Volume 2 Number 3
Healing the Wounds
01 March 1989

Amos Owen, the spiritual leader of the Dakota people of Minnesota, came with two friends to give a healing ceremony for me after I'd had a second stroke. With him was his son Raymond, who carried the sacred pipe and assisted him.
His rugged frame filled the doorway of my hospital room. Without a word he stepped to my bedside and put into my hand an egg-shaped, rose-coloured, translucent stone. `Hold this,' he said. `It was given to me by a holy man in Mexico.'

Amos Owen, the spiritual leader of the Dakota people of Minnesota, came with two friends to give a healing ceremony for me after I'd had a second stroke. With him was his son Raymond, who carried the sacred pipe and assisted him. The sacred pipe represents the universe, and its smoke is believed to carry prayers up to the Great Spirit. Carefully, Raymond removed the pipe from its carrier. Gently unwrapping it, he gave it to his father, pointing the long stem towards him.

I looked up at this man I'd read so much about. Grey hair framed a kindly face, but it was his eyes that held me. They seemed to reflect his people's wisdom going back thousands of years.

Amos moved with majestic dignity as he prepared this ancient ceremony. He held the pipe high. He pointed it in all directions of the Earth - to the East where the sun rises, to the North where the cold comes from, to the South where the light comes, to the West where the sun sets, to the Father Sun and to the Mother Earth. With his eyes closed, he prayed in the Dakota language. His deep voice called on the Great Spirit and on all the elements of the universe for healing.

Time seemed to stand still. Hospital sounds outside my closed door were muffled as if part of another world. A powerful presence filled the room, something beyond understanding. It was as if we who were there were taken beyond ourselves to a farther reach, where each one of us merged into a whole with the Great Spirit, Heaven and Earth, and all creatures. We were in tears when Amos finished.

Afterwards, I was still physically weak from the stroke, but my spirit was healed. The ceremony gave me strength and courage to do things I never thought I could.

At other crucial times in my life, Indian friends were at my side. When my husband, Carl, died in 1984, it was an Indian friend who came first to our home next day. She knew Carl had died without being told.

At the wake, she honoured him by presenting the four flags of the four races of the earth - red, black, yellow, and white. They were buried with Carl in the pine box. She wrote, `I claim myself as one of your daughters.'

Years ago I felt - as many white people do - sorry for outrages the US Government committed against the original people whose ancestors had inhabited this country for thousands of years. When the first white settlers came, it was estimated there was a population in the millions. In three hundred years they were almost destroyed. Yet even knowing these facts didn't awaken me.

Since I've come to know and count as friends many Native Americans, I've learned from them their tragic story. The reality of their suffering goes right through my heart.

As a white woman I had to face my country's policy of genocide - the attempted destruction of a proud people, their culture and their religion. I saw it was not just something my ancestors were a part of; it is my personal story, too. Injustices continue today.

I asked forgiveness of my Indian friends for what white people - my people - have done. I want to do all in my power to bring healing.

I spoke of this to my friend Ernest Wabasha, the hereditary chief and great great grandson of the famous Dakota Chief Wabasha III. Ernest said to me, `I am very moved by your words. You acknowledge what happened to our people and their terrible suffering. You understand. After the 1862 war between the white people and the Dakota Nation, families were torn apart. Children of three and four years were taken away from their homes until they were 15 or 16 years old and sent to boarding schools. They were forbidden to speak their own language or practise their religion. This was done in order to "civilize" them. It is a deep wound.'

In talking with those who have suffered deeply like Ernest, I realize memory is a profound and living thing. Such wounds can only be healed by a deep change in the hearts of people like me.

We almost lost a precious heritage. It's with a sense of wonder I've come to understand a little of Indian beliefs. Such understanding has opened my heart to see the unity of all life, and truths I was ignorant of. The Indian language has no word for `religion'; the American Indian belief is that a spiritual fabric holds all of life together.

The great Catholic thinker Thomas Merton reminds us that `all American religiousness will be alien until it incorporates the spirit of the Native American'.

The universality of the beliefs of the Native Americans, their mysticism and respect for the sacredness of the land, is drawing many today who seek a deeper spirituality - especially young people.

America will not be whole until we are one. In 1854, when President Franklin Pierce sought to purchase land in the Pacific Northwest, Chief Seattle replied: `Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the Earth is our Mother. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover: Our God is the same God. We are brothers after all.'