Throughout history American Indian leaders have led their people during war and victory and defeat, famine, disease, removal, even surrenderall that has meant survival for their people, sometimes resulting in their own deaths. Being an Indian leader is strenuous and calls for generosity of time and energy. Such a role is not one so enviable or self-serving. To be an Indian leader is to serve ones people, community, and tribe. That is what this important book is about.
Lawrence Hart has dedicated his life to helping his people and others toward a better life and true understanding of it in the Cheyenne way. To be Cheyenne and a Cheyenne leader calls for commitment as well as the constant understanding and continuous support of ones family. Hart walks this road. As both a peace chief of the Cheyenne and a minister among Mennonites, Hart is two people in one and more.
In this insightful book, Raylene Hinz-Penner tells a beautiful story of a modern-day tribal leader who is part of living tradition and depended on by many for wisdom and moral strength. Indian leaders are like this: stalwarts of community, keepers of tradition, defenders for justice, and servants of their people. Their lives are not easy, as this volume shows, telling of Harts challenges and triumphsincluding being raised for his first six years in the Cheyenne language and ways by his grandparents, being educated in a boarding school, attending Bethel College, falling in love with future wife Betty, and becoming a Navy fighter pilot.
Harts strength is his personal fortitude and grounding in the tradition of the Cheyenne past that he brings to the present. Lawrence walks the balanced path between conflict and peace, tradition and contemporary life, as he teaches others about being Cheyenne. His road is more complex for his acceptance of Christianity and becoming a Mennonite minister. In him are two beliefsthe Mennonite way and the Cheyenne way. Both stress the importance of living in peace with all things.
In the following pages, past and present are one reality as the author weaves tradition and modernity, telling about Black Kettle, the great peace chief in Cheyenne history, White Antelope, and others, and of how they live in Chief Hart. The story is a personal one yet intended to publicly introduce a special person. Hinz-Penner respectfully shares her insights about Harts life as she describes his great reverence for leaders now gone yet still there for him in spirit.
The Cheyenne are a magnificent people whose presence on the Great Plains numbered several thousand souls during the mid-nineteenth century. The Cheyenne Council of Forty-Four governed their ten bands when they met annually to hold the Sun Dance and formally made final decisions that affected all Cheyenne. One decision was to always call the Arapahoes friends. Great warriors of various military societies and keepers of peace maintained the balance for a good life, yet this was not always easy for the Cheyenne and Arapahoe. This called for such grand leaders of war as Little Chief, Little Wolf, and Dull Knife and of peace in the persons of Black Kettle and White Antelope. This list of leaders includes Bull Bear, Standing-in-Water, War Bonnet, Yellow Wolf, Knock Knee, One Eye, and John Woodenlegs. Their beliefs in tradition involving the Sacred Arrows, the Sacred Buffalo Hat, and Maheo, "Creator of All Things," defined their native ethos. This was the Cheyenne way. It is this Cheyenne leadership tradition to which Hart belongsone of dignity, quiet strength, wisdom, and inclusive concern.
Hart is a modern-day peace chief and spiritual person who lives for his people guided by Cheyenne and Mennonite traditions. How is this possible? Hinz-Penners moving words invite us to learn how by making us feel we are journeying with Hart in his sacred roles.
In my thirty years as a Native scholar, I have rarely read a biography that so reveals the powerful presence of traditionalism in a historical figure who still works in the present. For anyone wanting to know about the unparalleled challenges facing American Indian leaders today, Raylene Hinz-Penner has delivered a personalized biography that introduces one of the most incredible people readers will ever meet.
Donald L. Fixico, (Shawnee,
Sac & Fox, Creek, Seminole)
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© 2006 by Cascadia Publishing House