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Native Americans

The Path Back to Power

By Shaman Elizabeth Herrera

The centuries of genocide, forced removal from their lands (estimated total of 93 million acres), and strategic killing of their food source, the buffalo, left Native Americans struggling to survive.

The damaging blows continued during the Americanization of Native Americans’ assimilation effort (1790-1920) by the United States to transform Native American culture to European-American culture. Native American children were forced into boarding schools, run by religious groups who taught them Christianity instead of their tribes’ spiritual customs, and banned from speaking their own language or dressing in native clothing. And until 1978, spiritual leaders ran the risk of jail time for practicing their rituals. 

It is deplorable that our country has a history of genocide (and slavery), and that Native Americans are still forced to protect themselves against further encroachment by the U.S. government and private interests. It is also understandable why many Native Americans are distrustful and angry over these events.

Some say that Native Americans are having the last laugh because of the money being made from the casinos; however, Native American gaming has also proven to be very ineffective in improving many tribal economies. Native Americans have the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the United States of America. And, the Native Americans’ former dignity and way of life, and their spiritual practices that connected them to nature, animals, and the skies, water and land have been greatly diminished.

After all these tragedies, is it possible for Native Americans to forgive the trespasses of the past (and present) and rediscover the path to power?

Forgiveness isn’t easy, and Native Americans have received one of the hardest lessons in forgiveness that can be given. But, the anger that is smoldering inside the tribes is robbing them of the beauty of their spiritual path — a path that could be restored through forgiveness.

Native Americans will not diminish themselves through forgiveness — quite the opposite. The act of forgiveness will be for them to let go of their anger, be at peace, and move forward with no resentment standing in the way of them knowing their true selves.

Perhaps they feel that their rituals and spirituality are too great a gift to give away to outsiders. Yet, what greater impact could they have on their oppressors than to educate them about the Native Americans’ culture, spiritual practices, and respect for nature. People fear what they do not understand. I can’t think of a better outcome than to have everyone in this great nation practice, or at least understand, Native American spirituality.

One cannot deny the attraction that Native American spirituality holds for many people outside the tribes. Why should some tribes live in poverty, when they could accept love donations or charge for workshops, demonstrations and apprenticeships to help others become knowledgeable on their way of life.

The Native Americans will strengthen their own culture when they teach others by reinforcing the message and its usage for themselves. And, as more people understand the Native American culture, it will increase support of the tribes’ ongoing efforts to preserve land and regain the rights to perform ceremonies that are still banned by the federal government because of the use of ceremonial plants, such as peyote.

Many Native Americans feel that it is sacrilege for someone to have few lessons and then try to teach rituals to others (such as the accidental sweat lodge deaths that occurred during a recent ceremony. To help prevent future misinformation and destructive incidences from occurring, the tribes could offer certifications to help ensure that their rituals and teachings are performed with respect and knowledge.

We can expect a clash of cultures when the typical American’s mentality of “instant gratification” collides with an ancient belief system. So be it, we will learn from each other.

The Great Spirit is the voice of love. I can think of no better gift that Native Americans can give to others, and themselves, than to share that love with every living being, even the white man.

Shaman Elizabeth Herrera is a healer, spiritual counselor, teacher and author. She advanced her studies through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, but her major source of learning has been from the Spirit, who offers limitless guidance. She was fortunate to have known her great-grandfather who was Apache and smuggled sugar and flour from Mexico into Texas, exchanged gunfire with Texas Rangers, and crossed paths with Pancho Villa. Visit: www.ShamanElizabeth.com