My Native American Teachers

Recently, I came across two news pieces about Native Americans: the first, about Native women standing-up for clean water laws; the second, about Native communities protesting open-pit uranium mining. This kind of information always grabs my attention because Native American people have dramatically affected my life and spirituality.

My opportunities to live and work with Native Americans were among the most significant experiences of my life. On the Oneida Reservation in Wisconsin, where I worked for more than ten years, Melissa, tribal elder, taught me about the importance of taking personal responsibility for the shape of one’s life.  In Chicago, where I worked for six years with the urban Native American community, Peggy, community elder, taught me about the necessity of stepping-up and reaching-out to those in need in one’s family and community.  Both of these women taught more through their actions than with their words.

For Melissa and Peggy, faith was central in their lives. Melissa was a staunch Methodist; Peggy was a faithful Catholic who integrated her Arikara traditions in her spirituality. Although I am reluctant to generalize, I nevertheless must say that, in my experience, I never met a Native person who was an unbeliever – a denier or doubter of the Great Mystery. One of the many benefits of being a guest in these Native American communities was being immersed in a pervasive awareness of the presence of the Creator, both in good times and bad.

What important truths can we learn from the spiritual traditions of others? How might different spiritual paths together lead to the realization of God’s dream for Earth, our common home?

Toni Harris, OP
Madison, WI


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