I haven’t blogged in 6 months because I felt the world did not need one more statement on why there is racism, that racism is bad, or we need more cultural competence. This is not to say that people should not fight to end racism with truth and reconciliation or leading us towards cultural competence. Instead I waited for inspiration. Inspiration came just a short time ago from my experience in the Dakota Women’s Commemorative March. My friend Ramona Kitto Stately, Director of American Indian Education at Osseo a Public Schools, invited me, Maia Caldwell, an Eden Prairie High School social studies teacher, and her 9th grade civics students who were learning about tribal sovereignty.
I learned the importance of starting with oneself to begin the healing process in one’s own community. I saw with my own eyes the power of starting with yourself in your own backyard.
My own backyard is the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minnesota has some healing to do regarding the treatment of the Dakota and Ojibwe people. There is lots to read and do about it and one can get caught up in guilt, shame or in one’s own trauma depending on if you are native, white, or depending on your background. The March is an excellent example of coming together to heal in a positive way.
Every other year descendants of the Dakota women, who were forced to march after the Dakota and U.S. War of 1862 to the Ft. Snelling concentration camp, march in unity to commemorate them. The commemoration is done in their traditional ways. The power is in doing it for themselves and not waiting for Uncle Sam or others to do it for them. All people are welcomed to join them not in a reenactment (which is a common practice) but in a spiritual coming together no matter one’s faith tradition or not.
Walking on the land brings a feeling of reflection. How could the women and children walk this trail of tears in moccasins that would get soaked in water from the snow, when did they get to eat, how did they get to use toilet facilities, and how did they stay warm? Walking in silence allows each person to reflect and wrestle with the atrocity that came before them.
Another powerful moment was what happened at the end of each mile. A woman would take a prayer flag made of willow, previously gathered from the concentration camp forest, and recite the names of two women who made the original march. Ramona’s great great great grandmother Pazahiyayewin and Kevin Locke’s great great great grandmother Mniyáta Ožáŋžaŋ Wiŋ (Beam of Light Over the Water Woman) were commemorated. A prayer was sung evoking Wakan Tanka the Creator, other prayers were silently said, and tobacco was offered by participants. Although the spiritual context was Dakota, each person could feel unified from their spiritual or non-faith tradition. The healing was in the remembering and acknowledging the pain. For me I thought about the phrase “Thy name is my healing oh my God and remembrance of a Thee is my remedy”.
Ramona puts it this way- “We walked to regain a voice that was silenced with the removal of our relatives from this place, MniSota Makoce, our sacred homeland. We walk to gather the energy of the land, heal the soul wounds and to never forget the atrocities perpetrated against those who have lived here and taken care of the land for centuries”.
The commemoration affected each person differently. Maia Caldwell said “Our day couldn’t have started out more perfectly. As we were waiting on our bus for the marchers to arrive at our meeting place, three young Dakota women joined our students on our bus to warm up. It was wonderful to watch them visiting together. Within minutes we were witnessing what this day was all about: an opportunity for healing and reconciliation between two cultures. The rest of the day was wonderful as well. At the end of the day one of my students said to me: “I learned more today than I ever have in any classroom!” One of her students shared his experience with Minnesota Native News.
I encourage all of us to start with ourselves and be interested in our local communities. What happened in the past that has not been acknowledged? What needs to be addressed? What needs to be healed? Make friends from other races and cultures in your community and start to talk about it without blame and guilt. Imagine the transformation that can happen when we begin to acknowledge the past, honor each other in our cultural contexts, listen, experience and reflect. No one knows what will happen because we have not really done it yet. Where will you begin? Please share your experiences so we can learn together.
Ramona says wisely that tears are healing and a good way to begin.