April 3, 2013

Part II of the Brendan Liturgy

“…O Lord, I pray that in you, I’ll break ground both fresh and new, As a student let me stand. Break the hardness of the land with your forgiving Father-hand.”

Turns out that naming a stream is a pretty involved process. A very nice person with the City of Marysville informs me that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources is the government agency responsible for all geographic place names in the state. Anyone can submit a proposal to the “Committee on Geographic Place Names” who will then recommend (or not) the proposed name to the “BOARD of Geographic Place names” who will then pass it along to the Feds (if approved).

It can take up to a year for the Committee to review a proposal, ANOTHER year the Board to do it’s work, and the Feds can take up to 3 years…

But I’m afraid this little idea has seized my imagination.

Yet, it has also sort of “merged” with another idea, like two flocks of birds kind of squish into one, like two water droplets join together as they run down the side of a cool glass of water on a hot day.

In a phrase, the other idea is Reconciliation with Native People.

It has come up multiple times, in multiple settings since I started this blog, and then it has entirely disappeared from my thoughts again only to re-emerge, and it’s just done that again. A newspaper story about the Tulalip Tribes effort to preserve the Lushootseed language caught my eye. It was an off chance, random encounter (I NEVER read the newspaper).

When I contemplate my own heritage (Northumbria, the Township of Hazon, my family’s ties to the Puget Sound region, Marysville in particular) the ethos of the Northumbria Community which includes an emphasis on “walking the ancient paths…”, “rebuilding and rediscovering”, as well as my own recently discovered proclivity toward thoughts of “place”  …this swirling mass of “inputs” seems to produce ideas like “Someone should take a further step toward reconciling the American settlers, the Native people and the “place” we all now share.

I get it. This is not a new idea.

But it’s new for me to be hearing about it from God.

And perhaps because so much of the damage done to the Native people and to this place was done under the banner of “American Christendom” (whether it was REALLY Christianity or not is HIGHLY suspect IMHO…but there is no question that it was the BANNER flying over the waves of immigrants, missionaries and loggers who flooded the place in the later 19th century) it is under that same banner, reconciliation should occur.

I know, I know… There have been countless pow wows, potlatchs and city council events over the last 50 years designed to show that the past is the past and we all get along now.

But the work is simply not done. To a great extent there are still very separate cultures, certainly different economies and lifestyles. The Tulalip Tribes are now (likely) the most wealthy land owners/business operators in town. To my understanding, this was unimaginable just one generation ago when my father (a Marysville High School student) grew up in an essentially segregated community in which the Native people were laboring under grinding poverty.

Things have changed.

The Tribe is now the “go-to-rich-sponsor” for parades, charity events and community projects.

Yet…despite this change – there is still not much of a shared sense of community. Very little day to day, “boots on the ground”, real-life interaction between people groups.

Ironically, many Native People in the area report a strong Christian component to their spiritual lives.

Just a few weeks ago, I prayed with a man called “Otter” who is a Makah Indian. He is a self-described alcoholic who is essentially homeless and struggling to find his way. After we prayed, he sang me the “Good Morning Song” (I believe he sang it in Coast Salish..not Lushootseed….but they are related.) He came back two weeks ago and we had communion together…we prayed for each other.

It was good really good. But it just showed that there is so much more to be reconciled. It was still very much the gentle “bump” of two strangers forced to sit together on an airplane rather than the familiar embrace of brothers sharing the same home.

There is much we must learn from the people who posses the collective memory of this PLACE. And there are better things than managing profit margin and expansionism that they could learn from “us”.

Talk about your “ancient paths”: I’ve hiked Cascade Pass several times – thought to be the oldest human migration/trade route from coastal Western Washington, to inland Eastern Washington. It terminates at the town of Stehekin which means the “Way Through”. People have been crossing the mountains there for thousands of years.

I’ve stood at the mouth of the Ozette River, where 8,000 years ago a village of whalers and  fishermen thrived. I’ve stood at Sealth’s grave, paddled the Stillaguamish, climbed Sahale and forded the Quinalt, Elwah, Dosewalips and other rivers…

But I do not share table with any of the people whose ancestors gave those places their names.

The parallel between the Celtic people and Native Americans is intriguing. Both native groups had a fully developed culture which was centered on the natural world (animism might be the correct technical term). The Gospel was introduced to the Celts, and over hundreds of years, was integrated…and not without turmoil.

Then the prodginy of those same Celt/Christian peoples, traveled to the New World and the process began all over again….but in my neck of the woods, here in Puget Sound…it’s only been 150 years, wheres in Briton, it’s been 1,500 years.

Have the “native” Celts and the Gospel “missionaries” become a fully integrated, reconciled people? I don’t think it’s for me to say. But however you define their current circumstances, they are literally 10 times further down that road than we are here in Marysville, Washington in 2013.

I think I’m supposed to find a…”colleague” at the Tribe and we’re supposed to name this creek together. I think I’m supposed to start learning Lushootseed. I don’t want to offend anyone with my “white suburban guilt” and try to fix things that others don’t think are broken…but I can’t seem to get away from this.


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