As I continued my work on ‘connection’ for this week, I turned for inspiration to one of the great figures of the past, Chief Seattle. The First Nations People of the Americas have had a tremendous impact on my own thinking and formation. I rarely write or talk about it, since it’s an annomolous aspect of my life, given that I was born into a Welsh family a few thousand miles and a century away from Chief Seattle. I don’t have a romantic view of Native Americans – although I probably did in the past. When I was a child I always chose to play the Indian, rather than the cowboy, because I saw them as wise, nature-loving and ‘whole’ people. That was then. I have a great respect for the wisdom that comes from a life on the Plains; and for the understanding that comes from living in and amongst the natural world – as opposed to concreting it over and trying to tame it. But the First Nations People are not some historical entity. They too, have to make their way in the 21st Century. It’s not been easy. In every way possible, Native Americans have been betrayed, exploited and disenfranchised by ‘The Whites.’ Have a look at these statisitics from just one reservation, (Pine Ridge):
97% of of the population at Pine Ridge Reservation live below federal poverty line.
* The unemployment rate vacillates from 85% to 95% on the Reservation.
* Death due to Heart Disease: Twice the national average.
* The infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent and is about 300% higher than the U.S. national average.
* Elderly die each winter from hypothermia (freezing).
* Recent reports point out that the median income on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year.
* At least 60% of the homes are severely substandard, without water, electricity, adequate insulation, and sewage systems.
* Recent reports state the average life expectancy is 45 years old while others state that it is 48 years old for men and 52 years old for women. With either set of figures, that’s the shortest life expectancy for any community in the Western Hemisphere outside Haiti, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In the richest country in the world you can find some of the poorest people in the world.
One of my ‘virtual’ friends, (at least, friend is how I think of her), is Margaret. Her blog is here. Margaret is an Episcopalian Priest living and working amongst the Lakota on the Eagle Butte Reservation and her stories of life and faith at the sharp end are well worth a visit. Vulnerbility and authenticity, (which seem to have been my words for the past week), are very much part of the Kingdom Culture she, (and I, through her blog), experiences.
I’m going to use some of this thinking in my work tomorrow and we shall be listening to Chief Seattle’s words for today echooing from the past, (1854). Here’s a version you might like to see: