The Lakota phrase Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ describes Reality by addressing it as “All My Relations.” All humans, all animals, all plants, all the waters, the soil, the stones, the mountains, the grasslands, the winds, the clouds and storms, the sun and moon, stars and planets are our relations and are relations to one another. We are connected to each other in multiple and vital ways. When one is in pain, all are harmed. When there is justice for one, there is more justice for all.
It is time for the dominant culture to finally learn that its people cannot harm those it deems lesser than themselves simply because it wants to and can. This is, simply, wrong. It violates the fundamental nature of reality. Actions that violate the fundamental nature of reality build tension into the system that eventually causes a loss of balance and a rebound of consequence to those who broke natural law. This is true whether the ones being unjustly persecuted and abused are human beings whose color or religious beliefs are not those of the dominant culture, or parts of the natural world that those of the dominant culture judge as insentient or even not-living. In all these cases, the dominant culture judges these “others” as unacceptable or lesser than themselves, and therefore undeserving of respect and reciprocity.
Being “woke” is not simply a matter of learning what words to speak. Truly right words can only come from a heart that is open to the living world’s grief, that is willing to be broken by the pain of this grief. Such a heart experiences the pain that all the rest of creation has suffered for generations upon generations, and in doing this it helps to share and bear that burden. Only then, once the true heart has shattered from this pain, can Real Knowledge flow into it. It enters through the spaces between the shattered fragments. This is the pathway to true healing, for that heart and the heart of creation itself.
Notes about the translation and meaning of Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ:
Although “All Our Relations” is the most common translation of Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ — even Vine Deloria, Jr. defines it as such in his books — the phrase actually bears within it rich layers of additional meaning that cannot be easily translated into English. It’s important to point this out because words and ideas, stories and rituals, are bound together into a single reality that must be respected, not misappropriated. In the video below, the late Sicungu Lakota Elder Albert White Hat, a friend who was on Tapestry’s board for many years, explains this matter of language and concept being inextricably interwoven.
But Albert White Hat is not suggesting here that Indigenous wisdom is merely a collection of historical ideas or words. He knew and taught — as do all our Elders — that our ways provide a system of powerful knowledge applicable to the lives and struggles of people right now. The 2017 video below provides an example, showing how Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ informs the Lakota vision of community policing, Akicita.
Mitakuye Oyasin (We are all related) from VCPI on Vimeo.
Tapestry Institute lives and works on land that is part of the traditional homeLands of the Lakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne nations. We share the powerful concept of Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ with care, in respect for the Land and its peoples.