Sunday, March 21, 2010
"take care of one another"
No matter where I go around the world, the issue of Native Americans comes up. We white European-Americans have no moral credibility around the globe with respect to our relationship to the First Peoples to inhabit this land. It is a matter I do not think of often. I don't dare. It is too painful. It is too humiliating, too terrible to remember. We, who dress up so nicely, who turn out so elegantly, who speak with grace and eloquence, we, who can be immensely gracious and generous, kind and compassionate, we, we. We are the perpetrators of horrible crimes against the native peoples. In a torn and depleted world, amazing things happen sometimes. I was part of a moment, a relationship, an event in time, on Friday that stirred me deeply and is worthy of consideration. "Warriors take care of one another. This is our common pledge. We are here to honor you, Warriors, as you carry on the name and the hallmarks of the Arapaho people," says Tribal Elder Leonard Moss to the 2100 cheering Arapahoe High School students. Tribal Elder Moss, wearing the dignified face paint and ceremonial headdress of the Arapahoe nation, his wizened face conveying kindness and conviction to the students, reminded the Arapahoe Warriors that "the Arapahoe and the Arapaho are two communities with one heart." The Arapaho came to Arapahoe today. And oh,what a day! A reverent and joyful celebration of the uncommon relationship between a high school community and the Native community whose name and heritage they bear. Gifts, dancing, lots and lots of dancing, drumming, singing, affection and respect exchanged between us all. Dozens of Arapaho traveled in white vans and Suburbans from the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming to Littleton, Colorado, to a suburban high school where more than two thousand students are reminded every day of their identity and heritage as Arapahoe Warriors, part of the Arapaho community. "Warriors take care of one another." Words posted all around the school, recited daily in the student announcements, and reinforced in countless ways to the point that it is a message internalized by these students, as a part of their identity and commitment. "Arapaho are known as a 'people who teach,' and it is our privilege to be here to teach you something about the culture of the people whose name you carry," the Tribal Elder told them. You might think this is a schmaltzy, schwarmy, hokey and tokenistic, feel good experience. But, au contraire! Everyone about this relationship is profoundly serious. honest, and gracious. There is no artifice. It is remarkable to see a gym filled with 2100 teenagesr who are wildly proud to be Warriors, and when I say Warriors I mean Arapaho Warriors as much as Arapahoe Warriors. It is "Warrior pride" that these students learn to feel about themselves, and now, by Warrior I mean, strong, tenacious, pride for yourself (self-esteem)and your tribe, and respect for yourself and for your Elders. Your actions, your life reflects upon your people, and by their actions, your people are expected to honor you. And, as the motto for both nation and high school reminds them, "Warriors take care of one another." I have seen these words every day for the four years my daughter attended Arapahoe. Nice, thoughtful. I had no idea the freight they carried. And even though I knew from the start about this uncommon relationship between the Arapahoe and the Arapaho, I didn't understand the extent to which each community identifies with the other, the sense of solidarity and unity. How remarkable is this! In this country, on this land, given this history, our children acknowledge the forfeit that has given them privilege. Our children, through this relationship, accept the responsibility of caring for one another. Our children, because of this unparalleled relationship with the Arapaho nation, are graciously blessed and given the opportunity for learning and living. Indeed, the words that touched me most deeply, from Tribal Elder Leonard Moss, were as gracious as I could imagine, anywhere, anytime. "We are glad you can use this land that once was ours to learn, to grow," to become more human. Can you imagine such a blessing? If every people in America was as humble, grateful and respectful, and overcome with affection for the Native community on whose land we now learn and live and make our livings as the community of Arapahoe High School, and if every Native community was, by some miracle of forgiveness and acceptance, as gracious and kind and giving as the Arapaho community of the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming, this country would be very different. Think, if you will, about what the world would look like, if other conflicts were so resolved, if other vanquished peoples were given the grace to embrace the children of those who stole their land, their livelihoods, their world. And what if we, the children of those who violated and stole and ruined, desecrated the world of others had the grace to embrace with gratitude the legacy that has been ravaged but not finally obliterated. What if we shared a common conviction, "Warriors take care of one another." So far as I can tell, the House of Representatives in their vote tonight, affirmed this vision, that "we take care of one another." How ironic, that these words first found me in the voice of the First Peoples who have changed my daughter's life over these past four years as an Arapahoe Warrior. I never imagined how proud I would be, never imagined, not at all, how happy and proud I would be to hear my daughter tell a family friend again today, "I'm an Arapahoe Warrior." Let's be like them, and take care of one another!