Thursday, May 17, 2007

Land and Spirituality

Restoration, Land, and Spirituality – an Appeal
Phillip H. Duran
Tigua Indian heritage
April 18, 2007

Dear friends,

There must come a time when the restoration of Native peoples and the hope of all humanity are taken seriously. Who is responsible? I write in the form of a letter because I want to speak from the heart to everyone who will listen.

Let’s begin with some assumptions. There is abundant evidence that the government’s shameless attitudes toward American Indian tribes will not change in the near future. If you are keeping up with the federal case, Cobell v. Kempthorne, regarding the money that the federal government owes to individual Indians, or the ongoing struggle of the Western Shoshone people, you know what I mean about the government’s attitude. But I also know from experience that many people individually care deeply about Native issues and are generous with their resources.

With these two assumptions in mind, what can be said that has not already been considered? What can be done that has not already been tried? Please explore with me some ideas. We are familiar with some of the symptoms that plague Native America: alcoholism, poverty, dependence, violence, illness, suicides, a breakdown of values, and other ongoing issues.

These are symptoms, but what are the causes? Symptoms are visible signs that something is not right. Symptoms stem from causes; they are the effects of abnormal conditions. The same causal relationship applies to disease and treatment; if the disease is cured, the symptom(s) should disappear. Some symptoms stem from multiple causes, but the principle of cause and effect still applies. In any case, by treating the symptoms, some relief can be obtained but it will not cure the malady.

This letter is an appeal to the conscience about the need to understand and effectively address the root problems in Indian country. This is the work of restoration, which requires knowledge of the factors that affect Native people and the principles that govern how those factors are related. I would like to discuss how restoration is related to land and spirituality.

Let’s continue by asking some basic questions:

1. What is the source of America’s wealth?
2. What is the source of hope for America?
3. What is the source of hope for Native America?
4. What would represent the greatest loss to Native peoples?
5. What are the best kinds of activities to which money should be funneled?
6. Should support for Native ministry be confined to Natives?
7. Should support for Christian ministry be confined to Christians?
8. What part of Matthew 25:31-40 applies only to Christians? Does your ministry exclude others from involvement, either by intent or in practice?

Also, consider the following assertions:

1. Money is a human invention but not inherently evil.
2. The political democracy under which we are now governed, and which requires our allegiance, is a human invention that has no relationship to the earth on which we walk.
3. Land ownership is a human invention.
4. The real estate business and land development represent a deviation from the sacred because they use land for profit instead of its original purpose.


I suspect that the above questions and statements have triggered reactions in your mind. All of them, including the first question, involve land. When European immigrants first came to this continent, they had nothing, not even rights, only what was in their travel bags, and possibly some of the gold that had been stolen earlier from Meso-American tribes and taken to Europe. We must remember that there were two waves of immigrants, first from Spain, then England. English immigrants practiced trading for a while and eventually created money and banking. The Spanish not only stole the land; they also stole the people and used them as objects to produce wealth for themselves, not for the people.

We have to conclude that America’s source of wealth is the land, all of which once belonged to the tribes but not in terms of private ownership. The tribes did not need money; they lived off the land and were primarily concerned with practical living and survival, not with materialistic “wealth.” American values, on the other hand, which are rooted in Western thought and ideology, are exceedingly materialistic; this fact is reflected in the English language, as is obvious from the large percentage of English nouns that represent objects, or things that satisfy, including those that are unnecessary for a life of happiness.

Is there a principle connecting land to restoration and hope? It is the earth that supports life. With land I am of course including all of the elements that form the Indian’s natural/spiritual world: water, earth, air, and solar energy. Spirit is everywhere. When the land is healed, the people will be healed.

But there is a gaping hole in the American consciousness about indigenous knowledge and wisdom. Conventional (American) culture exploits the earth for human gain instead of respecting nature’s authority. America was built on an ideology that denies everything that the American Indian represents, albeit what most Americans perceive is a false image of the Indian. The traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, on the other hand, was acquired and practiced through countless generations of living in one place for a very long time and is scientifically sound, ethical and moral.

This indigenous spirituality isn’t just “religion”; it represents the sustainable science upon which the world’s future ultimately depends, even if it is not acknowledged. This is why restoring Native peoples to their rightful place is crucial. Western science has given us many conveniences; however, ingenuity is not equivalent to wisdom.

Think of the implications of the apostle Paul’s divinely inspired declaration: “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26). When the Creator, the only Sovereign, populated the earth with his nations, did he not also grant them rights and sovereignty to accomplish their purpose? These tribal rights are therefore original and inherent; they were not granted by any nation and have never been surrendered. The future therefore rests on the fulfillment of Creator's original intent for his nations. Do you see this connection? This is what I believe.

When a nation breaks its numerous treaty agreements with the original peoples, which were pledged under oath in Creator’s presence and even in the presence of ministers of the gospel, and gives no priority to the restoration of American Indian tribes while helping the wealthy acquire more wealth, does it represent the spirit of Christ and Christianity?

Probably the most important difference between the Indian and Euro-American way of life is that the Indian perceives and experiences a spiritual universe, one that is alive, with interconnected social networks, while the Euro-American perceives a dead universe. The Great Spirit breathed on everything; thus all things are imbued with spirit. The Euro-American sees beauty in nature; the Indian relates to nature. The non-Indian is inspired by this beauty and majesty; the Indian relates socially to all that is alive. You can see how indigenous spirituality is practical; it is not just “religious.”

The tribes cannot depend on America as their ultimate source of hope. It is the other way around: America’s hope, like the hope of all nations, including the plant and animal nations, depends on the healing of the land. This spiritual principle is one strand in the network of interdependence that directly connects America’s hope to the knowledge, example and wisdom of Native peoples, who have never built weapons of mass destruction capable of annihilating other nations.

Considering that Christian America is expected to reflect a spiritual perspective on matters of war and peace, and in view of the influence that churches can have on national policy, it is appalling that they are denying a principle that applies to all nations and is clearly expressed in the Bible. Israel in the Old Testament was a nation of twelve tribes whose blessings and survival did not depend on military strength. “A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death, and keep them alive in famine” (Psalms 33:16-17).

Likewise, the hope of America or any nation does not depend on military power. All peoples depend on the earth; if the earth suffers, the people suffer. The laws that govern our bodies, the lives of creatures, and the life of Mother Earth were given by the Creator. To Native peoples, these laws are also spiritual and they govern their relationship to the land on the basis of stewardship, not exploitation. Do you see the connection between land, stewardship, and hope?


A basic change needs to happen in the way we think about what we need for our happiness. To illustrate the idea, I will tell a personal story. Recently my wife and I had dinner at a nationally known chain restaurant. Some items on the menu were half-orders at a reduced price but I asked for a full order and I got full before finishing everything on my plate. This is not the first time it happens, but on this occasion, my conscience was prompted about having ordered more than I needed.

The amount of money I would have saved by ordering the smaller meal was small (about $6.00) but something I had learned earlier in the week helped rekindle an important Native traditional value. Our society is conditioned to feel like we don’t have enough. Not enough rest, money, influence, feedback to our ideas, interaction, wealth, space, vitamins, or whatever. We buy things that are unnecessary, always wanting more. We are bombarded by clever advertising that reinforces the idea that we need more.

As I sat in the restaurant I remembered an old teaching: “Take only what you need. When you take a gift from the Earth, offer thanks and give something back.” Jesus said: “ A man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15) and then taught a parable about the consequences people face by storing up things for themselves and not being rich toward God. In other words, we must re-direct those things we don’t need to the highest causes or suffer the consequences. This spiritual principle has global significance.

It was Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money, who triggered this idea in my mind. She expresses the principle as follows: “If you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, it frees up all that energy to make a difference with what you already have.” She further states that this difference will expand; Jesus taught this, too, in the parable of the servant who gained five more talents from the original five (Matt. 25:20). If we transform our lives from a condition of always wanting more (scarcity, the delusion that we never have enough) to one in which everything we have is exactly what we need (sufficiency), we will have more resources and energy to work with the things we already have. It will lead to freedom from want and the ability to help others funnel their money in the direction of the highest causes for humanity. Money will always flow in the direction of a person’s commitment, and an awakened consciousness can change that direction.

But that’s not all. The money and energy that have been freed up, which can be directed toward a higher cause, is not given as an act of charity, in my opinion. The anticipation of giving does something to our spirit. The spiritual experience begins at the moment of intent and anticipation even before the money leaves our hand; this is a spiritual act. It conforms to the divine order.


I do not want to cause offense by writing carelessly about the profound sense of spiritual loss that the separation from one’s land represents to Native people. This loss is difficult to convey. It is an experience that cannot be understood simply by quoting statistical facts. This is why stories are so important. They expose those things that are sacred. The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote recently.

“Consider what happened to the people in Alaska as told by Harold Napoleon, a Yup’iq Eskimo. Deeply troubled by the problem of alcoholism and alcohol abuse among Alaska’s Native people, and the death of his own son, Harold wrote handwritten letters for four years to address the problem. In one such letter, now published as a book, He discounts the theory that Native people are biologically susceptible to alcohol, concluding that the primary cause is not physical but spiritual and that the cure must, therefore, also be of the spirit. He tells of the spirit world in which the Yup’iq Eskimo lived, the world they knew before an influenza epidemic struck the people in 1900 due to exposure to white immigrants. For fifty years, the Yup’ik people saw their family members suffer and die until eighty percent of the Yup’iq people perished. In their stories, they refer to this experience as the Great Death. The extraordinary force of the story can be felt only by reading the book. Napoleon describes how the people viewed their world as complete. ‘It was a very old world. They called it Yuuyaraq, the way of the human being … Although unwritten, this way can be compared to Mosaic law because it governed all aspects of a human being’s life.’ He describes not only the physical and spiritual universe in which the Yup’iq lived but also what they lost when they had no choice but to accept another way of life.”

Please try to imagine the similar experiences that occurred all across America as tribes were displaced during the settling of the West and during a thirty-year period known as the Indian wars. Broken treaties, land transfers, forced removals, contempt for ceremonial practices and spirituality, war, and disease belong to that part of history, creating a multi-generational condition that Native psychologists refer to today as the soul wound in Native America, evident by the high incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The spiritual world that Harold Napoleon describes represents the spiritual dimension that is lacking in this modern world of technology, exploitation, and an economy based on greed. Can we bring the spirit back into our Native world? I don’t know, but you can help. We can begin by making an honest effort to promote a lifestyle of sufficiency and, as a spiritual act, use our freed up resources and energy to increase the amount we give to Native ministries and help awaken everyone’s consciousness about the need to re-direct their resources away from further destruction of land and people in order to support causes that bring restoration to Native people. We must build relationships that involve everyone. If we do not involve everyone in supporting and participating in our work, how will they witness and be blessed by the presence of Christ? If they do not know how our mutual destiny is connected to the land, how will they be motivated to give?

Does it make sense to support the current direction of this society? No bomb shelter or military power can save a people or a government indefinitely from its own vices. If purification comes, the pure in heart are the ones who will survive into the next world.

This letter is a general appeal to help support all worthy causes in Indian country. Natives in ministry in particular should never have to suffer from lack of resources. Also, in my April 5 letter, I announced Hamaatsa, the place where the people of White Dawn House will build an indigenous model for restoration. To be added to the HAMAATSA e-mail list and receive our future newsletter, send an e-mail with “Add Me” on the subject line (exactly, no quotation marks) to

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