Recently, I found myself arguing politics with a much loved friend. Somewhere in the middle of the argument I realized I had lost any semblance of balance. As soon as the fog lifted I went for a walk with the intent of gathering herbs for kinnikinnick. I also went with the intention of asking for help in returning to something like balance.
I had been watching for plants as I wondered about the previous few days, so my walk had both direction and purpose. Speaking with, and singing to, the plants was remarkably centering, as was the Appreciation Ceremony I offered when I finished collecting.
As I walked back to the house I thought about the morning’s conflict. I found myself reminded that, in some ways, my friend and I live in different worlds. He traces his heritage back to the Mayflower, and has considerable wealth. My linage is Native and British Isles farmers. His family history is one of prestige and opportunity. Mine is a history of hard work and genocide. In his mind, treaty violations and acts of genocide stopped a hundred years ago. In my world they continue.
Yet, there are places where our worlds meet. He has a chronic life threatening illness that intrudes at every turn. I am daily influenced by the aftereffects of Polio. We have both lived through the death of a loved one in the last few years. We are each deeply appreciative of the other.
There is something unnerving about the way our worlds touch and fracture. The compassion and appreciation we each feel for the other allow a narrow bridge over the deep divisions between us. Yet, I imagine it is very difficult for him to understand the rage and sorrow that well up in me. He says he cannot fathom the weight of historical grief carried by Native America.
As I walked, I thought about the politics of our country. The rise of Jacksonian politics is deeply disturbing to many Native people. Yet Andrew Jackson is an iconic cultural hero to many white Americans, who do not understand, nor, often, care to know, Jackson’s effect on Native peoples.
The problem is not one of right versus left. Rather, it is an issue of basic respect for Native peoples, Pachamama, and the deep grief left by many generations of genocide. Such issues mark a profound cultural divide. On one side, every organism and moment in the universe is sacred and infinitely connected. On the other, everything may be sacrificed in the name of progress and the accumulation of wealth.
I do not know how these deep fissures can be bridged, yet foresee terrible suffering if they are not. Today, it is good to breathe the fresh air, sing songs to the healing plants, and enjoy the warmth of Grandfather Sun. A loon calls from offshore. The waves, riding the incoming tide, lap against the shore. These are ancient pleasures, alive in this time and place. The fissures I experience are the stuff of human beings, not intrinsic to this living world. Still, I am a human being and they are real to me.