Unlearning Modern Expectations with an Indigenous Mindset with Connor Ryan (Episode #166)
There are a few young “influencers” who are poised to have an enormous positive impact on our shared humanity, and Connor Ryan is one of them. He is an exciting figure, making waves both on and off the ski slopes, and his journey is anything but conventional. What sets him apart is not just his prowess on skis, but his unique role as a bridge—a translator—connecting us to the wonders and nuances of the Lakota language and Native American culture. This interview was so fascinating that we plan to have Connor back for a Part 2, so check that out next!
About Our Guest:
Connor Ryan was born and raised in the homelands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute peoples in the western United States. While his mother’s Lakota heritage was not a part of Connor’s early childhood, in his early 20’s, his life and interests organically gravitated toward that part of his DNA. Today, at age 30, he has become a sought-after speaker—and illuminator—when it comes to Lakota language and traditions.
I use the word “illuminator” very purposefully there, because to hear Connor speak is like having a light turned on in a room that you didn’t even realize you were standing in. He talks a lot about the foundational differences between the non-indigenous and indigenous mindsets, and how differing views of reality find their way into language.
What Connor is doing for all of us is akin to acting as a translator for a vast cultural worldview of the Lakota people—and at the same time, he is pointing to fresh, powerfully useful ways of considering our own relationships to each other and the earth.
The concepts he shares with us point to the truth in that old adage, “Language creates reality,” and somehow I suspect we all know this. Many of us are choosing our words more carefully these days, and we’re giving the side-eye to the folks who use language recklessly to gin up chaos and run down the dignity of others.
Through the whole interview, Connor drops insights on us, highlighting some key cultural differences that could be very useful upgrades to our current norms. For instance, we colonials—people who descend from the European colonists and immigrants of the 18th and 19th century—are prone to saying things like, “What’s your takeaway?” This stands in stark contrast to the indigenous way of thinking, which would include phrases like, “What did you give?” In their traditions, what one gives away is an important thing.
It turns out, most indigenous cultures position us—humanity—as part of a whole. The Lakota language was never set up to define things as “separate.” When you start there, you treat the world, and every challenge, very differently. Connor likes to say that, “You can’t raise buffalo…you can only restore the prairie.” The buffalo is part of the whole, and so are we.
Whenever we ask a “How can we…” question, Connor reminds us to start with our role as only a single, small piece of a vast puzzle. For now, our negative impact is outsized, but our actual importance to the whole is not. The earth would go on without us, without missing a beat—and arguably, be better for our absence. If we wish to fit into the puzzle, we need to figure out which pieces we are meant to connect to.
While some may label him an activist, Connor Ryan sees himself as a vessel for something deeper—an ambassador bridging cultures and philosophies. His ambition extends beyond skiing; it’s all about inspiring the next generation, especially Indigenous youth, and proving that their heritage and passions need not be at odds with each other.
So how does skiing fit into all this philosophy and sharing? Well, Connor says that skiing is his dance and prayer; a ceremony of its own, one that offers a chance to center himself within nature and the Great Mystery of the universe surrounding him. He works to inspire others to deepen their connection to the places they live and play, in order to help us all to be better relatives to our planet, our communities, and ourselves.
That’s a wonderful vision of what’s possible.
- Connor’s Instagram
- Film: “Spirit of the Peaks”
- Connor Ryan & Tiokasin Ghosthorse talk at See Change Sessions
- Book: “The Hero with 1000 Faces” by Joseph Campbell
- Book: “The Dawn of Everything” by David Graeber
- 00:00 – Intro & Welcome
- 02:18 – Childhood Influences
- 02:33 – Grandfather’s History
- 05:29 – Connecting with Culture
- 10:52 – Buffalo and Prairie
- 15:20 – Earth’s Self-Healing
- 20:21 – Lakota Language
- 25:29 – Connecting with Nature
- 28:10 – Indigenous Inclusion
- 29:41 – Break
- 31:57 – Personal Transformation
- 39:01 – Storytelling in Digital Age
- 44:46 – Worldview Differences
- 54:05 – Future Conversations