Raised on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation and now a Lakota lineage holder, Joseph Marshall III is one of the few voices empowered to share the authentic wisdom teachings of his people with non-Native Americans. A riveting storyteller and the author of seven books, he is the recipient of the Wyoming Humanities Award. Here Joseph discusses Quiet Thunder, his new audio learning program on the life and lessons of Crazy Horse.
Sounds True: Why did you choose to record a program about Crazy Horse? What lessons does his legacy offer us today?
Joseph M. Marshall III: Crazy Horse is one of the heroes in my life. He is a hero to me primarily because of his humility. A large part of his legacy, for me, is that he fought to protect and preserve his community, his nation, and its way of life. Because he believed that the goodness and worthiness of his culture were worth dying for, it motivates me to protect and preserve the teachings that have been passed down to me however I can. The legacy he offers today is that we must believe in the goodness and worthiness of who and what we are, not so much because we are the ultimate in the community of nations, but because we can contribute to the goodness of the whole world by setting the right example.
Sounds True: How are these ideas transmitted in the Lakota lineage, and why is that method important?
Joseph M. Marshall III: In Lakota society the learning process was (obviously) from adult to child. Parents, including uncles and aunts, taught practical skills: how to sew, how to make tools, how to procure food, and so on. The grandparents—and there was an entire community of them—taught the more abstract things about life: spirituality and character, for example. The process involved simple instruction and storytelling. Stories were the primary mechanism for teaching, but so was living the values and the characteristics that were described. Much the same happens in traditional Lakota families today. It did in my case.
Sounds True: Can you tell me what you mean by the phrase “quiet thunder”?
Joseph M. Marshall III: One summer afternoon my maternal grandfather pointed to some thunderheads building just over the western horizon—tall, folded clouds. We could see lightning inside them and hear the distant rumble of thunder. Because of the distance, the sound of thunder was muted. He called it “quiet thunder.” Quiet thunder, he said, was a promise of something powerful coming behind it—the perfect metaphor, I think, for the teachings of Crazy Horse.
Sounds True: Can you share a simple daily practice from the Lakota tradition that our listeners can benefit from?
Joseph M. Marshall III: Prayer. Every morning one of my nephews, who is a Lakota medicine man, burns a bit of sage or sweet grass. It's called smudging. He acknowledges or calls to the powers of the Four Directions, to Father Sky, and to Mother Earth. Then he prays to God. Most of us who are traditionalists do the same.
Sounds True: From the Lakota tradition, what is the gift of wisdom that our world needs now?
Joseph M. Marshall III: Someone said that the greatest arrogance of the present is to forget the intelligence of the past. Today we have a tendency to forget that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Similarly we toss aside those in our families and in our society that have answers to some of the questions we face every day: the elders. As we grow older and perhaps frailer in body, the compensation is that we have learned and experienced so much, and our spirit grows stronger also, and we gain wisdom. The smartest thing we can do is to recognize that wisdom exists and let those who have it, our elders, do what they have prepared their entire lives to do: pass it on.