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Listening to our Elders

In today’s rapid paced, high tech, internet connected and mobile communicating world we often overlook one of the most important elements of learning, listening. I was lucky to have an opportunity to sit and listen to elder and veteran Charles Lonewolf of the Umonhon tribe, a familiar face at NICC’s South Sioux City campus. His Umonhon name is Te huton bi which means Buffalo Makes Noise. Charles was born at home in Walthill which was very common according to Charles because a team of horses and a wagon were the main transportation at the time. He can remember when highways 77 and 75 were just wagon trails and had fond memories about the sense of community at the natural springs that watered the horses along the road. His young days were spent down by the Missouri river where he would gather gooseberries, raspberries, plums and apples from the timbers for his grandmother to make pies with. She would sell pies to the men working on channelizing the river for extra money for the family. Charles happily recalled memories of his early days playing in the timbers and the old abandoned Mission building.

At about five years of age, Charles was sent to boarding school. He reflected on the experiences of his elders at the old style boarding schools and is thankful that the military style approach to teaching his elders endured at the old style boarding schools was being phased out when he began attending boarding school. Charles considers himself lucky that he attended boarding school during the new era of boarding schools which was turning away from the military style of education. Charles stated: “the old days were much harder, but we faced similar problems then that we face today.” Charles sees positive changes for young people, “Things are more open to young people now, they have access to the languages, ceremonies, social programs and community. They also have options. When we were young there were few options for us. Families today have a lot of opportunities; I hope they appreciate the freedom of mobility and access to education that our elders didn’t have.”

I asked Charles what advice he would have for students and he shared some of his thoughts about what has helped him through the years. These are some of Charles’ words of wisdom.

1. Make good choices and decisions- it is up to you to choose your path.

2. If you start something finish it-respect yourself and your people

3. Have a goal, make plans and take on responsibility

4. Don’t do things halfheartedly- you only get back what you put into something

5. Your children depend on you- Be responsible and make good decisions for their sake

6. Be careful of the legacy of Alcohol- be aware and respect the cycle of alcoholism

7. Nobody owes you anything- you are in charge of your own destiny

8. If you have the right attitude, the right mind-set, and determination, you will reach your goals

9. The warrior tradition is important of our tradition- the eagle feathers are earned for bravery and protecting the people. Today men and women can be warriors. When you complete something, you have earned it, and no one can take that away from you. When you earn that degree, you have earned that honor, it is yours. Go in a good way as a modern warrior. Charles is a military veteran who has spent 40 years working in social services to better the lives of Native Americans, and raised a family and currently lives in South Sioux City. We all need guidance and Charles Lonewolf said: “if any students need advice they can call on me.” In today’s fast paced society we need to respect the importance of listening to our elders.