Setting Things Right

This autumn has stirred in some unexpected areas of the American psyche a fresh appreciation of Indigenous culture, the foods, the languages, and the teachings of the First People on whose lands we, the newcomers, reside. It’s not merely a personal awakening. There seems to have been a subtle but noticeable shift in our cultural consciousness. The September 12,2022 issue of the New Yorker Magazine features an article that many of us couldn’t have imagined ever seeing in print even five years ago, titled “How Owamni Became the Best New Restaurant in the United States” by Carolyn Kormann. Her article describes how Sean Sherman, an Oglala Sioux and Lakota chef, has successfully introduced his Indigenous menu to the world of haute cuisine, employing no dairy, no wheat, no farmed meat, and no sugar. Nor is Sherman utilizing any ingredients at his highly acclaimed restaurant in Minneapolis that might have been brought to this continent by European settlers. At once tantalizing, colorful, and delicious, his approach to food is a paean to Native ingenuity and the ingredients available to the First People, displaying a distinctive array of hitherto unfamiliar flavors while employing cooking techniques that had existed for thousands of years before strangers arrived on these shores. Awards are being given. Patrons are flocking to sample and enjoy this “new” cuisine. Suddenly the world is sitting up and paying attention to an almost forgotten way of life that the U.S. and Canadian governments as well as Christian institutions worked hard to wipe off the face of the Earth.

As I put the finishing touches on the manuscript for “Stiqayu, Ghost Wolf,” the first volume of my newest Benniston Series, a journey into one woman’s social and spiritual evolution as she discovers the secrets of her birth, her family history, and the erasure of an entire race of people brought to within an inch of extinction, I am rapidly coming to appreciate the enormity of the losses that First People have endured. Although I am not myself Native-American, I have found myself filled with a deep yearning to know more about their ancient teachings and feel an obligation to educate myself and others about those who inhabited this land since time immemorial. I long to understand and celebrate the incredibly rich heritage of those who have had so much taken from them and who continue, even now, to face the loss and devaluation of their lands and culture.

There is in many of us a prevailing need to help set things right. We believe that it is only by shining an unwavering light on our past and on long years of rampant greed and dishonest dealing, by refusing to back away from an awareness of injustice, cruelty, and ignorance, that we can begin to challenge the false sense of moral superiority that has made possible the unimaginable, a blasé acceptance of large-scale genocide. This is not, as some might say, Critical Race Theory. It is just common decency. Perhaps the time has come to fan the spark of interest we now see in the media, hoping that it will catch fire and light the way to an understanding of and respect for Native societies as they existed and prospered here until 1491, acknowledging at long last the genius of Native adaptability to nature itself that allowed humans to live in harmony with the land and water for millennia while providing huge numbers of people a life of plenty. It is up to us as contemporary beneficiaries of the western expansion that occurred at the expense of Indigenous populations to approach painful historical truths with humility and gratitude, carrying forward unflinchingly the burden of sadness that accompanies deep regret.

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