The Trail of Tears was the forced relocation of Native Americans yet the stories of displaced Syrian or African refugees in Europe, or Mexican immigrants at the US border are not too different. The cultural attitudes, the wounds, and opportunity to heal remain with us to this day. 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 these wounds 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, Co-Author of Medicine Cards and Choctaw Pipe-Carrier
Today people are more willing to re-examine colonial attitudes and the ways these archaic belief structures are still playing out in the world. 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.
A Prophecy of Healing
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. A White Buffalo was born later that week thus fulfilling a Lakota Prophecy that had been passed down for 19 generations. 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.
What is Citizenship?
Sometimes people take citizenship or identifying with their own culture to be more important than recognizing the common humanity in other human beings. 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”. Blood quantum is still a hotly contested discussion as some tribes require just 10% native blood and others require 50% in order to be called “Indian”.
Does blood determine who we are? Do government laws determine who we are? Does where we were born determine who we are?
“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 is 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.
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