First nations around the world have lost their lands, languages, and ways of life at the hands of American and European colonialists pursuing an agenda of domination, genocide, theft, and the elimination of indigenous cultures and identities. Entire nations have vanished. This catastrophe is not just theirs; it belongs to all humans, and to the earth itself, for it has been succeeded by the calamitous loss of animals and plants, and the specter of global warming.
What does it say about us and our separation from this earth? What does it say about our relationship not just to biodiversity, but to human diversity? What does it say about our cultural assumptions of superiority and how they continue to underlie our historical narratives? It is time to bear witness to our systems of thought and values, and to their actions and results that persist to this very day.
While hundreds of Native American tribes have been eliminated, drastically reduced in number, exiled, and traumatized, the Lakota/Dakota people of the Western Plains have gained a prominent position in the world psyche as a major archetype of what has befallen America’s native people. The massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890, is viewed by many as a defining event in the genocide of the American Indians, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. What we are most blind to is the continuous institutional violence practiced on the Lakota Nation and other tribes, comprising treaty violations, Congressional acts that permit thievery of their land and resources, the building of dams and flooding of burial grounds hundreds of years old, and the constant encroachment of corporate interests looking to “develop” lands commercially and mine sacred sites for various metals, including uranium.
The Native American Bearing Witness Retreat in August 2015 is but the first step in a process of coming together with Native Americans, many of whom continue to distrust the Wasichu, or white man, punning the name with wašin icu, which means he who takes the fat, someone who is greedy and dishonorable. This first step is bearing witness to the trauma, pain, and loss suffered by members of the Lakota Nation at the hands of the American government and corporations, supported by the ignorance and denial of most Americans.
For this reason, the first day of the five-day program will consist of a guided bus trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation (put link for trip), one of the most impoverished areas in this country. During the next four days, the retreat will take place on land belonging to the Flandreau Santee Sioux in the Black Hills, ten miles north of Deadwood, South Dakota. We are deeply grateful for their generosity. This gorgeous site consists of 170 acres of rolling, graceful meadows.
Place has always been critical to bearing witness retreats. The Place in this retreat is the Black Hills, one of the oldest geographic formations of the North American continent, situated close to its mid-point. Their rock layers are ancient, the mountaintops eroded over a few billion years into hills covered by dark evergreens. Native Americans have always been here, they say; the game-rich Hills and trout-filled streams have been their sacred land, home to ceremonies, vision quests, and burial grounds. These same Black Hills have been stolen and exploited by white Americans over the past two centuries for their silver and gold, and other metals. There are estimates of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of open-air uranium pits leeching uranium into water cisterns serving the Pine Ridge Reservation and as far away as the great Missouri River.
In the Black Hills we can bear witness to our separation from this earth. For this reason we urge as many participants as possible to camp on-site for the duration of the retreat.
The violation of the Hills runs alongside the violation of their people. The four days of the retreat will include talks by Native American elders, spiritual leaders, and educators on the history of this colonializing process. Testimony will be given in the Prayer Circle on the present-day lives of American Indians as a result of the ravaging of their culture, land, and language.
Mornings will begin with council circles led by trained facilitators, so that individuals could share their experiences in small groups. AA meetings will take place every day.
This retreat is but the first step in a process that seeks to bridge the divide created by centuries of fear and distrust. Its purpose is to bear witness. In addition, there will be invocations of atonement and for forgiveness, as well as prayers with members of the Lakota Nation for transformation of our social consciousness, respect for their history and the terms of our joint treaties, and for a new relationship among peoples and with the earth.
Register to the Bearing Witness Retreat in the Black Hills here.