In the past I have heard about the need for people – us, white people, in North America – to understand the impact of colonization on the story of this land – a story begun many thousands of years before there was ever a European landing on the shores of North America.
This story is compellingly told by Kent Nerburn in his book The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey Through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows. Nerburn is the story catcher for a Dakota elder, named “Dan” in the book, who he journeyed with a number of times over a couple of decades.
In telling Dan’s story, he also tells the story of the First Nations people, of how they welcomed newcomers to their land, wanting to learn from them and willing to share with them. How cultures, beliefs and ways of life clashed so dramatically that the First Nations people were practically wiped out in a land as vast as North America.
European ways of being were forced upon a people and a land with a system of property ownership that went beyond just land. A significant portion of the population was wiped out because of their lack of immunity to the diseases brought by the European settlers. The very rigid religious systems played a part in attempting to wipe out the remainder by crushing the heart and soul of a people and their culture through “educating” them in the white man’s language and traditions – and through the use of force. The impact of residential schools on families and a people was devastating.
There was a time in our history when the white man wanted to drive First Nations people into extinction and when they couldn’t kill the people anymore, they killed their food supply, deliberately laying waste to magnificent herds of buffalo that once roamed this land.
The path to alcoholism and drug use emerged as the light of the soul dimmed, flickered and was almost extinguished.
The sense I got from reading The Wolf at Twilight is that it is not really about laying blame, although it very well could be. It is about generating understanding of a time, history and culture that is fundamentally important to what is happening today in the world.
In my travels and work, I am seeing a growth in interest around indigenous practices and ceremonies – circle council, vision quests, sweat lodges, drummings, sundance ceremonies, an honouring of the life breath that is in everything and everyone and shamanic practice. These practices are being reclaimed by First Nations people as they relearn traditions that have been almost lost to them and work to heal the soul of their people and their culture. These practices are being adopted by white people who hear the whisper of the sacred in these practices and are also seeking healing – for themselves, their communities and the earth.
This book is a must read for all of us interested in shifting the shape of our future. We need to understand our history – not just what we consider to be the good parts of it, but the shadow that shows up in how our ancestors treated the people who lived on this land before they arrived – as less than human beings. It is only in living into our own history that we will be able to transcend it and really generate the level of healing that is being called for in the world right now.
The resilience of a people who were brought to the brink of extinction and are now reclaiming their heritage is brilliant and an inspiring example of what is possible for everyone and for the healing we all need.