Returning To The Lakota Way

Posted by Joseph M. Marshall III
29 January, 2014

A pair of moccasins sit on a table in our living room and sometimes in my office. They were to have been my father’s, but after he died they were given to me. They are a colorful pair, with red, white, dark blue, and medium blue beads in classic Lakota geometric patterns.

Traditional moccasins like these are still made by Lakota artisans. The basic components are brain-tanned leather, glass beads, thread, and rawhide. Soft-tanned leather forms the top of the moccasin and rawhide the sole. Yet there is another component that cannot be seen, but it is every bit as critical to the construction of the moccasin – patience.


On the pair I have, there are three bands of small beads that circle the moccasin from the toe to the heel and back to the toe. The second band is not quite as long as the first and consequently the third not as long as the second. In each of these bands are vertical rows of 8 beads, with 13 rows to the inch, or 104 beads per inch. Given that the three bands of beads put together are about 68 inches in length, there are approximately 7,072 beads. Each artisan who does this kind of craft works at her own pace, so it is difficult to say how long each moccasin takes to bead as a rule. Suffice it to say it is anywhere from 24 to 48 hours of beading. Or each pair of fully beaded moccasins represents 48 to 96 hours of effort. It is difficult to say which is more important in the process – skill or patience – but good work cannot be done without both. Without patience, even consummate skill will not realize its full potential

Patience has applications far beyond making cultural artifacts. Patient people are much less apt to make snap judgments or act impulsively, and they rarely stick their feet in their mouths. They will likely move over and let an impatient driver pass, understanding that getting there is more important than getting there first. Furthermore, patience is a precursor to thoroughness, deliberation, and coolness under pressure. Yet it seems in these times to be ever more rare.

Invention of time

Before the Industrial Age, people lived in closer association with the natural cycles and whims of nature. Events in nature occurred (and still do) when conditions are favorable or reach a certain point, regardless of any calendar; our ancestors could not affect that process, so in order to go along with nature’s program, patience was a necessary virtue. Impatience, however, has always been a human trait, and at some point it evolved into a defining factor in human societies. My grandfather theorized that mankind learned the arrogance of impatience when the clock was invented.

As it is, though, our modern lifestyles are totally dependent on the artificial measurement of time. Our work days and nights start and end at a certain hour. For some of us, the start of our shift arrives much too quickly and the end of it cannot come quickly enough. Reluctance on one end, impatience on the other. Whatever our emotions and reactions, though, the shift begins, we do our work, and it ends. That happens no matter how reluctant or impatient we are. It might, therefore, be preferable to accept the reality of the situation and patiently let it run its course.

We have become cultures and societies that rely on instant gratification. Like speed-dialing on our phones, effect follows cause in less than the blink of an eye. Our technology-dependent existence has taught us that having to wait for anything is an annoyance. Consequently, patience is no longer the necessary virtue it once was. A mere 60 years ago – at least in my world – it was critical.

A few years ago it dawned on me that I have lived most of my life – most of my time has run down, as it were. If there were some way to slow it down now, I would do that. But, of course, the days, the seasons, and the years will pass as they always have. Therefore it is up to me to savour each good moment and endure the difficult ones in the same way – with patience.

I am reminded of that each time I look at those moccasins sitting on a table.

From Return to the Lakota Way by Joseph M. Marshall III © 2013, published in the UK by Hay House.

by Joseph M. Marshall III

A great storyteller and a true wiseman, Joseph Marshall, a Sicangu elder, draws on Lakota legend and rich personal experience to bring you this collection of beautifully crafted stories. Throughout their warp and weft he eloquently delivers some hard truths in a gentle and illuminating package.Click here to buy.

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