Manataka American Indian Council


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Panic Kills: From an American Indian Perspective

By Ralph P. Brown (also known as Tawennihake)


In the old days when Indians hunted buffalo on the plains, the Indians would play on the fears of the buffalo by donning wolf hides and creeping up on the herds. When the buffalo spotted the "wolves", they would take off running. At that point there would be Indians on horseback to drive the buffalo over a cliff to their death and the waiting Indian women who would quickly begin to butcher them.


It wasn't the Indians who killed the buffalo, it was the fear-inspired panic and their mindless reaction that caused them to run off the cliff. A reaction is an action without thought - and - panic is a reaction to fear.


This is an appropriate topic for the times in which we currently live with the recession and economic crisis because the buffalo are afraid and are beginning to panic! In life, there is ebb and flow. The pendulum that swings to the left must, of its own volition, swing to the right. The balance must be kept and so it is. It is not a question of if the pendulum will swing right, it is not even a question of when it will swing. The question is: What will your response be to it?


Will you become fearful and surrender to the panic, allowing yourself to be driven off the cliff - or do you allow a cooler head to prevail?


I'm not saying that there aren't real effects resulting from the Wall Street blunders, banking fiascos and auto industry fall-out. I know several people who have lost their jobs in this economic downturn and the effects are very real. I am merely suggesting that you beware and be aware of the panic that can exacerbate your situation, whatever it is.


How you perceive your current position is a critical factor in the final outcome. I know this about life's events... Sometimes Spirit moves us or causes us to move in ways that cause us to grow and prevent our lives from stagnating. The one result of change is always growth. Regardless of whether it is perceived as positive or negative change, there is always growth.


While it may be difficult to perceive losing a job as a "gift", it may be easier if you know that when one door closes, another will open. The trick is not to panic after the closing of the one door.


I want to share a story with you that I've shared with friends who have been affected by the economy. It is called "The Otter and the Sacred Mountains".

Once there was an Otter who, like most otters, spent his time Playing with other Otters in the Great River. All of his young life he had heard stories of the Sacred Mountains but unlike other Otters he was intrigued by these tales enough to go to his Grandfather and say, "Grandfather, I have heard all of my life about the Sacred Mountains and I would like to go there."


His Grandfather smiled sadly and said, "I'm Afraid that won't happen because the Sacred Mountains are at the head of the Great River. There are dangerous Rapids that run between an impassable Gorge."


"Has anyone ever tried before?" the Young Otter asked.


"Oh yes", his Grandfather replied, "but they were either turned back by the Rapids or they were never Seen again. It is better that you forget about this."

But the Young Otter could not Forget. He thought about those who had never Returned and wondered if it wasn't because they had actually made it to the Sacred Mountains. He knew the only way to know for sure was to make the Journey himself. The Next Day, the Young Otter set off on his Journey Up the Great River. He swam for a long time and after a while he lost track of how long he had been swimming.


At last he came to the foot of the Rapids. Even before he could See them, he could Hear their awesome Roar. When he Saw the Rapids he became Afraid. How could anyone survive such Power? Surely he would be pummeled by this Water and Drown. But the Young Otter was Determined to See these Sacred Mountains and on he went. He swam hard against the fast flowing Water. Every now and then he could feel a Rock beneath him, but they were very slippery and he was never sure if he could Trust them.


The Rapids seemed to become more Difficult, almost like a Waterfall at times. He could feel the Water overcoming his tired body and the next thing he knew he was being swept down the River. The Rocks battered his body and he thought he was going to die. Suddenly he heard a Voice. It was yelling at him, "Grab the Driftwood!"


As the Otter tumbled in the water, he caught Glimpses of a Raccoon running along the bank of the Great River, and then he Saw the Driftwood. He clutched the wood and finally made his way to the bank. He pulled himself out of the Water - wet, exhausted and shaken by the whole experience. As he lay there getting himself together, a Coyote came by. The Coyote looked at the Otter, all wet and battered and asked, "What happened to you?"


"I was going to the Sacred Mountains but I was not strong enough to swim the Rapids", said the Otter.


"The Sacred Mountains", the Coyote exclaimed, "Why didn't you say so? I know a Short Cut to the Sacred Mountains. It's just a good thing you found me when you did ..."


The Coyote continued to talk as he Led the Young Otter through the Rocks. He walked as fast as he talked and it wasn't long before the Otter lost sight of him. He followed where he thought the Coyote had gone, but he couldn't see him and it was getting dark. Soon the Young Otter couldn't even Hear the Coyote and, feeling lost, alone and afraid, he hurried along as fast as he could.


The Otter came around a corner and ran straight into a huge Spider Web! He struggled against it but he could not get free. He yelled for the Coyote to come help him but the Coyote was gone.


After a time, the Young Otter Remembered the Knife on his belt that his Grandfather had given him. He used it to cut himself free from the Web but still he felt lost and alone. He didn't know which Way to go and it was really Dark. He went in the Direction he thought the Coyote had gone but he couldn't See a thing. Suddenly the ground seemed to give out beneath his feet and the Otter knew he had fallen in a Hole.


He was totally lost and alone and now he was in a Hole with no way out. Maybe this is what had happened to the other Otters who, like him, had gone in Search of the Sacred Mountains. He thought that now no one would ever hear him and he would die alone in this Hole. He began to cry. After a time, a voice called out in the Darkness... "Little Brother, why are you crying?"


The Young Otter said, "Because I am lost and alone and I have fallen into a hole."


"Why don't you pray and ask the Creator to help you?" the Voice asked.


The Otter replied, "Because it is no use. The Great Spirit has turned his back on me."


"Turn around, Little Brother", the voice said.


The Otter did as he was instructed and as soon as he did, he saw a Fire and standing in the Center of this Fire was the Great Spirit. He could also see his People... and the Raccoon and Coyote, too! The Great Spirit said, "It is you who has turned your back on me, not me who has turned his back on you. I always remain in the Center, and look... there are the Sacred Mountains."


The Otter Looked, and in the Light of the Fire he could See the Sacred Mountains. The Great Spirit told the Otter, "For anyone who makes the Journey to the Sacred Mountains, they must do it by themselves and in their own way... but no one has to do it alone. When you get lost, turn around. I am there."


The best way to test the sea-worthiness of a ship is to sail it through a storm. Anyone can be strong in the absence of tests.


You may not be able to do anything to improve your situation but you can always do something to make it worse. The main thing is not to panic. Panic kills!



Ralph P. Brown (also known as Tawennihake) is a Mohawk Indian of the Akwesasne tribe. He currently resides in Nebraska, creating his art and delivering his message from Earth Lodge Studios. Ralph a self-taught artist who uses a stipple style to create the pointillistic impressions of his cultural and spiritual ideas. He draws inspiration from his native culture, nature and his unique perspective on the world and his spirituality. He is the author of soon-to-be-released books "Awakening the Eagle: A Guide to the Medicine Wheel" and"13 Virtues to a New Life: A Journey Around the Medicine Wheel." Visit his web site at to subscribe to his bi-monthly newsletter and for additional insight, stories, lessons and visual creations related to many Native American stories. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved worldwide. Please contact the author for permission to reprint at the website mentioned above.


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