When we think about the arrival of settlers across the plains and into the mountains of the west, we think of wagon trains and cattle drives, those seeking gold, silver and a new life. We think of adventure and expansion. We probably also think of the thousands of indigenous people who were displaced and murdered as a result of all of the above and more.
I recently started reading the book “Birthing the West: Mothers and Midwives in the Rockies and Plains” by Jennifer Hill. Hill points out that the work of pregnancy, giving birth and nurturing infants was a vital part of all that is western but is seldom included in the tales of bravery and fortitude. She reflects on the reality that, for these women who looked after livestock and had little or no access to birth control, giving birth was a common event and was done at home with the assistance of nearby neighbors or relatives. She also points out that the indigenous women of the time were knowledgeable in a variety of ways to aid in delivery, slow it down when it was premature, aid in healing afterwards, and how to prevent future pregnancies. Because of the prevailing practice of distancing from the native occupants of the land, their ways were held as suspect, even if they could save the lives of women and infants.
Indigenous People’s Day (IPD) reminds us that the people who inhabited this land before us and our ancestors lived in diverse and vibrant cultures—cultures that have been threatened and even lost as the result of attitudes and practices that de-value them and seek to eliminate them. IPD calls us to recognize the wisdom of the indigenous people and the value of that wisdom that can bring healing, even today. It also calls us into a time of mourning for the loss of the lives of the hundreds of thousands of those who inhabited the prairies for thousands of years before the arrival of our ancestors. The observance of Indigenous People’s Day calls us into the recognition of the damage that displacement and genocide has done on their cultures and ways of life and to seek ways of reconciliation and restoration. It moves us into the broader story and all its complexities.
There is a lot that can be learned from others, things that can benefit the whole world, perhaps one life at a time. And it takes telling and listening to the broader stories. I hope you’ll find some time to embrace the broader stories that are all around us and recognize the diversity of all God’s children.
Have a blessed Indigenous People’s Day on October 9th.