Tiokasin Ghosthorse, the founder of the syndicated weekly radio show for indigenous Americans “First Voices Radio” and a 2016 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, will visit the Mark Twain Library this Saturday, Feb. 4 at 3 p.m.
His presentation will touch on a number of topics, including Lakota flute music — of which he is a master — spirituality, ecological concerns, and his new book, Butterfly Against the Wind, about artist Jadina Lillien’s time spent on the Cheyenne River Lakota Reservation.
A lifelong activist, in recent months Ghosthorse has made four trips to support protestors at Standing Rock, S.D., who have been agitating against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on a reservation adjacent to the one on which he was born. He now lives in Branford and spends much of his time in New York City.
“I grew up on a reservation in South Dakota — the Cheyenne River Lakota Reservation,” Ghosthorse said during a phone interview last week. “The government gave us the name Sioux, which means enemy in our language. Our word for ourselves — Lakota — simply means the friends or the ally-makers.”
He said last week his presentation at the Mark Twain Library will focus on a “linear” explanation of the Lakota philosophy as compared to the lives that many non-native people lead.
Directness, he said, is one aspect of the Lakota philosophy that runs counter to Western social ideas.
“We have to be direct. If you beat around the bush, that’s a form of lying,” Ghosthorse said. “We’re very direct and we think that’s the same word for honest. … You cannot make up the truth, you can only make up lies.”
One area in which he plans to give his direct line of feeling is on non-native people’s reverence for salvation narratives.
“It seems what they’re searching for in the West is that someone or something else — a savior or UFO — [will come and fix things.] They’re searching for something else besides taking on responsibility for oneself,” Ghosthorse said.
Westerners “use a lot of words — like hope and wish, and hang on — waiting for somebody who is going to come save them. A lot of people want to understand our spirituality, but they don’t want to own this struggle … [working against] the anthropocentric thought process.”
He said that in his original Lakota language, the words hope and savior do not even exist or translate.
“In Lakota there is no such thing as hope, or just sitting there waiting for a lotto number, or to be lucky,” he said. “Our language does not allow us to just sit around and hope. We’re going to have to do, in order to live and engage. People who are hoping are not engaging in life, they’re waiting for it to happen or to be ‘shown how.’
“There is no need to be proactive if you are already active.”
Such trust in hope, luck and salvation, Ghosthorse said, “is not conducive to living with Mother Earth.”
“At least 90% of our body is trying to maintain its balance” with nature, Ghosthorse said, “while 10% — the dominant head — thinks it can control what is natural.”
Those who follow that 10% too closely, he said, “have disconnected themselves from the natural flow and inclusivity of nature.”
“In the modern sense, why do people who [consider] civilization as the result of a supreme being have to go to nature to find solace?” he asked rhetorically.
“It’s all been turned around. The native peoples know we’re the last created and most ignorant [living things], so we go to the most wise beings for answers. In Western verbiage, that [wise being] is nature. We go to trees, go to animals, and go to the air outside of civilization to find our wisdom and find our intelligence.”
Ghosthorse is a master of the ancient red cedar Lakota flute, and plays both traditional and contemporary music.
Compared to European music, which he said bows to standardization, Lakota native music is focused on finding a “universal language.”
“Western music is played, the majority of the time, in major keys. In our music, the majority is played in minor keys, between the notes,” he said.
“We find that the universe has one song. We find the universal language is the bird’s call, the sound of the wind. That’s where we get our music. It is not planned, it’s improvisational and it comes from the heart.”
The creation of music “does not extend from the brain,” he added.
“If we are nature, then why do we need the word for nature? If you are the music, why do you need a word for music?”
But, he said, while many differences exist in the way native and non-native peoples view musical creation, it remains a language of communication between cultures.
“It is a language in which we are able to speak to each other in a conversation without saying a single noun,” Ghosthorse said.
The program will last about two hours. A signing will take place after the talk. Please note that the time is a bit later than the usual start time for an afternoon program at the library. Copies of the book Butterfly Against the Wind and a musical CD Somewhere in There featuring the sounds of the Lakota flute will be available for sale.
Register online at www.marktwainlibrary.org, at the library or call 203-938-2545.
[Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated that Ghosthorse was a participant in the occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. This was incorrect. Ghosthorse supported relatives who were involved in the occupation.]