The Wisdom of the Elders
Some years ago, up in Canada, I was driving to work, and happened to tune the radio into CBC to catch the morning news. Instead, I heard a wonderful interview with an Ojibwa elder, an older women who was being interviewed, about some of the high suicide, alcohol, and abuse rates that were being reported on the ‘Grassy Narrow’s’ reservation. Seems that a social worker had reported that eight infants, had been literally dropped in the snow, in sub-zero temperatures, on ‘check-day’ on the reservation, while their mothers and fathers, were getting drunk and high at some party.
The interviewer was trying, with some degree of compassion, to understand the dynamics that would cause such behavior, and had quoted some serious statistics regarding alcohol, drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide and substance abuse related deaths on the reservation.
The interviewer asked: ‘With so much money, and resource available to help your people, why is this so?’
The reply of this wise woman, has stayed with me all these years, and as a minister, I have used her story, several times over the years. She replied:
“Let me tell you a story. There were four Canadians who had travelled all the way to the Pacific ocean, to walk the beach. There was a black man, a Chinese man, a white man, and a native American Indian. It was the time of Spring solstice, when the moon is full, and tides are great, and this particular afternoon, the tides were especially low, exposing miles and miles of tide pools, as far as the eye could see along this great beach. They decided to take advantage of this, and each grabbed a bucket, and headed out on the beach to attempt to catch crabs for an evening meal. Several hours later, they came together again, and the white, black and Chinese Canadians had empty buckets, while the Indian had a full pail! The white guy immediately exclaimed: ‘I don’t believe it! How did you catch so many crabs? Seems every time I caught one, and then turned around, it quickly climbed up the side of the bucket, and escaped to freedom, hiding under a rock before I could re-catch it!’ The black and Chinese men nodded with understanding, having had a similar experience, when the Indian exclaimed: ‘Well, I only catch Indian crabs.”
“Indian crabs? What on earth is an Indian crab? They all look the same to me!”
“Well,” the Indian continued, “All I do, is catch two crabs at once, and put them in the bucket together. When the first one tries to climb out to freedom, the other one grabs his back legs, and pulls him back into the pail!”
This elder then went on to say, that this was the plight of her people. Yes, there was great poverty, substance abuse, and heartbreak on the reservation, but when a young person decided to try to escape, and to get a job off the reservation, or go away to school, that when they came home, they were usually called ‘a disgrace to the race, a red apple, red on the outside, but white on the inside,’ That unless that person was exceptionally strong, they were rarely if ever able to escape the peer pressure and ostracization of family and friends, and usually fell back into the cycle of partying and substance abuse.
I have used this illustration over the years, as I taught an alcohol drug rehabilitation course.
In the Bible, we learn that close relationships have the power to either promote, drag us back into our horrible habits. That it is important to make a clean break with people, places and things, that would bring us down, and until we are strong and healed enough, certain people needed to leave our lives, whether friends or family, in order that we get free of our addictive and destructive lifestyles.
Yet, over the past year, I have been studying intensely, the history of the North American First Nations peoples, and it is a story that needs to be told. Horrible atrocities have occurred in terms of broken treaties, genocides, forced removals from tribal lands on to reservations, and children placed in boarding or residential schools, where dehumanizing things occurred.
As I listened to Ivan Doxstator speak, an Iroquois counselor to First Nations people’s, he made a statement, that is a far deeper answer to that question that many white people ask, with respect to suffering Indians living in dire circumstances upon reservations. “Why don’t the leave the reservations?” Ivan replied: ‘Because they feel that the government will take their land.”
This is no nebulous fear, if you understand the history of broken treaties, in the occupation of traditional Indian lands by treachery or the power of the cavalry across North America, and one that needs to be addressed adequately by both the church, and the US and Canadian governments, if we are to see justice, healing, and true reconciliation come to the Indian reservations of North America.
‘Father, forgive us for destroying our lives away from You. Where we need to leave unhealthy relationships, places, or spaces that are destroying us, give us strength, courage, wisdom, direction, and provision to get to where we need to be. Deliver us from our fears, and grant to us healing, true justice, grace, and protection. We choose to forgive those who have lied to us, stolen from us, and tried to steal our destiny, language, culture, lands, and identity in You. If there be any real danger, of predatory businesses, or corrupt governments still attempting to steal from me, my family, or my people, STOP them, in the name and authority of Jesus I pray, Amen.’