Monday, June 27, 2011

Evolution stories, indigenous style

Last week we helped host five guests from a small community in Alaska called Arctic Village (Vashraii K'oo) north of the Venitie Indian Reservation.  Until last week, the only people I knew from our further-most Northern state were hockey players and coaches.  To hear from the Gwich'in speak about the Porcupine caribou herd, it sounded like a familiar refrain sung about the buffalo by other indigenous people I know.

Half of the Gwich'in communities live on either side of the USA/Canada border and in the summer are only accessible by prop plane from the edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

They came to World Peace and Prayer Day to pray and to ask for help as they seek to preserve the sacred sites in Alaska that are also home to the calving area of the Porcupine Caribou herd which sustains the spiritual, nutritional and cultural needs of their people.  Their proclamation will sound familiar if you take the time to listen to indigenous voices across North America.  And their presentation was followed with a woman from Wyoming speaking of the buffalo slaughter at Yellowstone State Park to make room for cattle herders.

Without any expertise or first-person experience in this topic, I hesitate to react and publicly align with any certain cause. I honestly don't have a clue about the calving lands of the caribou...But I showcase these stories because they highlight two additional scenarios in North America where the world view of the indigenous people are clashing with those who now call that area home. Even with my limited experience I can easily see that for each refuge, for each national park, for each sacred site, for each indigenous culture, a similar story is being told and a similar song is sung.  The words may be a little different but the tune is the same...indigenous people trying to protect their way of life and the animals that have sustained their people for generations.

One WPPD speaker shared how she went to the government to speak for the buffalo. She went on to tell the oral tradition about how her people emerged from the first buffalo family who agreed to sacrifice themselves so that the two-legged humans could live. She expressed frustration how her oral tradition was flippantly discounted as "silliness" when the person she spoke to believed that man evolved from apes.  The eruption of laughter filled the tent at the irony.  Again, the words may be a little different but the tune is the same.

Did we start from a buffalo, from an ape... or did God just breathe into the dust and make a man?  If you ask me I'll tell you which way I believe.  But for today, which story, which "scripture," which creation story do you believe?  When world views clash, when our perspectives are different...this is where the opportunity for dialogue is greatest...and richest. 

When we take the time to listen (not just wait impatiently while mentally preparing how to win the debate) it's amazing how many times we'll be afforded the opportunity to share our values and traditions simply because we didn't try to get heard first... Perhaps God knew what He was doing when He gave us two ears and one mouth!