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That groundbreaking 1978 law, known by its acronym as AIRFA, allowed Indigenous people in the United States to practice, preserve, and protect their traditional spiritual heritage. It seems hard to believe now, but before that law existed, American legal codes actually outlawed or prohibited many of those traditional religious practices.
… today the splendour of the Word of God has illumined every horizon, and from all sects, races, tribes, nations, and communities souls have come together in the light of one Word, assembled, united and agreed in perfect harmony.
Baha’is believe in the essential unity and harmony of all religions. Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
Today the one overriding need is unity and harmony among the beloved of the Lord, for they should have among them but one heart and soul and should, so far as in them lieth, unitedly withstand the hostility of all the peoples of the world; they must bring to an end the benighted prejudices of all nations and religions and must make known to every member of the human race that all are the leaves of one branch, the fruits of one bough.
Patricia Locke – also known by her Lakota name as Tȟawáčhiŋ Wašté Wiŋ, or Compassionate Woman – served as the first Native American woman on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States; was a distinguished MacArthur Fellow for her work preserving Indigenous languages; and was inducted posthumously into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2005.
In this installment and the following one of our series on Indigenous messengers of God, Chris Buck and Patricia Locke’s son Kevin explore her seminal work regarding those messengers.
Q: Kevin, your mother Patricia Locke’s unpublished paper, “Native American and Other Indigenous Manifestations of God,” was recently rediscovered, thanks to Indigenous Baha’i artist Nadema Agard (Winyan Luta, “Woman Holy Red”), who had preserved and kept this precious document safe after all these years, and then recently sent you a digital scan. Patricia Locke had personally shared this paper with Nadema when she worked for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, near your home in South Dakota, from 1995–1997.
As you know, Patricia Locke presented her paper to the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions in a special session entitled, “God’s Messengers to the Native Peoples of the Western Hemisphere” with Jacqueline Left Hand Bull. The manuscript opens as follows:
The histories of American indigenous peoples and the immigrants are at odds. Many contemporary Euro-American historians, anthropologists, religious leaders, educators, and jurists, use terminology and tenaciously cling to unsubstantiated concepts and theories that denigrate and contradict histories, religions, and world views of the Indigenous peoples of the western Hemisphere.
A major Euro-American fiction still held by many is that God and the Messengers of God were somehow absent in the entire hemisphere prior to, and at the time of the arrival of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. This ethnocentric fiction has had, and still has, tragic implications for American Indian nations that wish to worship God as the Messengers taught them, and which is their fundamental human right.
Here, the word “immigrants” refers to non-indigenous peoples in the America, especially Euro-Americans. Further on in her paper, Patricia Locke wrote:
The premise of this paper is that God did not neglect the millions of indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, that over the centuries a “myriad of Messengers” of God were sent to various Indian nations to bring them divine theologies of which many have survived and are practiced today.
For centuries, the indigenous peoples of the Americas have been intensely religious and spiritual. The ancient religious tradition incorporates the secular. Spirituality is integrated in the cosmic, human, and divine world view. …
Numerous indigenous religions, the names for God and the Messengers of God are irretrievably lost. There has been a blotting out of knowledge as millions of human beings died as a result of pestilence and genocide. It is estimated that 85% of the hemisphere’s population died of plagues, the sword and musket soon after 1492. Yet we know some of the names that now extinct peoples had for God, although many of the names and teachings of God’s Messengers are gone.
The following is a compilation of still vital religions, names and fragmentary descriptions of God’s Messengers and their teachings.
The horrendous statistics cited above no doubt came from David E. Stannard’s American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, first published in 1992 by Oxford University Press, and which likely would have been cited in her “Bibliography” (the second page of which is missing in her manuscript, along with the title page).
The paper then gives brief descriptions of the following Indigenous messengers God:
1. Siŋtúpi Wiŋ — Tail Feather Woman
2. Mút-sí-l-ü-ív, Sweet Medicine of the Cheyenne
3. Kuksu — California Tribes
4. Good Furred Robe of the Mandan
5. Esdzaanadleehe (Changing Woman or White Shell Woman) of the Navajo
6. Pahana of the Hopi
7. Pte San Win — White Buffalo Calf Woman of the Lakota/Dakota
8. Nemterequeteba of the Chibchas of Columbia
9. Ipeorkun Kunkilel of the Cuna of Eastern Panama
10. The Ulikron of the Guaymi Indians of Panama
11. Chinigchinix of Southern California
12. Dekanawidah (the Peacemaker) of the Iroquois League
Your thoughts, Kevin?
A: After my mom’s passing in 2001, we lost track of this document and are now delighted that Nadema has been able to now share it with us and with the world. Creating an awareness of this priceless spiritual heritage was my mother’s passion, and now we can provide continuity to this passion through this series of articles – seeds that will grow and blossom into a much fuller picture of the true spiritual foundation of this hemisphere. Revealing this picture is a blessing for us all and for future generations.
Q: So in your view, Kevin, how far have we come since 1993, and how far do we still have to go on this important issue?
A: This is just the beginning. The dominant culture has forced much of this information underground, and it is only gradually coming back into our consciousness. Among many traditional peoples — such as Crow, Miccosukee, Kickapoo, Meskwaki, Zuni, Hopi, etc. — most of this knowledge has yet to be expressed in a non-Indigenous language. Among others, it has been so repressed that it is only slowly re-emerging, as people begin to awaken now at the dawn of this new age of enlightenment.
I have confidence that this important knowledge will begin to take root in the hearts of many, and soon we will start to see the growth, benefits and blessings it can bring, as we tap into this foundational ancestral heritage, which is really intrinsic to our collective global heritage.
Q: The paper that we have posted online in the link above, is missing the title page. The title that we have provided comes from the name of the computer file (i.e. the digital scan) that Nadema Agard had kindly sent you, Kevin, on October 11, 2021. So this gets a little confusing, because the name of the paper is different from the title of the presentation. The official program Of the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions gives the following information about the presentation itself: Patricia Locke and Jacqueline Left Hand Bull, “God’s Messengers to the Native Peoples of the Western Hemisphere,” 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Friday, September 3, 1993, 4:00 PM–5:00 PM. (Kevin Locke, whom the program also lists as the third presenter for this session, was not present at the 1993 Parliament.) The following brief description appears in the official 1993 Parliament program:
There have been ‘myriad Messengers” to the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere throughout the centuries. These indigenous nations were organized around a spiritual, rather than a political or secular world view. The prophetic aspects of these indigenous belief systems will be explored.
Now here’ s the information regarding the paper that Nadema Agard had preserved all these years, and recently scanned: Patricia Locke, “Native American and Other Indigenous Manifestations of God” (1993). Digital scan, courtesy of Nadema Agard (Winyan Luta/“Woman Holy Red”) sent to Kevin Locke, October 11, 2021. Title page and final page appear to be missing. But the entire primary content of this historic document has been faithfully preserved.
So let’s now close with this moving vision statement made by the Indigenous participants – the “the 1993 United Indigenous Peoples” of which Patricia Locke and Jacqueline Left Hand Bull were a part – at the Parliament of World Religions in 1993:
DECLARATION OF VISION
Toward the Next 500 Years from the gathering of the 1993 United Indigenous Peoples at the Parliament of World’s Religions Chicago, Illinois, 1993.
We as Indigenous Peoples and Native Nations, honoring our ancestors and our future generations, do hereby declare our present and continuing survival within our sacred homelands in the Western Hemisphere.
Since time immemorial, we have lived in a spiritual way in keeping with our sacred laws, principles and values given to us by the Creator. Our ways of life are based on respect for Mother Earth, a sacred regard for all relations and the survival of our languages, cultures and traditions.
In the “Year of the Indigenous Peoples,” while the United Nations Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is still being prepared, we ask for solidarity in our cause from the religions of the world. … :
A. Acknowledgement of the myriad of messengers of the Creator, the Great Mystery, to the peoples of the Western Hemisphere.
B. Support in promoting, preserving and maintaining our Indigenous languages and cultures.
C. Involvement in the world outcry against the continuing genocide of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, by taking direct action in support of the International Conventions prohibiting genocide in their various countries.
D. Protection and return of the sacred sites and traditional lands of the Indigenous Peoples.
E. Reversal of the environmental degradation that endangers our traditional lifeways and threatens our very existence.
F. Repatriation of our ancestors and sacred objects from the museums and holdings of the world.
WITH RESPECT FOR ALL LIFE, WE THANK YOU.