The Wisdom of Those Who Were Here
When the refugees (explorers/Founders of this Country/Invaders/exploiters/Colonizers /White Western refugees) first came to this country they did not find an empty land. They found many groups of people living here and caring for these lands.
As groups, they had many characteristics in common and also some very large differences in the way they organized themselves and lived with each other and one another. Some tribes were more war-like than others and, in general, they lived and had lived very differently than those who came. Many of the ways they lived with themselves and others were experienced by the “founding fathers” (and I use both words advisably) to be quite functional. Indeed, many of the ways those who lived here interacted and behaved were realized to be superior to what the newcomers had known before. They were admirable, and inspirational in relation to what those “refugees” had left behind.
Our founding “fathers” were not unaware of these “improvements” and have tried to instill them in their vision for a new kind of society. It is important to remember that in Australia, America, and Ireland, the Native people “knew” the newcomers would be coming (I suspect this knowledge was held by many native peoples of the world. These three countries are ones in which I have lived and spent time in and have personally explored these myths and legends).
I. All of us who have studied the founding of this nation have heard that the westerners came seeking religious freedom and a new way of life. Of course there were exploiters and those who came to “take.” And, these loftier ideals were carefully enunciated by those who sought to build a new kind of nation on personal, social and cultural ideals that were not part of the warp and woof of the societies from which they came. These new ways of creating a nation were not generally practiced in the countries they had left. Let us look at some of these important ideals as we explore further.
A. In the cultures already in America, there is a belief that differences are not a threat, they are a necessity. Most Native people believe that each little piece of creation (including plants, animals, nature and the planet – AND especially each culture,) has a little bit of the understanding of creation and the truth of what we all need to know. NO ONE culture or BELIEF system has it all! Therefore, we all need one another in order to move closer to our true connection with the “oneness,” “God,” “Allah,” or “the Great Mystery.”
Quite simply, we need one another with what we have to bring in equally respected portions to get closer to knowing the whole of all creation.
The people who lived here knew that truth and welcomed the strangers until the strangers showed that they were un-deserving of the knowledge, and proved that they could not be trusted, or were here to exploit.
So, what the newcomers found were fully-functioning societies, some of which were ready and eager to “unite.” Others of which were not.
B. They found people who knew the difference between strength and power and power was never defined as “power over” as it was in the invader/refugee immigrants. Strength is humble. Power in a hierarchal society is always “power over,” which was not an idea valued by many of the people of this land.
C. Indeed, the hierarchy was not an idea that functioned in this land before the refugee/invaders came. Those who came, however, mostly came from a society in which there was a hierarchy of royalty who “ruled.” This concept was unknown to the people of this land.
Just try to imagine an entire people with no concept of one-up/one-down where if you were not one up you had to be one down. Equality was not, and still to some is not, a functional possibility. Yet, here on this land were thousands who knew nothing other than equality.
There are many reports of how hard the “invaders” had to work to get the concept of inequality across to a people who were “equals.” It was even harder to convince them that those already here were “one down” by definition.
I have come to believe that this difference in “beliefs” is one of the major reasons why elimination seemed to be the best solution by some who came.
D. The people who belonged here believed in and only knew honesty. Lying, conning and manipulation were unknown to them. Trust was the cornerstone of their civilization and was assumed to be necessary in their relationship with the creator. This is why shock and disbelief ensued when the colonizers came, resulting in their saying, “The White man speaks with forked tongue.” The newcomers said this disbelief and not understanding dishonesty is stupidity.
E. Not only what they thought differed, the WAY they thought was different. Most native thought patterns are not linear and they are multileveled and multidimensional at the same time. If you don’t believe me, try to learn Hawaiian or Cherokee – not Christianized Hawaiian or Cherokee – the real Hawaiian or Cherokee.
F. The cultures of this land before colonization/invasion were group and culture oriented. They were not self-centered. If the group was okay, the individuals were okay. The weaker and older were cared for. The unusual were gifts for the whole tribe. Everyone, even the unusual, were valued and cared for (no healthcare issues) and the elders were honored as everyone was necessary to the functioning of the whole and had a unique contribution to make.
G. There was always an underlying feeling of contentment even when times were hard because everyone, like with the Lakota, belonged and were a part of something bigger than oneself.
H. There was a feeling of safety because everyone knew that she/he was not God nor was anyone else – nor could they be. This knowing brings safety. They did not operate out of fear and anger.
I. All these societies were spiritually based – not religion based – spiritually based. There were no religions to divide. My observation is that religions were developed when individuals and societies lost the knowing that each of us and all of us are one with the creator and we left our constant contact with the creator. Religions were created to try to help people remake that connection.
An old Navajo spiritual leader once said to me, “I don’t care how you pray, as long as you do pray you can stand beside me.” He practiced Christianity, the Navajo spirituality and was an international leader in the Bahai Faith. He lived what he said.
J. Humility grows when we know that we are part of a greater whole. In most native cultures throughout the world, humility is an essential for living. Knowing who we aren’t, helps us be who we are. Humility is a sacred way of being in which our primary relationship is with the creator and as best we can, our marching orders come from that source. We do not have to worry about “who” or “what” we are as long as our process is trying to be of service and honor the creator in all we do. If we think we are humble or are trying to be “humble,” we’re not! Don’t ever trust anyone who tells you “they are humbled” or are They’re NOT!
K. Native people are in touch with the earth and know how much we receive from the earth. They have an ongoing respectful relationship with the earth and care for it.
Native people are not above nature to abuse and exploit it, they are nature and one with it.
Clearly, our ancestors who came here in desperation NEEDED what the native people had to teach and, to the best of their ability, were open to and tried to include this wisdom in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Unfortunately, old habits die hard and while our minds may grasp some new ideas our beliefs and unconscious fears, anger, and doubts may result in something quite different even when we want to do better.
This is why we need honesty on our part and honesty on the part of the others to help us find better ways to be with ourselves, one another and the planet. None of us can do it alone.
None of us is as smart as we can be or as dumb as we imagine. Yet, we humans can do some pretty dumb things at times.
As our hierarchical dishonest trained forefathers tried to find a new way, they were inspired and plagued with blindspots as we are now.
Unfortunately, even when they admired the values of the people they found here, they were at a loss as to how to operationalize these ideas, ideals, and behaviors.
It is up to us to move along in the direction of these ideals and not regress to the mistakes of our ancestors or become an even more entropic, dysfunctional system.
Operationalizing our ideals when we don’t clearly “know” them in our gut is a big challenge. We need input from others unlike ourselves to try to create a whole.
AND – WE CAN DO IT!