The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo: A Child, an Elder & the Light from an Ancient Sky continues Kent Nerburn's quest to understand and honor Native American spirituality. It is evoked in Dan, a Lakota elder whose wisdom touches the heart and stirs the soul with its ample regard for Mystery, the natural world, animals, and the wounds caused by whites in their attempts to control and change the Indians they conquered and then abandoned.
We first met this colorful seer in Neither Wolf Nor Dog where he taught us much about traveling light on the earth, the virtue of honor, and the importance of generosity and sharing which are at the heart of Native American community life.
In The Wolf At Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows, Nerburn offered more of Dan's wisdom in a fictionalized account of an actual journey. The author travels with this elder and his friend Grover who share memories of their nightmarish experiences in Indian boarding schools run by Christians. Nerburn is grateful for the chance to help Dan find the grave of Yellow Bird, his sister.
Now in this third volume, Nerburn is haunted by some vivid dreams of Yellow Bird and others. He decides to re-establish contact with his Lakota friends and spends some time with Benois, who tends a buffalo herd. This Ojibwe elder tells him that dreams "let your spirit journey without your body" and then goes on to describe his brief encounter years ago with Yellow Bird in a notorious insane asylum where Native Americans were shamefully treated. Those who practiced the old ways, spoke with animals, or communed with nature were often taken from their communities and locked up for life. Worst of all, the director arranged tours for out-of-town visitors who viewed the Indians as freaks behind bars.
Much of the rest of this compelling book is concerned with spirit, which Dan once called a realm that is beyond our Western "square-cornered understanding of life." Nerburn spends some time with Jumbo, a friendly mechanic, Dan's protective granddaughter Wenonah, and his best friend Grover before reaching him. He is teaching and mentoring Little Zi, a very spiritual four-year-old girl who talks to birds, sings constantly, and hears the old voices. Dan believes her heart is pure and that, unlike other young ones in the tribe who go to ceremonies and do powwows, Little Zi is not "double-minded." With great care and compassion, he makes a home for this special girl whose mission will be to keep the old ways alive and be "a voice of hope for the people in a time of darkness."
Nerburn has served as project director for two books of Native American oral history — To Walk the Red Road and We Choose to Remember. He has also edited three highly acclaimed books on Native American subjects: Native American Wisdom, The Wisdom of the Great Chiefs, and The Soul of An Indian. He is also the author of a series of sterling books of essays and personal stories that reveal the deep meaning to be found in family, art, nature, and everyday spirituality. We have profiled him in the Living Spiritual Teachers Project and created a 40-part e-course on his work, Practicing Spirituality with Kent Nerburn.
In the preface to this latest book, Nerburn writes of The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo:
"[It] is a journey into the border regions. . . . It is not a journey that admits of easy understanding or easy acceptance. But it is a journey that I believe we should be willing to take. For only by exploring these realms, and acknowledging them with humility and grace, can we truly understand how small and fragile is this piece of earth, both physical and spiritual, that we have come to know and embrace as home."
Here are some lessons we have taken to heart after reading this book and letting it simmer in our minds for a few days:
• We ought to pay more attention to dreams and to the messages they have for us.
• It is a good thing to listen to animals; they have much to teach us.
• In the realm of spirit, everything is training.
• Friendship is the strongest of all human relationships because there is nothing making you do it.
• "Stop worrying about things. Thinking about this ain't going to help you figure it out." (Grover is talking.)
• One of the challenges of life is to make a home for spirit power.
• Everything is alive and part of Mother Earth.
• Stones have the oldest knowledge. They spend a lot of time looking up at the sky. We should not take the stones that are still partly in the ground because that means they haven't decided to come into our world yet. Choose a stone that speaks to you and show it respect.
• Everything is about connections; we are meant to explore the ways in which everything fits with everything else.
• We ought to be helping Mother Earth and being grateful to her, not just taking from her.
• White people go in straight lines to reach their destination whereas Indians take in the entire landscape before they move ahead.
• We can all learn more from listening than from talking.
And, finally, here is a wise observation from Grover:
"This is what you white people don't understand, Nerburn. You come out here with your pills and your machines and you think you got things figured out. When something doesn't fit you try to make it fit. It's the things that don't fit that matter. The things that fit, that's the Creator teaching. The things that don't fit, that's the Creator speaking."