Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Encouragement, Challenges, Healing, and Progress: The Bahá'í Faith in Indigenous Communities

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Encouragement, Challenges, Healing, and Progress: The Bahá'í Faith in Indigenous Communities

Article excerpt

To be Indigenous is to be part of an immense, diverse, and gifted segment of humanity. I am descended from the Cherokee, Osage, and Navajo Tribes. I grew up on Diné Land-Diné is the correct and ancient name for my people, who are often referred to by the Puebloan term "Navajo," although both names continue to be used interchangeably. I am a third generation Bahá'í, beginning with both sets of Indigenous grandparents. I bring to the conversation about the future of Indigenous people a lifetime of experience and contemplation, and yet Indigenous challenges are not universal, simple, or static. We all are keepers of our heritage, and our Creator has granted each of us a distinct perspective.

At this auspicious time, all people have an opportunity to come together and share our struggles and learn from one another. Indigenous people, as a member of the human family, have issues that must be allowed to come to the forefront, be fairly examined and dealt with in a timely manner. Questions need to be asked at this critical moment: Who are we as an Indigenous people? How do we heal from racism? How do we heal from colonization? How do we heal from a genocide that still has not been appropriately recognized? How do we remember who we were-and are-without the distorting influence of hate and cultural genocide? How do we move forward? Must we as Indigenous people take a step toward unity among ourselves before we can take a step toward unity with the world?


A conversation about the future of Indigenous people must start with a dialogue about young people today, and we can begin by looking at a vital issue facing Native communities: Why are so many Native youth committing suicide?1 I grew up in a community where it has become commonplace to hear that one's relative or fellow community member has committed suicide. Why is it happening? When did it begin? How did we get to this point? What do these actions mean? What forces lead these youth to take such drastic action? Native communities are left to ponder questions such as these, questions that persistently go unanswered.

To demonstrate a few contextual points, I would like to share a personal story. A friend of mine, who is not of Indigenous descent but who grew up close to the reservation with me, started a conversation with me that went as follows:

"I think Navajos need to find a way to become wealthy."

Ireplied, "It is hard to become wealthy when the whole system is against you."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, we are mostly poor," I answered, "because we are recovering from many generational traumas."

"What are generational traumas?" he asked.

"If you go back six hundred years, we had a form of wealth," I responded. "We found wealth in our family systems built up over generations. About four hundred years ago the incursion of colonizers stripped much of that away and changed the way we view wealth. We as a people are still suffering from the events of those times."

He commented, "But things are equal now. People can just go find a job and build up wealth."

I answered: "In one sense that is true. But there are so many obstacles between the will to find a job and the long path toward wealth, like a significant lack of education, limited access to good health care and to nutritious food, and dangerous living conditions. We Native people face both blatant and subtle racism daily in all aspects of life-not to mention the obstacles that come from our own families, who expect us to remain on the reservation and take care of them, or from those who do not value education or money. When some of us embark on the path toward wealth, we encounter roadblocks from the outside world, but we are also pulled back from those within our tribe."

"Well, at least it's not as bad as when there was segregation, and racism is pretty much gone, isn't it? I mean, we really don't need affirmative action anymore because that just makes it harder on poor whites, who have it just as bad as poor Natives or blacks. …

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