Paul Andersen: Fair Game
December 21, 2009
In Carbondale two weeks ago a Council of Elders agreed to forgive the Spanish explorer, colonist, slave merchant and trespasser Christopher Columbus. The forgiveness ceremony took place at the Sustainable Settings ranch, in the shadow of Mount Sopris. The Council of Elders also invoked a new name for Mount Sopris, a Ute expression that means “ancient mountain heart sits there.”
The Council of Elders formed in Carbondale during the Eleventh Native Gathering of the Americas, a conference that brought together tribal councils of the Najavos, Northern Cheyennes, Yaquis, Mayans, Aztecs and many more, representing Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Ecuador and other nations. For these indigenous peoples, forgiving Columbus was akin to the Jews forgiving Hitler, an act of generosity that transcends blame, vindication and revenge.
“This is a process for reconciliation,” explained Dr. Ramon Nenadich, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, who chaired the Gathering. “Any reparations must come from the heart of the people. It’s not on the level of money, but of love, understanding, compassion and peace.”
I asked Dr. Nenadich who is next to be forgiven on the long list of transgressors since Columbus. He smiled and said, “Maybe Obama.” Dr. Nenadich explained that a recent $3.4 billion settlement of a 13-year lawsuit awarding indigenous peoples for unpaid and misdirected land royalties in the United States represents a token dismissal of a much-larger claim.
That larger claim contains a litany of land thefts and a history of exploitation that define the Anglo treatment of Native Americans since Columbus introduced racial domination, ethnic slavery and genocidal murder to the Americas. Forgiveness, explained Dr. Nenadich, and the humility forgiveness requires, is the only sane way to end the cycle of plundering, killing and conflict.
Dr. Nenadich had never been to Carbondale before the Gathering, but as he drove up the valley, his heart was opened by the view of Mount Sopris. “I saw that sacred mountain and I knew she has a spirit,” he said. As a result of the Gathering, a proposal is in the works to build a healing center in Carbondale, honoring the spiritual influence of Mount Sopris.
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Healing is important, explained Dr. Nenadich, because only forgiveness and humility can cure the sickness of humanity, which suffers a deadly pathology evident in the abuse of fellow man and nature. This pathology is responsible for locking away indigenous peoples of North America on inhumane reservations.
“I visit these places,” he said, “and I know that they are not reservations. They are concentration camps. The fences are psychological, but the effect is the same. The government is killing these people with diabetes and poisoned water.”
Breaking the cycle of exploitation and dehumanization requires education, he explained. “There are two ways of learning: through suffering and through love. Either we stay with the existing system of colonization, which is the dead end of suffering, or we come to a higher level of consciousness and create a new dialogue based on love. You must choose, and all mankind must choose.”
A necessary transformation must occur by making all things sacred, he explained. “Only then can the wounds heal.” Carbondale, he said, could become the center of the world for this kind of healing. “The Gathering brought a precious gift to Carbondale,” said Dr. Nenadich. “That gift is a joyous expression and a humble gift of love, peace and understanding.”
The Gathering may be the greatest Christmas offering Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Valley have ever had, coinciding with the celebrated birth of one who is heralded for the forgiveness of all mankind. According to Dr. Nenadich, there is no better place or time to forgive the trespassers and begin the healing than here and now.
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