8 Pieces of Native American Culture Wisdom for Living a Good Life

We’re often on the lookout for the next productivity hack. In fact, sometimes the most valuable wisdom for living a meaningful existence has been available for generations.

Jay Shetty, former Hindu monk, said “So much has been said for years and we think we need something new. Ivan Pavlov said if you want a new idea, read an old book. What are the parallels between timeless wisdom, whether 2,000-year-old Stoic or 5,000-year-old Vedic? Our issues haven’t changed at the deepest level because we still experience loss, fear, and anxiety in different ways.

Some of the richest history not taught to us in our school system is that of Native Americans. DJ Vanas, author and revered leadership expert from Michigan’s Ottawa Tribe, has traveled the country speaking with 500 nations and tribal societies to distill tribal principles combined with some of the invaluable lessons he’s learned as a decorated Air Force captain.

Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa Tribe notably fought in the Battle of Bloody Run and successfully defended their headquarters of Fort Detroit against British troops. It was a catalyst for the Proclamation of 1763 which led to the American Revolution.

In The inner warrior: Possess your power to serve, fight, protect and heal — Vanas delivers a compass for living an extraordinary life. Through its focus on jumping out of planes, walking the infamous Kalalau Trail on essentially one foot, spiritual and sacred ceremonies, this guide motivates you to action and reminds you of the mental calluses you already have. Below are eight pieces of timeless wisdom from Native American culture that Vanas shares to make those lessons accessible that we also have. discussed during our interview.

A warrior can surrender, but he never gives up

It’s a critical distinction woven into the fabric of the book. Vanas says, “When we quit, we just stop trying and trying. We start talking ourselves out of taking the challenge, explaining why it won’t work, and finding selective evidence that we’re right in our assessment.

The mythical Sioux warrior, Crazy Horse, became a reluctant leader at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

During a severe blizzard in early January 1877 along the Tongue River in Montana, General Miles and his troops opened fire on Crazy Horse and his camp. He managed to fight back, but they eventually held back the soldiers who were firing ammunition with their bows and arrows. Although he was able to push back 1,100 Native Americans at Fort Robinson, he never gave up or failed in his efforts – but he eventually surrendered because his tribe was cold and hungry – and it was the best option. to prevent them from being hunted down.

Use what you have

Tecumseh, the great Shawnee chief and warrior said: “When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and your strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of life. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies with you- same. Vanas says Tecumseh is about our ability to see the bounty in the first place.

He says the Ottawa tribe used birch bark for housing and canoes which enabled them to succeed in trade and warfare. The Lakota used every part of the buffalo to make everything from clothing to bowstrings and canteens. Often, when we have constraints, it forces us to be resourceful. As Vanas explains, “When we see past our fear, resistance, and confusion, we realize that we are all surrounded by an embarrassment of riches.”

Our medicine kit

“In Native American culture, a medicine bag is filled with sacred and meaningful objects – such as herbs such as tobacco and cedar, beads, bones, arrowheads, stones, and claws or teeth. ‘animals – which hold protective power, strength, good luck, or healing for the person wearing it. Vanas explains that people often wore it around their necks and became significant during ceremonies, battles or illness. It helps us visualize carrying our own medicine kit with things and experiences that make us unique and powerful in our own way. We can tap into our medicine kits during good times or bad.

Prepare for battle

Vanas participated in a vision quest ceremony which is a four-day spiritual awakening without food, water and shelter. “Just you, your pipe and a blanket in a table-sized area in the desert,” he said.

Although it sounds as torturous as Navy Seal training, Vanas told me what we often forget is to focus on the learning that comes to us when we’re in a place of calm. “It’s that inner voice and that intuitive side of who we are. It’s our radar given by the creators, but we tend to overlook it because we’re too busy. This radar asks us, are we heading in the right direction?

Vision Killers

“Sometimes the biggest challenges to achieving our vision come from those closest to us.”

Vanas described how, in the early 1800s, Sequoyah of the Cherokee Nation had a vision for his people to read and write – or what he would call “talking leaves”. They didn’t have a system back then and people thought it was crazy to invest all that time developing it. So much so that his wife threw his project into the fire. He was not discouraged, and in the 1830s he developed a written system that helped his tribe become one of the most literate groups in America.

When I shared my vision of starting a podcast with a close friend, he told me it would be a waste of time. Looking back, that was bad advice, and the podcast has been one of the best investments of my life.


“Courage is not the absence of fear, it is acting in the face of it.”

Vanas talks about his “standing in the door” moment when he had to jump 5,000 feet from an airplane to complete his intensive two-week training at the US Air Force Academy’s jump school program. “I had faced and conquered my fear,” he said.

“The Plains tribes had a tradition of fighting that was more honorable than killing an enemy on the battlefield. It was called “counting the coup”. Instead of shooting down their enemy with an arrow, they simply hit him with a stick, a decorated stick resembling a riding crop, while in the heat of battle. This act of courage is about facing the enemy face to face and essentially saying, “I’m not afraid of you.” The ultimate act of bravery.

It reminds me of Crazy Horse’s battle cry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn when his Sioux tribe defeated General Custer. “Hoka Hey! He said, which meant that today is a good day to die.

conquer the impossible

When Vanas received an invitation to hike the Kalalau Trail, he might have more than he could chew. Nicknamed by many the “Kalalau Death Trail”, which stretches eleven miles each way while traversing slippery mud and steep, crumbly volcanic rock paths. On the way back, his body was in such distress that he was exhausted. On his way out, he broke his foot and toe crossing a river bed – while still having to travel ten miles! He said he just put one foot in front of the other and walked forward.

Vanas described some of the guerrilla tactics of tribal warriors and how they would take consistent action. “In battle they would attack aggressively, retreat, regroup, then attack again until they had defeated their foes. Through this relentless dynamic, our native warriors were able to defend themselves or defeat larger enemies and better equipped,” he explained.

Keep your fire lit

One of my favorite lessons was the fire keeper in Native American culture, which was apparently a sacred duty. A good fire was the heartbeat of a village. Vanas said it offered the ability to cook, shine light in the dark, warm the village and provide a place for people to gather. More importantly, it was a crucial element for ceremonies. Vanas teaches us that, like the keeper of the fire, we must nurture our own physical and mental well-being so that our fire does not turn to embers or even exhaustion.

Click here to listen to the full interview with DJ Vanas

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