“It is true that many of the old ways have been lost. But just as the rains restore the earth after a drought, so the power of the Great Mystery will restore the way and give it new life. We ask that this happen not just for the Red People, but for all people, that all might live. In ignorance and carelessness they have walked on Ina Maka, our Mother. They did not understand that they are a part of all beings, the Four-legged, the Winged, Grandfather Rock, the Tree People, and our Star Brothers. Now our Mother and all our Relations are crying out. They cry for the help of all people.” ~ Black Elk
Black Elk’s use of the word cry has a connotation unfamiliar in today’s vernacular. What was meant was to pray.
Recently a friend, whom I love dearly and I know loves me too, called to offer a thought for my consideration. I had used the Lakota language word inipi, which means sweat lodge, in a prior blog post. She thought I should know that the use of the word could be considered inappropriate by some. I had quoted a passage translated from Black Elk, Oglala Sioux Medicine Man, from the book The Sacred Pipe, Joseph Epes Brown. I’m certain the intention behind the call was an effort to educate and protect me. On the heels of this, my attention was called to an article where I read the words, “it’s cultural trespassing”. The article wasn’t specifically about “the appropriation of culture”, the subject was “Selling the Sacred: Get Your Master’s in Native American Shamanism?”
With a heavy heart I set about ceremony for a buffalo hide I had brought home that morning. It is always my practice to honor the animal, to call his Ancestors to carry his spirit home, to express my gratitude, to become aware of any reparations needed for the creature, his Nation. And for the human involved in the taking of the animal’s life – was it done with respect or is healing needed? My heavy heart spills over in grief – I make apologies, pray for forgiveness for what the European immigrants have done, what white man has done since arriving on the North American continent – the systematic eradication, the genocide. I pray for forgiveness for what human kind has done to the other species on the planet. How we’ve disrespected our Mother Earth. I am crying, both tears and in the way Black Elk was using the word to cry. If not this way of praying – How? The Catholicism of my childhood doesn’t fit in my heart this way. Where do I fit? What is my way if I shouldn’t use these words and this way of praying?
There is no disrespect intended. I mean no offense. No wilful or deliberate appropriation of culture. Still I felt burdened by what I’ve read and my friends warning. More so, the weight of my being a white woman seemed to be holding me culpable for the atrocities of the past and the marginalization that continues today to the Native People in this country.
“Why are you responsible? Why do you feel guilty for what was done?”, prodded my friend Yara. I was going have to think about that as I didn’t have an answer. I feel ashamed to be predominately of European decent. I feel the urge to make it known that my fourth maternal Great Grandmother was called Mahala (which means woman) by the white man who took her as his wife. Her name was I’a’cene. I don’t feel any less white. I feel confused and depressed.
“What do you know?” asked my fern-friend later when I stopped for council on my walk. I know I am the very same energy that is the earth’s energy. The same as the buffalo. The same as all the nations of beings on this planet. I am not responsible for the past and I am the blood and bones of my ancestors. I am the wind. I am the raven. I am the stones and the soil. The waters. There is no separation, no difference between myself and another. I know these ways fill my heart with gladness, and hope – they resonate wholly. I am crying.
“Survival of the world depends on our sharing what we have, and working together. If we do not the whole world will die, first the planet, and next the people.” ~ Frank Fools Crow
The ways of the Lakota People, the way of indigenous cultures, ancient ways of honoring our Mother Earth and all life – again I cry while trying to find words – theirs, mine. It is the language of the heart. I speak out of love. I speak to invoke the light. I speak and pray for a day when we can all live without fear, without misunderstanding. I am crying that we remember we are all one.
I forgive myself for being white. I forgive myself if I have harmed anyone in anyway due to my own confusions.
What else is a white girl to do?
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin ~ All My Relations