- If You’ve Forgotten the Names of the Clouds, You’ve Lost Your Way: An Introduction to American Indian Thought and Philosophy by Russell Means and Bayard Johnson
by Russell Means and Bayard Johnson
Treaty Publications, 2012
Russell Means’s imposing presence dominated a room, and anyone who ever met him remembers the intense gaze, measured handshake, and immediate sizing up of your qualifications. In his final book with Bayard Johnson, If You’ve Forgotten the Names of the Clouds, You’ve Lost Your Way: An Introduction to American Indian Thought and Philosophy, this same presence, his Siċun, is strongly felt. Albert White Hat Sr. translates the meaning of the Lakotah word Siċun as “leaving your spirit or your influence someplace” (77; the text by Albert White Hat Sr.—Life’s Journey: Oral Teachings from Rosebud [Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2012]—completed shortly prior to his passing as well, is an exceptional study and reflection on Lakotah spirituality and White Hat’s teaching at Sinte Gleska College) (Note: this review utilizes the spelling of “Lakotah” as presented by Means and Bayard.) And, “If you’ve ever read a book and got a sense of the author’s feelings, then that’s something like the meaning. The spirit of the author is in that book” (77). Reading If You’ve Forgotten the Names of the Clouds is an opportunity to sense Means’s feelings and presence and to remember his influence. In a direct and succinct way, so well-known of Russell Means, the book is a guide that provides the essence of Lakotah philosophy as he understood it, and as he learned from his ancestors and the old people from Pine Ridge and Rosebud after joining the American Indian Movement. It centers on ways to live a good life each day, anpetu waste, as well as lessons about what makes life meaningful, how to maintain good relations, and the things people need to do. It does this through instruction in the ways of Lakotah people as presented in the mythologies, sacred ceremonies, and what Means terms as an “introduction to matriarchy,” the importance of women. At the same time, the book contrasts these ways of life with patriarchy and the current move toward what Means and Bayard suggest is “the direction of destroying life—at every level, from the microscopic to the macroscopic” (48) by the dominance of patriarchal society.
The book is divided into forty-five vignettes, including the forward and epilogue. Each vignette provides insight into American Indian and Lakotah thought and philosophy in brief, densely packed paragraphs. As short descriptive sketches of particular philosophical ideas [End Page 100] and thoughts, the vignettes begin with a quote by elders, ancestors, or Means himself. The first fourteen vignettes address Lakotah philosophy, knowledge, and ceremony and include discussions of matriarchal time and “the natural purity of women,” as well as the sacred rites of inipi, Sundance, crying for a vision, the ball ceremony, and the coming of White Buffalo Calf Woman, among others.
In subsequent vignettes, the authors examine the role of marriage, family, and children as ways to encourage the development of good relations, the virtue of generosity, and “living by natural law.” This begins the basis for a comparison of matriarchal society versus patriarchal society. As the authors indicate, the impact of patriarchy in Native and Indigenous communities has contributed to significant cultural, physical, and spiritual loss. And they make specific comparisons to the devastating effects of colonialism and patriarchy. In the foreword Means notes, “The Trickster has completely tricked my people. The Trickster, or Iktomi, has come into our land, and completely colonized the Lakotah Nation. . . . The Heyoka, the one who lives backwards, has come into our land to try to get people out of this death condition” (n.p.). The book proceeds to examine briefly the role of the Heyoka in bringing the world back into balance, since “the basic premise of a Heyoka is as a teacher, teaching us how not to...