Forgiveness, Compassion, and Love: The Power of Ceremony
Many Native Americans are still suffering from historical trauma from contact with European societies over the past five-hundred years. The negative impacts of colonization upon Native peoples have been undeniable and devastating—and the effects are ongoing. The colonists introduced numerous infectious diseases into Native populations against which they no immunity defenses. They also pushed Native populations to accept a Western education system and forced the adoption of the English language and other mainstream cultural and religious values. Many sacred sites were renamed in ways that were offensive to Native peoples.
Beginning in the 1830s with the Andrew Jackson administration, outright genocide was committed against Native peoples for much the remainder of the century—culminating in the Massacre at Wounded Knee that killed over three-hundred Lakota people. The genocide extended beyond the human. It included the destruction of the buffalo population, the main food source for all the Plains Indians. All told, colonization wiped out 90% of the Native populations on this continent (and the fate was even worse for the buffalo).
At the same time, Native American culture has been remarkably resilient. Native traditional ways have continued, even though many Native ceremonies had to go underground for some time. Ceremonies such as sweat lodge purification, pipe ceremony, and yuwipis continue and, importantly, these ceremonies are conducted for the benefit of all peoples and all our relations that share the planet.
Beginning in the late 20th century, we have seen a revival of Native American customs that has been prophesized in many traditions. White buffalo calves, considered to be harbingers of peace prophesized in the Lakota White Buffalo Calf Woman oral tradition, have been commonly born since the 1990s. Something hopeful is being reborn.
I like to call this time a Turtle Island Renaissance, which like the European Renaissance looked to its past to help inform its path forward. In an era when mainstream economic and cultural values have taken us to the brink of extinction through climate change and rampant pollution, the nation and world has returned to welcoming Indigenous wisdom. But why should Native Americans trust this newfound interest in their ways? Can Native wisdom and ceremony bring us back from the brink of ecological destruction? Can we bring psychological and ecological healing for victim and perpetrator alike? These are just some of the questions we will be exploring today.
Join us as we delve into the power of forgiveness, compassion, and love, and also the power of gratitude and ceremony with Lakota elder Basil Brave Heart and his friend and mentee, Mike Three Bears Andrews.
Glenn Aparicio Parry, PhD, of Basque, Aragon Spanish, and Jewish descent, is the author of Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again (SelectBooks, 2020) and the Nautilus award-winning Original Thinking: A Radical Revisioning of Time, Humanity, and Nature (North Atlantic Books, 2015). Parry is an educator, ecopsychologist, and political philosopher whose passion is to reform thinking and society into a coherent, cohesive, whole. The founder and past president of the SEED Institute, Parry is currently the director of a grass-roots think tank, the Circle for Original Thinking. He has lived in northern New Mexico since 1994. www.originalpolitics.us
Mike Three Bears Andrews, (formerly known as Mike Two Bears Andrews— the third bear is for forgiveness) is a ceremonialist with a very inclusive definition of ceremonies that includes forgiveness ceremonies, holotropic breath work, shamanic drumming journeys, pipe ceremonies, prayer and healing circles, vision quests, purification/sweat lodges, yuwipis, workshops, and more. Mike is a Sun Dancer, a pipe carrier in multiple traditions, and regularly puts people out on vision quests in the lineage of the Muskogee Creek elder Marcellus Bearheart Williams, who he met in 1995. Mike has lived in Taos for the past quarter century.
Mike Three Bears Andrews was a board member of SEED, an organization that focused on education and dialogue circles with Native and Western scientists. Mike played a significant role in putting together the 2012 SEED conference, Wisdom from the Origins: The Mayan Calendar and Other Prophecies on the Future of Humanity.
Mike originally came from the corporate world with academic training in Chemical Engineering. He earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from New Mexico State University.
Mike met Basil Braveheart years ago in passing, but it was in 2014 that Basil became a friend and important mentor to Mike.
Basil Braveheart is a living treasure of the Lakota nation, a Lakota elder and teacher from the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota.
Like nearly a third of Native American children of his generation, Braveheart was sent to a Catholic boarding school, part of a long-standing federal policy whose goal was to eradicate Native culture and religion. After 11th grade, Basil dropped out of school to enter the Korean War. The year was 1951. He was 17 years old. In Korea, the stress of war took his toll on him, and he began to drink to ease his pain.
After returning from the war, he became a teacher, school principal and superintendent of schools. He holds dual MA degrees in both Educational Administration and Counseling.
Gradually, he began to realize that he needed treatment for alcohol abuse. He entered AA and became a recovering alcoholic—but it was not only the principles of AA that helped him—he combined those techniques with the spiritual practices of his Lakota heritage. In his 46 years of recovery, Braveheart has incorporated Native rituals like sweat lodges, sun dance and vision quest, and he has that found these rituals enhanced by his passage through addiction. Out of this came the autobiography The Spiritual Journey of a Brave Heart.
Basil credits his grandmother for instilling in him the idea of healing ceremonies. She warned him against resentment toward the descendants of massacre perpetrators saying, “Don’t hold it against these people. Pray for them.” Basil has conducted healing ceremonies for descendants of perpetrators and victims of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 and the 1855 Battle of Ash Hollow, also known as the Harney Massacre.
Because of General William S. Harney’s role in the murder of women and children, Brave Heart led an effort in 2014 to rename South Dakota’s tallest mountain from Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak, in honor of the late Lakota Sioux holy man Nicholas Black Elk.
Photo Credits: Three Feathers, Tomoko Parry. Mike Three Bears: Seth Roffman