February 24, 2012

"Two wolves" story is phony

Almost everyone on the Internet has seen the "two wolves" story that supposedly comes from a Native legend. If you're like me, you see it a couple of times a month.

The story's ending and lesson goes like this:The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
I always figured this story was phony. Now blogger âpihtawikosisân (Chelsea Vowel) confirms it:

Check the tag on that “Indian” storyWell recently a tumblr blogger Pavor Nocturnus did the world an enormous favour and dug into the real origins of this ‘Cherokee wisdom’, providing some excellent sources.This story seems to have begun in 1978 when a early form of it was written by the Evangelical Christian Minister Billy Graham in his book, “The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life.”"This kind of thing is harmful"

âpihtawikosisân goes on to explain what's wrong with this seemingly innocuous legend:These misattributed stories aren’t going to pick us up and throw us down a flight of stairs, but they do perpetuate ignorance about out cultures. Cultures. Plural.

Not only do they confuse non-natives about our beliefs and our actual oral traditions, they confuse some natives too. There are many disconnected native peoples who, for a variety of reasons, have not been raised in their cultures. It is not an easy task to reconnect, and a lot of people start by trying to find as much information as they can about the nation they come from.

It can be exciting and empowering at first to encounter a story like this, if it’s supposedly from your (generalised) nation. But I could analyse this story all day to point out how Christian and western influences run all the way through it, and how these principles contradict and overshadow indigenous ways of knowing. Let’s just sum it up more quickly though, and call it what it is: colonialsim.

And please. It does not matter if this sort of thing is done to or by other cultures too. The “they did it first” argument doesn’t get my kids anywhere either.

The replacement of real indigenous stories with Christian-influenced, western moral tales is colonialism, no matter how you dress it up in feathers and moccasins. It silences the real voices of native peoples by presenting listeners and readers with something safe and familiar. And because of the wider access non-natives have to sources of media, these kinds of fake stories are literally drowning us out.
Comment:  This legend is harmful for the same reasons a romantic painting is harmful. It teaches people that:

  • All Indians are the same--that their legends are interchangeable.

  • They're all wise and spiritual, which isn't necessarily good. If you're a touchy-feely "wisdom keeper," you're implicitly not sharp and tough enough to be a lawyer, engineer, or politician.

  • They're oriented toward a simple life of nature and animals. Which is another way of saying they're backward and primitive. If a modern person told this story, he might say, "You have two Terminators in you: a good one and a bad one." Or, "You have two Aliens in you." You know, something that today's youth could relate to.

  • As âpihtawikosisân notes, even the lesson isn't Native in style. A typical Native lesson would be more like, "There's good and bad in each of us. You need to balance both halves to achieve harmony." Which is markedly different from the Christian dichotomy of black and white, good and evil.

    For more on Native values, see Western vs. Native Education and Europeans Hated Indians' Virtues.

    Below:  Good wolf and bad wolf.


    Unknown said...

    Jesus didn't teach dualism - black/white, good/bad, etc. But many brands of Christianity do. They're wrong.

    Anonymous said...

    "There's good and bad in each of us. You need to balance both halves to achieve harmony." Which is markedly different from the Christian dichotomy of black and white, good and evil. - somehow I think some natives might find that insulting... a little good "feeding someone starving", is best to balance with a little bad "raping someone".

    Anonymous said...

    As far as I can tell, the good wolf in original cherokee might also be "balanced" one, the bad wolf also means "lack of balance", with similar ideas of helpful or harming emotions and spirit, and a bit of different style in how point of story is told. It is matter of how you understand each of the words, for one guy on internet "faith" in this story is showing a balanced trust, for another guy "faith" means gullible belief without evidence.

    Matter of using the correct shade of meaning for each of words in the story, then it fits the common sense of most cultures.

    Horse came from white man, does it polute cherokee culture?

    Given that written word of cherokee only goes back 200 years, and much of white man culture like horse was adopted before then, do we even know what is originally native ideas rather than adopted from europe and asia?