Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings 2

Yesterday I wrote about the first step of what Joy Harjo outlines for conflict resolution in her book Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems. I wrote about that because she says the first step is to create conflict resolution ground rules. Those rules are about land acknowledgement, something I’ve been studying lately. She writes “make sure the spirits of these lands are respected and treated with goodwill. The land is a being who remembers everything.”

Following is what she wrote about the second step for conflict resolution for holy beings.


  • If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters “as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run.”
  • The lands and waters they gave us did not belong to them to give. Under false pretenses we signed. After drugging by drink, we signed. With a mass of gunpower pointed at us, we signed. With a flotilla of war ships at our shores, we signed. We are still signing.We have found no peace in this act of signing.
  • A casino was raised up over the gravesite of our ancestors. Our own distant cousins pulled up the bones of grandparents, parents, and grandchildren from their last sleeping place. They had forgotten how to be human beings. Restless winds emerged from the earth when the graves were open and the winds went looking for justice.
  • If you raise this white flag of peace, we will honor it.
  • At Sand Creek several hundred women, children, and men were slaughtered in an unspeakable massacre, after a white flag was raised. The American soldiers trampled the white flag in the blood of the peacemakers.
  • There is a suicide epidemic among native children. It is triple the rate of the rest of America. “It feels like wartime,” said a child welfare worker in South Dakota.
  • If you send your children to our schools we will train them to get along in this changing world. We will educate them.
  • We had no choice. They took our children. Some ran away and froze to death. If they were found they were dragged back to the school and punished. They cut their hair, took away their language, until they became as strangers to themselves even as they became strangers to us.
  • If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters in exchange “as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run.”
  • Put your hand on this bible, this blade, this pen, this oil derrick, this gun and you will gain trust and respect with us. Now we can speak together as one.
  • We say, put down your papers, your tools of coercion, your false promises, your posture of superiority and sit with us before the fire. We will share food, songs, and stories. We will gather beneath starlight and dance, and rise together at sunrise.
  • White House, or Chogo Hvtke, means the house of the peacekeeper, the keepers of justice. We have crossed this river to speak to the white leader for peace many times since these settlers first arrived in our territory and made this their place of governance.
  • These streets are our old trails, curved to fit around trees.

Harjo, Joy. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems. W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

That list, of course, is a devastating litany of the history of broken promises to native people by the white settler colonists. (Settler colonialism is a form of colonialism which seeks to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers.)

Mutual trust can only be built by complete honesty. This includes not only acts of commission, but also acts of omission. For example, the primary purpose of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March was to provide opportunities for white and native people to get to know each other to build mutual trust. As I was preparing for the March, I wondered if there might be an opportunity to talk about the history of Quakers’ involvement with the Indian Boarding Schools. (Other religious groups were also involved with Indian Boarding Schools.) The more I learned about forced assimilation, the more I realized how terrible that situation was. I also learned about multigenerational trauma. I wondered if, and how, I could/should raise the topic of forced assimilation.

Walking and camping together over eight days afforded opportunities to share our stories with each other. As we got to know each other, we shared more intimate stories. Early in our time together, I began to feel very uncomfortable with not bringing up the subject of the Indian Boarding Schools. Not doing so felt like an act of omission. Felt dishonest.

I was apprehensive about what might happen when I brought up the subject.

A spiritual leading made me feel the time was right to talk about this. So I said to a new friend, “I know about Quakers’ involvement with the Indian Boarding Schools. And I’m sorry that happened.” He just nodded his head, and we kept walking. Later that day, though, he told me his family’s experience related to white men coming to forcibly take Indian children away. This experience involved his mother, even though the actual incident took place several generations earlier.

That felt like we reached a new, deeper level of trust and I really appreciated his sensitivity and willingness to engage with me. Looking back on it, I don’t believe we would have gotten to know and begin to trust each other nearly as much if I hadn’t brought up the subject.

I realized every native person knew about the Indian boarding schools. What would they think if we non-natives never brought that up?

This entry was posted in #NDAPL, climate change, decolonize, First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Indigenous, Native Americans, Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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