A Seat at the Table: Huston Smith in Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom

A Seat at the Table: Huston Smith in Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom

A Seat at the Table: Huston Smith in Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom

A Seat at the Table: Huston Smith in Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom


In this collection of illuminating conversations, renowned historian of world religions Huston Smith invites ten influential American Indian spiritual and political leaders to talk about their five-hundred-year struggle for religious freedom. Their intimate, impassioned dialogues yield profound insights into one of the most striking cases of tragic irony in history: the country that prides itself on religious freedom has resolutely denied those same rights to its own indigenous people. With remarkable erudition and curiosity--and respectfully framing his questions in light of the revelation that his discovery of Native American religion helped him round out his views of the world's religions--Smith skillfully helps reveal the depth of the speakers' knowledge and experience. American Indian leaders Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux), Winona LaDuke (Anishshinaabeg), Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), Frank Dayish, Jr. (Navajo), Charlotte Black Elk (Oglala Lakota), Douglas George-Kanentiio (Mohawk-Iroquois), Lenny Foster (Dine/Navajo), Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga), Anthony Guy Lopez (Lakota-Sioux), and Oren Lyons (Onondaga) provide an impressive overview of the critical issues facing the Native American community today. Their ideas about spirituality, politics, relations with the U.S. government, their place in American society, and the continuing vitality of their communities give voice to a population that is all too often ignored in contemporary discourse. The culture they describe is not a relic of the past, nor a historical curiosity, but a living tradition that continues to shape Native American lives.


A long time ago the Creator came to Turtle Island and said to
the Red People: “You will be the keepers of Mother Earth.
Among you I will give the wisdom about Nature, about the in
terconnectedness of all things, about balance and about living
in harmony. You Red People will see the secrets of Nature….
The day will come when you will need to share the secrets with
other people of the Earth because they will stray from their Spir
itual ways. The time to start sharing is today.”


In December 1999 over seven thousand religious leaders, academics, and practitioners of every color and creed gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, for the Third Parliament of World Religions. The Parliament was held at the Good Hope Center in District Six, the symbol of apartheid for decades but now a potent symbol of reconciliation. During the eightday Parliament hundreds of workshops, seminars, and performances exploring issues such as religious diversity, understanding sacred practices, practicing tolerance, and community activism were offered.

As the Cape Town Argus reported, a multitude of speakers shared the teachings of Bahai, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and African tribal religions, turning the city into a “crucible for believers.” Among the presenting groups was a delegation of eight American Indian leaders and the world-renowned historian of religions Huston Smith. Under the title “America’s Shadow Struggle,” the delegation offered a series of panel discussions that covered a wide range of religious freedom issues of pressing concern to Native Americans. As if evoking the Mohican prophecy, as rendered by Don Coyhis, about sharing tribal wisdom in a time of spiritual crisis, the delegation inspired the . . .

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