Cosmic Vision by Sebastian Vela of the Institute of American Indian Arts
Cosmic Vision by Sebastian Vela of the Institute of American Indian Arts

I like to dive and devour. I dive into books, scroll through the writer’s word patterns and appreciate their craft. I can devour libraries, but never the same book twice. The varied worldviews that an author can deliver, in comparison to mine, keeps me insatiable. I tend to consume the worldviews that are represented in these books. In J.E. Gordon’s meticulous, scholarly book, Structures or Why Things Don’t Fall Down, he writes, “A structure is defined as any assemblage of materials which is intended to sustain loads.” The structure I carry is my Lakota worldview, and it sustains me.

I once dove into working at a Lakota immersion school with no previous instruction in my mother tongue. There, at that school, I had been faced with Western teachings and their emotional impact on learning my language. I was treading treacherous waters disguised as barriers. I grew stronger with each wave that came in my direction. Facing the commotion of each wave, a worldview blossomed within me.

The mental fight between my Lakota and Western worldviews has me imagining the cheer of my ancestors. They reside within the stars and encourage me to win. An example of my worldview begins with what German poet Charles Bukowski once wrote: “The gods await to delight in you”—but I believe it really means that my ancestors await to delight in me.

With the pride I hold in my ancestors and my new-found language skills, my worldview expands. Expansion created a desire to swim in the waters of my mother tongue and amassed an entitlement to see my worldview in every aspect of my English day. Movies without subtitles in my language left me insulted, meals without prayer for each bite made me nauseated, and Facebook posts in English distanced me from social media. In self-reflection of these feelings, I knew something had to be going on within this Lakota brain of mine.

Then I read about Robert B. Kaplan’s work on cultural thought patterns, a descriptive guide in how language coincides with the way a culture communicates their thoughts. Kaplan used a straight line to represent English-driven languages, a dashed zigzag to show Semitic languages, a spiral to represent oriental languages, a split rhombus for Romantic languages, and a dashed and confused letter Z to show the Russian language.

In awe, I recognized no Lakota being could fit directly under any of these visuals. My mentor, fluent Lakota speaker Lalá (Grandfather) Michael once taught me that the Lakota being should be the root of care for every decision Lakotas make. Beaming in duality, I led with Lalá Michael’s words while also leaning on my favorite quote by A Clockwork Orange author, Anthony Burgess: “Eat this sweetish segment or spit it out. You are free.” Without hesitation to acknowledge my freedom, I took Kaplan’s “oriental” spiral as my own.

When I speak, write, and think, my spiral begins at the main point of my topic. My spiral gyrates outward, retracing its center. Then, finally, I dash my line straight back to my beginning point. This creates a shell, which I’m sure the mathematician Fibonacci wouldn’t be proud of since a shell lacks the continuity of his golden spiral. But I do not care—Fibonacci is not my ancestor. My spiral brought me math, music, and a passion for making.

Making is a language of the hands in cooperation with one’s creativity. My Lakota world view taught me that all obstacles are fair game. Music, math, and making were in my playing field. I spent two years trying to better myself in math and found music as purposeful under the belt of learning Lakota. My fingertips are keen to the needle pricks that are caused by beading flowers. My Lakota language became hyponymous to music, math, and making.

I’ve learned how to navigate my Lakota pattern by observing the nature of our elders partaking in modern society. often, they seem to stray away from their lectures, bringing in multiple childhood memories to create a message with a larger-than-life meaning. Elders speak with this spiraled-shell pattern, too, so surely this shell is not only mine.

Much like them, I find myself spiraling away from American English’s conformed communication. My worldview brings in mental resources that some may call distractions, but the overall meaning prevails. I’ve learned how to do this from Lalá Tom. He can joke about me not having a ring on my ring finger without hindering the loving message that he is proud of my independence. Lakota elders like Lalá Michael and Uŋčí (Grandmother) Delores bring life to food by appreciating every bite and the way food is prepared. In our immersion school, I would often ask our children to observe Lalá Michael as he sat with closed eyes, slowly chewing his food. I harvested a braid of turnips for Uŋčí Delores. As I entered her home, I presented it to her with excitement, and she clasped her hands while joy beautifully lit her face. These emotions associated with food are nourishment to my Lakota shell.

English can refer to a shell as a tool for introversion, something a person hides inside. However, my Lakota worldview remains in opposition to this thought. My shell inspires exertion of energy to better manipulate Western thought embedded in me. Any mess in the shape of the West’s “divide and conquer” mentality is a conspiracy to disrupt my spiral—and this juxtaposition built my need to dive.

Spiraling my shell has become my Lakota strength. I live this way by using my language for the most intrinsic tasks in my livelihood. My Lakota language does not have a word for “complacent,” so I do my best to avoid complacency. Through any wave of adversity, I hope to pay the greatest of respects to my shell by swimming. My Lakota worldview is represented by a shell where my will to dive and devour wins any battle against the thoughts behind divide and conquer.

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