How it came to be

I’ve been writing about Joy Harjo’s book, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems, lately, most recently about the steps for conflict resolution. The book begins with this quotation:

How it came to be

Only the Indian people are the original people of America. Our roots are buried deep in the soils of America. We are the only people who have continued with the oldest beliefs of this country. We are the people who still yet speak the languages given to us by the Creator.

This is our homeland. We came from no other country.

We have always looked at ourselves as human beings …

Every tribe has a trail of tears. We wonder when it is going to end.

PHILLIP DEERE (1929–1985)

Many have pointed out the irony of the current Republican administration’s callous and often inhumane policies regarding immigration and asylum coming from those who are themselves immigrants, or from families of immigrants. The writing above reminds that “Indian people are the original people of America.”

It also expresses why I have been led for the past several years to make connections with Native Americans. Others (White people) have warned me not to idealize Native Americans and their cultures. Have pointed out that some native nations are engaged with fossil fuels, when I say we should look to the leadership of native peoples regarding our environment.

But as I have been blessed to make friends with some Native people, I have found their relationship with the land, their commitment to Mother Earth and to each other have much to teach us White people. “We are the people who still yet speak the languages given to us by the Creator.”

John Woolman (Quaker) wrote (in the late 1700’s): “having many Years felt Love in my Heart towards the Natives of this Land, who dwell far back in the Wilderness, whose Ancestors were the Owners and Possessors of the Land where we dwell”. A land acknowledgement statement from more than 200 years ago.

Also from the quote above, “Every tribe has a trail of tears. We wonder when it is going to end.” One way to begin to work to end the trail of tears is for White people to acknowledge and respect what Indigenous peoples can teach us. And to help other White people do so, too. This is increasingly urgent as we look for ways to decrease the rate of environmental chaos and collapse.

We can also work to stop the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). Quakers can work with the Friends Committee on National Legislation to support bills related to Native affairs.

As we engage to do this work, we should keep the following conflict resolution ground rules in mind:

Set conflict resolution ground rules:

  • Recognize whose lands these are on which we stand.
  • Ask the deer, turtle, and the crane.
  • Make sure the spirits of these lands are respected and treated with goodwill.
  • The land is a being who remembers everything.
  • You will have to answer to your children, and their children, and theirs—
  • The red shimmer of remembering will compel you up the night to walk the perimeter of truth for understanding.
  • As I brushed my hair over the hotel sink to get ready I heard:
  • By listening we will understand who we are in this holy realm of words.
  • Do not parade, pleased with yourself.
  • You must speak in the language of justice

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

As I’ve been studying and writing about “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems”, I’ve been wondering just what conflict(s) Joy Harjo is talking about. Now that I’ve finished reading the six parts about conflict resolution, I’m still wondering what conflicts she has written about. The sixth (final) part is “use what you learn to resolve your own conflicts and to mediate others’ conflicts”.

So the conflict resolution steps she writes about can be used to resolve our own conflicts. But it seems to me she is also speaking about conflicts between Mother Earth and human beings, and conflicts of the cultures of Native peoples and non-native people.

I’m reminded of my friend Donnielle Wanatee’s prayers during our First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, in which she often said “we are all just pitiful people”. She also said “we are all Indigenous, we all came from somewhere.” And she said, “we are a tribe.”


Having many Years felt Love in my Heart towards the Natives of this Land, who dwell far back in the Wilderness, whose Ancestors were the Owners and Possessors of the Land where we dwell; and who, for a very small Consideration, assigned their Inheritance to us; and, being at Philadelphia, in the eighth Month, 1761, in a Visit to some Friends who had Slaves, I fell in Company with some of those Natives who lived on the East Branch of the River Susquehanna, at an Indian Town called Wehaloosjng, two hundred Miles from Philadelphia, and, in Conversation with them by an Interpreter, as also by Observation their Countenances and Conduct, I believed some of them were measurably acquainted with that divine Power which subjects the rough and forward Will of the Creature.

Woolman, John. The Journal, with Other Writings of John Woolman . Good Press. Kindle Edition.
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