A Call to Young Warriors, to all Young People
Lakota Spiritual Leader and Head Man, David Swallow, Speaks to Lakota Youth
by David Swallow, Lakota Spiritual Leader and a Headman of the Lakota Nation
Young American Indians today suffer from many problems of the modern world. Alcohol and drug abuse, early pregnancies, gangs, and psychological disorders are everywhere on the Reservations. However, a lot of the development of these issues can be historically traced back to World War II or shortly before.
The 1924 Indian Citizenship Act created a special kind of dual citizenship which made American Indians into citizens of the United States (for the first time) as well as citizens of their own sovereign nations. Finally, Indians could vote. But also, for the first time, they could be drafted into the military.
The young Lakota Warriors looked at the military as a way to prove themselves as warriors. They believed it was an honorable extension of the traditional warrior ways.
So, young American Indians went off to World War II. After 100 years of forced boarding schools which resulted in generations of young Indians losing their sense of identity, family and traditions, the military became like the family they had never been allowed to have. They were grouped into companies which lived together and fought together and bonded with each other as a unit, as a family.
When the young warriors came home, they often became lost. With their military family no longer existing, gangs began to form to take their place. An example is the Hell’s Angels, the famous motorcycle gang, which was started in the late 1940’s. It is commonly believed to have been founded by ex-members of famous military fighting units of the same name.
Then, in 1953, long after Prohibition had ended, President Eisenhower made it legal to sell alcohol to American Indians for the first time. This changed the lives of all Indian people.
In his grandfathers’ day, the Lakota warrior came from a good family where he had been taught good behavior, good manners, respect for all life and good relationship with all living things. His parents never lied to him and he never lied to anyone. He was reliable and practiced honor and respect with a clean mind.
Even with all those qualities, he still had to qualify to be a member of a warrior society. He had to prove himself. It wasn’t just about fighting. But when he did fight, even then he practiced respect. He never mutilated another warrior.
The young warrior also never stole from his own people. He never beat-up or took advantage of his people. He never practiced sexual assaults on anyone.
The young warrior knew his real purpose was to protect his people and their lives. He knew his purpose was to protect the c’anunpa carriers, the sacred pipe carriers, and the holy men and spiritual leaders. He also listened to and learned from the holy men and spiritual leaders. He not only respected and protected life but he also learned to practice compassion. He acted with honor.
The young warrior knew that if he did all this, life would be beautiful and all would live in harmony.
But with the effects of alcohol, drugs, and the continuing policies of the Federal government towards the Plains Tribes, most of this has become lost and forgotten.
These policies aren’t so different from those practiced against other ethnic groups throughout history. The Irish, the Italians, the Jewish, the Gypsies, and many others all experienced what was called ethnic cleansing. But, for the American Indian, the policies still continue today.