November and Indigenous Land Acknowledgement
Conveners of Zoom meetings I have recently attended began by recognizing the Indigenous Peoples who were the original inhabitants of the land where the gathering was occurring. Called Land Acknowledgements, these are attempts to express genuine respect and support of Native Tribes as well as raise awareness of those gathered. What an important and poignant way to educate and wake us up to a people so often ignored!
This is the way we began La Vista’s delayed Autumn Equinox Celebration in October. Participants were asked to introduce themselves and name a tribe that was among the original inhabitants of this land on the bluffs. As it turned out, much more was shared. We were only sixteen people, but the resulting conversation was a real eye-opener!
Two in particular stand out for me. A striking young man with a long black ponytail shared that his mother is Cherokee, and as a child she was taken from her tribe to be educated in a government boarding school. Originally from South Dakota, he commented that neither she nor her family ever returned there. Another participant told us his great grandmother was also of the Cherokee tribe. She married a European, and together they fled to the mountains to escape the Trail of Tears March, the U.S. government-forced relocation of Eastern Woodland tribes to areas West of the Mississippi. Thousands of native people died on the trail. He expressed gratitude that we were talking about this significant and often ignored part of US history. “It is soooooo important,” he commented.
I have known both of these men for years, but I did not know their native ancestry. This experience called to mind Thomas Berry’s words where he noted that when Europeans came to this land, they couldn’t even see native peoples and their inherent dignity but looked right through them. He goes on to say how Europeans could have acted: …they might have established an intimacy with this continent and all its manifestations. They might have learned from the peoples here how to establish a viable relationship with the forests and the forest inhabitants…they might have seen this continent as a land to be revered and dwelt on with a light and gracious presence. Instead it was to the colonists a land to be exploited… (The Great Work p. 41) What a difference it would have made if treasuring intimacy and relationship predominated over exploitation and consumerism.
As we continued introductions, our enlightenment broadened even more when three OMI novices introduced themselves. Royd and Chileshe are from Zambia, a country that is still the home of over 200 tribes. Both proudly introduced themselves as from the Bemba tribe. Etienne, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, shared a similar reality; the Congo is also home to hundreds of tribes! We all felt enriched by the way they so graciously shared themselves during our time together.
I admit I felt a little envious of all those who belonged to a tribe, so when I introduced myself I said that I was of the same tribe as Sister Rose, who was also present, the School Sisters of Notre Dame tribe. I became grateful for my membership in a whole new way. The experience of Land Acknowledgement led me to the deeper truth that we are here on Earth to be part of a living community, the sacred web of life. The Earth Community is the tribe we all share, one that carries responsibility for the pain and suffering of all the other members, human and other-than-human.
Those gathered were amazed that a simple introductory activity would reveal so much, raising our awareness and helping us ponder our place in this ongoing reality. May our growing awareness lead all of us to action in support of Indigenous communities as well as to all members of our Earthy tribe.
(Pictured above, from left to right: Novices Royd Miyomba, Etienne Kabemba, and Chileshe Mulenga.)