Native Americans—The Power of Forgiveness

Del Laverdure and President Obama

In 2005, while working with the marketing director at Michigan State University College of Law to promote the college’s Indigenous Law Program, I met Asst. Professor Del Laverdure, the founding director of the program. At that time, he was the chief justice for the Crow Tribe Court of Appeals, and is now the deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs. The college’s law program was intended to attract Native American students to study indigenous law with the hope that they would return to their tribes and legally represent them. The tribes need lawyers to protect their lands, sacred grounds and cultural practices, and today’s battles are being fought in the courtrooms instead of battlefields.

After talking with Professor Del Laverdure, I was impressed with his demeanor and explanation of the Native American culture. This influenced me at a family gathering to ask my grandfather if he was Native American. He answered, “Yes,” but then he turned away. He didn’t want to talk about it.

Later in private, I asked my father about our heritage. This opened up a chapter about my ancestry that I never knew before. My father, who was raised by his grandparents, stated that his grandfather was a full-blood Apache. My father told stories of my great-grandfather’s adventures of smuggling sugar and flour from Mexico into Texas while being shot at by Texas Rangers. When I asked what he did when they shot at him, my father said, “He shot back!”

My great-grandfather, Manuel Carinas Herrera; great-grandmother, Juanita Garcia Herrera; and father, Robert Herrera, on his wedding day.

My great-grandfather had also worked in mines igniting dynamite—a dangerous vocation—and went back to live on the reservation for seven years. My father continued that he was the strongest man he ever knew. He could carry two logs, one over each shoulder, like a normal man might carry bags of feed.

Many people are familiar with the Native Americans’ plight of genocide, forced removal from their lands (estimated total of 93 million acres), and strategic killing of their food source, the buffalo. General Philip Sheridan is quoted as saying, “Let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffalo is exterminated, as it is the only way to bring lasting peace and allow civilization to advance.” (Ironically, the land where my father’s cousins lived across the road from his grandparents was bought and became a buffalo ranch.)

Assimilation of Native Americans

Assimilation of Native Americans

The tragedy continued with The Americanization of Native Americans assimilation effort by the United States to transform Native American culture to European-American culture between the years of 1790-1920. Native American children were forced into boarding schools, run by religious groups who taught them Christianity instead of their tribes’ spiritual customs, and banned from speaking their own language or dressing in native clothing in an effort to assimilate them. And until 1978, spiritual leaders ran the risk of jail time for practicing their rituals.

It is deplorable that our country has a history of genocide (and slavery), and that Native Americans are still forced to protect themselves against further encroachment by the U.S. government and private interests. It is also understandable why many Native Americans are distrustful and angry over these events, but are these feelings serving them?

Some might say that Native Americans are having the last laugh because of the money being made from the casinos; however, Native American gaming has also proven to be very ineffective in improving many tribal economies. Native Americans have the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the United States of America. And, when I think of the Native Americans’ former dignity and way of life, and their spiritual practices that connected them to nature, animals, and the skies, water and land, I can’t help but believe that all of us have been diminished by the cultural loss of these great people who once dominated this land.

How I would love to see the Native Americans forgive the trespasses of the past (and present), and open up their culture for all who feel compelled to join them.

Forgiveness isn’t easy, and Native Americans have received one of the hardest lessons in forgiveness that can be given, but the anger that is smoldering inside the tribes is robbing them of the beauty of their spiritual path—a path that  could be restored through forgiveness.

American Indian Dance

Image by ArSiSa7 via Flickr

Perhaps they feel that their rituals and spirituality are too great a gift to give away to outsiders. Yet, Native Americans have a resource for communicating with the Great Spirit through Native-American spirituality, also known as shamanism, Who can help them to forgive. Native Americans will not diminish themselves through forgiveness—quite the opposite. The act of forgiveness will be for themselves to let go of their anger, be at peace, and move forward with no resentment standing in the way of them knowing their true selves.

I ask them to open their hearts to the rest of the world. What greater impact could they have on their oppressors than to educate them about the Native Americans’ culture, spiritual practices, and respect for nature. People fear what they do not understand, but Native Americans can help those outside the tribes to better understand their way of life. I can’t think of a better outcome than to have everyone in this great nation practice, or at least understand, Native American spirituality.

One cannot deny the attraction that Native American spirituality holds for many people outside the tribes. Why should some tribes live in poverty, when they could accept love donations or charge for workshops, demonstrations and apprenticeships to help others become knowledgeable on their way of life. I realize many don’t feel it is proper to charge for teaching spiritual and cultural practices, but I think of it as charging for their time.

Does a Culture lose its culture by extending it to others or strengthen it? I believe they will strengthen it when they teach others, because they are reinforcing the message and its usage for themselves. This can also foster outside empathy for their ongoing efforts to preserve land, receive government monies and regain the rights to perform ceremonies that are still banned by the federal government because of the use of ceremonial plants, such as peyote. I don’t doubt that many Native Americans feel that it is sacrilege for someone to have few lessons and then try to teach rituals to others (such as the accidental sweat lodge deaths that occurred during a ceremony performed by self-help guru James Arthur Ray). To help prevent future misinformation and destructive incidences from occurring, the tribes can offer certifications that will help ensure that their rituals and teachings are performed with respect and knowledge.

We can expect a clash of cultures when the typical American’s mentality of “instant gratification” collides with an ancient belief system. So be it, we will learn from each other.

The Great Spirit is the voice of love. I can think of no better gift that Native Americans can give to others and themselves than to share that love with every living being, even the white man.

“You who were created by love like itself can hold no grievances and know your Self. To hold a grievance is to forget who you are. To hold a grievance is to see yourself as a body. To hold a grievance is to let the ego rule your mind and to condemn the body to death. Perhaps you do not yet fully realize just what holding grievances does to your mind. It seems to split you off from your Source and make you unlike Him. It makes you believe that He is like what you think you have become, for no one can conceive of his Creator as unlike himself.” ~ A Course in Miracles

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10 thoughts on “Native Americans—The Power of Forgiveness

  1. Absolutely brilliant! I think this is an inspired vision. When we act “we keep the carbon copy”, so that in opening their reservations to become large healing and teaching “spas” or “Spiritual Heritage/Tradition Centers”, the wonderful effects (of forgiveness, as you say, and other truths of Native American traditions) would resonate through tribal consciousness. It would open up a 2-way cultural healing…so many Native Americans, especially the younger generations, are losing touch with these traditions, and many of the older generation live lives in which the oral traditions are heard, but only faintly, on the periphery, all but drowned out in daily lives of poverty, violence and despair.

    How wonderful if gambling casinos on reservations could be replaced by Spiritual Heritage Centers…. I can see it, like a spreading green and healing growth, new meadows, new forests, new rivers, one new center at a time, across the face of America.

    It comes to me Elizabeth that this could be your calling, begun on that college campus in 2005. Will you find or be led to a group of Native Americans (perhaps your own Apache people?) who will be interested in working with you to open one “Spiritual Center” ..and then perhaps you would move on to open up others?

    I could see you as a Spiritual Heritage Center Consultant – a truly shamanic “Bridge”, as we say… This may well be years in the future still; your path may be to first spend time studying, even living among, Native American peoples where they welcome you as a guest who comes to learn….How it might come about I do not know…But it seems to me that as a Shaman already, and as a woman who has an “undiscovered country” within, of your Apache heritage, you may have been working towards this vision all your life…

    • Thank you!!! I did feel this article was inspired. I couldn’t stop working on it! Funny, but you are not the first person to mention that my calling might be helping to bridge the modern world and Native American community through healing and advocacy. Perhaps it would be a wonderful path, however, I don’t see myself limited to any group (one benefit of being bi-racial) or spiritual modality (shamanism, “A Course in MIracles”).

      Everyone’s path is unique, and I am trying to follow the guidance of the Spirit. If it involves helping others forgive—that would be awesome! No matter who they are.

      As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback. It is like receiving cool water in the desert.

  2. Excellent article. I am Cherokee. My father’s mom and dad’s family snuck off the path and burned all their papers. To this day I have no proof. Just family story telling, my looks, and my Shaman healing gifts. I did do a DNA test to verify and of course it said I was but it is still not enough to get recognized by the Cherokee nation.

    As a Shaman I find that there is such a sense of peace in helping others and this gift is something that we are to share not hold close to our being. People are thirsty to know everything they can about Native American customs. They want to know who we are. Now is a time that dramatic change can be had. Isn’t it to the Native Americans best interest to open themselves so they are understood and in this will change in how they suffer not happen as well.

    I have the book A Course In Miracles but I have it sitting by my chair collecting dust. I know it will be amazing but I just procrastinate over it. I love the parts I have read though.

    • I suppose it was easier for me to see this from the outside, but, I should have known that after writing this post that I would receive my own lessons in forgiveness, which reminded how difficult it can be to forgive.

      Some of my recent lessons were easy to forgive—I could easily see that the perceived offenses were not more important than recognizing my true self or losing my peace of mind. But some of lessons took several days of continually releasing my grievances to the Spirit for my peace to return.

      There is a strong desire in us to hold onto our grievances as if somehow we are protecting ourselves, when in truth, we are hurting ourselves.

      When the tribes exclude “outsiders” to protect their lineage, it keeps them apart from the very source of their greatness, because we cannot be whole, when we are separate.

      Blessed journeys!
      Elizabeth

  3. Being a half breed, I had to learn to forgive myself for the sins of my own ancestors. You hit the nail on the head, once I got past my anger and my resentments, and guilt, I was able to walk the spiritual path of my ancestors, and what a beautiful journey it has been.

    • Perhaps, being a half-breed is a gift for just such a purpose. My father talked about being a minority once in his life, and only after I asked him if he had ever been discriminated against. He said he hoped I had learn from both cultures — doubled my wisdom. And, he added that the only time he experienced racism was at a Denny’s restaurant (I think he was joking).

  4. When I read all this, it angers me greatly, because you seem to say that the people who got hurt, received a great lesson in forgiveness, So they got hurt, and have to forgive. So how come the ones who do the evil, never feel one second that they shouldn’t do it, and never ask not only for forgiveness, nore restitute them their land. This is the greatest bull shiet I have ever seen, nore heard. And your wonderful “healing Spas” are just a bunch of crap, and typical of your stupid mentality,because you do not understand why they do not charge. You cannot buy Love, nore understanding, and when you hurt others the way they have been you know perfectly well what you are doing, and that perpetual philosophy that Christianity, or a Course in Miracles, are still perpetrating, is a lie, and a cover up, because it’s giving the right to some people to hurt others immensely and consciously, and to the other group, only the right to be hurt, wounded, and robbed and to forgive on top, like they should feel guilty , for the mistakes of the first group. Can you ever take responsibility, for your total refusal to be able to know that you do not have any Divine right, nore given Authority, by any God to hurt your brothers or sisters of Life, or any child or human being, young or old, to kill them rape their women, and their children and kill them too, and steal an entire continent, and come and play like you are making them a favor, to have to ask them on top to forgive you, because God is giving them a lesson in forgiveness. Do you ever learn your own lesson in not harming others, and take responsibility for your wrong doings?Because it hasn’t changed and still goes on in other countries by the same people who are still practicing the same techniques of ,abject murderers, who are masquerading as “Saviors”.The Breath of Life is not a game, on a chessboard where politicians and religious leaders are voluntarily destroying human lives and commiting genocides after genocides,by justifying it with God great lessons, and tests.There is no blood or human Life or culture which has more value than another, and if God cannot explain it to you, at least know your common bond to the other, is your own humanity.What you wouldn’t accept someone do to you, and your family, is OK, for the Indians. The European Culture was, based on greed, insatiable greed, and still is.It” philosophy is called, precisely a “Matricide” which is the murder of your own Mother, the Earth.Life is Sacred, and the Mother is a Living and breathing Entity. It is the destruction of all Life on Earth.It is not a merchandise that you buy , sell,like a commodity, and colonise.Nasa wants to go colonise spaceand bring babies there.They never learn. To destroy up there, too.Do you ever wake up, to your insanity? By destroying the Creation you are destroying yourselves, and that’s it,and it’s time to stop.Loosing the basic respect of Life, and loose the incapacity to feel, are the diseases you are really suffering from, for it’s the first thing you teach to children, at the age of 4.Because when you start destroying existence, you will be destroyed by it, for you do not own what is greater than you.And you are a part of her, and destroying her as a cell would make you a cancerous cell, in the planetary Body.Mother Earth has her own ways. Life has her own ways. You learn to respect her, Love her, and be grateful to her, for without her, you do not exist. Her ways are not the ways of the sword,not conquer, or conquistadores,but of the Breath, for She is the Breath of Existence, and she breathes you. OK? Good night my Love.Just remember who you are, your essence.

    • Charlotte,
      It seemed that most of your comment was directed at the government and politicians, but I’ll reply. Yes, genocide happens. As long as there are people, it will continue. In this collective dream, indigenous people have suffered greatly under the current patriarchal rule, which is about conquering earth instead of living as an equal with her (symbolism of attacking God/Great Spirit).

      It’s true you can’t buy love, and I didn’t say you could. People buy your time. It’s up to you and I to offer love of our own accord. You can offer love to anyone while doing any job, including teaching shamanic journeying. I always try to offer love in every circumstance, whether it’s grocery shopping, teaching a workshop or being with family. Love is love.

      One of the greatest hurdles to forgiveness is that we feel that other person hasn’t been punished for what they did. But, what do you get from someone being punished? Doesn’t punishment offer “proof” that an injustice really happened? But, as the medicine men teach, life is a dream. A dream that seems VERY real, but a dream nonetheless. So if it’s a dream, what has anyone really done to anyone?

      If life is not real, then what’s the point? The point is always to love, and sometimes this mean we love others who seem to not love us. That’s where the lesson comes in…learning to see past the “negative” actions of others to see the divinity in them, because when we do, we see it in ourselves.

      Blessed journeys!

  5. Hello. I appreciate your discussion here, and as I read your post I was expecting some controversy in the comments. It is never easy to hear a message of forgiveness, especially when coming from someone who has not been through what they’ve been through. As an abuse survivor myself, I embrace forgiveness, and enjoy its blessings, yet concurrently recognize that trust is a separate issue. Perhaps many, as I did, confuse the two and feel their only defense against further abuse is to hold on to the offense. There is a path to, with one hand, release debt and embrace love, while with the other hand, keeping one’s boundaries guarded from future harm, using our sensibilities. I think here of the example Jesus gave when he said he trusted no man, yet he certainly loved. Make sense?

    • You bring up a good point. If I were to dig deeper into this issue, I would say that faith in the body, and its ability to be attacked, is the heart of the problem. We are perfect Divine spirits who in reality cannot be harmed. Jesus knew this without fail, even during his crucifixion he knew his spirit couldn’t be attacked or killed, which he demonstrated by the resurrection.

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