Indian Country Today had an article yesterday about Santee Sioux doctor and educator on ethnohistory Dr. Charles Eastman, entitled Dr. Charles Eastman Offered Up Wisdom On Wellness. The story is based on his 1921 article, “What Can the Out of Doors Do For Our Children?”
We (but particularly barefooters) are beginning to realize how important exposure to the outdoors is to our well-being. Here’s just one article, Health Benefits of Being Outdoors, extolling the virtues of “Vitamin N” (for Nature).
But so often Native Americans were there long before the fads.
Many of us are aware what other Native Americans have said about the importance of bare feet. For instance, in “Land of the Spotted Eagle”, (1933) Luther Standing Bear said,
The Lakota was a true naturist — a lover of Nature. He loved the earth and all things of the earth. the attachment growing with age. The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred ground. Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth.
Probably more famous is Chief Seattle’s speech of 1897:
Even the rocks that seem to lie dumb as they swelter in the sun along the silent seashore in solemn grandeur thrill with memories of past events connected with the fate of my people, and the very dust under your feet responds more lovingly to our footsteps than to yours, because it is the ashes of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch, for the soil is rich with the life of our kindred.
So I got to wondering whether Charles Eastman also included bare feet in that article.
Of course he did.
We are getting away from the fresh air and the out-of-doors. We need to be normal, to be agile, not only in our muscles but in our mental forces, not only in our intellectuality but in our morality. The trouble with civilized morality is that it is canned and stiff, and it cracks everywhere when you move it. The point of it is, out-of-doors means God; out-of-doors means mystery, and that means God. Fresh air and sunshine are God’s own forces, coming out of His own laboratory.
So, I think, most civilizations die of a nerve collapse, because they have shut the fresh air out, because out-of-doors is cut out, because they have tried to hover the little ones, to harness them up and pin them down, and they are prejudiced against nature and fresh air from the time they were born, and they have no freedom. That is what kills civilization—nervous collapse. You say to the child, “Look out! that plant or that bug will poison you”; and when that child gets off from the street, off from the pavement, he cannot see himself, and his head goes round, and he can’t get home when he gets into a little grove of trees ; and when he gets into the pure, fresh air,—oh, he is going to catch cold! The very thing on which we and all things live—you have prejudiced him against all that. You have prejudiced his soul against God.
But beyond all that, I will say to teachers that they cannot teach unless they have fresh air and sunshine—lots of it; out-of-doors—lots of it. You cannot point to the leaders of your civilization for two thousand years but what they are nature’s children, including Christ. They are out-of-door children—children brought up on the hillsides, not afraid to go barefoot, and to go around with dogs and cows; and the grown-up children to whom you can point with pride today, the men who carry the heaviest burdens, were that kind of children. They come from out-of-doors places, away up in mountainside hamlets.
These days, though, we seem to be moving away from all that, though there are the faint glimmerings in a slow recognition of “Vitamin N”.