December 30, 2013

The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo by Kent Nerburn. ~ Marlena Rich {Book Review}

Somehow we know what he is telling us, even though it is only remotely familiar.

With grace, respect and the ease of a fascinating storyteller Kent Nerburn unveils a hidden past and mysterious worlds entrusted to him by Native American elders, a gift rarely and carefully given.

The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo: A Child, and Elder & the Light from an Ancient Sky is a compelling, insightful, awe-inspiring and heart-breaking journey of truth, truths not told in US history books that shake the very foundation of American pride. It releases the heart from shame, guilt and anger to make a new commitment to walk a truer path in harmony with the land with all our brethren, each of whom has a note to sing in the great symphony of life. Nerburn’s rich narrative “weaves its way through lands of the heart and the spirit, where reality takes different shapes.” A world is revealed beyond our understanding, but not our comprehension. Our instinctual memory is opened, long lost through our enculturation, always dormant until it is called forth.

“We huddled together around the fire, looking upward as the sky overhead became a profusion of shifting lights and colors that silhouetted the dark trees and made the snow-covered ground come alive with a phosphorescent glow.”

The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo will take you to the edge of this world. Reading Nerburn is like being on the journey with him. We are indebted to him for dedicating his life to exploring realms that are “not for spiritual dabblers” and sharing with humility and grace the characters he met in his explorations. With Nerburn we travel across the Dakota high plains, into the dark confines of the Indian boarding school system where the Indian was “beaten out of them until nothing was left but shame and anger and the echoes of ghosts.” We enter the grim Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians where the feared and misunderstood were stowed until they died, an actual facility that was located just east of the town of Canton.

“All of us who have spent time in Indian country know that beneath the myths, misperceptions, and stereotypes that make up so much of our understanding of Native life lies a world that beats with a different and indomitable heartbeat.”

I agree with Nerburn that we have much to learn from the lives and ways of the Native American people, and that “we, as Americans, are poorly served by our willful avoidance of the true facts of our national experience.” Through his work we peer through a portal at the beliefs and struggles of the Native people as our American culture swept them from land that was once their own: how they lived, laughed, honored their Creator, how they cared for one another, how they sought to discover their gifts so that they could serve their people and their world. Nerburn opens a “taproot to a world that runs deeper than our presence on this continent,” a powerful, mysterious world that must not be taken for granted or denied.  It is a world of deep beauty.

“It starts with Mother Earth and how she is alive for us. That’s where the river of our understanding begins…It’s about learning connections. Everything is about connections. It’s about seeing how everything fits with everything else.”

The simple humility of the Native people is rooted in knowing that the human mind is too small to hold the Creator’s truth, rather than assigning human attributes to a controlling god.  They learn at a young age to watch, listen, take everything in and to see the world as a whole…to see things that don’t have shape, and to hear things that have no sound. Thus a respectful, dynamic relationship between man and the natural world is established that generates deep participation in the mystery itself.

Nerburn helps to awaken us to a sense of deep recognition, from which there is no turning back.  He leaves us with many questions like, how can I live a fulfilled life without connection to the richness of the “other worlds,” once aroused to the truth they reveal on some mysterious level?

How far below the surface of our technologically ridden minds is our instinctual memory? How do we integrate these worlds into the one we function within so that we maintain access to wisdom banks of the wise ancestors without losing touch with or denying our present reality? Instead of agreeing to train away our own instinctual reality, how can we create a world that embraces our innate respect for the Mother Earth and one another?

One word answer: Commitment.

Note: A version on this review was previously published on examiner.com.

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Assistant Editor: Jennifer Moore/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: New World Library


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