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Knowledge and skill fix problems

Not prayer and sacred ceremony



People tell me all the time that Indians don’t need any science. Why would they? They have the deep spiritual insight of long dead ancestors—and wisdom like that fixes everything! All you do is pray, see, and there is no more poverty, no more rape or murder, or tribal corruption. Some heartfelt prayer and powerful ceremony and what chance does any problem have?

I am always being pressured to dumb my writing down so that all that ever gets honored are sacred truths, because everyone knows that because the Wasicu stole this land, everything about him must be bad— his language, his art, his history, his society, his beliefs, and especially, his science.

While we stew in resentment, and suffer on isolated reservations and Lakota ghettos meant to keep us bottled up and ignorant of the world at large, the Wasicu keeps building on the considerable advantage he already had back in the 19th Century, back when despite not knowing how to split atoms, or put Neil Armstrong on the moon, he was still able to wrest this entire continent away from its original inhabitants.

Apparently my Lakota ancestors didn’t think they would need an industrial revolution to produce guns and technologies capable of creating this modern world. So, they decided to stand pat for 10,000 years, not developing any technology more sophisticated than a bow and quiver. Who needs indoor plumbing and cell phones when we got spiritual power? Sacred ceremonies are enough to stave off any threat from any people, except for that time when they weren’t, which was just about every time since the Wasicu took charge of this continent.

Japan challenged the Wasicu, he battered him at Pearl Harbor, he slugged it out toe-to-toe with the most powerful military in human history, and the battle raged for years. In one year he killed more Wasicu than all the tribes combined on earth ever killed. The Japanese used technology, guns, tanks, battleships, planes, and Japan came within a whisker of defeating the Wasicu who took this land from our ancestors. Japan lost, but even after two atomic bombs were dropped on them, even after their country was occupied, their rulers booted out, they remained Japanese. They rebounded. They built a modern, technologically sophisticated society, one of the most powerful on earth, and they remained true to their culture and heritage. They even took up our baseball, and they made it Japanese baseball, and then played us in the World Baseball Classic, and beat us at our own game.

Did they pray to ancient myths to save their people? No. They rolled up their collective sleeves and saved themselves. They understood that knowledge belongs to every person, not just the Wasicu. Instead of learning who their animal spirit guide was, they learned calculus, they learned science, and they used it to build a Japan many magnitudes more powerful than the one the Wasicu destroyed.

Each individual Lakota has a responsibility to understand how the modern world operates, and that starts with science, the science that provides all the technology we take for granted— not the science on how to set up and operate a meth lab. Only by actually learning about how this huge planet works, do you learn what knowledge to keep, like the Japanese do, and what Wasicu knowledge to reject, like the Japanese do.

Science can be a frightening thing, but next week, I will show you just how frightening, by applying it in ways that even the Wasicu balks at— because it even frightens him—and show you that there is a whole other reality down that rabbit hole we need to man up and embrace as a people.

(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@

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