Part 3 - Forgiving Columbus: Can a 500-year-old wound be healed?
The last part of the story of Forgiving Columbus brings us home to the Grand Mesa where a Thanksgiving celebration will focus the several hundred year-long tradition of gratitude. We will have a read around of the condensed version of the Thanksgiving Address, by Mohawk Elder, Jake Swamp. He published the Address so people of all walks of life to learn that we are all one.
At sunrise the next day a hundred people came to the Ceremony of Forgiveness. They smoked the chanupa, pipe of peace, at the foot of Mt. Sopris. Our dear friend, Fred “Lightning Heart” Haberlein*[See Author's Notes], a Koyemsi—Messenger and keeper of the Hopi Prophesy, who lived just up the canyon from the vapor caves, spoke at the ceremony about forgiveness in this way: “We have to remember that Christopher Columbus would have been different if he could have been different. We can’t change what God has given us. We must forgive. Forgiveness is the most powerful act; it frees you up, it frees up the circuits of energy. We are approaching the new age and we cannot start the new age without forgiving the old age. The Avatar of the Age was Christ. He said, ‘I came to replace the old law, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’
“There’s an endless cycle of revenge that has gone on for generation after generation. Christ said that he’d pay the price; he said the price is paid now through my sacrifice, and, he said, so forgive yourselves.
“The Hopi say, ‘Now is the time of choice.' What will drive this watershed down one side or the other is the emotional release of the past. If you choose for you and me, then we will move forward forever. But, if you choose for you or me, we will go into fear and we will not move into the new age. This is what will drive this watershed. We can make these choices in small ways, like being kind to people in the streets, or while driving, or in the grocery stores and/or in big ways, such as through politics and religion. We must move together.”
However, Haberlein warns, “In our society we can’t be too glib about forgiveness either. There are many who have suffered in all parts of the world that will have a harder time with forgiveness, such as those whose daughters have been raped, their fields and homes bombed, loved ones killed. We must end this cycle of revenge. We have to remember that it’s a harder choice for some, but forgiveness is essential for life to continue on this planet.”
Clifford Duncan** [See Author's Notes] is not at the Ceremony of Forgiveness this Sunday morning. Mt. Sopris is shrouded in clouds with the hard blowing wind bring in a big storm. Mr. Duncan began the long drive back to his home on the reservation because Douglas Pass is treacherous to cross in a storm. However, on a deeper level, the traditional Utes are a very formal people who listen to their ancestors and the Mother Earth for guidance. I believe the land, the mountain, the river, the sky and weather beings were all speaking this morning to him saying that the timing of this ceremony isn’t quite right for him and his family. A storm like this tells them it’s time to hunker down and stay warm and safe. When it’s over, then it’s time to listen and make ceremony. It can’t be forced; one must listen to the signs. And, after all, it’s been only a few generations since the forced exodus, the “trail of tears”, from these lands his people had flourished in. They too suffered greatly on their way to the reserve in Utah and perhaps the wounds are still very raw for them.
As I listen, the film is present again and my past a moving of the singers from many nations are gathered at the powwow on the reservation of my hometown in Montana. The Gathering of Nations, started in 1917, was only a fifteen-minute walk from my house. A resonance has built from the many years of powwows there. As a kid I knew that the prayers and dancing, pleased the ancestors and helped maintain balance in the world. I see my brothers and I inside the tiny teepee we built, and as I lie awake listening to the nightlong drumming, I’m comforted.
I look deeply into my own wounds now and know it’s time for me to forgive. This Indigenous way and heart is in my blood and bones. I realize that I’ve never been an outcast with no God or Gods. I’m not homeless, and my soul is awake from the deep sleep of trauma; I no longer wear the fear of not belonging on my sleeve. I forgive myself for holding on to the pain and suffering my brothers and I sustained as outcast children on the rez, for we all, Indians and Whites alike, suffered dearly.
As I write this, I remember Elder Clifford Duncan’s apology in his opening address about how the holocaust happened. I call him up to get permission to write his opening address to the Gathering to accompany this article. I also ask him what I can do for him in exchange for repeating his words. He asked me to look in antique stores in town for an old coffee grinder, describing the features he wants. His old grinder finally broke and he said, “That’s what you can do for me”. I realize that forgiveness for him may take more time; time to listen to the ancestors, to the mountain, to the land and then the ceremony will come alive. It will happen in the right time for Mr. Duncan and his people. That’s his way.
I’ve finished the story and my thoughts turned to the lakes above me on the Grand Mesa. I gathered my offering bag and snowshoes and went up to say hello and give thanks for the life-giving waters. I’m on the train of heart, the train of forgiveness.
* Fred lived exactly what he spoke here. He carried the message as a Koyemsi into his daily life. He passed away this past July.
** Clifford, a leader of his people, died in 2015. The summer before his death he traveled around Colorado to visit all the people he knew and touched in his life. We had a wonderful visit with him at our home. I’m so glad we were here when he arrived.