Native American Virtues
Written by Reverend Catherine Nelson – Keepers of the Word
“We were taught to believe that the Great Spirit sees and hears everything, and that He never forgets, that hereafter He will give every man a spirit-home according to his deserts: If he has been a good man, he will have a good home; if he has been a bad man, he will have a bad home.”– Chief Joseph, NEZ PERCE
In the Introduction, the word “virtue” is used many times. In researching, the1828 Webster’s Dictionary gave this definition. As we are comparing Native Spiritual and World Views, it will be helpful to clarify the dominant culture’s view of virtue.
“Virtue—strength, bravery, valor, moral goodness, the practice of moralities, and abstaining from moral vices.
Virtue must be distinguished from religion, because religion is often seen as outward acts only, whereas virtue is a matter of the heart.
Virtue is nothing but voluntary obedience to the truth for nothing other than the sincere love of God.
Virtue is a particular moral excellence of the soul that manifests in things like temperance, chastity, charity, patience, humility, meekness, mercy.”
When comparing the definition of virtue to the Ojibwa Teachings below, there are direct words and phrases which meet the definition. The Ojibwa language places the concept into a verb ending in the “ing” ending to mean these concepts are always happening in the present by those who will practice and embrace the teachings.
The Seven Gifts of the Grandfathers
To cherish knowledge is to know WISDOM.
To know LOVE is to know peace.
To honor all of the creation is to have RESPECT.
BRAVERY is to face foe with integrity.
HONESTY in facing a situation is to be brave.
HUMILITY is to know yourself as a sacred part of the creation.
TRUTH is to know of these things.
Virtues are not material assets. They are things money can’t buy. Native American world view (New World View) value authentic “being” and not solely the gain of material assets. Current popular American culture celebrates material gain first and foremost. Fortune and fame are strongly linked to the accumulation of material assets which comes from European, or Old World View. Many church and religious leaders bemoan the lack of virtues. In New World View, your “being” was primary and your “doing” reflected your true self. A person was highly regarded and respected for their virtues first, and the material assets were, at best, secondary. In the Old World View, what you do and acquire is primary, and if you do something virtuous at sometime in life, then you can add that to your portfolio of assets in your list of accomplishments which is used this as leverage to gain more status and material wealth. Virtuous living is, at best, secondary. They can break laws, lie, cheat, steal, rape, and pillage until they get caught. It is then that virtue becomes a valued factor. This attitude permeates our current society from Wall Street, big banks, politicians, professional sports, entertainment industry, churches and religious organizations of all sizes.
A recent poster on Face Book listed things money can’t buy. In reading the list and comparing that to the definition of virtue and the Seven Gifts teachings, we see that these are shared values across the cultures, but not given equal importance in today’s society.
TEN THINGS / VIRTUES MONEY CAN’T BUY
More on the history of Old World View and New World view will be discussed in a later chapter.
“Our fathers gave us many laws which they learned from their fathers. These laws were good.” ~ Chief Joseph. “An Indian’s View of Indian Affairs.” North American Review 128:269 (April 1879): 412-33.
The laws he speaks of are the primary virtues, which are similar as listed in the Seven Gifts. The Creator gave us laws of virtue to live by. These are different than the structured legalities written by man. These are laws of Creator designed for us. In the Webster’s definition quoted, we read that virtue is a matter of the heart, and voluntary observance of the truth for nothing other than the sincere love of God. These laws of Creator teach how to live in harmony and balance with ourselves and each other. These laws are about virtues taught to us by the elders. These laws are about freedom, grace, happiness, inner fortitude. They are laws on how to treat each other and respect Mother Earth and the environment.
In the Bible, NKJV, Philippians 4: 8-9 , and II Peter 1: 2-3 talk of virtue by the great letter writer Paul. In the first reading, we are called to meditate on virtues. In the second passage, Paul declares the calling to us of Christ by “glory and virtue.”
Philippians 4: 8-9
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is anything praiseworthy –meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do and the God of peace will be with you.”
II Peter 1: 2-3
“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.”
We will continue our study on Medicine Wheels, but I now challenge you to locate Native wisdom sayings and posters to share. There are many out there on social media and in books.
Prayer: Great Spirit, teach us the laws of the unseen world. Open our eyes and ears so we may better discern the Red Road. AHO.