A book of virtues, Sioux style, that puts the works of Allan Bloom and William Bennett to shame.
There’s no finger-wagging in Sicunga Lakota actor/writer Marshall’s elegant blend of homilies, retold folktales, anecdotes, family memoir, and tribal history. As he writes in a rare colorless sentence, the volume is “intended to provide an experiential insight into our tradition, customs, and values . . . our gift to the world, if you will,” and it’s a friendly vade mecum through and through. One of those values is humility, and to illustrate it, the author writes at some length of the legendary Oglala Lakota leader Crazy Horse, who accepted the mantle of leadership without seeking it and went on to engineer the allied Plains tribes’ victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn. For all his accomplishments, Marshall notes, Crazy Horse “was painfully shy and probably spoke in public only twice.” The lesson to be learned? Humility is an essential virtue for a leader, for it “can provide clarity where arrogance makes a cloud.” Another of the cardinal virtues is respect, illustrated with a quiet anecdote about a rancher who, although vigorously opposed to the reintroduction of the wolf in Yellowstone National Park, nevertheless insisted that environmental proponents be accorded their right to speak in favor of the cause. Still another is bravery, “being strong in the face of pain”; the author offers several anecdotes about persistence in the face of overwhelming odds, including pressures from the dominant Anglo society that could easily have erased Lakota culture. Marshall’s views are grounded in a sensibility that refreshingly shuns airy metaphysical rhetoric; when he observes that the Lakota tended not to be materialists, for instance, he explains that this was not due to any innate virtue, but because moving stuff around was impractical for a nomadic people.
Wise words by an authentic representative of Lakota culture—a pleasure to find in a literature dominated by wannabes—add up to a self-help/inspirational book of a high order.