A Conversation with Blackwolf Jones

Even though we know movie stereotypes have been a major source of (non)information about Native American lifeways, they continue to influence society's beliefs. Blackwolf (Bob) Jones, psychotherapist, teacher and author, offers us the wisdom of Native American tribal perspectives for living a life in harmony with the universe.

The Monthly Aspectarian: Blackwolf, I know you're a Native American teacher, that you work with Native Americans and with non-Indians, and that you're a psychotherapist. I know also that your books were written to inform people about the American Indian viewpoint of nature and healing.

Blackwolf Jones: What might be helpful, Guy, is to give you a little of where these books come from. I was born in 1935, so I'm no puppy anymore. I'm 61 years old, and my reservation is the Lac Court Oreilles reservation in northwestern Wisconsin, an Ojibwe-Chippewa reservation right outside Hayward here in Wisconsin. Anyway, in 1935 when I was an infant, a medicine man had heard that a new baby was born and on his white horse came through the woods to honor me. On his way, he saw this black wolf. They had never seen that wolf before, and they never saw him again. So when he came into my home in the woods there, he gave me my Indian name, which means Black Wolf.

He was my primary teacher, but I had many, many teachers in my formative years. These things I write about in the three books, The Healing Drum, a meditation book, Listen to the Drum, a book on how to heal yourself, and Earth Dance Drum, how to live life in our Ojibwe ways in harmony with the universe. These are 70,000-year-old ways that these elders, these medicine lodge people taught me in my formative years. When I write these books, this is nothing that I come up with. All I'm doing here is passing on these 70,000-year-old ways that were passed on to me. I need to be real clear about that, that I'm just kind of the light switch to turn these things on.

I grew up on the reservation, then I went in the Army when I was 18 and came out a couple of years later. I went to pre-law school for a few years at Marquette University -- and then I dropped out of school and went on a 20-year drunk. Problems with alcohol are very common with my people, you know . . . about 90 percent of my people have that problem somewhere in their life. Anyway, I worked for one company all over the United States and Canada, then in March of 1977 I got sober. I went back to my reservation and back to the Medicine Lodge ways and said, What the hell am I going to do with my life now?

I went back to the university. Instead of going back into law, I went into psychology and got a Bachelor's Degree in psychology, a Master's Degree in psychological counseling and guidance and then did two years of post graduate work in addictions. For the last 19 years, I've been working in the field as a psychotherapist with Native American and non-Indian people. Now, in addition to my private practice, I'm teaching a course in the ethno-history of Wisconsin Indians, primarily Chippewa cultures and traditions and ways, at the university here at Green Bay.

And so back to the books. The little meditation book, The Healing Drum, shows how we see things much differently than non-Indian people do. We have a very strong affiliation with nature and the spirit world and we've gone to the spirit world for teachings and guidance for thousands and thousands of years. A lot of people think that's woo-woo freaky stuff, but their own people were doing the same things a few thousand years back. We have a very caring and balanced relationship with nature, and when you do that, you don't have pollution . . . the water is clean and the air is clean and that's important stuff. A couple of months ago, CNN said 47 percent of the water in the United States -- 47 percent! -- you can't drink it or swim in it, and that condition is rapidly increasing. Pretty soon people are going to be drinking sewer water. So there's lots of things in these books about how to look to nature and how to come into balance.

What is healthy? As I say in Listen to the Drum, "healthy" to us tribal people is knowing how to heal yourself. What does that mean, "heal"? Healing to us is balance. If you're in balance you're healthy, and if you're not in balance you're not healthy . . . and then you form pathology and symptomology. So what is "balance"? Well to us, it is being balanced spiritually. In our way, in our thinking, we're a spirit with a body, we're not a body with a spirit. That changes everything. Our premise is based on that we're old spirits that come from the spirit world. We always were in the spirit world; then we come to this side and take on a body from this side; then we go back to the spirit world.

To be in balance -- it's that balance of being 50 percent in our inner world, what goes on inside of us -- and 50 percent in outer focus: people, places and things that are outside of us. spiritually, the deepest part of ourself; and then mentally, what goes on in our mind; and then emotionally, what goes on in our emotions, mad, sad, glad, afraid, ashamed or hurt, frustrated, on and on; and then physically, our entire body. It's that state of being balanced spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, work and play. Being 90 percent in the present, five percent in the past, and five percent in the future. I bring people to this balance, and once they get to that point, then I have them follow their breath inner-wardly to their ain-da-ing, their home within their heart, where they find that mash-ka-wisen, that inner strength, and that connection with their Creator and that life breath force of the Creator . . .

TMA: As you use some of the Indian words, Blackwolf, would you spell them for our transcriptionist?

BJ: In Indian, there is no correct spelling. Who is grandiose enough to say, Here's how to spell that word. Who is to say? But a lot of us Ojibwe spell some of them the same.

TMA: I notice that all three of your books have the common thread of the drum running through them. How does drumming facilitate healing?

BJ: In our way, the Creators are really vibrations. That's really what the Creator is, vibrations, light and vibrations. So when I say listen to the drum, I don't mean just listen to the "boom-boom" like the powwow drum. There's different drums: there's the dance drum, the powwow drum, big drum, there's a water drum, there are healing drums in our healing ceremonies. But I don't mean just listen to the boom boom boom, I mean listen to the silence in between the beats. For example, if you ever were to a powwow, those dance drums, yeah, we drum boom boom boom, but that's how we communicate with...the Great Spirit and the other spirits from this physical side, with that vibration -- but it's in the silence between the beats that the Creator and the spirits communicate back with us, you see. Really, that's what meditation is, the vibrations and the silence, communicating. That's why people sit for hours and meditate.

TMA: It's interesting that you use the word "meditate," because meditation is not something I think people generally associate with Native American ways.

BJ: Yeah, but people know a very little bit about us. The only thing probably they know about us is what they've seen in the movies, western movies, and that's all bogus anyway, so they don't really know about us.

TMA: People know about drumming and they know about trance work. But generally, the practice of meditation is thought of as an East Indian thing.

BJ: Well, that's what vision quest is. We've been going on vision quests for thousands and thousands of years. It's four days minimum, no food, no water, silence, no sleep. In our medicine wheel in nature, a minimum of four days of silence and meditation. That goes back at least to, on our scroll, 70,000 years. People don't know much about us, and see, we even preferred it that way . . . that's not just a one-sided thing. We really kept a lot of this stuff quiet forever because we wanted to. We felt like whatever we gave was taken and distorted and abused, and that we weren't going to give any more. But then we were clearly told that when the white buffalo calf was born, that was the time for the mending of the sacred hoops, the four races. We had to go out at that time and begin teaching the healing ways . . . but not until the white buffalo calf was born in August of '94, a time that we had been foretold by prophesy to go out and teach and share some of these things.

TMA: You made a point earlier, and clearly you're right, that all cultures, if you go far enough back, were shamanic. The European cultures as well as the rest were all pretty much doing the same things. I'm interested in what you're saying about the white buffalo calf being the point at which the teachings could be shared, because you know there's been a lot of controversy about Native American ways being shared with others. There's a lot of rather radical types running around protesting whites being allowed to participate in ceremonies.

BJ: They're right. The prophesy never said anything about inviting non-tribal people to share in ceremony. It was very clear that the sharing was to be about teachings, prophesy and healings, and nothing about ceremony.

TMA: So you would be among the group opposed to white people participating in Sun Dances?

BJ: And any other ceremony. There's a line there that needs to be very much respected. It wasn't long ago that some of my people were inviting non-Indian people into sweat lodges and different kinds of ceremonies and on and on, only to have them leave and go to whatever town that they come from -- I know that only an hour and a half from me, they're doing sweat lodges and they don't even know what in the hell they're doing. They went to one or two, and now they built the sweat lodge, they didn't even build it right. It isn't a matter of just taking a bunch of sticks and putting them in the ground. There's a whole way to do this in a proper way . . . and how to do the ceremonies and what that's all about. Now they got these non-Indians out of Milwaukee doing it, and they're charging major, major bucks for these weekends -- I mean like $2,000. Medicine people don't charge money. That's ridiculous. You don't charge money! It would be like if a bunch of Indian people, we go into a Catholic Church, we go to a mass or two, then we go into the backyard and we build an altar and then we run down to the bakery and get a loaf of bread, and run over to the Beer Depot and get a jug of wine, and start saying masses and forgiving sins, and charging for this stuff. Some people would have their fur up.

TMA: Although this has happened to every culture.

BJ: Yeah, it's still going to happen but the Sacred Eagle Lodge and the Medicine Lodges and the conscientious elders are very, very clear where this stuff begins and ends.

TMA: So there's that which can be shared and there's that which shouldn't be shared.

BJ: Exactly. As with many organizations, the Elks, the Eagles, the Moose and the Masons and others.

TMA: The Tibetans have been ripped off in the same way.

BJ: Exactly.

TMA: Every group has it happen. But I've thought for a long time that the Native Americans certainly had information that the rest of the world needs in order to facilitate the healing of the planet.

BJ: And we still do, but there's no sense in giving the ceremonial ways and exposure to people that aren't even balanced . . . they wouldn't be capable of doing it in a healing, proper way. That's why my people are saying, and always have, first get them healed. I mean, don't hand a machine gun to a child; they won't know what to do with it. There's just no sense in going any further than we are at this point without healing people and teaching them.

That's what these books are all about. The next one that I'm working on is How to Have Healthy Relationships. This is a very abusive, sick society, and getting much sicker much faster. All somebody has to do is turn on the news for a half hour and they're going to find out real quick how sick it is. So this next book I'm working on is how to have a healthy relationship -- with yourself, with others and with the universe and the Creator. And that's what people need to know, not so much to get into our ceremonies. They need to get healed first.

TMA: What are you teaching in seminars you're doing?

BJ: Well, I do a lot of work in seminars that helps people with five things; I'll mention those to you. I'm going to get a little clinical on you -- but you know, that's the other side of me. Not only do I use our 70,000-year-old tribal ways, I bring into it a lot of the contemporary, which some people would like to call traditional -- but it's only about 100 years old. The "traditional" came out in 1908. But there's five things that you have to come to, otherwise you're going to have psychological pathology. One is that you conclude that you're a good person, and two, that you're good enough. Three, that you're lovable and loved, and four, that you belong. And five, that you're connected to the universe. What I try to do as I go around and do workshops all over the country and up into Canada is address to the audience that they are good and what proves, what validates, that they're good. And that they're good enough, and that their value is for their existence and not, basically, for what they do and what they don't do. The only thing really that they're ever going to do perfectly in their life is die anyway, and they won't screw that up.

I kind of brush lightly over those first two points because I figure they can get that pretty much anywhere, hopefully. Then I get into the lovable and loved, and how unique they are in the universe; that there's only one of them, ever was and ever will be, and how important they are.

Then onto the fourth point: that they belong. A lot of people trip over this in a dominant society. This is one good thing about being tribal. You not only have your tribe, but you have your band. I'm not only Anishinaabe-Ojibwe Chippewa, I have my Lac Court Oreilles band, so I have this sense of belonging.

And then I speak to the biggest one, that at least ninety percent of the people in my audience are going to be afflicted with -- they don't have this sense and feeling that they're connected to the universe . . . and so I connect them to the universe. And I connect them [by helping them know] how we're all related by breath; that the breath in your lungs at this moment, right this moment -- where was that air two months ago? Was it in a penguin on the South Pole? A zebra in Africa? In a panda in China or a polar bear at the North Pole? Was it in an elk or a hawk or a salmon or a porpoise? Where was it? We're all connected by breath, we're all one within each other, and that breath comes from the Creator. That breath brings us to our ain-da-ing, our home within our heart. [I help them know] how we're all connected in this giant spider web by breath. That we're all one within each other and related; that we're all relatives with the winged and the finned and the four-legged and the two-legged, and the creepers and the crawlers and the shelled, and how we're all part of each other. That does so much for people.

I teach them how to heal themselves with rocks, grandfather rocks, and I show them how to connect themselves. Like Chief Seattle said, we're all part of the web of life, and whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. I raise their consciousness to a level that their culture really hasn't spoken to them much about or made them aware of. Our relationship with the trees and how we have an obligation to the trees and the trees have an obligation to us; and water spirits, how we have an obligation to them and how they have an obligation to us; and the fire spirits, and right down the line. How we're all part of this.

Blackwolf Jones, M.S., C.A.S., co-author with his wife Gina of The Healing Drum, Listen to the Drum, and Earth Dance Drum, is a psychotherapist, certified addictions counselor, and teacher of Chippewa (Ojibwe) heritage who uses ancient Anishinaabe-Ojibwe healing remedies within his clinical practice. As a national speaker, Blackwolf offers ages-old wisdom and effective healing techniques to his audiences.