Since the inception of colonization in North America, many would say that religion has been used as the catalyst to impose “conformist western ideologies” on Indigenous peoples. For centuries, settlers used religion as a means to justify oppression, persecution, abuse, forced removal, murder, and cultural genocide. The implications of generations upon generations of trauma are no doubt experienced by every Indigenous person today, all in the name of religion.
So it’s no surprise that many Indigenous people have a hard time reconciling the lived experiences of their ancestors with the adoption of a new faith or spiritual practice. After generations of oppression, many Indigenous people have only now begun to familiarize themselves with the lost traditions and spiritual practices of their ancestors.
As I’ve written and performed music set to the Baha’i writings for over a decade, it has presented me with countless opportunities to travel the world, collaborate, and meet other Baha’is inspired by the teachings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, to create meaningful and uplifting works of art.
I’ve found that although we share a common Faith, how its message manifests through the creative and diverse lenses and hands of artists always astonishes and humbles me. The opportunities and potentialities of where the Baha’i teachings can take us creatively seem limitless, and as the Baha’i Faith grows and its teachings take shape in cities and villages around the world, they can have a tremendous impact on the future of the arts and the role it plays in humanities progress.
A Baha’i artist who is no stranger to pushing boundaries and exploring his limitless potential, is this episode’s artist-in-residence, Roman Orona. Roman is a member of the Apache, Pueblo, and Yaqui tribes located in the Southwestern United States. He is an educator, environmentalist, producer, actor, musician, and filmmaker whose mission is to teach world peace, gender equality, environmental, and cultural preservation, racial equality, and the abandonment of all forms of prejudice through his art.
We begin our conversation by talking about a project Roman founded called #iamHUMAN. What started as a 3 a.m. idea a few years ago has now become a non-profit media company that creates podcasts, performances, and videos which challenge stereotypes and educate humanity.
Roman believes that if we stay comfortable, we can’t change. His mission with #iamHUMAN: to break down the walls which hold us back from our inherent oneness, by elevating the station of art and artists, and giving them a platform to share art that promotes unity in diversity.
In our conversation, we take a dive into the effects of colonization on the spiritual, cultural, and traditional practices and arts of Indigenous peoples. We also ask Roman what makes the Baha’i Faith different from these religions of the past, what he believes the Baha’i Faith can bring Indigenous people in light of this history, and what he thinks the Baha’i community can learn from Indigenous people.
Having been taught the Baha’i Faith through his parents, Roman became a Baha’i in his youth. He learned that no aspect of his Indigenous heritage or traditions would go against the Baha’i Faith’s teachings, so he embraced both with open arms. He discovered early on that he could sing Baha’i prayers in the style of his tribal and traditional songs, and thus found a beautiful way to integrate deep cultural practices into his spiritual life as a Baha’i and his creative output as an artist.
We also explore the role of Indigenous prophecy in confirming Roman’s creative and spiritual practice, and in reconciling his tradition and faith through his art. Roman shares some of these Indigenous prophecies and their direct correlation with Baha’i history and teachings — they tell him that the Baha’i Faith is the religion that humanity has been waiting for. By bringing the words of the prophet, Baha’u’llah, to the center of his work, and integrating art forms from his Apache tradition such as chanting, drumming, bells and playing the flute, Roman believes he is elevating both his Faith and Indigenous culture. With this revolutionary approach, Roman shares how music and tradition has to evolve just as humans evolve, and that this process helps keep Native traditions alive.
We continue our conversation by exploring the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:
Attach great importance to the Indigenous population of America … there can be no doubt that they will become so illumined as to enlighten the whole world.
Roman has worked in many different fields, starting out as a biologist and civil engineer, then doing a major shift, turning to pursue a career in acting and directing films, becoming a recording artist and performer, and running a non-profit media company. Roman shares how these words from Abdu’l-Baha became the main catalyst for his career shift, and helped him turn towards work that he truly believed will enlighten the whole world.
In closing, we asked Roman to share a few of his upcoming projects, which include a Baha’i-inspired album called Invocations, blending his Apache style of chanting and drumming with the Baha’i writings. He is also working on a one-man stage play based on his life and journey, and a sci-fi movie that goes back and forth in time and draws on the wisdom of ancestors.
We’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with Roman, and are excited to follow his journey and mission to enlighten the world through his gifts, talents and services to humanity!
To learn more about Roman visit: RomanOrona.com
Find Roman on Soundcloud.
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