This Friday, September 27th, will be celebrated in some states as American Indian Day or Native American Day in order to honor or remember the indigenous peoples of the First Nations that lived in North America long before Europeans arrived. However, because the history of conquest of the indigenous populations in the Americas, it is doubtful, that a large number of those Americans in 2013 would take much of their time to consider anything meaningful that emerged from the clash of cultures in North America so many years ago.
Much misunderstanding regarding the American Indians exists yet today, despite Hollywood’s self-satisfaction with setting the record straight with regard to the Indians or Native Americans. Unfortunately, such a day of remembrance often becomes a simple opportunity for descendants of the American Indians to lament or stir up long-buried resentments about the long string of abuses that Native Americans have suffered since the days of European colonization. Certainly, this seems to demonstrate that the pain runs deep and persists to this day.
Perpetual criticism of one race for its crimes against humanity, or the fanning of the flames of resentment may provide an outlet for those who disdain such a history so they may vent their anger or frustrations, or deeply ingrained resentments. It also strengthens guilt which produces the anguish and shame associated with such historic crimes of one people upon another. Yet, a genuine question is the whether the intent lying behind sifting through the bitter ashes of the past is for genuine healing or for perpetuating the wounds?
Does such venting provide a healing or a renewal of the original hatred and racism and discrimination which led to the previous crimes in the first place? The healing of old and incredibly painful wounds is not an easy process, but healing is usually hindered by the poison of long-held resentments. It is understandable that it may have been appropriate at one point in time to call attention to such reprehensible realities of the abuse and conquest of the indigenous populations in the Americas, since such history had been buried with the victims to some extent.
Nevertheless, in 2013, most Americans get the fact that the European descendants blew it when it came to the equal and fair treatment of the peoples of the First Nations. The simple question of whether this continues to be relevant and productive, or of little value, needs to be addressed on American Indian Day in this day. Ironically, such issues have already been addressed a century ago – by the Indians. Yet, others in this century want to hold on to the past. One may wonder why when time is taken for a more careful look at American history.
The simplistic perception about the painful memories would appear more genuine in 2013, had not several efforts already been made in the United States to heal the wounds from this clash of cultures. Numerous American Indians, as well as many Individual Americans, have attempted to reverse the residue of bitterness, negativity, and pain associated with the years of brutal conflict between the Indians and European descendants.
The amazing part is that when this painful history is more carefully and completely viewed in an objective way, a significant effort made by an official Indian organization initiated the effort of recognition and reconciliation at the turn of century—the 20th century! Despite all that the indigenous peoples suffered and endured through the broken promises of the federal government of the United States, and forced to deal the land-hungry European descendants, the Congress of the American Indian Association made serious and sincere efforts to reconcile and restore relations with their historic enemies: the white people.
At that time, there were leaders within the Indian communities who seriously believed in bridging the gap of distrust, resentment, and hatred that persisted between the two peoples. On September 28, 1915, the Congress of the American Indian Association issued an official proclamation extending the proverbial olive branch to their enemies. Their appeal noted that their forefathers had fought against domination “for home, for family, for country, and the preservation of native freedom…” but recognized that they needed to turn their attention to look to the future of their people so that they could “live in greater fullness” and “to move forward and acquire those things that make races and nations more efficient and more noble…”
Contained within this proclamation from such a representative American Indian organization was the first formal indication from the Native American community that they would want to be officially recognized as citizens of the United States. Up to this point in time, there was only resistance from most of the indigenous peoples. In addition to this major change of attitude, the official body called upon "every person of American Indian ancestry" and all Americans to observe each second Saturday in May as a national "American Indian Day" as a way of honoring the memory of the indigenous peoples.
In considering these appeals, it seems that although the Indians were still fighting for family, for home, and for their survival as people, they had determined a more peaceful pathway to pursue their fight differently. Nevertheless, this effort from this segment of the American Indian community represented a humble and sincere attempt to forgive an enemy, and also to move on into the future with a more positive perspective. Such a capacity of heart to forgive an enemy is huge, and should not be considered lightly.
The effort demonstrates a quality within a people that could genuinely overcome the bitterness, the resentment, and definite physical loss at the hands of the whites and the U.S. government. Although this effort could be compared to the early Christians who could willingly forgive their Roman persecutors, it is not limited to the Christian religion. There are legends which established religious ceremonies maintained by the native peoples that show similar sentiment.
One such legend regarding their initial meeting relates that the founder of the Iroquois League, Deganawidah, was able to counsel Hiawatha, who eventually became his partner, and change his heart and help him to overcome his resentment and sorrow over losing his wife and daughters due to tribal warfare among his peoples. After losing his family in such a horrible manner, Hiawatha became a hermit, and because of his resentment and hate, he instilled great fear in the people around him. The Great Peacemaker was able to counsel Hiawatha and helped change his heart in order to overcome his pain and sorrow.
This transformation is reflected in the Condolence Ceremony which had previously existed in the Iroquois, or Haudensaunee history. The Great Peacemaker elaborated upon the ancient teachings and used the ancient ceremony to restore Hiawatha’s hope and sense of value for his life. The Iroquois Condolence Ceremony was intended for the purpose of releasing despair and the emotional burden of great loss. Deganawidah ultimately refined the ceremony to be more developed and organized and designed it to inspire the leaders and restore the hope of the people in general.
To this day, it is still a very important part of the Iroquois people’s religious traditions. Today such ceremonies are still performed and are understood to follow the ways of the Haudensaunee ancestors to provide consolation for those who are in a state of mourning or suffering. The ceremonies are performed by clear-minded individuals to remove the effects of suffering, or psychological or emotional trauma, or the unnecessary burden of negative or crippling thoughts. Such healing ceremonies are helpful to those needing the healing.
This ceremony, and the essence of the thinking and the heart of the ceremony, aimed at healing resentment, is one of sincerity and intended for helping the process of healing one’s heart of those crippled by the pain of grief so that they can find consolation, hope, and strength to move on with their lives. It would seem that in 2013, more people than the Haudensaunee could make excellent use of such ceremonies. Native American Day is good time for all Americans to move on to a brighter future and “…move forward and acquire those things that make races and nations more efficient and more noble…”