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Trimble: On being a nobody

In 1972, not long before I went to Washington to serve as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, I was taken up on a high hill for hanbleceya – a vision quest.

In the sweat lodge after I was brought down from the hill, I told the holy men that I didn’t think I had experienced a vision, but I told of my growing feeling of insignificance among the stars and winds at night, and the creatures – some of them very close, and among the hills in the heat of day. I felt alone and frightened at first, but as I stood in prayer over the hours, I became a part of nature, one among them, and I felt at home.

The holy man said that the experience I told about could be my vision, and that I should think hard about it and try to understand what I was being told. They could not interpret it for me, it was up to me to determine. I thought much about it and over time decided that I had achieved a vision after all, that it was the realization that my tearful prayers were answered: “I am nothing, I am pitiful, help me Grandfather, Tunkasila, guide me.”

Over the years that vision was to guide me for it gave me the realization that indeed I am insignificant among the people. But I am part of the people, and I must respect them and work as part of them for the good I hope would come from my life. And although I fell away from it many times in my human weakness, I tried to keep that pledge that I made to myself, to be a part of any effort and to not think that I am the grand leader or the star of the show.

In my short experience as a columnist, I have become acquainted with some very good people who are teaching me important things about life.

In my short experience as a columnist, I have become acquainted with some very good people who are teaching me important things about life. Some of them disagree with me and scold me, but always for some good reason. These are ikce wicasa, common people, Natives from different tribes. Most of them I have never set eyes upon; I hear from them in my e-mail. There are a few who never give their names, but from their messages, I am getting to know them.

One of them is a Lakota or Dakota man from California, and he sends me long e-mails, they are deep and I usually have to read them over again to fully understand the messages, which invariably are good things, positive things, wisdom. He lives in the city, and has been through that terrible experience that relocated Native peoples know, including the never-ending struggle with alcoholism. I have learned much from him, and I look forward to a long, enlightening kinship with him.

And there is the wisdom of youth that I have been privileged to receive. Several weeks ago I spoke to a group of pharmacy students at Creighton University here in Omaha. Among them were two Lakota young men – one Oglala and the other Sicangu, and a Navajo young woman. The students were apparently required to write reflections on the talks they hear, and the young Sicangu scholar Francis Waln from Rosebud included these words, which were sent to me by a faculty member:

“I could tell by the way Mr. Trimble spoke humbly but intellectually he was a man who had done many great things in his life but didn’t think of himself as no better than the next man. He truly was the definition of Ikce Wicasa. This is great to see outside of the religious circles in the real world. Too many people, especially our tribal leaders, don’t embrace this age-old teaching of Ikce Wicasa and don’t practice it in their life. I was told that none of the material things or accomplishments matter in life. If at the end of your time, it was said that you were Ikce Wicasa, then you were a great man and led an accomplished life no matter material things or outside accomplishments. I was taught that the bottom line is, if you took care of your family, took care of your people, and took care of yourself and did it humbly, you were Ikce Wicasa. Above everything, I strive to be Ikce Wicasa because I am no better than anyone else, and if I am not Ikce Wicasa, I did nothing. Seeing this age-old idea manifested in Mr. Trimble was a much needed breath of fresh air and inspiration in today’s individualistic, greedy society.”

To young Mr. Waln, I wished him to know that he has accorded me the greatest honor I could ever receive, and that I shall try in my remaining years to earn it, for I don’t feel that I have yet done so. And I begged his forgiveness for my telling this, for a true ikce wicasa would not call attention to such a great honor. He has given me his forgiveness.

In a very angry, hate-filled e-mail I recently received from a fellow Lakota columnist I was called, among other things, an “insignificant nobody.” It didn’t bother me at all, for I know it to be true; it is something that I had reconciled many years ago as I stood praying alone on that lonely hill of my vision.

Charles “Chuck” Trimble is Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-78. He may be reached at His Web site is