I had the honor today to hear the world renowned Lakota flute player and hoop dancer Kevin Locke perform in Bismarck. He’s in his 60s now. He has been performing all over the world since he was in his early twenties. He’s a national and international treasure. Someone I know, who knows these things, says Kevin Locke is the greatest Indian flutist in the world. He almost seems to channel song from a time long ago, before the great shattering of the Lakota people.
Mr. Locke is a careful and deeply respectful man. He spoke of the crisis at Standing Rock at some length, but in a way that could not be offensive to anyone. He spoke of a clash of world views. He said people used to ask him where he was from and when he said Standing Rock they replied, “Where is that?” Nobody asks that question now. He sees the pipeline protest encampment as a “gathering” of the world’s peoples, especially indigenous, put-upon peoples.
He called for listening, healing, dancing, prayer, reconciliation, mutual understanding.
At times when he performs his amazing hoop dance, keeping more than two dozen hoops moving all over his body in different directions at the same time, while he dances in a manner that is profoundly graceful and moving, you almost get that “Small Small World” feeling and the “Can’t we all just get along?” feeling. Some part of you wants to say, “No, it’s not that easy, it’s more complicated than that, there are some things that cannot be worked out,” in the great clash of cultures. But in the end perhaps he is right, just as Jesus was right to remind us that the goal of life on earth is actually quite simple: love thy neighbor; forgive thine enemy; love God with all your heart; do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” Kevin Locke’s genius is in his simplicity. At times he deliberately plays what St. Paul called “the holy goof.”
A clash of world views. This is the key insight, I think. The crisis at Standing Rock is not finally about the pipeline or the carbon economy, and perhaps not about sovereignty, at least in a legal or constitutional sense. It is about two very different ways of seeing the world. We white folks lost our sense of enchantment long ago. There is a fabulous book by Morris Berman about this subject: The Re-Enchantment of the World. It is a book I recommend to everyone. It is a book that changed my life thirty years ago.
Berman’s argument is that we all once saw the world as an animated, god-active, enchanted, spiritually vibrant place. But northern Europeans, led by Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Isaac Newton (1643-1727), dis-enchanted the consciousness of western man (humanity), and began to see everything that existed outside our own small egos (all that is Other) as resources to be manipulated for our benefit. The great Bacon spoke of “fretting nature” into cooperating with our economic purposes. The Other includes rocks and trees and air and water; but it also includes raccoons, hawks, coyotes, grizzly bears, and mountain lions; and ultimately it includes Other people, especially people of the Other ethnicity, gender, color, geographic origin, or religion. People of Other world views. People it was in our interest to demonize.
This dis-enchantment has its benefits, of course. It has allowed us to transplant replacement hearts and kidneys; send electronic messages instantly across the oceans as well as across the solar system; build skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty; put a man on the moon and crack the genetic code. But it has also brought about the extinction of Other species; cultural and sometimes physical genocide; and the radical disillusionment of the First World. Notice our recreations, our diets, our barcaloungers, our obesity, our cynicism, our politics, our pornography.
The Lakota are not what they once were–thanks to us, thanks to the inevitabilities of cultural degradations brought on by the European “discovery of America.” But they are still more deeply locked into a pre-dis-enchanted world view than their white counterparts, and when they attempt to assert that greater enchantment, their deeper connectivity with all that is non-human, they are generally met with ridicule, denunciation, sneering, condescension, and disbelief.
A clash of world views.
I agree with the great Kevin Locke. Our attempt to overawe the Lakota and their allies down at the Cannon Ball Encampment may keep the oil flowing and the Walmarts full, but it is unlikely to bring the victors happiness, and it is certainly going to be yet another blow to the sovereign Lakota Nation.
Kevin Locke should perform in every village in North Dakota. In fact, everywhere in America. You cannot witness his grace without wanting for all of us to rise to a higher plateau of respect and soulfulness.