A Shoshone Elder is quoted at the beginning of Voices in the Stones:
"Do not begrudge the white man
his presence on this land.
Though he doesn't know it yet,
he has come here to learn from us."
Kent Nerburn has spent nearly 40 years nurturing friendships with Native peoples. In reservation homes and coffee shops, driving in the company of elders through Indian land, he has listened and absorbed their teachings. In turn, he has shared their wisdom through his books and blog posts. He has served as project director for two books of Native American oral history — To Walk the Red Road and We Choose to Remember. He has edited three highly acclaimed books on Native American subjects: The Wisdom of the Native Americans, The Wisdom of the Great Chiefs, and The Soul of An Indian.
His three volume masterwork — Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder; The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey Through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows; and The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo: A Child, an Elder & The Light from an Ancient Sky — are filled with moving insights into Native American spirituality and its respect for the good Earth, silence, deep listening, friendship, reverence for all living plants and animals, the connections of life, generosity, and the differences between the Native way of life and that of the white men who have betrayed them again and again. We have profiled him in the Living Spiritual Teachers Project and created a 40-part e-course on his work, Practicing Spirituality with Kent Nerburn.
Nerburn sums up the essence of the Native way of seeing and living: "It is something about being human, about living humbly on the earth." He salutes their attention to the relationships of nature:
"They do not build, they listen.
They seek harmony, not mastery.
They value connections, not distinctions."
And he notes that Native peoples always teach by stories. So he fills this book with stories about his experiences with his Native teachers, using them to show us the depth and breath of Native American spirituality. Each vignette is introduced by a quotation from a Native elder – Luther Standing Bear, Ohiyesa, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, Black Elk, and others.
Nerburn has divided this elegantly written paperback into four sections:
- The Native Way of Living with stories and commentaries on honoring the young and the old, taking care to make all people feel needed, and striving to speak kindly and with truth on your lips.
- The Native Way of Believing with assessments on the Spirit and all of creation and the art of celebrating the natural world.
- The Native Way of Dying with selections and analysis of grief, holding others in your heart, acting responsibly in your family, and making giving the greatest human act.
- The Native Way of Knowing with material on being children of the Earth, the necessity of prayer, and viewing nature as a voice to be heard.
In the last chapter, Nerburn writes: "It is to the eternal credit of the Native peoples that they retain even the echoes of these beliefs and practices after five hundred years of concerted efforts to eradicate their way of life and their very presence on this earth."