Rosalie Little Thunder

Wacintanka (wah-cheenh-tanh-kah) defies single-word English translation. Ask a number of Lakota speakers and you will likely get a number of English translations: patience, persistence, endurance, and so forth. Condensed, I believe it means discipline and it can be quite a science. The science of Wacintanka. Sounds a bit like Tao Te Ching,* doesn't it? I don't know much about Tao, but wacintanka is very diverse in its application and permeates all that is good in the Lakota way of being.

The reason that I want to use it in this particular post is to talk about NOT having to be right all the time. Earlier I mentioned my Grandfather's observation about Euro-Americans; about the need tobe right all the time. That behavior has frustrated me to no end, but I think it is today's way to be. Did you ever talk to someone who wasn't quite listening to what you were saying, but kept interrupting and being one up on you, no matter what you were talking about? I happen to have a sibling like that, so it now seems to be an American habit and not specific to any culture. I do remember when many older Lakota people weren't like that, otherwise I wouldn't notice the collective contrast. I would venture my opinion that BEING RIGHT was a cultural feature that had no place in a culture that strived for harmony.

No matter what I said (I wasn't bragging but answering my sibling's questions), it seemed like [this person] did it better or knew more. So anymore, I just listen and answer a simple “yes” or “no.” That doesn't seem like a vibrant relationship now, does it? An important factor is that my sibling was born and raised in the city and has been out in the Euro world, probably too long.

This scenario might represent the relationships that are out there. AMERICA's way seems to be about being greater, better, sexier, and wealthier than the next person.

This is where wacintanka was important in relationships, disciplining of the self to listen to the other person, they too have their story. Being in a world of differing cultural behaviors, I sometimes feel the urge to interrupt, having only heard half of the story! Because we came from another place, we came with a cultural consciousness and must fight with the dastardly urge to be one up on other people! From an oppressed place, enthno-centrism feels so good! But the Lakota ancestors are next to us, whispering, “Wacintanka ye.” Oh, some days, it is hard to be Lakota!

Rosalie Little Thunder, Sicangu Lakota, Chair of Seventh Generation Fund
and professor at Black Hills State University.

*   The Tao Te Ching is an ancient Chinese religious text, written in the 6th century by the poet Laozi (Lao Tzu). Many Chinese artists, including poets, painters, calligraphers, and even gardeners have used the Tao Te Ching as a source of inspiration. Its influence has also spread widely outside East Asia, aided by hundreds of translations into Western languages.