Trail of Tears, Immigration, and Healing of Nations

Author of well-known Medicine Cards and Choctaw Pipe-Carrier, David Carson, shares stories of hope and healing with historical roots and contemporary relevance.

From the Trail of Tears forced relocation of Native Americans to displaced Syrian or African refugees, the stories may differ but the wounds and opportunity to heal remain the same. Native Americans have a unique perspective historically, and a wisdom that can help us inform our current situation. Invasion, displacement, genocide have been with humanity forever. In the culture and in the land that surrounds us, even in our blood, all of history is alive within us. This includes the glory and the trauma of our individual and collective past. Healing this history requires looking within one’s self and perhaps taking a moment to hear the untold stories of our history.

“I wouldn’t be here without this history. So to rage against this history is to rage against myself…”   -David Carson

Today people are more willing to re-examine colonial attitudes and the ways these archaic belief structures are still playing out in the world today. Along with this has come a global discussion about our relationship to the land, and a scrutinizing of current political/economic systems. Indeed, we stand at the crossroads of a great opportunity for healing. In many tribes this time of healing has been spoken of in stories for generations.

 

In 1994 Alison “Tootie” Montana, a prominent Black Indian Chief from New Orleans, had a vision of bringing together many diverse tribes to celebrate their shared history. David Carson, Choctaw author of “Medicine Cards” and Kam Nightchase, a Lakota Pipe-Carrier, also shared a similar vision. Reverend David “Goat” Carson of New Orleans led the organizational effort to make this vision a reality at Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park. The gathering was called “Sacred Medicine Circle at High Noon” on Aug. 20, 1994, and a White Buffalo was born later that week. This is said to be a good omen of unity and healing between all tribes and nations.

Unity looks like an impossible dream today though with racial division, immigration, and refugee crises continuing to make top headlines. The lines dividing nations are always changing yet there are no borders in our blood or our common humanity.

Is citizenship or identifying with your own culture more important than recognizing the common humanity in other human beings?

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Only through making the inward journey can this story ever be healed. Remembering, honoring, and making peace with our personal and shared history is something that each of us can do to bring peace into the world. As you will see in the video below, David Carson knows this as well as anyone. His stories and understanding are unparalleled because he has lived them his whole life.

What happened to natives in America provides a good window to understand a universal struggle that is playing out all over the world today. After the Trail of Tears, when natives were forcefully marched off their ancestral lands and onto reservations, natives were required to register themselves on the Dawes Roll. This was an “official” government list of “card carrying” natives.

Some bands of Indians refused to be listed on the Dawes Rolls because they considered it an insult to have the government that abused them be the ones to make their heritage/citizenship “official” or not. These people had children and grandchildren who are still with us today, some assimilated and some continuing to keep their culture outside of the official “books”.

“Outside Indian Country most don’t realize that over the past 10 years, several thousand people have had their tribal citizenship status terminated. Most were not dismembered for wrongdoing or adopted by other Native nations. They were simply identified by their elected officials as allegedly no longer meeting revised citizenship criteria.” –Dismembering Natives: The Violence Done by Citizenship Fights

Citizenship is based on a set of man-made, ever-changing rules usually devised to serve a political or economic agenda. The end result can be devastating when these ideologies become internalized and a sense of belonging is lost. Externally this becomes wars, internally it can become self-hatred. We heal when we extend the welcome-mat, and allow ourselves and others to belong. We are connected by the good, bad, and ugly parts of this history. Connected it what’s most important.

David Carson speaks about healing the trauma from within by “taking the bitter with the sweet” and his wisdom is applicable to all of us no matter what culture we come from. Carson speaks of, “Coming into a new world that we don’t know how to describe… It has to do with light,  it has to do with self-understanding, it has to do with inner-dimensions.” He shares about the “snake of energy” that went from the northern to southern tip of the Americas and the heritage of Mound Builders.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” -Joseph Campbell

 

 

 

When we look to knowledgeable elders and explore our own historical struggles, we begin to see similar patterns emerge for every culture. The oppressors and the oppressed have changed roles on many occasions while the triumphs and suffering continue to be present with us today. Together we can resolve these wounds while deepening our sense of respect for other cultures as well as our selves. This is how new stories are created, this is how we can fulfill a dream of peace and unity, but it will take doing some work within. Deepening compassion for yourself will help you be compassionate for the struggles of others. Cast away your fear, ask questions, explore… only you can heal your history.

Indigenous Roots of the English Language

Respect for native wisdom and spirituality is long overdue, but those of European descent need to also know their own forgotten indigenous heritage.

While many people are actively trying to honor indigenous ways and heal historical wounds leftover from colonialism, many who have European roots are completely oblivious of their own pre-colonial history. In Europe after the Roman Empire decimated most of the tribal communities, France, Britain, and Spain began colonial practices that spread oppressive policies around the world as well as at home. The modern concept of the elite 1% was alive and well during the middle ages and going back far into antiquity. White indigenous people living in tribal ways long ago were oppressed and ripped from their traditional connection to the land just as Native Americans were. In order to have healing across cultures and peace in this world, it is important to know your own past and heal the wounds of your own lineage.

““Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors.” –Vine Deloria, Jr.

I was very lucky to be initiated and taught rune songs as well as migration stories as a young adult. I learned them first in the oral tradition while sitting with my auntie making beadwork and crafts. It was a revelation to realize that some wisdom is better spoken than written, and I have struggled ever since to strike a balance between what is appropriate to write about and what is not. I have found that knowing my own cultural history has opened many doors for me in connecting with diverse people whose cultures I respect and admire.

Bind-Rune with all 24 original runes in one mark.

Recognizing how subjugation and colonial practices continue to hurt people of all ethnic backgrounds is part of the much needed healing. Irish slaves, indentured servants, serfs, and witch-burnings were common traumas for the newcomers to America. Having escaped many of the horrors of the old world, these settlers armed with guns were quite savage in their treatment of Native Americans. Identifying these historical traumas does not justify them, but it helps to inform some of the attitudes that came with the early settlers. It is understood in the field of psychology that children who are treated violently or with abuse have a greater propensity to enact that behavior as adults.

(Pictured above: Bind-Rune with all 24 runes in 1 mark)

The English Language which came from the old world has sadly been forced by oppressive military and exploitative business practices. However it is evolved from an ancient tribal language that was once etched on stones, and told through songs and stories around the council fires. The Runic Language (Alphabet), the Elder Futhark is the root of many of the characters that are now the letters of the English Alphabet.

It is true that we are “sentenced” to perceive the world through stories. That words are “spells” made from spelling. The invention of the printing press allowed for oppression and suppression in ways that never existed before it (notice “press” right in the middle of words like “impress”, “suppress”, “repress”). Books were bound (like people), and covered (like much of our indigenous history). Authority was given to the authors of these stories whether through the laws of the kingdom, or Biblical Law. The keepers of the peoples stories, whether the church, or the kingdom became the ruler of the people.

In the olden days people knew their stories through the oral tradition, through a dance, or a song from a bard. These stories, and our understanding of our place in the world, was not owned or privatized. It was commonly shared and understood. That’s why the Runes were primarily an oral tradition with corresponding written marks. The passing of stories and wisdom through trusted personal networks kept them sacred.

The rune marks are said to be derived from the natural patterns in nature. You can see them in the veins of a trees leaves, in the cracks in dirt. Though they were carved onto stones, traditionally it was unacceptable to kill a tree to make paper to write words on. It is believed that the words and the characters (letters) are alive and they live in the vibrations of our human voices. An understanding of these concepts allowed a person to “read” messages into nature, and the 24 original characters are said to represent our 24 vertebrae. In this sense it is also believed that the runes represent our own internal genetic wisdom, giving us a way to see deeper into our own selves.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have an auntie or uncle to teach them rune songs but if you are interested in deepening your understanding of the mystical, indigenous heritage of the English Language, I highly recommend The Leaves of Yggdrasil by Freya Aswynn. Unlike most New Age interpretations of the runes which are relatively shallow, Freya is initiated in the oral tradition and was ordained to share some of these teachings in writing. It is a beautiful way to gain a deep cultural perspective on the indigenous world-view of Europeans that preceded religious, imperial conquest, and colonialism.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson

The current interest in indigenous wisdom by non-natives is a high form of flattery though it is sometimes insensitive and comes across in unflattering ways. There is a yearning to connect with a forgotten past that is universal to all humans. When each of us connects with our own ancestral lineage we will see that we all share an inherent wisdom and memory of what it is to belong in the larger community of life that surrounds us.  It is time to rewrite the stories that separate us and understand that we don’t live in a hierarchy of species, we live within a sacred circle.

Mural Tells Untold History of Local Tribe

Arizona is a state with a strong and diverse Indian population with a history that goes back over a thousand years. Along the East Coast of The United States, the newcomers from Europe arrived from the east in the early 1600’s. In Arizona, Marcos deNiza  along with Estevanico (an escaped African slave), arrived in the current United States in 1539, a half century before British Colonies started in the northeast. Most of the cultural history of The Southwest comes from the Spanish and Indian influence, yet, the British version of history is still primarily taught in the schools. Book knowledge and oral tradition are 2 different ways to understand history and often they clash, but in Prescott, Arizona public art has bridged the divide.

In 2001, Elizabeth Newman, wanted to give voice to the Indian stories that have been forgotten through a mural. With a group of Mile High Middle School Students, she went door to door asking for old stories, researched at the local Sharlot Hall Museum and asked elders from the local Yavapai Tribe. This created a minor stir as there had been a bit of a divide between the tribe and the local city government, but it was the beginning of a beautiful healing.

Elizabeth enlisted the help of her friend and professional artist, R. E. Wall to help with the project. The students research grew into learning not only the cultural history of the land, but also the natural history. The students were asked to sit by the creek alone each day and make journal entries about the thoughts and feelings that came to them when they silenced their minds under the trees. Eventually, pride and respect for the land grew and the students began picking up the trash along the creek, and noticing subtle things like the birds and animals that inhabited the area. All of these influences were then arranged into a beautiful piece of art by Elizabeth and R. E. Wall for the students to begin painting.

After a greatly successful project and a beautiful new piece of public art in this sleepy town, R.E. Wall took his inspiration for murals and formed The Prescott Downtown Mural Project. You may have heard about it a few years back when it sparked an national controversy and received lots of mainstream press during the SB 1070 battle. If not, you will have to stay tuned to learn more in this ongoing series about the power of public art and the power of educators, youth and a whole community to come together to give voice to history and bring healing.

12 years later, and still with much controversy about education in Arizona, and what history is allowed to be taught in Arizona schools, this mural sits quietly along the creek with a story to tell.

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