An indigenous road map for all mankind
Sometimes a great book just falls into my lap, which is what happened recently with Sherri Mitchell’s “Sacred Instructions” (North Atlantic Books, 2018, 227 pages).
From the first page, I knew that I was holding a classic in my hands, and soon thereafter one that was truly important for our times.
Drawing from her Penobscott First Nation indigenous ancestry in Maine along the Canadian border and the knowledge gained from those ancient connections, coupled with her experience as an attorney and activist and someone with a huge resume of organized activism, Mitchell addresses some of the most crucial issues of our day, such as environmental protection and human rights. For those seeking change, this book offers a volume of cultural values that inform us as to how to preserve our collective survival for future generations. In this sense, Sherri Mitchell is one of the indigenous wisdom-keepers who has been selected by elders of the Native American community, here in the U.S., to share that ancient wisdom and to speak out about pressing issues and how those issues might be resolved. In that sense, “Sacred Instructions” is a textbook for all of us “students” wishing and working for a better and more sustainable future.
Compared to such Native American classics as “Touch the Earth, Black Elk Speaks” and the photos of Edward Curtis, and as a manual for both American indigenous history and spiritual beliefs and practice, the book’s contents include subject headings such as “Building the Foundation,” “Understanding the Wayward Path (Conflict Transformation, Rights and Responsibilities, Decolonizing, Ending Our Childlike Dependence),” Imagining the “Path Forward (Conscious Co-Creation, Teachers and Teachings),” “Reaching Back and Moving Forward (Core Cultural Values, The Indigenous Way of Life, Living in the Time of Prophecy).”
For those pressed for time, one would only need to read the acknowledgements, introduction and first section of the book to get the general message. Right from the get-go, we get a taste of all of these subjects and themes; as Mitchell says, “We all come into this world with a set of instructions. These instructions guide us toward our highest purpose. They lead us to the essential truths that live deep within us. This truth is encoded in our DNA. It is embedded in our genetic memory.” She continues: “As we move through these challenging times, it is important to remember that none of us are here by accident. We entered this world with the express purpose of facilitating the changes that are manifesting during this time, and we brought with us the gifts needed to accomplish that task.”
From here we get down into the details of her profound and prophetic message; mainly regarding our actions and the knowledge that “when we merge our internal rhythms with the rhythms of creation, we develop grace in our movement, and without thought or effort we are able to slide into the perfectly choreographed dance of life.” For those who don’t know or choose not to acknowledge it, Mitchell writes about her own indigenous history and how it dovetails with the history of the United States:
“We are on the precipice of an evolutionary leap, one that requires us to transcend our differences and integrate into a more harmonized way of being. All of our prophecies speak of this time: the time when the people of the world would begin waking up and unifying for the protection of life. As Indigenous people, we have been guided to carry the sacred teachings that allowed us to maintain our connected way of life, for when this time came, and we would be able to help guide humanity back to the more balanced way of being. My people have been dreaming of the time when our way of life would be embraced, rather than attacked, when our wisdom would be sought, rather than shunned; when we could stand united once again with all our relatives within creation.”
These are just some hints at what you, as a reader, have in store for you as you dive deeper into this book. Michell writes about food, water and the air we breathe; language; economy and ecology; ritual and ceremony; the problem of homogeneity; balancing the masculine and the feminine; communal versus individual; the role of women; cooperation versus competition and sharing versus saving. After delving into all of these things, she spends the remaining pages of the book writing about “the Indigenous way of life” as she generously introduces to us her own cultural heritage, which often includes her own language and previously withheld sacred prophecies. Then, she ends the book with the words of none other than Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, which were passed down from 1877, and which were meant, now, for all of us to hear. Read them and weep — for joy:
“Upon suffering beyond suffering, the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness, and separations, a world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again. In that day, there will be those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things, and the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom. I salute the light within your eyes where the whole universe dwells. For when you are at that center within you and I am at that place within me, we shall be as one.”
(Thomas Crowe is a regular contributor to The Smoky Mountain News and author of the multi-award-winning non-fiction nature memoir “Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods.”)