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Wendell George | Little Joe asks about the concept of Indian time

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To Little Joe, every sunrise was a natural event marking the beginning of a day. He knew measuring the time of sunrise wouldn’t change anything so he asked, “Uncle (Twasen), what is Indian Time?”

“Indians are sometimes faulted because we don’t let time rule our lives. We are more concerned with events. To us, a successful event starts when everyone has arrived and is ready. It has been said that time was only invented so everything wouldn’t be happening at once. There are no Indian words for seconds, minutes or hours. We have words such as today (yayawt), night (s-jo-we), morning (ee,qua,quast), or tomorrow (aye-quast). The word for day is sxelxelt, meaning daylight, which naturally varies as the earth’s inclination changes during its sun orbit. The dominant society started to break from nature with the invention of the clock.”

“People would be lost without clocks.”

“Clocks are convenient but shouldn’t rule your life. Just be aware, as Native Americans are, that clocks and calendars do not follow the natural cycle of the three-dimensional universe.”

“When did society break from nature?”

“In 3000 BC, the Sumerians created two-dimensional mechanized time by dividing the day into 24 hours, 60 minutes and 60 seconds each in proportion to a 360-degree circle.

“They had clocks back then?”

“No, the clock itself wasn’t invented until 1500 AD with all its intricate springs and pendulums. But earth’s solar orbit is 365 days not 360 so we live in a world totally out of synchronization with nature.”

“How does that affect our thinking?”

“As we said before, thinking is a physical action. To physically think, you must have a past. Then you can proceed to the future.”

“I don’t understand.”

“For example, if you say ‘Please bring me a cup of coffee,’ you are actually forcing a future with coffee in it. But this cannot happen unless you have a past that defines the words cup and coffee. Even beyond that, the person who is bringing you coffee must also understand the language.”

“OK, but you said before we must live in the present. How can we do that if we are living the past and future?”

“Living in the Present or Now does not mean you are to ignore your personal schedules or chores. Those are physical things. When you are Spiritually Conscious, there is no time, past or future. That is the NOW. You live your life but are aware of your place in it. You do not get frustrated with situations when they become unbalanced. You know if you maintain your balance things will work out. This idea has been around for a long time. See St. Paul’s Romans 12:2: “Do not conform yourself to the world. But be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”


Wendell George writes Go-la’-ka Wa-wal-sh (Raven Speaks). He can be reached via email at His books are available at local book stores, tribal museum and Amazon.