Last Sunday was the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, which begs several questions, like…. How would indigenous people tell the difference? And… what about the other 364 days of the year? And… is there a risk that nominating a day, week, or even a month of the year to celebrate minorities serve as a substitute for actual effective action to overcome systemic oppression?

But on a more positive, less cynical note, it seemed like a good opportunity to share some thought-provoking quotes from indigenous wisdom traditions. I sincerely hope that this doesn’t come across as cultural appropriation, but rather as a sign of respect, and a reminder that our increasingly lost Western so-called civilisation would do well to listen to the deep wisdom still safeguarded by many of the indigenous peoples of the world.

This list is not intended to be encyclopaedic, either in terms of peoples or quotations. If you have recommendations that I have not included, please feel free to post them in the comments.


Native American/First Peoples:

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.”
― Lame Deer

“There is a power in nature that man has ignored. And the result has been heartache and pain.”
― Anasazi Foundation, The Seven Paths: Changing One’s Way of Walking in the World

“Unfortunately, modern man has become so focused on harnessing nature’s resources that he has forgotten how to learn from them. If you let them, however, the elements of nature will teach you as they have taught me.”
― Anasazi Foundation, The Seven Paths: Changing One’s Way of Walking in the World

“The outward light is but a reflection of the inner.”
― Anasazi Foundation, The Seven Paths: Changing One’s Way of Walking in the World

“Whatever you do to the animals, you do to yourself.”
― Ben Mikaelsen, Touching Spirit Bear

“Mother Earth is our first teacher. She has informed us that oneness does not equal sameness. She shows us this through the harmonious balance that is held in the rich biodiversity that exists within our world. To achieve oneness we must transcend our differences and embrace the integration of every individual aspect of humanity into the whole, knowing that all healthy systems are comprised of complexity and an abundance of diversity.”
― Sherri Mitchell Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset

“When we connect with our ancestors and put their wisdom into action, we are evolving our collective consciousness. We are transporting the ancient truths of our collective past and birthing them into our future. What we create out of those truths extends the wisdom of all those who have gone before us, and it provides a guide for all those who will follow.”
― Sherri Mitchell Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset

“In my opinion, it was chiefly owing to their deep contemplation in their silent retreats in the days of youth that the old Indian orators acquired the habit of carefully arranging their thoughts.
They listened to the warbling of birds and noted the grandeur and the beauties of the forest. The majestic clouds—which appear like mountains of granite floating in the air—the golden tints of a summer evening sky, and the changes of nature, possessed a mysterious significance.
All of this combined to furnish ample matter for reflection to the contemplating youth.”
― Francis Assikinack (Blackbird)

“It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. . . . Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving. . . . The Indians in their simplicity literally give away all that they have—to relatives, to guests of other tribes or clans, but above all to the poor and the aged, from whom they can hope for no return.”
― Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

“What a strange alchemy we have worked, turning earth around to destroy itself, using earth’s own elements to wound it.”
― Linda Hogan, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World

“Nature is not dumb. Humanity is dumb when we can’t hear or when we forget how to communicate with nature. Nature is very much alive. Intelligent living beings and vibrant energies are all over the planet.”
― Sun Bear, Walk in Balance: The Path to Healthy, Happy, Harmonious Living

“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”
― Cherokee Proverb


Maori Proverbs:

“Your strength is like a rock that stands in raging water.”

“My language is my awakening. My language is the window to my soul.”

“Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows will fall behind you.”

“There is strength in unity, defeat in anger.”


Inuit Proverbs:

“To know where you are going, you first have to know where you have come from.”

“If you are afraid, change your way.”

“An Inuit hunter asked the local missionary priest: If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell? No, said the priest, not if you did not know. Then why, asked the Inuit earnestly, did you tell me?” — reported by Annie Dillard


Book Recommendations:

If you want to dive deeper than these short quotes, I can recommend these books:

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)

If Women Rose Rooted: A Life-changing Journey to Authenticity and Belonging (includes tales from Celtic folklore)

The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Fight to Protect the Arctic and Save the Planet from Climate Change

The Hopi Survival Kit: The Prophecies, Instructions and Warnings Revealed by the Last Elders (Compass)


And I’ll end with my perennial favourite, which I know I’ve quoted before, and almost certainly will quote again. This statement is a daily touchpoint for me, and in these uncertain times, we could all do worse than to heed its wisdom.

“You have been telling people that this is the eleventh hour.
Now you must go back and tell people that this is the hour!
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your Garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to yourself.
And not look outside of yourself for a leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing very fast.
It is so great and fast that there are those who will be afraid.
They will hold on to the shore.
They will feel that they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
Know that the river has its destination.
The elders say that we must let go of the shore,
push off into the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open,
and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time we are to take nothing personally,
least of all, ourselves.
For the moment that we do,
our spiritual growth comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones that we have been waiting for.”

– The Elders, Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation


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