer. I use this for story time every year and have used it as our family Thanksgiving dinner grace.

    CIRCLE OF THANKS by Joseph Bruchac – a prayer/poem for each of the moons. Mr. Bruchac has many, many wonderful books out there for children and adults.

  10. Tabitha. . . I love both of those prayer/stories. I once bought a sympathy card with the very verse you mentioned, “I am not there,” and I’ve been looking for another for years. I remembered how beautiful it was, and when I wrote the post, I wished I had it. Thank you for adding it to the list. I won’t lose it again.

  11. Virginia. . . what a beautiful prayer. Thanks so much for sending it.

  12. Patricia . . .

    Thanks for the reading list. Well, maybe not. Now I have to add even more books to my already overstocked library. They sound wonderful.

  13. You chose some beautiful quotes, Pat. I have a book of Native American poetry that has been on my bookshelf since I was in high school. I think I’ll go pull it out again.

  14. I love these quotes and I have heard some of them before. I have some old sayings I use all the time and my son looks at me like I am crazy. I can’t think of any Indian quotes but I really enjoyed these. Thanks for sharing them with us today! Love the thunder in the mouth one!

  15. What a beautiful post, Pat. I read each and every phrase and loved them all. I don’t even think I had a favorite — I simply loved them all. Thank you for this look at the American Indian wisdom.

  16. Thanks for the words of wisdom.

  17. I enjoyed reading them! Thanks for sharing… they are such beautiful quotes! 😀

  18. Patricia, these are awesome! I’ve been digging into my ancestry. There’s been a story about my Great great grandpa being half Choctaw. From all that we understand he spent most of his life in an asylum as did many half-breeds during the time when their way of life was forced to Americanize.

    One of my heroes will be similar. A half-breed. When I came across “. . . everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission, This is the Indian theory of existence.” Mourning Dove I just knew this described his thinking.

    A great blog!!!

  19. “He who would do great things should not attempt them all alone.” Seneca

    You listed several quotes I have never heard. They are all good.
    Some good things to remember.

  20. Renee. . .

    That was one of my favorite quotes as well. I think all of them give readers a new respect for all Native Americans. Especially poignant is their love for freedom.

  21. Beautiful quotes and prayers, Pat. Here is one of my favorites: “Only when the last fish has been caught, only when the last tree has been cut down, only when the last river has been poisoned, only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten.” It’s Cree, I believe.

  22. Wow, beautiful post and responses! The only ones I can think of are from ‘Last of the Mohicans’, the movie. Thanks for sharing!

  23. What a great topic.
    The Indians were very wise people.

  24. Really enjoyed reading this column. Living here in Arizona, I live not too far from a lot of Ididan reservations.
    I like the Navajo way of thinking about the earth. I think they were the original conservationists. One of their sayings is “Listen to Mother Earth. Be still and she will speak to you.”

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    Thank you for the beautiful Native American sayings. I really like “Remember that your children are not your own, but are lent to you by the Creator.” My paternal grandmother was I believe half Cherokee so I have a big interest in all things Native American.

  26. These quotes are beautiful, I love them all, but especially this one:

    “What is life? It’s the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Blackfoot

    and the one in Tabitha’s comment: I Am Not There.

    I loved your blog post!

  27. Two of the quotes mentioned I have come across
    before. The one about walking in someone’s
    moccasins and the one about children being loaned
    to us by the Creator. Thanks for sharing the rest
    with us.

    Pat Cochran

  28. Thanks for all your replies. It was a fun post, particularly sorting through so many wonderful sayings to pick the most descriptive.

  29. A note. . . One of my top favorites of them: “If we wonder often,the gift of knowledge will come.” How true.

  30. I love it when I’ve stashed a book somewhere and then locate it later. I also always feel like it is Christmas. Maybe psychologically I stash them away just so I can give myself a surprise later. Ya think?

    Have a blessed day!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.


  31. Cool post! I have a story that I have my students read a story during our Native Iowans unit about The Great Flood. It’s neat how it correlates with the story of Noah. Thanks for sharing your post today.

  32. I loved reading all of these quotes. The Indians were/are some amazing people. We would all do well to listen to their words!

  33. i enjoyed this posting very much…

  34. Here are a few of my favorite sayings:

    “If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them and what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys.” – Chief Dan George

    “Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind and spirit. The man who preserves his selfhood is ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence … What are the fruits of silence? They are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character.” Ohiyesa, Santee Sioux

    “I think over again my small adventures
    My fears, those small ones that seemed so big
    For all the vital things I had to get and reach
    And yet there is only one great thing
    The only thing
    To live to see the great day that dawns
    And the light that fills the world.”- Unknown Inuit

    The Great Spirit is in all things, he is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us, that which we put into the ground she returns to us…. Big Thunder- Algonquin

  35. Laurie. . . great additions to the list. Thank you.

  36. Laurie. . . great additions to the list. Thank you.

  37. ” . . . I am poor and naked, but I am chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want peace and love.” Red Cloud, Sioux chief.

    this is awesome and also profound!! It speaks volumes of truth. I love it. Thanks for the sayings.

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