Transcript: Hungry Ghosts, Jan 29 2007
What Native American people have that white people don't.
Hungry Ghosts, January 29 2007
You know, I was invited to participate in a conference that Carol Bedrosian put on. She publishes a magazine out of Massachusetts called Spirit of Change and she's married to a Native American and it has a large Native American readership and deals an awful lot with indigenous and aboriginal issues. And the conference that she put on, she invited elders from a whole variety of traditions. There was a fellow from the Amazon, from the jungles of the Amazon who came up. There was a fellow from the mountains of the Amazon. In fact, he brought a big bundle of coca leaf that was interesting to chew on for a few minutes. There was a fellow from Africa; an African African; a shaman who was there. There was a representative of African Americans; an elder from the African American community. There were several elders from the Native American community, both from Canada and the United States.
One of them a fellow by the name of Frank, who I've known for a few years and who sat next to me, and Frank actually just died last year. And I was the elder for the white guys. And I'm sitting here, and there's, I don't know, 400 people, 500 people, something like that, there's a bunch of people in the audience and most of them were young people, you know, in their teens and twenties and most of them were Caucasian. Most of them were middle class and a lot of them were dressed up like Native Americans, you know. They were dressed up in buckskin and all this kind of stuff.
And Frank and I were sitting. We had this kind of elder's circle. We were sitting in this circle around a fire and around us is another circle and then, you know, around that is all this community and there was going to be this talking circle thing among the elders.
And Frank leans over to me, and he looks out at all these kids in drag, you know, in Native American garb and he says, "I don't get it". He says, "I don't understand why your people would want to be like my people. We have been the victims of four, five hundred years of oppression. I mean, we're crushed. Our communities are in shambles; they're in tatters. We have terrible problems on our reservations with alcoholism and unemployment and child abuse. Why would you want to emulate us?"
And I thought about it for a minute. I thought, 'you know, this is a really interesting question'. And it suddenly clicked and I said, "Frank", and I'm doing this from memory and it's been quite a few years, so forgive me, but I actually wrote a piece about this called "The Forgotten People" ["The Lost People - ed."] at the time and it's a lot more accurate. It's on my web site. But here's my recollection.
I said, "Frank, you know the language of your mother's mother's mother's mother's mother's mother all the way back into ancient history". He said, "Yeah". I said, "You know where the sacred places and where the dangerous places are". He said, "Yes". I said, "You know the sacred plants and foods, you know the traditions, you know the directions of the wind, you know the spirits. You know the stories of your culture." And he said, "Yes". And I said, "Now, imagine if my ancestors had been successful at doing what they set out to do your people and you no longer knew your own language, and you no longer knew who your ancestors were, and you no longer knew what the sacred places were and you knew nothing of that. What would that be?"
And he looked at me with this very sad face and he said, "That would be a disaster beyond comprehension". And I said, "Frank, that's what happened to my people. 3,000 years ago in Europe, my people were aboriginal people just like yours are, or were a few hundred years ago. And then came then came the Celts and then came the Romans and then came the Christians. And at my great grandfather's house in Norway there's a stone in the back with Runic writing on it and nobody, nobody alive in Norway today knows what it says and it's not even a thousand years old.
And he looked at me with, you know, a different look. And he said, "My God, your people have been destroyed." And I said, "You're right". He said, "No wonder you're hungry ghosts".