Interview with Tony Ten Fingers from Primal: Why We Long to Be Wild and Free
Indigenous teachers are now sharing, learning, and taking things back to their own people, even in the face of big challenges in their own communities, such as suicide prevention, a prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome, the growing number of missing native women, and other issues that are specific to that community. And they are not hesitant to directly address the big issues and ideas of cultural appropriation, decolonization, and even the idea of reindigenization.
Tony Ten Fingers is one such teacher and leader. Tony was born and raised in Ogalala, South Dakota, and was a significant contributor to the early days of the primal movement, especially on the east coast. He has worked across the country helping people heal from trauma by connecting deeply to nature. He has served as a mentor to these people and has done ground-breaking work on suicide prevention in native communities. He has also personally experienced the impact of youth suicide on reservations, having lost family members to the epidemic. I know Tony from my early days at WAS, and he is always a solid presence of warmth, kindness, insight, and deep heart-felt sharing. When I first met Tony, he had the appearance of many archetypal images of Lakota people: strong, long vibrant black hair, and a prominent hawk-like nose. Tony’s Lakota name is Wanbli Nata’u, which means Raging Eagle. The irony is that Tony never rages at anybody; he maintains a peaceful, ironic, and quite funny demeanor.
Much of Tony’s work and the work that he sees happening through survival skills, the primal journey, and deep nature connection is about establishing Identity, especially for Native people. Whether it’s working with troubled teen youth in a wilderness setting, playing with elementary school kids on the reservation, or doing suicide prevention, a lot comes back to knowing who we are. We need to learn to know who we really are and to identify or even re-identify who we are. Tony sees survival skills as one valid path for this quest, and it's important to realize that all people long to be connected to their deep primal nature
So what, exactly, is the connection between survival skills and finding one's identity?
“When we’re in nature practicing survival skills, that’s when things make sense in the w