Spirit Leaves: The True Nature of Indigenous Wisdom


At one point in my life, I answered inquiries about my identity with what I thought was a clever line. I would retort, “I’m a Lithuanian/Ukrainian Jew, roaming the countryside with a renegade Indian.” The former attests to my familial roots but in no way captures my essence. The latter is a humorous turn-of-phrase of which Cedric Red Feather is fond. Cedric’s ancestors trace to a line of “Hushkas,” a band of Mandans so-called because, disenchanted with the strictures of U.S. Government-controlled village life, they broke away to live on their own. Parted from the Tribe they loved, they were yet, perhaps, the happiest ones of all. What they wanted most was to be free to maintain their traditional ways.

If asked to encapsulate what I have learned of traditional Native ways, it would be this: from Cedric Red Feather, I learned to trust my own heart. It is the seat of all wisdom and knowledge. Gurus, teachers, intercessors, life coaches and the like are all marvelous helpers in their own way. Ultimately, though, the real guides are the ones who throw you back on yourselves, for we are all sacred and holy. We are all part of the Great Spirit, the Grandfathers and Grandmothers, the Oversoul. Whatever name you give to the Intelligence that Creates the Universe and Multiverses, it is still the same. It is all love and light.

True indigenous teachings and wisdom reside, not within governments, rules, laws or practices, but in the human heart. Cedric has taught me that the indigenous are buried on this land, and the people have always lived in the generations. Thus, it is no surprise that so many are awakening to Spirit Guides with Native names. Even though I am of Jewish descent in this lifetime, always, I feel Native Spirits around me. I feed them and offer them water; when I eat, they eat. If I see, hear or experience something that moves me emotionally, I am chilled all over; my tears are their tears, and vice-versa.

In trusting my own heart, I traveled to North Dakota to fast and pray for a way of life. That was in 1993, and it was then that I met Cedric Red Feather, who introduced me to many beautiful Holy People. I met Naomi Foolish Bear, Vernal Cross, Sam Little Owl, Francis Cree, Gilbert Walking Bull and John Around Him. Even now, my eyes water over as I recall the loving emanation I could sense just being in their presence. They were real human beings; but the energies that surrounded them had a sacredness and depth that was overwhelming. It was healing just being near them. I feel such gratitude for the synchronous flow of events that brought us together.

For centuries now, people have tried to rein in spirituality and spiritual truths. They are doctrinal, promulgating rules and regulations. They seek to bind people with written words and laws. Cedric emphasizes that we are born with free will; no one can take that from us. I have heard him say many times, “You cannot make rules or laws for people.” The spiritual path is so much more than the imperative, “Do it like this.” Both Cedric and his ancestors understood this, and that guidance made it possible for them to gain in self-knowledge and spiritual confidence.

Spirituality, our human hearts, our souls, the Great Spirit — these are so much more vast than any human rules or laws. “You want to grow spirituality?” Cedric once demanded rhetorically. “Then realize it’s not about rules. It’s not about power. It’s not about following anyone. I could have followers; but if I wanted followers, I’d have been born a duck. No, it is all about love and compassion.”

Over the years, I’ve listened to so many of his traditional stories and bits of wisdom, I sometimes feel I owe him an incalculable debt. Then I hear the words of the Red Feather Man in my mind’s ear: “You don’t owe a true teacher anything — other than to live the teachings.”

So it has been for me. I am trying to take all I have learned, center more in the heart, and just continue in as much love and light as I can possibly muster.

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Janet Michele Red Feather, J.D., M.A., is a ceremonial singer who has learned over 60 traditional songs in Mandan and Lakota and sings in nine different languages. Janet was a full-time defense litigator in California for nearly eight years. Her life changed significantly after she traveled to North Dakota in 1993 to fast and pray for a way of life. A regular columnist for The Edge, she has also appeared in Psychic Guidepost, FATE Magazine and Species Link. Her book, Song of the Wind (2014, Galde Press), dealt with her experiences as an empath, and her journey through Mandan spiritual culture. She is currently a full-time, tenured English faculty member at Normandale Community College, having taught Composition and Literature for a span of 20 years.


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