Enter Joseph M. Marshall III’s book, The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living, to learn how to live wisely with all our relatives – with mitakuye oyasin (“all my relatives” in Dakota).
Each chapter of the book presents a virtue through story-telling, some stories from the beginnings of remembered life and some from Marshalls’s own yesterday. As a Lakota child would have learned these attributes, you, the reader, will learn them. You will be welcomed to the cooking fire, enthralled by the stories Grandmother tells you. You will hold the axe for Grandfather as he cleverly instructs you in how a home is made. Sometimes you will identify with Iktomi the trickster as he cheats the ducks and the bear; sometimes you will learn to inhabit Mato, the bear, as he humbly, with dignity, feeds Iktomi after falling for Iktomi’s lies.
As you read you will stand up stronger in these virtues: humility, perseverance, respect, honor, love, sacrifice, truth, compassion, bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom. You too will become one with mitakuye oyasin.
I was especially taken by small generosities in the stories. Apparent losers often became the most honored, virtuous beings.
As a woman I felt fully affirmed. The women in these stories are as numerous as the men. They and the men are equally wise and strong and resourceful with all the other family members presented – the two-legged, the winged, the four-legged.
If you are a descendant of European Americans, as I am, the “Afterword” will help you recollect the interactions between European settlers and the Lakota ancestors. You will wonder how any humans could have acted with such lack of virtue against those they did not understand. You will wonder what to do about this. This section was painful for me to read; this pain is necessary if I am to move toward justice.
Marshall’s words offer generous healing for wounds and playful instruction into wisdom.