Look into the mirror. What you see, is what is reflected to your beloved “Mitokozapi,” grandchildren. The first thing is to try to be all that you want your grandchildren to be. Reflect all of the attributes of a whole, loving, compassionate, well-balanced human being. When they look at you, let them see respect, integrity, loyalty, honesty, courage, concern, humbleness, tenderness, justice, optimism, and compassion – the whole range of positive characteristics neatly wrapped in a beautiful red ribbon of LOVE!
Develop your grandchildren’s imagination. Encourage them to expand their thinking patterns by becoming involved in their imaginings, their make-believe, and their daydreams. Show them old photos of the little girls at play with their little “doll-babies” and their little tipi's, hand-sewn and made to scale. Show old pictures of the little boys playing at hunting or horse games. Unconditional love and the development of their imagination is their initiation into early adulthood.
Delay academic training, the regimenting kind, at least in their early years. What if they don’t start the first grade until they reach their 7th or 8th birthday or later?
Let them enjoy and relish their first years where they can expand their bodies, feelings, minds, and spirits– those things not of an academic nature. Let them see a little nest of bird eggs hatch or Sweet Pea have her colt or take them with you when you cut willows for a “sweat lodge.”
There are so many things of nature for young minds and hearts to discover and experience. Our young ones are truly free for such a brief period.
In the fall of 1928, we were living in the little town of Mobridge, South Dakota, just across the Missouri River from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where I was born. When the school opened in the fall, I went up to the local school to enroll in school. I had never been to a school like that one, being more familiar with the Indian Mission Boarding School at St. Elizabeth's on the Reservation.
Well, the first day I walked up to the school and entered a big room, much like a lobby. I noticed doors were leading into several different rooms, a broad stairway leading to an upper floor, and a stairway leading down to a back doorway.
Soon a bell rang, and all of the students disappeared into the rooms, and I was left alone in the lobby. After standing there for a while, I walked to the back stairs, descended to the lower level and since the door was wide open, I walked out and returned home.
I enjoyed going to that school, but after a week of it, I quit making the fruitless walk and remained home. After some time my Tunkasila, my grandfather Tipi Sapa, Philip Deloria, said, “Takoja, I notice you around the house lately. Aren’t you going to school?” I said, “No Lala.” He very nonchalantly said “Oh,” and that was all that was ever said.
Of course, it was my duty to always be at grandfather’s side, as he had great difficulty in getting around due to a stroke he had suffered a year and a half earlier. Well, I spent that entire winter in the company of those great, old men, listening to them reminisce. I heard many great old stories of our Dakota people in their days of glory. It seemed that every story had to be accompanied by a good song.
Late in the spring, my Aunt Ella Deloria, my late mother's younger sister, returned home and she noticed me around the house every day. Of course, the inevitable question came up, and I had, to tell the truth. Aunt Ella then asked Lala about my school status, and he said, “Yes, he has been with me every day! This time with me will be more valuable in his life than the time he would spend in a school that my grandson, doesn't understand the first thing. I am an old man. My grandson is just a young boy. The things he has learned and will learn here with me, he can never learn in a school.”
Just as he said, I learned more in that year than I would have learned in any academic situation. In my 89 winters, I too have found that there are so many things to learn beyond academics that enrich our lives.
In our relationship with our grandchildren always look at the big picture. Encourage and support them through all phases of their development. Don’t be short-sighted or narrow. Try to visualize the young man or woman – fully in balance on all four sides, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Do not restrict children to time limits. Permit them to be free – no clock, which comes all too soon.
Never trap a child in any situation; always give them a way to escape. Don’t ever put a child’s dignity in jeopardy. This opportunity is the right moment and place to tell them an interesting and meaningful “ohukaka” story, a story that teaches them the spiritual meanings and lessons of life.
Don’t ever be critical of a child, even though deserved. Be wise in your appraisal of any situation and address it in a positive tone rather than in a negative way.
Be very positive in rewarding honesty. Honesty is the very foundation of integrity (moral soundness). You can never give them too much.
In your discussions with children, get down on their level, physically, on your knees or lower. Remember they live in a world of giants. Speak in pleasant tones, never shout. Give them 100% of your attention.
This respectful and loving approach develops trust, faith, and confidence in them. Trust, faith, and confidence are the foundations of respect and dignity.
Maintain the grandfather-grandchild relationship. A beautiful relationship that lasts a lifetime and beyond the grave.
Try always to use those terms of relationship “mitakosa” (my grandchild), they in turn reply, “Lala ” or other similar words that exist in our beautiful Indigenous languages! It creates a sense of belonging.
The worst and most painful, destructive emotion to a child is abandonment; it can lead to suicide. Among our Dakota people, the fundamental importance of the extended family is to maintain security.
Build this sense of safety in your grandchildren. Always be a strong spiritual warrior in the eyes of your grandchildren. If there is ever a chance of any danger, always stand between this risk and your family. Then, in the case of danger, their first thought will be, “we will be safe with Lala.”
Always strive to motivate your grandchildren in every way possible. This motivation will take some effort, as you must always approach life with dedication, courage, compassion, and purpose. The value of sincere praise and gratitude toward your grandchildren is never to be under-estimated!
Inspire your grandchildren to try new things and let them make mistakes. Never continually correct a grandchild so they might avoid mistakes – they’re smart, they will soon turn the whole job over to you. When they reach maturity, and they are on their own, a lot of pain and frustration is waiting for them. Ensure that they prepared to take care of themselves!
Develop a sense of humor in your children by always trying to see the humor in everyday life. Be free with your jokes and kidding but never make them a butt of a joke – no mean-spirited teasing, it brings no good.
When it is necessary to discipline a child, do it only in the presence of the two of you. Never let what took place between you be known to anyone else.
Develop respect by being respectful. Maintain a value system that helps the child, at an early age, to begin distinguishing character building and spiritual qualities from those things of only temporal, transitory value.
Teach children their role or place in the scheme of creation and relationships with relatives and all life, so that they will learn to respect all living things. First, they start by learning to treat themselves with respect and dignity. Then they learn what their role is within their immediate family, their extended family, and finally to all of the society.
Practice charity at all times!
Always be aware of a child’s overall development and unique gifts. Unusual talent usually manifests itself at an early age. Creator given talents should be nurtured and recognized, at all times. In the days gone past our great medicine men and women, leaders, and thinkers were identified at a very early age and so were developed by their older peers from a young age. The mainstream people may think they were first to come up with the “Gifted Child” program – well they weren’t too far off – a few hundred years or more, maybe.
Always keep your grandchildren's confidence. Let them know that Lala is a safe place to share their closest secrets. Help them to share all those things that may be painful. Never betray their confidence and what they share with you!
Develop integrity and self-respect. Let your grandchildren see the order and harmony that exists in Nature.
Do not let injustice prevail. When you are wrong, be quick to admit it and make amends.
Be very clear in defining anything to children. Be very positive that they understand explicitly every detail that you are sharing with them. Never let them proceed with the least amount of doubt.
Be honest in all of your associations with your grandchildren. It is disrespectful and not easy to fool Children. Worse yet, dishonesty will affect their belief system and break their trust in you!
Be just in any disciplinary action. Never act on hearsay. Always allow your children to present their side of any situation. The one bringing a complaint against a child sees only one side. On the other hand, from their way of thinking, the child may be completely justified for their action. This kind of justice builds character.
Never let your grandchildren dwell on failure. If we want our grandchildren to be winners, then we must put the emphasis on winning, but make sure that they are never over-matched or above their level of competence.
As they begin getting older, push them enough so that they can learn to function under pressure, but always be aware of how much pressure they can stand.
In their relationship with others, playmates, brothers, sisters, cousins, impress on them how important it is to respect each others space. This the right place and time to emphasize the Golden Rule and growth on the moral side.
Finally, inspire your grandchildren to look for joy and happiness. Joy and happiness strongly rooted in spiritual understanding, commitment, and a moral foundation.
Pray, with your grandchildren. Make prayer and selfless service to others a natural function of everyday life, like eating or sleeping. Teach your children the Sacredness of all Creation that they may love and respect all things of our Creator.
I quote young Phil Jr., who once made this statement, "Great Nations are a natural result of great People!"
With great love, encouragement, and respect to all those Walking The Red Road! When it comes time to go to "The Other Side Camp," may you make this journey with happiness, thanksgiving, and without regrets!
Mato Gi, Brown Bear, Phil Lane Sr., Ihanktonwan Dakota,
Born Jan 11, 1915, Wakpala, South Dakota- Died March 29, 2004, Walla Walla, Washington