Friday, November 19, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 20, 2021 - Remember We Are on Indigenous Land

Throughout human history, groups of people have conquered others in order to take their land. In the process, humans have done all sorts of unthinkable and unspeakable acts. There is virtually no conquering society in history who isn’t guilty of these crimes. 

And what do we do about these regrettable histories? What do we do now as we learn more about the atrocities our ancestors committed? How do we apply the things we learn through our exploration of spirituality and religion to not only cope with the present moment but rise above the shame of our ancestors, now that we know things might have been done differently?

As we proceed through Native American Heritage Month, we are invited to notice that there is beauty in Native American traditions. And there is also horror and atrocity in their own history perpetrated against one another. Native Americans are not without their own blood on their hands.

We have a romanticized idea about Native American culture on this land. But the truth is more interesting. More complex. Less innocent, more valuable.

It is not the job of the present age to erase history any more than it is to whitewash over it. It is the job of the present age to face it with resignation, submission, and respect.

First and foremost, I have a respect for the Native American relationship with the earth. I have a respect for the notion that we are caretakers of the earth, rather than its owners. That we don’t have things, we have obligations. We have an obligation to the earth. And to one another.

At this time on the wheel of the year, we honor the harvest. Thanksgiving is upon us. And with it, our old romanticized notions of the relationships between the pilgrims and those who first inhabited this land, the famous meal they shared, and the friendships they created.

Of course, this history is only partially true. We know that now. And we tell ourselves little fibs to get around our lack of ease with shame. But we have to remember that this shame is not ours. Not specifically. And not in the way we fear. 

We hear tales of cancel culture and of the rewriting of history and political correctness and we throw our hands up because we don’t know how to engage these topics. And because we often find distasteful the ways that their advocates proclaim them. 

There is a purpose here, though. There’s an opportunity here. Especially in this time of Thanksgiving and gratitude we have an opportunity to be grateful for those who seek to know the truth about our ancestors and those whom they conquered. And why. 

We are not revealed to be villains in this process. Only perpetuating mistruths of our history is villainous now, not the uncovering of it. Not the facing of it. There is honor there.

The Navajo have a peacemaking ceremony and legal process called hozhooji naat’aanii. It begins with an opening prayer to summon the aid of the supernatural in the process of reconciliation. The prayer also prepares the parties for the process. It acknowledges the existence of a disharmony that shall be mended. It uses Navajo values and tribal law as the basis to talk things out. 

Retired Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, Robert Yazzie, explains that “The western law way is to punish you so that you don’t repeat the behavior. But the Navajo way is to focus on the individual. You separate the action from the person.”

What can we take from this about how to move forward in our world? How might we recognize the spiritual and philosophical other in ways that foster genuine reconciliation and friendship based on mutual respect?

Our way of doing things, sadly, has shown disrespect for the proper balance of the world. But we need not continue it. We need only to look at our own stated traditions and values and principles to see that there are more loving ways of moving forward.

It begins with a recognition of actual history, and the validation of the harms caused. It does not mean taking responsibility for the causing of historic harm so much as it is about taking responsibility for what we do next about it. 

The Navajo peacemaking process asks the question and states: ‘Why did this act happen in the first place? There is a reason why it happened. Let’s focus on the root of it.’ The purpose of the process is to restore dignity and worthiness. What might be learned from that when scratching our heads in dismay about what to do next?

We have reached a point in our civilization where questions like this are in the forefront of our minds. We’ve begun to share our stories with one another. And in the process, we have discovered things we might have rather not known.

But there can be grace in how we proceed. There is an opportunity to display courage and fortitude while maintaining our dignity. It is through the process of listening to other people. Not only listening, but truly hearing.

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