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I write this on the American Thanksgiving, with many things on my mind—but mostly I ponder the conditions that many Native Americans face.
On this Thursday, when many people gather with family and friends, perhaps we can all think about what we can do to be in true unity with our Native American brothers and sisters—not only at Standing Rock, but in general.
In so many ways Native people are simply not acknowledged. The beauty, strength and capacities of Native people are not given their just due. Certainly, some admiration exists, which is good; and some glamorizing or objectifying, which is not good.
Do we truly respect and pay attention to the cultural and spiritual gifts the Indians have to offer us all? Couldn’t these gifts help illuminate our communities and teach us spiritual truths? Do we realize how many suffer and how much they suffer? The suffering is horrific enough, but do we also realize the great loss it is to our country that we allow so many to subsist in abject poverty?
Abject poverty can sap potential, it can suck the life out of you. Many simply cannot contribute to the degree they might. Yet many others still do!!
Could we each, in this season of thanks and giving, consider one thing we could do to create a spirit of solidarity with our Native brothers and sisters? The Baha’i teachings answer that question this way:
One may say thank you a thousand times while the heart remains thankless, ungrateful. Therefore, mere verbal thanksgiving is without effect. But real thankfulness is a cordial giving of thanks from the heart. When man in response to the favors of God manifests susceptibilities of conscience, the heart is happy, the spirit is exhilarated. These spiritual susceptibilities are ideal thanksgiving.
There is a cordial thanksgiving, too, which expresses itself in the deeds and actions of man when his heart is filled with gratitude. For example, God has conferred upon man the gift of guidance, and in thankfulness for this great gift certain deeds must emanate from him. To express his gratitude for the favors of God man must show forth praiseworthy actions. In response to these bestowals he must render good deeds, be self-sacrificing, loving the servants of God, forfeiting even life for them, showing kindness to all the creatures. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 236.
Our daughter and granddaughter went to Pine Ridge reservation to do volunteer service several years ago. It had a particularly deep and profound impact on our granddaughter, and literally changed her life. I asked her what struck her most, and she talked about the resilience and self-determination of the people. They did not see themselves as victims, they knew what the challenges and solutions were, but often the resources were just not there.
My mother-in-law spent twenty years in Mission, South Dakota working alongside the Native people to serve the community. She was a true neighbor, co-worker and friend. Cindy Catches, another Baha’i friend, has lived and served with the Lakota people for so long and with such love and dedication that she became part of the community.
So today, in light of those exemplary souls, the question for me is what can I do? Do I care enough, and if so am I taking care of what I truly care about? For the moment, our (my wife and I) direct efforts will involve contributing money to worthy endeavors that serve the critical needs of Native people. I am not suggesting that I am doing anything special or that it merits any attention at all. I am suggesting we might all consider if there is something we could do, large or small. Can we each find a lane?
I learned from a quotation I read years ago that the greatest mistake a person can make is to do nothing because they can only do a little. So I encourage you, my friends, to think about these things on this particular day and during this holiday season. Yes, I realize this is not the only day we should be considering all this, but I also think—what better day to start?
The world is in turmoil and there are many other efforts and people in the human family that need support. So I am simply suggesting that on this day let us acknowledge, connect with and serve our Native American family members in some way. Or tomorrow or the next day.