Mitakuye Oyasin: We All Are Related

This Friendship&Faith story comes from writer Karla Joy Huber. As in all of our stories, she describes her own search for meaning through relationships with others. In her quest, Karla discovers truths in her own Native American tradition that are captured in the popular phrase “Mitakuye Oyasin.” Wikipedia has more about the complete Lakota Sioux prayer that begins with these words. The image at right shows a Lakota beaded saddle belt from about 1850s. The image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Mitakuye Oyasin:
We All Are Related

By Karla Joy Huber

Diversity is something I always wanted to experience growing up, but it wasn’t until I became an adult that I had opportunities to actually seek it out. I was particularly interested in the Native American community. Because I am a small part Native myself, I wanted to find out if what I could learn from Michigan’s urban Indian community would fill the spiritual and cultural holes in my life. When a friend invited me to go with him to the North American Indian Association (NAIA) Wednesday social night, I saw this as the ideal chance to make that connection. 

We drove to the NAIA on Plymouth Road in Detroit, a plain one-story tan building that used to be a church. Inside, the stylized motifs of animal spirits and the framed photos of Indians of various ages in both modern and traditional attire showed me these were people working to reconcile urban living with traditions practiced on the reservation. We sat down at one of the round tables in the main hall, and I was introduced around as I listened to folks telling stories.

Some were doing beadwork or weaving while they talked, and others focused solely on the stories that night. I found myself learning more from just listening to my new friends’ personal reminiscences than from when they were explaining specific customs to me, since for Native people storytelling is as much education as entertainment. Most of these stories were about Indians in the past and present, but I noticed the stories of a woman named Dee were different.

Dee’s stories encompassed more because she came from a tri-cultural background: European, African-American, and Native American. She was drawn to legends about bridging the gap between Native Americans and everyone else, prophecies that pointed to now being the time when all the different peoples of the earth would come back together as one family. She told of a Hopi prophecy about a great spiritual leader who would one day come from the east and contribute to the reunification of humanity. Her enthusiasm made me feel hopeful, and her description of this spiritual leader’s present religion, the Bahá’í Faith, planted the seed of the spiritual path which would shape the rest of my life.

“They called this brother from the east Baha’nah,” Dee said, “which meant ‘Glory of the Creator’.” This Baha’nah turned out to be Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í religion, which emphasizes the reconciliation of conflict between religions and independent investigation of the truth. As I worked this all over in my mind, I realized the Bahá’í Faith’s goals fit perfectly with the Native American spiritual and social tenet of “Mitakuye Oyasin,” which means “we are all related.”

Because of all this, I was rather surprised when Dee said she wasn’t a Bahá’í. Rather than declare herself as a Bahá’í, she chose to do instead what Native people have always done when introduced to new spiritual ideas or practices. They tend to supplement rather than replace the perspectives and practices they already have. Instead of seeing their relationship to the Creator in terms of one path that’s better than all the others, they take what’s good from other paths and expand upon these ideas to deepen their understanding of how all of creation is interrelated.

Dee was very happy for me, though, when three years later I told her I became a Bahá’í and was integrating that with Native American teachings. Not only was she effusive in her congratulations, but she was proud of me, and pleased that her own efforts had helped guide me on my life’s path.

Over the years I’ve continued integrating the good from various faiths into the context of my Bahá’í and Native American spirituality. Even though it’s been a few years since I’ve seen Dee, and I’m not as in touch with the Native community as I used to be, Dee and everyone else I met at the NAIA always have a constant spiritual presence in my life.

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Interested in Indian stories?

ReadTheSpirit also publishes Dancing My Dream, a memoir by Warren Petoskey about his family’s life and major issues in 20th-century Indian life, including the traumatic legacy of boarding schools.

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