Thursday, January 05, 2006

My Father and Indigenous Spirituality

My father had a complicated relationship with the spirits and his children; it was often disjointed, sometimes tangled and strained, and on a few fortunate occasions, the relationship between my father, the spirits, and his children was blessedly harmonious. In some inexplicable way, it all unfolded joyfully as much as it did painfully, and yet always according to some higher design.

He didn't always embrace the spiritual traditions of his ancestors. When I was a young boy, he often took me to powwows, but always to observe and never to participate as a full-fledged member of the Native community. I think he unintentionally raised me to feel somewhat like an outsider, with one foot in the doorway of tradition, but never fully immersed in my cultural self. Sadly, he indluged many of the Indian stereotypes of the early 1970s; he drank to a fault and tended to avoid overt identification with the old ways.

And yet, I always sensed an undercurrent of respect for the ancient wisdom. The first real "teaching" I ever remember receiving from him had to do with a basic human respect for elders. He said, "I don't care who it is, whether they're Indian or white, if an elder comes to the door, you will stand and open it for them."

About the time I turned 12, his drinking worsened and we separated for a while. I didn't see him for three years, but when he returned, he was stronger than ever. He had stopped drinking, and rediscovered indigenous spirituality. He was mentored by the old medicine people and tribal elders, like Martin Louie of the Colville Indian Reservation, Hank Wynne of the Spokane Reservation, and Louise Billy of the Yakama Nation. He embraced the old ways with conviction and zealously imparted his new conviction to me.

Initially, I struggled with his "new" religion. By that time, I had already spent a good number of years as an Evangelical Christian, and then a Mormon. His teaching seemed foreign to me.

With time, I saw the value of his teachings and opened myself to learn. So what did he teach me about the ancient traditions? Well, I guess you'll just have to get to know me before I talk about's not something I can really put in words and then publish online for just anyone to see. The important thing for me is to publicly ackowledge that the teaching did indeed happen. Eventually I learned to not fear what he told me. I embraced it instead. The power is real, that's all.

Today on the day of his birth, I stand at the center of the universe and give thanks for the man who gave me life and who taught me religion. He was my father, mentor, spiritual guide, and friend.

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