A Promise is a Promise

Excerpted from Kent Nerburn’s book Neither Wolf Nor Dog (1994), a touching, must-read story of a white man connecting with an Indian Elder. My two cents are in brackets:

Remember when I told you to bring tobacco and to offer it to Grover? Did you see how he changed?

Yes, I said.

The tobacco was why. The tobacco is like our church. It goes up to God. When we offer it, we are telling our God that we are speaking the truth. When Grover took the tobacco from you, he was telling the Great Spirit that he would do the best he could.

Wherever there’s tobacco offered, everything is wakan – sacred, or filled with power. When you gave Grover the tobacco, he had to stop bullshitting. Now he’s promised the Great Spirit that he will help. It doesn’t have to do with you or me. It’s a promise he made to the Creator. [bold added by me]

[are you folks gettin’ this?]

It isn’t important that you didn’t like what he said. I didn’t like it either. He knew that. But he didn’t care. He had made a promise [to the Creator, folks] to speak the truth.

That’s a lot of why we Indians got into trouble with the white man’s ways early on. When we make a promise, it’s a promise to the Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka. Nothing is going to change that promise. We made all these promises with the white man, and we thought the white man was making promises to us. But he wasn’t. He was making deals.

So we thought we were seeing the same thing from the white man. Especially when he swore on the Bible or used the name of God to make a promise.

But I guess it was a lot like their church. It was only important on some days. The rest of the time it didn’t matter.

[Whew. Ain’t it the truth, Grandfather! Mitakuye Oyasin!]


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