Saturday, September 24, 2011

What part of the whole are you describing?

Analogy: Four people walked into a room with directions to make observations about the experience.  Each person was issued earplugs and eye coverings so they could not see and were placed into either a standing or sitting position by the mediator.  Afterwards they were asked to describe what they experienced and what the object was.
Person 1: It's wrinkly and rough. It's wet with a bad smell.
Person 2: No, it's smooth sticks with pointy tips.  It is like some scary beast or huge animal. 
Person 3: You're clearly both wrong because it is made of four round moving tree trunks that I can't wrap my arms around.  It is powerful but gentle.  I kept getting hit in the head with something that brushed over me from above but I wasn't afraid.
Person 4:  I feel the thunder when it moves.  It must be heavy.  It has a long tube that moves and smells like straw.
Mediator: Thank you all for sharing your perspective.  You're all correct. 
You are describing parts of the elephant. 

I submit that if four people watched the same car accident happen this afternoon, assuming that they were honest people, each person would provide four different perspectives of the whole and believe they were telling the truth.   As a student of the Bible I've been taught that four different men wrote the Gospels to record the life and teachings of Jesus:  Matthew (a Jewish tax collector who wrote to Jewish readers to prove that their prophecy was fulfilled), Mark (bottom line narrator without all the fluff), Luke (physician who wrote rich details about the people in the story) and John (who wrote to a non-Jewish audience).  Four men, four pespectives that bring out the richness of the full story.  However,  if certain perspectives from history aren't written, taught, shared or discussed, then it's natural that the next generation won't hear that perspective.  Over time, the more readily perspective becomes treated as the "true history" then the truth, then the full truth.

The United States - Dakota Indian War of 1862 was long enough ago that we must rely on history to piece it together.  That begs the question...whose version of the story?  What portions get included and which are excluded as unreliable sources?  Did it needed to be written history to be accepted as truth?  Did it need to be verified by elders that the oral tradition was correct?  Did it need to be corroborated to prove it's validity (or is one sourse enough?)  Are we scrutinizing this account of history by the same truth measuring stick as other historical or cultural documents?   Does a family record have less value than a census record or vice versa -- which is the one to use when dates and spellings and details conflict? What terms are we going to use and what definitions?

I have said before that I admittedly don't have a degree or expertise in any of this...but feel an urge to try to bring people together to talk.  That recognizes the dignity in each other and affirms value.  It's not about who is louder, who is more polished or rehearsed.  It's about sharing.  The indigenous term is "truth telling" -- letting people share their perspective of truth without interruption or debate.    Then after everyone has had a chance to share their perspective, then you can decide action plans if any are needed.  But it starts with dialogue.

I clearly do not speak for indigenous people -- I am just a willing listener and invite others to come and listen with me.  Perhaps in time we will get closer to truly describing the elephant in the room with us. 

Some would say that the only voice heard up to now has been the white perspective, but as a person who did not grow up here, I haven't heard their side either.  With the 150th anniversary quickly approaching, we have a wonderful opportunity to do something noble and courageous but it sounds so simple and silly... I propose that we choose to get in the same room together and listen. Yes that means taking more time out of our schedules-- but the return on the investment is tremendous!  What if you could help a community heal?  What if you could change history, literally.

That means it will take us choosing to really listen.  If you're like me, you might need to hear it a few times for it to sink in because it's so different and deep that you need more time to process.  That means focusing on the person rather than preparing our rebuttle while someone is talking.  That means doing some digging and reading to wrap your mind around things better. 

My invitation to non-indigenous Minnesota citizens is to take time and get to know people whose perspectives, cultures, values might seem completely different on first blush.  We can ask questions to clarify and by spending time together we will honor each other as neighbors and in time begin to hear each others hearts.   This shining blue planet is full of people that seem remarkably different at first but who all love their families, want health and happiness, want justice and freedom, want to live without cancer and Type II Diabetes.   Want someone to listen to their concerns.  Want hope that things will be better for their kids and grandkids
I share this next video so that you can hear some people from the Dakota community share their perspective -- and remember that not everyone in their community sees everything the same way.  Not all Christians who attend the same church do...Not all people in your family do...Not all Democrats do...Not all Republicans do...But hear some passionate voices share their perspective about the treaty rights they believe are still guaranteed by the 1805 Treaty and its implications today.    Then apply the Four Way Test to what happens at this state park during the video.  Consider how the people are treated (both sides) and how the fish are treated.  I believe that in 2011, we can do better than this.
1) Is it the TRUTH?
2) It is FAIR to all concerned?
3) Will it BUILD GOODWILL and better friendships?
4) Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

If you want to learn more and you live in Minneapolis / Saint Paul Minnesota,  we have copies of the book "What Does Justice Look Like" available for checkout thanks to a very generous Rotary grant.

Does that mean it did not happen?
Does that mean it is not part of our current state history?
These videos were filmed just a few miles from my home and I was there for some of these events.

Here is a 2010 video of "Take Down the Fort" protest claiming the 1805 Treaty
Reclaiming Coldwater Springs at Bdote based on the 1805 Treaty

2008 Minnesota Sesquicentennial Wagon Train & Protest Reaction ( Fort Snelling Minnesota, Bdote)
At the end of the day, it's not my perspective that matters...but after listening to these voices, I wonder what do you think justice looks like?