Land, language, culture and history are all intertwined in powerful, enduring ways. To understand a particular place you must know the history. But to know the history you must know the land and the stories held in the land.
What exactly is history? Is it something in the past or is it about origins that have never gone away? William Faulkner once said, “The past is not dead. In fact, it isn’t even past.” If true, then history is more than just relevant to the present. It is present—just not readily visible. History can be likened to the roots of a tree buried in the ground, for those roots direct the tree’s growth even as they are out of sight.
While we endeavor to understand history with our minds, we feel it in our gut. History is made up of ancestors whose energy is still here. Our ancestors strived for a better future and it is we, the living, who now strive to fulfill their as yet unrealized promise.
In this talk and dialogue, we honor the ancestors of this land, beginning with its Indigenous peoples who had a profound influence on the founding of the political nation we call the United States. While much of this history began on the eastern seaboard, it continues to reverberate across the continent. It clearly had a profound effect on South Dakota history.
The talk will highlight how Native American culture affected the development of two distinct, but (potentially) complementary philosophies of governing. These philosophies have tended to degrade into polar opposition, and yet, they also inevitably change into their opposites over time (a principle Heraclitus called enantidromia). We will explore this in a talk and dialogue format that, with the help of all dialogue participants, relates the broader national history to that of South Dakota.
A Brief Primer on Dialogue
The kind of dialogue process I will be facilitating is a hybrid of Bohmian dialogue and Plains Indian talking circle. I learned the process from Blackfoot elder Leroy Little Bear. Leroy in turn learned the process from his elders and from the physicist David Bohm. I have participated in these dialogues for more than two decades.
The most important thing in dialogue is listening. In this important respect, dialogue is different than ordinary discussion, for in a regular discussion, our listening is greatly compromised while we are readying our reply. Dialogue requires us to listen with our whole being, not for the purpose of replying, but to fully understand what is being said.
The origin of the word dialogue is from the Greek “dialogos.” Dia, significantly, doesn’t mean “two;” it means “through.” Logos is often translated as the “word,” but for our purposes, it is better understood as the “living word” or the act of expressing meaning through speech. So, dialogue is about the flow of meaning that comes through the group.
There is a talking staff that will be used in the dialogue, although if recording, a microphone can serve as the talking staff. When the staff is passed to you, you have the option of speaking. You also have the option of passing if you are still gathering your thoughts. But you might want to try sitting quietly for a minute before deciding whether to speak. There is no need to hurry. In dialogue, silence is golden.
For the first round, we generally go around in a circle in a sunwise direction. Beginning with the next round, we typically change to a popcorn style in which I recognize people not necessarily in turn.
In dialogue it is not so important who is speaking but what is being said through you. Unless otherwise instructed, you can speak as long as you need to express what is moving through you while you are holding the staff.
A few principles: Dialogue is a slow process. Be patient, calm, and allow meaning to unfold. There is no agenda and no expectation of a result. There are no committees formed afterword to carry out the thoughts into action because thought itself is understood as action. Try to suspend or quiet your own worldview while listening. Listen only for the purpose of understanding. Speak only when you hold the talking staff.
Dialogues are safe places in which we are free to explore new meanings we may never have considered before due to our particular prejudices, our station in life, our philosophy, job, or experience. All of this constitutes what Bohm and Little Bear have called our “tacit infrastructure” and which Carlos Castaneda called our “controlled folly.”
Hopefully, everyone that participates in the dialogue will read this primer, but no worries; I will review the process in person when we convene. I will then employ a kickstart question to get us started. At select intervals, I may introduce other questions to thicken the soup. Participants can still feel free to address the first question(s) while also addressing the next. Dialogue will then take on a life of its own. And where it goes, nobody knows. The overall effect of dialogue, while not having an agenda, is generally enriching and healing. I look forward to co-creating meaning together with the group. Blessings to all.