More Stoney Nakoda wisdom for a happy, rewarding life

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 23, 2012

In last week’s column I shared two very important lessons in life taught me by Stoney Nakoda elders: the late Walking Buffalo’s lesson from Nature’s University about embracing our human diversity, and Henry Holloway’s example of ranchers from around our area sitting together on a saddle shop bench as a lesson about embracing our human commonality.

But there are many more lessons about having a beautiful life that I hope I’m learning as a result of my 47 years of association with the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

The communities of Morley, Eden Valley and Big Horn, along the foothills west of Cochrane, are part of the great Dakota (Sioux) Nation whose rich heritage spans the Prairies and Plains. At the heart of that rich heritage are the wise teachings of the elders.

I’ve written previously about four kinds of respect that form a solid foundation for life according to Stoney elders: respect for others, for self, for the creation, and for the Creator (my column for Sept. 6, 2006).

This week, I’d like to share some Stoney Nakoda lessons in observation, patience, positive attitude and happiness.

Observation. Many years ago I came across a poster with a picture of a wide-eyed owl and the words, “You learn a lot by watching.”

That’s certainly the Stoney philosophy of lifelong learning. From their earliest years, children were traditionally taught to be quiet and keep their eyes open. Obviously, this had great importance for an inexperienced young person going out hunting with experienced adults.

But this continues to be the way for learning other skills, too, such as powwow dancing.

Rather than going out onto the dance floor without much of a clue about what to do and embarrassing themselves and their relatives at a public gathering, aspiring dancers carefully observe their favourite dancers for months, studying every detail of their moves.

In the privacy of their homes, they practice those moves until they feel confident. Then one day at some big event, they bring pride to the whole community by stepping out onto the floor for their debut and doing a traditional dance with jaw-dropping excellence.

Patience. This is something I’ve had to learn the hard way as a so-called “professional” communicator.

In my own cultural understanding of the flow of conversation, having been raised as a child in a non-Stoney environment, a long silence on the part of someone with whom I’d be speaking could reasonably be interpreted as an invitation for me to break in with my own comments – one way I could politely show my interest in the topic.

Not necessarily so in the Stoney way! So often I’d misinterpret a temporary pause by a Stoney speaker and start talking before they were ready for me to do so. Often their silence simply meant they were collecting their thoughts and words before continuing. My intrusion at such moments really showed I was more interested in what I had to say than in what they were saying.

Positive attitude. I love sharing this story. Elder Tina Fox, some time ago when she was the first woman on Band Council, was experiencing a bit of bullying from the old-boys’ network. She had a choice: she could either feel sorry for herself, or she could choose to interpret their behaviour according to the wisdom of the crocus.

When years later she was honoured by the Calgary YWCA at their 1998 Women of Distinction awards night, she told the packed house about being bullied, and about a crocus that was more beautiful than all the others in the meadow. Upon closer examination, this particular crocus was growing right out of the middle of a cow pie. She got a big round of applause when she told the audience, “When the old boys dumped on me, they were just making me more beautiful!”

Happiness. My final lesson for this column was taught me by the late Gerald Kaquitts, son of Sitting Wind. We were driving along the Trans-Canada Highway one hot summer afternoon when Gerald observed a horse out in a field rolling around in the dust.

“Look how happy that horse is,” Gerald said. “It’s probably just returned from a long ride, had its saddle removed, and is enjoying the freedom of the moment.”

In view of this delight in happiness, it didn’t surprise me at all when Lobo’s  popular love song, “Stoney,” recorded back in the 1970s, was adopted immediately by folks at Morley as almost their “national anthem.”

And why not? The refrain says it all:

“Stoney, happy all the time / Stoney, life is summertime / The joy you find in living every day / Stoney, how I love your simple ways.”

Yes, and I guess I’ll always love Stoney Country’s wisdom ways, too.


© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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