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Scott Frazier on the environment, cultural diversity and communication

Scott Frazier Project Indigenous

Scott Frazier’s Indigenous Gold — By: Regina van de Berg / Red Thunderbird Agency

Translation: Larita Gerrissen

Scott Frazier came over for a visit recently. He is a 60-year old elder from the Crow/Santee Nations in Montana, a state in the northern mid-west of the United States. He is an American Indian man of almost 1.90 meters (6.2 feet) tall if I were to guess. Alongside his open and friendly face are two long gray braids. He has a good sense of humor with which he is able to quickly connect with people. Scott Frazier is the director of his own, recently founded, company called Project Indigenous, which focuses on the native perspective in several educational programs. The main focus is to conserve and respect native land, our natural resources and American Indian cultures. Scott spoke about this during his visit to the Netherlands and I would like to describe many of his thoughts as ‘Indian gold’. Gold that exists of stories about life ways in which the wisdom about the ways of nature are shared among other things. These are stories that challenge us to bend ourselves more to the natural rhythm of the earth. And sometimes stories that offer a surprising angle on the problems we are facing today.
The Sun Dance path

Scott FrazierAgain I was impressed by the simplicity with which many indigenous people, Scott among them, propagate their views. Scott is a man who presents himself the ‘Indian way’. This means he tells stories and thus he does not use presentations designed to impress which have been prepared in power point.

This is intentional as this man has walked the ceremonial ‘Sun Dance path’ for most of his life. Central to this path are the Sun Dance ceremony and the life ways that go with it. Through this way of life he has gained so much trust in himself and the Creator (the Great Spirit, God), which is why he sort of waits for the words to come that are allowed to be shared with his audience. He trusts that those words will be spoken that will give the people the feeling they learned something, they gained a new insight and sometimes it heals them. True spirituality. The stories he tells essentially have the same message every time, only the packaging is different with each story. A new story, another example, a surprising turn or just suddenly a slogan or statement which summarizes the whole story in a one-liner: the Indian gold of Scott Frazier.

I give his name to this intentionally, because that is how I remembered it from the dialogue. Recognition is important. Not for him personally, because the only thing he said when I uttered my enthusiasm for the gold I discovered in the words, was: “When you tell this to others, tell them that ‘an Indian told you this’ and let the next person do the same. His reasoning was, “for a long time, and still today, cultures with a slightly darker color and other ways of life, were labeled as ‘dumb people’. It is so important to show people that the opposite is true …”
A few of the ‘nuggets of gold’

‘Don’t create it in the first place’
Scott FrazierThis is about the mess we are all creating on our planet and how we should solve that. Scott: “How would Indians do this? We don’t have an answer ready for this question, but our way would have been: ‘Don’t create it in the first place!’
If you ponder a bit on this statement and would think about how to apply this to our current society, then you can only conclude that those things we wish to make or want to have can’t be isolated from the consequences it will have for the future. If we know what kind of mess it will create, then it is our duty to think of a solution for dealing with the unwanted effects at the time of our creation. If we can’t think of a solution, then we shouldn’t create the mess.
When we take the time to think about a solution for the negative effects (‘sit down and breathe’), then maybe we realize we really don’t need it. This built-in moment of consciousness will be something our children and grandchildren will thank us for later, in stead of giving in to our never to be stilled hunger for consumption of more, more, more. While I believe that our hunger is truly a hunger for spirituality.

‘Always let the first one go’
Concerning sustainability, we all talk about it but what is it exactly? Scott illustrates the indigenous perspective by the American Indian way of life of ‘way back’, like for example hunting for your food: ‘Only shoot the second animal of the species you are hunting for. This requires patience and restraining your greed, but if you would always let the first animal go of the species you are hunting for, then you would be certain that this species will stay in existence. And that the generations that will follow us will still have food to eat. ‘Always let the first one go’.
This also applies to the wild rice you are harvesting and other food sources of the earth we need and use. This is all right, but just don’t use it all. Leave something behind. Who knows if that one plant will one day provide a cure for cancer or another illness?

According to Scott sustainability was something that was exercised in the everyday life of nomadic living American Indian tribes. When winter arrived American Indians had to make sure the food supply was well stocked and that you were warm enough. But the roaming lifestyle did not leave much space for bringing a lot of material and supply. So you had to think beforehand about how much you would need and according to this the tribes would arrange their lifestyle. Nothing less and certainly nothing more. Overconsumption did not exist and what was somehow left over was given back to nature and would perish naturally, because the material was natural. Nowadays we call that biodegradable.

What kind of message do you send?
Scott FrazierThe aboriginal way of life had sustained many indigenous peoples for many generations in a way that worked out and was healthy for them and for the environment they lived in. Then the white people came. Not only did they arrive in American Indian communities, but also in other communities all over the world that were different from them. Their mission to bring other peoples ‘the only right way to live’ was unbridled while they were not invited. Nevertheless they told the American Indians for example they had to start living in houses. In these new houses bathrooms were placed right next to the kitchen where food was prepared and eaten, while the old way of life of this group provided them with doing ones business in nature, far away from the tipi or other housing where daily life took place. Oh well.

Another example: uninvited we travel to communities and tell then they need a better water installation, one that will provide them with clean water. Full of enthusiasm we build this installation. But what message are you really sending? ‘You are dirty’. And that while, so reasons Scott, these communities were able to live in harmony with nature for many generations. Thousands of years of knowledge is stored and shared through oral traditions. Turn it around for once: in stead of waltzing in without knocking and telling them what they need, ask them how they have done it for all those years? Or wait until you are invited to receive that knowledge. Who knows, maybe we will learn something from it …..

Commitment: Who will put you to rest?
A conversation on commitment, in any shape or form, is summarized by Scott in this one sentence: It is all about who will put you to rest’. In other words: when you close your eyes at the end of your life, then it is important to know who will bring you to your last resting place. Who will be responsible for that smile on your face when you enter the last part of this journey and enter the new life?

Maybe not necessarily an American Indian way of thinking, but pondering on it some longer, my conclusion is that it really is. Because are we really used to think about what lies ahead for us and truly invest in that NOW? For me this way of thinking is linked with the principle of ‘care for the seventh generation’. This is an American Indian thought which is all about taking responsibility; when you take action now consider the fact that those same resources will have to be used by the next seven generations. When you put this together with the thought of ‘Don’t create it in the first place’, the circle is complete once again.

There are many more examples, of which his ‘pulse’ story is the most impressive. Scott moves his arms in front of his chests in an inward and outward motion when he explains that essentially we have to learn to move more accordingly to the rhythm of the universe, or of nature if you please. Being conscious of the things we see around us and even better, are part of. I could dedicate a whole chapter of its own to this train of thought.

Scott Frazier
A liberating answer?
How can we apply these thoughts to our modern way of life and in a time where we enjoy such comforts we can’t, and maybe also won’t, turn our back on? Unfortunately, offering an indigenous perspective will not provide a liberating answer to our questions, nor does it offer a solution for all the problems we are presently facing.
Just like the election of Barack Obama and his promise of change will not help us get rid of the hills of garbage resulting from our unbridled need for consumption and with which we lay a heavy burden on our planet.
What we can do is startle our linear line of thought. The world is round, something the American Indians knew long before scientists proved it. Because, adds Scott, this was logical, right? In nature everything is round, look at the sun and the moon, or at the river flow and the roundness of the mountains. And that’s how American Indians think in circles, Scott for sure. For him the circle is a symbol for thinking in images, in symbols.

Scott FrazierFor me the message is that by embracing other train of thoughts, for example those of indigenous peoples, and seriously researching them, it could maybe be possible that we come to ideas that will provide the solutions we are looking for. Sometimes it is necessary to go back to basics to do this, back to nature. Back to the people who still know how it was to be close to nature. And listen to them. But also to feel, because, related Scott, who really knows how it feels when it rains? Who really does stand still to let the spatters fall on his face and to smell a fresh rain shower that smells different every time depending on the time of year?

Appreciating native knowledge, skills and wisdom and applying them to our western way of thinking will bring us gold. I am certain of that. Let us hope we will be invited to learn more about this Indian gold.

(A short explanation about the Sun Dance: There are many types of the ceremony referred to as the Sun Dance. Each Tribe has a different approach to the ceremony and the elements involved but there are some similarities.1. Fasting, 2. Singing, 3. Dancing, and 4. A Central Pole. Mr. Frazier refers to his Sun Dance as the Room of Rainbows or the Elk lodge. It was given during a vision quest roughly 25 years ago. The ceremony was held on or near the full moon of summer and gives thanks for what has been given during the past year and what is going to be given for the year coming. No flesh is sacrificed, only dreams.)

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