I once lived on the Yakima Reservation for a couple weeks, back in 1964. This constituted my entire experience with Native Americans until thirty years later I met a few Navajo and Pueblo people on a trip to the Southwest. So even though I worked as an anthropologist for many years, I had absolutely zip to do with Native Americans. I was aware that there is a huge amount of junk written and shown in movies about them; that they have been either lionized or demonized out of all proportion in America and in the world beyond. I always felt that "ethnic cleansing" was not invented in the Balkans. Only when such writers as Silko, Momaday, Alexie, and Erdrich emerged did I discover the other world of the Indian people, only the film "Smoke Signals" rang true to me. So, I wasn't sure, when I picked up LAME DEER: SEEKER OF VISIONS, co-authored by John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes, whether I was getting some kind of phony, "awesome-dude !" worshipful portrait of a Lakota "medicine man" or not.
Not to keep you waiting any longer---this is a wonderful book on several levels. First, it contains the life story of Lame Deer, a Lakota man born in South Dakota in 1903 at the absolute nadir of Lakota history. It tells how he grew up, surviving relentless hostility by local whites, went through many ways of life, had numerous escapades, and finally turned towards the traditional wisdom of his people, becoming a wise elder, knowledgeable in many aspects of life. He has that wry Indian humor, so different a personality to what was always presented by Hollywood. Nobody can read this book and not be impressed by this man. The second level of this book is that it presents Lakota culture from the point of view of a Lakota steeped in it over many decades, not the interpretation of it by an outside scholar. You will find chapters on the sacred sweat bath, on the holy pipes of red stone, on the meaningful symbols, on the yuwipi ceremony, the sun dance, the peyote church which came from elsewhere, the heyoka (sacred clowns) and more. Lame Deer wanted to tell the world about Lakota ways and get this all written down to preserve it for the generations to come of his own people. On a third level, this book reflects a very attractive cooperation between two people from backgrounds that could not have been more different: a Lakota man from the prairies of South Dakota and a Vienna-born refugee from Nazism, an Austro-Hungarian in the true sense of that multi-cultural empire. Richard Erdoes only introduces himself at the end; Lame Deer talks throughout the whole book.
The editing and proofreading could have been tighter in my 1972 edition-a lot of passages appear twice or more, for example-and that's why I gave this book four stars, but it is a five star book for students who want to read about the inside view of the world of another culture, it is a five star book for someone particularly interested in knowing Lakota culture and thought, and for anyone who still thinks that Indians were or are "primitive" people. This is a book that speaks to the common humanity of all of us under the four corners of the sky.
on October 3, 2000
People here are prasing this book for the insight it gives into the lives of Native Americans. Not that this book isn't important for its take on Amerindian culture: to say that John Lame Deer doesn't have a grasp on what is important to himself and his people would be improper and negligent.
People are missing two of the things that make this book so powerful: its humor and its take on the white world that exists outside of the reservation. Erdoes commentaries on his Indian visitors, Lame Deer's comments on EVERYTHING, and the voice and process of this book are FUNNY. This book is well-constructed and fun to read. On to the second point: Lame Deer is fairly sucessful in making Europeans often look like clowns-- stripping their culture and sophistication, making them more human....
This book should have a much wider audience than it has ever had (and that is actually fairly substantial, strangely enough....) Not that this is a book that could change a person's life: it could at least give direction to the perplexed. I highly recommend this book....
on July 15, 2005
I had the great pleasure of meeting Lame Deer in the mid 1970's, when he came and spoke with a college class I was attending. Well, perhaps "spoke" is not the right word. Looking back from some 30 years later, I cannot say whether the presence he had was completely authentic, completely manufactured, or some combination of the two. But a very definite presence is most certainly what he had. He communicated as much through gesture, posture and his gaze as he did with his words.
And when I say he spoke "with" the class, that is exactly what I mean. Far more than most of the guest "lecturers" I have seen over the years, Lame Deer clearly attended to each question he was asked, as if it was the most important thing in his world for that moment.
I have not read the book in many years (it was lost in a move shortly after that visit) but I remember that it did an excellent job of taking me out of my customary perspective while allowing me to feel GOOD about it rather than threatened or "put down."
on February 14, 2012
I originally read this book back in the 70's and purchased it for my goddaughter to read. As a refresher, I went through it again before sending it on to her. Lame Deer's sense of humor alone makes the book well worth reading. His insight to things is wonderful and his explanation of what he believes as a Medicine Man is fascinating. What really struck me, after studying Greek Mythology and going through the Illiad and the Odyssey is how man has distanced himself from nature as a result of monotheism versus polytheism. In the latter there was a god for everything, which caused the believers to have respect for the things that those gods represented. If nothing else, it taught, as Lame Deer explains, that man is not separate from, but an integral part of nature, yet we have come to lose our respect for it. We treat it as though it is our servant and that the relationship is no longer one, but now quite separated. The sense of interdependence has waned considerably. The book is an easy read as far as time spent reading it. It is the thinking and reflecting you will be doing afterward that will be your reward for having read it.
You will find yourself laughing out loud at the antics in this book numerous times. I almost fell out of my chair when the book detailed Lame Deer's crime spree of moonshine whiskey and stolen cars. ;-) This one story alone os worth twice the price of the book!
There is much wisdom in this book; but the ceremonies in this book are not entirely accurate.
Many American Indian Nations witheld accurate information, but now more and more of them are coming forward and releasing accurate information. Even some of the Hopi Elders came forward about two years ago and released some of their sacred prophecies. I hope it is not too late.
I am deeply disturbed by the Kettle dance, but I am not of that culture, and have no right to judge it.
I would like to give this book five stars but I can't because some of the ceremonies are wrong.
I say the ceremonies are wrong because I have read ceremonies in many other books, and I have several full blooded American Indian friends, and they confirmed what I read in these other sources.
I recommend these books regarding American Indian Spirituality in the order listed.
"The Sacred Pipe" Joseph Epes Brown
"Native Wisdom" Ed McGaa
"Mother Earth Spirituality" Ed McGaa
"Foolscrow: Wisdom And Power" Thomas E. Mails
"Black Elk: The Sacred ways of the Lakota" Wallace Black Elk & William S. Lyons.
I recommend "The Sacred Pipe" highest because Mr. Brown actualy lived with the famous holyman Nick Black Elk for a few months while gathering information for this book.
Then; there are some books written by Indians that are full of new age pap because it sells. ;-(
I am the proud carrier of a Catlinite (pipestone) pipe that my American Indian friends helped me obtain. I agree with the 1990 quote by Orval Looking Horse "No one should be denied a peace pipe.".
If you have questions or comments; E-mail me. Two Bears.
Wah doh Ogedoda (We give thanks Great Spirit)
on November 23, 2004
There is humor. Lame Deer has an excellent sense of just where to find your funny bone! I broke out in laughter more than once. I'm quite sure the other people on the bus think I'm nuts! But, we all have a heyoka inside of us, eh? He even asks us to laugh at ourselves a little. It's historical, and teaches you some things that definitely should have been taught in school. It's cultural, and denotes some interesting differences between Indian and other groups of people. I like the book on the whole, and strongly recommend it as reading for anyone considering hanblechia. My fiancee' is starting his sun dance next year, and I wanted to educate myself further as to what that entails. It's a great read!
on August 27, 2012
Tahca Ushte (Lame Deer) was a Lakota medicine man from a land now known as South Dakota ("Sioux" is a white name that insults the Lakota). His government-issued name was John Fire. He was born some time between 1895 and 1903, and died in 1976. His parents were of the last generation to be born wild and free. Two of his grandfathers had been at the battle of Little Big Horn, Custer's last stand, and one of them survived the massacre at Wounded Knee.
Lame Deer's early years were spent in a remote location, where they had no contact with the outside world. He never saw a white man until he was five. At 14, he was taken away to a boarding school, where he was prohibited from speaking his language or singing his songs. The class work never went beyond the level of third grade, so Lame Deer spent six years in the third grade. He eventually gained renown for being a rebellious troublemaker. When he was 16, he went on a vision quest, and discovered that he was to become a medicine man.
Sons destined to become medicine men were often removed from school by their families, because schooling was harmful to the growth of someone walking a spiritual path. One father drove away truancy officers with a shotgun. For medicine men, the skills of reading and writing had absolutely no value.
When Lame Deer was 17, his mother died, and the family fell apart. The white world was closing in, making it hard for his father to survive as a rancher. He gave his children some livestock and wished them good luck. By that time, the buffalo were dead, their land was gone, many lived on reservations, and the good old days for the Lakota were behind them.
Lame Deer straddled two worlds, the sacred path of Lakota tradition, and the pure madness of the "frog-skinners," -- people who were driven by an insatiable hunger for green frog-skins (dollar bills). The frog-skinners were bred to be consumers, not human beings, so they were not fun to be around.
Lame Deer spent maybe 20 years wandering. He made money as a rodeo rider, clown, square dance caller, potato picker, shepherd, and so on. He always avoided work in factories or offices, "because any human being is too good for that kind of no-life, even white people." He enjoyed many women, did more than a little drinking, stole a few cars, and shunned the conventional civilized life.
Between jobs he would return to his reservation and spend time with the elders. During World War II, just before Normandy, he was thrown out of the Army when they discovered that he was 39, too old. Soon after, he abandoned the frog-skin world and became a full time Indian, walking on the sacred path of a medicine man.
For the Lakota, the Black Hills were the most sacred place in their world. To retain possession of them, they surrendered much of what became Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. The treaty declared that the Black Hills would remain Indian territory "for as long as the sun shined." Soon after, whites discovered gold in the Black Hills, and flooded into the holy lands with drills, dynamite, whiskey, and prostitutes. The Lakota were horrified by the behavior of these civilized Christians.
The frog-skinners exterminated the buffalo, and replaced them with livestock. Buffalo were beings of great power and intelligence. They even had a sense of humor. Lame Deer said that if buffalo were used in bullfighting, the cocky matadors would promptly be trampled and gored into extinction. Cattle were dullards that had the power bred out of them. Sheep and goats would stand calmly while you cut their throats.
To provide additional vegetation for the dim-witted livestock, the prairie dogs had to go. Ranchers launched an intensive poisoning campaign that also killed more than a few children and pets. With the prairie dogs gone, there was far less prey for the wolves, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, badgers, hawks, and eagles. A diverse, thriving prairie ecosystem was replaced with monocultures of destructive sub-intelligent exotic species.
Sheep were amazingly frail. They often fell over, with their feet in the air, and couldn't get back up again. If the shepherd didn't rescue them, they would bloat up and die. Lambs often had to be hand-raised because their mothers didn't recognize them or feed them.
"There was great power in a wolf, even in a coyote. You have made him into a freak -- a toy poodle, a Pekingese, a lap dog. ... You have not only altered, declawed, and malformed your winged and four-legged cousins; you have done it to yourselves. ... You live in prisons which you have built for yourselves, calling them homes, offices, factories."
In the 1880s, the Indians of the west were in despair, and the Ghost Dance movement was spreading from tribe to tribe. It was a grand magic act intended to bring a new world into existence via sacred song and dance. The dead would come back to life, the buffalo herds would return, the whites would get sent back home, and the civilized world would be rolled up like a dirty old carpet -- the cities, mines, farms, and factories. This would reveal a healthy unspoiled land, with many teepees and animals, as it once had been.
Dancers were not allowed to possess things from the white world: liquor, guns, knives, kettles, or metal ornaments. They would dance for four days. Whites feared an armed uprising, so they attacked the dancers. Hundreds of unarmed Indians were murdered at the Wounded Knee massacre.
The magic dancing did not succeed, but today many can see that a great healing is badly needed. Obviously, the madness cannot continue forever. Lame Deer was clear: "The machine will stop." He said that a young man would one day come who would know how to turn it off. "It won't be bad, doing without many things you are now used to, things taken out of the earth and wasted foolishly." We will have to learn how to live more simply, and this will be good for one and all.
Lame Deer asked Richard Erdoes to help write his story, to pass along important information. He included several chapters describing the sacred culture of the Lakota. He wanted hold up a mirror for us, to give us a different perspective, to feed a sane voice into our lost and confused world. "We must try to save the white man from himself. This can be done if only all of us, Indians and non-Indians alike, can once again see ourselves as part of this earth."
Richard Adrian Reese
Author of What Is Sustainable
on October 16, 2008
People need to know, that it is very-much-so considered sacrilegious, to some, to share this kind of information with others considered "outsiders" .... and, with good cause, no? We're in a culture of mockery at the moment, it seems wise enough to tread lightly, to me. However, there are those that fill different, that it is the time of the Blue Man from Black Elk's now-famous vision, and thusly an appropriate time to share Native Wisdom with the world. I, unfortunately, am stuck somewhere inbetween the two positions. It's a strange place to be. But at the time I think it is important to bridge the gap between Native ways and Christianity, there are even some who consider Yashua to be on the Red Road, His life being a decent example of same. I am of that line of thought, and yes I already know most will disagree with me, nonetheless, if you are looking for a good book about Native philosophy of the Plains, I feel you couldn't find a better book. The Lame Deers are, and have been, some of the most powerful medicine men in the history. If after finishing this one you had a good laugh and enjoyed the read, maybe learning some things along the way, I highly suggest to you to get the sequel, Archie Fire Lame Deer's Gift of Vision. Which in my opinion is an even better book, but still this one is necessary to read before it. Enjoy.
on June 14, 2015
This book contains profound and hidden wisdom, and also contains profound and hidden humor.(Heyoka) Mr. Erdoes has written the great American classic ! Adventures, mishaps, wisdom, revelations, humor, Spirits, magic, and of course visions. This is a tale that takes place in a country long gone, the events probably could not have taken place today. This was a beautiful, raw, free open land ( at least the last remaining vestiges of ) a land that could be harsh, but still had forgiveness in its heart. The author displays his great talent of letting the story almost write itself. Like the great lyric from B. Weir/J. Barlow, "While the music plays the band". Lame Deer was a great man and IS a great spirit, and he gives us wisdom and lessons on many levels, that everyone should take to heart. A great read, one which I surely will read again, and again ( I'm sure I missed something ! ) Highly recommended !!!!
on August 15, 2013
I love this book. It's entertaining, astonishly written, full of emotion, and a modern epic. This is the only book I really wanted to finish, and I never had a problem focusing on it. I always had to force myself to read, except this book. It was the best. Lame deer's life was much more colorful and stressful than our's. Neiher of us have ever worked only when we felt like it and endured poverty so we could. Neither of us have never criticized the military from the perspective of lakota indian who knew lakota warriors, been radio clowns, lived at a boarding school, put a curse on mount rushmore, or had sex with a young girl in the 1920s. You get a real understanding of how tahca ushte and the society he grew up in were completelty different. The lakotas are very close to the ideal of the noble savage, which is not far from the ideal society. I do not use the term "noble savage" negatively, I use it the same way I use the term "utopia". One thing you don't get about lame deer's account is how the sioux were a warrior society. though I did learn a hell of a lot about the sioux from this book. One last complaint i have is the cover. I read a book with a completely different cover. the cover on this mass market version is feminate and useless. But, this book is still awesome and wonderful. I recommend it to everyone. It took me some time to write this review, but I write it so others will be encouraged to read it.