November was Native American Heritage Month. To honor this, there was an online symposium on November 29th organized by the local advocacy group, Arrows 4 Native Americans, and co-sponsored by BSCAPE (Bucks Students for Climate Action and Protection of the Environment.) Both organizations are non-profit groups located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and dedicated to supporting Native American communities across the continent as well as protecting the environment both in our country and around the planet.
At this symposium, there were nine speakers present from all over the continent, including two Lenape chiefs, a member of the Lenape Elder’s Council, and a Lenape chief’s granddaughter. (The Lenape are the people indigenous to the lands around the Delaware River, which originates in New York and continues south into the Delaware Bay.) It was good to hear about the issues which continue to be uppermost in the hearts of these elders and movers and shakers in the Native community. Among the many topics highlighted were the following:
- Although the great majority of Lenape people were pushed west, there were and are some Lenape who remained. Their descendants can still be found in the ancestral homelands of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Unami Chief Chuck Gentlemoon, who led with a prayer, informed us that Pennsylvania still does not recognize any Native American clans or tribes within the state’s borders. Pennsylvania is one of only thirteen states that refuses to do so. Neither does it have a commission or department dedicated to Native American issues.
- Anthony Melting Tarrow is a Blackfoot writer, visual artist, public speaker and social justice advocate. He read some of his own powerful, heart-wrenching writing about being placed in a non-native, abusive foster home. He also spoke about what happens when multiple generations are removed from their homes and tribes and forced to attend Indian boarding schools. These “boarding schools,” implemented in both the United States and Canada, were designed to erase all things native–names, language, culture, traditions, religious beliefs, and identity. This has had a devastating impact on people who have already suffered untold losses. Anthony revealed that three generations of his family (his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother) were all forced to attend these schools. How does one have any real sense of identity when that identity has been systematically stripped away and replaced and influenced by that of the colonizers and perpetrators?
- Bluejay, a Bucks County woman of both Lenape and Cherokee descent, reported that her grandfather, Chief Whippoorwill (Bill Thompson), a chief of the Lenape people, often advocated these words of wisdom: Walk with Creator; take care of the Earth; and take care of each other. What a different world it would be if we heeded his words!
- Ann Dapice is Lenape/Cherokee, a member of the Lenape Elder’s Council, an educator and an activist. She addressed many issues present in native communities, but she especially focused on the ongoing horror of so many missing and murdered indigenous women. She reported that 84% of indigenous women have experienced physical violence in their lifetime (a horrifying statistic/fact) and 54% have reported being the victim of sexual violence.(1) Part of the problem of addressing this complex issue is that white men cannot be tried or convicted of a crime committed on reservation land, and most acts of violence–against both indigenous women and men–are perpetrated by white men. The pervasiveness of this violence means that a huge proportion of the Native American population suffers from chronic and acute post-traumatic stress. Dapice is also active with the organization, T.K. Wolf Inc., which provides a native-based solution to addictions. She said that one of the most important things when rescuing wolves is to be careful not to break their spirits. She said the same thing is imperative when working with people. (For more information, see tkwolf.org.)
- Chili Yazie, Diné, chapter president of the Shiprock Navajo Nation, spoke about one of the most pervasive problems on the planet right now: the destruction of the environment by the super-wealthy who run the megacorporations. Indigenous people know it is their job to fight for the Earth, and that’s why there are people at Standing Rock, braving the elements and assault by governmental forces; people fighting the oil and fracking industry in Canada and elsewhere; people fighting uranium poisoning out west, etc. Yazie also addressed the issue of sports teams and schools using Native Americans as mascots. He said that when when the dominant culture equates indigenous people with mascots, it reduces a whole proud people to a caricature. It also reinforces the idea that Native Americans were all warriors and fighters, whereas, he said, “We were meant to be a blessing.” (That statement really touches my heart.) One of the organizations fighting to end this kind of racism is the Coalition of Natives and Allies.
- Donna Fann-Boyle is a Choctaw/Cherokee social justice advocate and a co-founder of the Coalition of Natives and Allies. She also spoke about violence against indigenous women. She tells us that there are 500 missing or murdered indigenous women each year, and that many of these crimes are not tracked or pursued. She also told us the shocking statistic that murder is the third largest cause of death among indigenous women. Can you imagine the outcry if this were the case with white women?
- Larry Denemy, also known as LJ, is an educator and indigenous activist, speaker and storyteller, of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa from the Great Lakes region. In his heart-centered talk, he spoke about the importance of fighting and praying for our waters. He told us the inspiring story of Josephine Mandamin, an Ojibwe grandmother, who inspired countless people by walking over 12,000 miles for our Waters! (The Great Lakes hold 20% of all fresh water on the planet!) LJ encouraged us to connect with the water in our neighborhood because, as indigenous people know, water is alive and responsive. He advised us to use words similar to those advocated by Mr. Emoto, the Japanese man who brought to light the phenomenon of water crystals responding to our words and thoughts: “We love you. We respect you. We pray for you.”
- Turtle Clan Chief Eagle Spirit (Vincent Mann) is of the Ramapough Lunaape (Muncee.) The Ramapough are a Munsee-speaking band of the Lenape who live in northern New Jersey and southern New York near the mountains which bear their clan’s name. In his Spirit-centered talk, the chief spoke about the toxins which have poisoned the Ramapough. He told us that his people were living in a “toxic hell” even worse than Flint, Michigan. (He added that he prays also for the people of Flint.) It all started when Ford started to dump horrible toxins in and around the places where the Lenape live. In the 1980’s, it was designated a Superfund site. At one point the Lenape were told that the land had been rectified and was again safe to live upon, but the people were sick and knew it wasn’t true. It was, once again, designated a Superfund site—the only place in the country to have achieved that dubious distinction twice. As an important step toward re-establishing health among the people, Chief Eagle Spirit and others have created a farm called the Munsee Three Sisters Medicinal Farm. This is a very large farm whose purpose it is to grow food that is healing medicine for the body so that the community can begin to heal from the toxic overload they’ve been subjected to. What a beautiful vision!
- Lily Mandel is a local high school dynamo who founded BSCAPE (Bucks Students for Climiate Action and Protection of the Environment.) BSCAPE’s focus is environmental education and activism. They recognize the leadership and wisdom of indigenous people in this regard.
- A young woman of Navajo heritage, Victoria King, commented on how inspiring it was to participate in this symposium and to see what everyone was doing. She urged us all to watch the Canadian documentary, “Fractured Land.” This important film is about a young indigenous man who, while working to stop the enormous fracking operations located in his tribe’s territory, also realizes the need to heal fractures within himself and his community. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4617314/
As LJ reminded us, the prophecy of the Seven Fires tells us that we are at a huge turning point at this time in our history and we have an important choice to make. We can continue on the current road of destruction by continuing to worship at the altar of materialism, or we can choose a path of Spirit and right relationships. If we make the right choice, we will help to usher in the “8th and Final Fire,” a time of great peace and brother/sisterhood. (See The Prophecy of the Seven Fires of the Anishinaabe http://caid.ca/SevFir013108.pdf)
Will we continue to let money, greed, and consumerism damage this planet we are so blessed to live upon? Or can we make new choices, fight for justice, pray for our waters, grow healthy food, and, like Chili Yazie suggests, be a blessing? This is the great question for our time.
Arrows has collected a large assortment of coats and winter clothing to be sent to some of the reservations which experience especially brutal winters. Many people, especially elders, struggle with hypothermia during the long winter months. Donations are needed to ship these coats to the people. Please be as generous as you can be! Click on the Donate button on their webpage: https://www.arrows4americanindians.org/projects/
Find out more about Arrows and BSCAPE by visiting arrows4nativeamericans.org and BSCAPE.org.