Gold, Frankincense and Forgiveness

by Mitakuye Oyasin

My family, consisting of my daughter and my three grandsons, had just emerged from another store crowded with people in search of the "perfect" gift. You know what I meanŠ the one that will "make" Christmas. Robbie, my oldest, who turns 13 just after Christmas Day, commented on the intent stares in the shoppers' eyes as he closed the car door and put on his seat belt: "It's like the Seven Cities of Cibola."

To appreciate his insight and why we chuckled over it, you need to go back into the history of the Spanish people, back to the time when the Moors had conquered Spain and persecuted the Christians who lived there. Columbus hadn't been born yet, so Turtle Island was not known to exist but that did not stop the creative imaginations of the Spanish people. A legend developed that told of seven cities settled by oppressed Christians from Spain, and (of course), just like the mythical Heaven of Christians, the seven Cities of Cibola were rumored to be rich in gold and jewels.

The first European to view a pueblo, Fray Marcos de Niza, saw the Zuni village of Hawikuh in 1539 and he was certain that he had discovered the Seven Cities of Cibola. In his report to the Spanish Viceroy, he described a huge city with houses of turquoise. This brought Coronado to the area with his army since they were prepared to seize the treasure-laden cities. But, when they arrived, they found a "little, crowded village Šcrumpled all up together."

It sounds a little like the day after Christmas, doesn't It? Especially with broken plastic toys, dead batteries and marvelous electronic whatziz that don't whozit.

No one has indicated for the record If de Niza was near-sighted, stupid or had simply relied on accounts of friendly Indians; but time and again, the Spanish sent expeditions in search of the legendary cities and ended up with nothing but an abundance of land and slave labor from the Indians who survived.

How pathetic they were in their gluttonous quest, the more so because they masked their greed with missionary zeal for saving the souls of the poor lost Natives. In fact, my people have always felt that their worst enemies were not necessarily the soldiers with guns. Quite often, it has been the alleged friends of the Natives with their alleged Christian motives who have done the most harm.

As we enter into this box of time called the Christmas Season, it saddens me to think about all the pain brought to my people in the name of Christ. In the Sunday, December 9th edition of the Peoria Journal Star, there is a full page story telling how Canadian investigators are amassing evidence of widespread sexual and physical abuse inflicted on Indian children at government-funded, church-run boarding schools. The article reads, "Victims across Canada, coaxed into confronting their nightmares, have told police of rapes, beatings, suicides, suspicious deaths, humiliating punishments, even the use of homemade, low-voltage electric chair."

Children were forced to attend these boarding schools and, separated from their families, they were punished for speaking their own languages while being force-fed white culture. Both Catholic and Protestant instructors tried to stamp out their native spiritual beliefs.

Of course there is nothing new about any of this, since Indian nations across North and South America have, from the beginning, experienced for themselves what the Canadian Indians have so recently endured.

When Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, a Dakota Sioux, graduated from medical school, his first job was at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He arrived shortly after the massacre of 300 Sioux by the cavalry on December 30, 1890 at a place called Wounded Knee. The Christmas decorations were still up. As a relatively new Christian, he choked on the discrepancy between the Christian words of the white man and the deeds of mass murder that he witnessed.

With this long history of hypocrisy, it must be a temptation to many Natives to resent these European transplants and to reject their Christianity and yet that is not what has happened. Eddie Box, a Ute Elder and Medicine Man, passes on to us what the Elders have told him, which is what they were told by their Elders: "And he said when you get rid of that anger and resentment toward whites for what they have done, everything you ask with His name [the Creator] will come to you­­-no difficulty. Because you have built a compassion inside of you to the human race of the world. See, that is what they were talking about."

That is the Indian way. That is also what the birth of a baby in a stable in Bethlehem is all about.

This article posted to Zephyr online December 19, 1996
Back to the Zephyr
home page.Send us e