Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sitting Bull

“Only seven years ago we made a treaty by which we were assured that the buffalo country should be left us forever. Now they threaten to take that from us also.” ~Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull (Tatanka Yotanka) was the great chief of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux who is credited with defeating General Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It could be argued that Custer destroyed himself, but this might diminish Sitting Bull’s role as a great man and for me I wish not to do so.

Chief Sitting Bull is on my short list of great men from whom lessons in leadership can be gleaned.

The relationship between white settlers and the robust tribal peoples who once populated this continent is certainly a tragic episode in history. It isn’t just the slaughters that took place, the misunderstandings, the broken treaties, the disease which ravaged the native populations… but rather, the loss of a way of life that was meaningful to those who valued it.

In the tribal cultures a chief did not attain his stature by a college degree or pedigree or appointment from some higher authority. And even if he had done so, no one would follow him or obey him unless they respected him. Thus, when the Sioux Nation gathered in Montana in the largest assembly of tribal peoples ever, it could only mean that the chief to whom these natives had been drawn was an exceedingly respected man. Respect was the coin of his worth.

By way of contrast, Custer was an ambitious, impetuous, arrogant jerk. But he was general and in U.S. military fashion his men were to fear and obey him. His wife spent thirty years writing books attempting to mythologize his greatness, but a simple reading of the details of his life paints a pretty clear picture.

I offer up my Sitting Bull portrait as a tribute to a great man. The expression is grim for he sees the future for his peoples. Yet, there is a dignity in the features, and if you can find the time to read his story, there are many lessons there on being a leader and a man.

EDNOTE: Most of the paintings and illustrations on my blog are available for sale. If you see something here that makes you say, "I gotta have it," be sure to let me know and we can negotiate a price. Feel free to click on images to enlarge.

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