Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Big Heart

Dakota organized an amazing fundraiser for his eagle project, but I'll talk more about that soon.

In preparation for the event, I wrote a short prayer in the Spokane language. I had everything planned and translated to English, but I was unsure how to express one certain concept. I wanted to say, "I am proud of my son," so I called two Spokane tribal elders and ultimately received an important lesson in tradition.

The first elder called back and said, "The Spokane Dictionary says that 'pride' is: hi q̓exʷ, but I don't like that word. It sounds like 'arrogance.' In the old way, we should never be proud because we're not better than anyone else."

She suggested two alternatives:

nkʷtnels łuʔ isqʷseʔ x̣ʷl hec čnšitms łuʔ sqelixʷ.
(My son has a big heart because he helps the people).

kʷtunt łuʔ ispuʔus x̣ʷl isqʷseʔ.
(My heart is big for my son).

In the end, my elder said that we should not be 'arrogant' for our children, but rather have hearts that are big with thankfulness and love. This is a critical difference in both culture and language.

A little while later, my other elder called. She also avoided making any reference to pride, but instead suggested another big-hearted idea. She said:

hiqs npúteʔem łuʔ isqʷseʔ.
(I will honor my son).

When I prayed during Dakota's fundraiser, I used both phrases.


The concept of big-heartedness runs deep in my memory. It reminds me, for example, of the time I saw my yaya Messie after my parents divorced. I had been away from the reservation for a couple years, and when she saw me again, she dropped everything, wrapped her arms around me, and wept. She showed me a fullness and generosity of spirit that I have only rarely felt since. Her feelings for me harbored no conditions, judgments, or reservations - just pure soul-filled love. Sometimes I imagine that heaven must feel like that.

Ironically, my elders almost never used the word 'love,' but instead they lived it.

When I look at my daughters, I also feel the same big-hearted love. I hope they will always carry my spirit the way I carry the spirit of my elders.

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