(Ten years ago today, I gave the opening prayer at a conference held at the “Breaking the Silence: Beginning the Healing” conference held under the auspices of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and which was a part of their year-long focus on the effects of the Doctrine of Discovery. I was likely the only Heathen there, and I was asked to open the gathering with a prayer to our collective dead. This is the prayer I gave, and while some of the language rings much differently today (to the point that were I writing this prayer today, I would rephrase certain elements to avoid association with the left), the core message stands).
Let us begin our work today by calling upon our ancestors.
Let us call upon the Algonquin, the Wappingers Confederacy, and all other Native peoples who walked this land and whom this land remembers.
Let us begin by calling upon the mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers of our lines, all the way back to the time our respective peoples began.
Let us begin by reaching into the past, to the strength and wisdom of our forebears, for guidance, as we seek to transform our present.
I call now to our collective ancestors, women and men who laid down their lives, who faced conquest, struggle, potential obliteration, who stood strong and proud so that each of their descendants might have a chance at survival, at life, at continuance. I call to those men and women whose joys and sacrifices, struggles and successes culminated in each one of us sitting here today. Hear us, oh honored dead.
Those of you who came before us, living lives rooted in your own ancestral ways, be with us here today. Be with us as we come together in dialogue and peace. Inspire us that from here, buoyed by the strength of our collective passion, our collective words, our collective insights, we might go forth and transform our oh-so-damaged world. Root us, oh Ancestors, in our respective indigeny. Root us in the knowledge that indigeny is about celebrating the dignity of every living being on the planet; indigeny is about recognizing that we are indisputably connected to the earth, the land, and most of all to each other. Oh ancestors, let our work today honor that awareness with grace.
Our mothers, our fathers, our foremothers, our forefathers all the way back to the time of the beginning are calling us to action. I know you all hear that call. May our warrior ancestors, who never, ever went gently into the good night of conquest, who fought and laid down their lives sometimes en masse for the survival of their traditions, our traditions, be with us, let us call upon them now. Defiant Ones, proud and enduring Ones, men and women both. Give us the strength to reject that which would poison and corrupt our connections to our ancestors, our Holy Powers, this land upon which we live, and each other. Give us the wisdom to know in our bones that sustainability does not come from disconnected governments and avaricious corporations but from the belly of our ancestors and the traditions they called their own, traditions that are our birthright, our inheritance.
Oh Ancestors, give us the courage to confront privilege – our own most of all – to actively engage with ideas and concepts that may be painful, to engage with mindfulness, respect, and authenticity.
Most of all, let us never give up, never surrender, never step back from this fight, no matter what hostility or pressure we might face. We too are warriors in a struggle that has spanned generations. Stand with us, oh our beloved dead. Grant us a measure of your strength. We carry the medicine of our ancestors. Oh Ancestors hear our vow: no one here will be legislated, educated, starved, murdered, shamed out of existence. We will not allow our traditions – whatever those ancestral traditions might be, for here we sit from all corners of the globe united by a common purpose – to be forgotten. We will not allow the land that cradles the bones of our foremothers and forefathers to be devasted. Many things can be lost or taken by the rushing press of dubious progress, or through the violent devastation of conquest, but indigeny is not one of them. It flourishes in each of us. It is in the soil upon which we walk. It is hidden in our skin and blood and bones, in the connection from parent to child to grandchild and beyond. Oh our mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, help us stay consciously rooted in that knowledge.
May we hold strong. May our ancestors sustain us.
It will take both sides, living and dead, to right the balance of this world.
May we hold strong and never bow our heads in fear.
We are each our ancestral lines walking. The time is now and I call upon our ancestors: give us ears to hear and eyes to see and the courage to go fearlessly wherever we must go, to do whatever we must do, to protect and heal our broken world.
With the blessing of the ancestors – all of our collective and honored dead – may we be given strength and may we always remember: we do not do this work alone. We are our ancestral lines walking. We come with nations of our ancestors at our back. May they be honored. May they be hailed. May they be remembered. May they inspire us.