96 Heart of the Matter

Heart of the Matter
An Interview with Tiokasin Ghosthorse

Interviewed by Sholeh Johnston

In the seclusion of the northern Pennines in England, a group of forty people gather around a cozy fireplace in silence. The paper and kindling crackle in the flames, and our esteemed guest speaker, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, lifts a pinch of tobacco from his pouch, feeding it to the fire. It is a subtle and meaningful act, though we cannot yet explain why. It is felt. Tiokasin settles into his chair, looks up at us all with a warm smile, and begins.

“Imagine a language without ‘I’ without the concept of death, or mystery. Can you imagine it? You are now speaking Lakota.” Minds bend attempting to comprehend this possibility. He asks us all to write for ten minutes about ourselves, without using the words “I,” “me,” “my” or “mine.” In the sentences that emerge, the most apparent thing is relationship—to each other and the complex and mysterious web of life around us. “What if, when we are outdoors, we are really inside?” he asks. The simplicity of the lesson is profound, and exemplary of Tiokasin’s teaching­—rooted, sincere, authentic, beyond the individual.

He never once mentions his accolades in the two days of teaching, but Tiokasin’s life is a vibrant tapestry of activism and advocacy for peace and the Indigenous Mother Earth perspective. A member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation of South Dakota, he is a survivor of the “Reign of Terror” from 1972 to 1976 on the Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River and Rosebud Lakota Reservations in South Dakota, and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs Boarding and Church Missionary School systems designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.”


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