Kevin Locke on “Colonization and Decolonization: A Lakota Perspective”: Another New Deepen! Web Video

Another addition to the Wilmette Institute’s collection of Deepen! Web Videos is Kevin Locke’s talk on “Colonization and Decolonization: A Lakota Perspective.” The recording will be used in the course on Native American Religion and Spirituality the next time it is offered, as will Kevin’s first talk “An Indigenous Perspective on Fasting.” But now you can use both talks for personal and community deepenings and reflection.

Talking from Portland, Oregon, where he was attending a storytelling conference, Kevin was wearing a T-shirt featuring Sitting Bull, whom he said was the patron saint of decolonization [for leading resistance against U.S. government policies]. Kevin began by singing a song dedicated to decolonization. He explained the song’s context by saying that, even though the U.S. government banned all displays of Indian cultural expressions, the Native Americans created songs to get around the ban.

Then Kevin defined colonization and decolonization. Colonization is the “action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area” and “of appropriating a place or domain for one’s own use.” Decolonization is “the meaningful and active resistance to the forces of colonialism that perpetuate the subjugation and/or exploitation of our minds, bodies, and lands. Its ultimate purpose is to overturn the colonial structure and realize Indigenous liberation. First and foremost, decolonization must occur in our own minds.” Kevin particularly stressed the last thought—“decolonization must occur in our own minds”—seemingly to stress the spiritual nature of the concept.

Kevin once again referred to his T-shirt with its picture of Sitting Bull, who said, “It is not necessary for an eagle to become a crow.” Being an eagle, with its eagle feathers that symbolize divine virtues, is the Lakota birthright. Thus decolonization, or being liberated from colonization, for a Lakota, means going back to the basics of being Lakota, one who clings to things that connect one to God. The Maid of Heaven brought to what became the Lakota people their name Lakota, which means “one who prays,” and the covenant of the pipe, together with the message from the Grandfather (God) that eventually One would come Who would direct the Lakota people to the Red Road. Bahá’u’lláh connects Himself to Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Thus, by extension, we can also connect Him to the Prophet of the Lakota.

Kevin emphasized that Native Americans did not resist civilization in general. Rather it was material civilization to which they objected. He talked about Indians in the Caribbean Islands and the Amazon Basin in South America who, because of dreams and visions, fled to Africa before the arrival of Euro-Americans in 1492. Then Kevin quoted from a number of statements by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and from passages about Shoghi Effendi’s writings in Ruhiyyih Khanum’s The Priceless Pearl. One example from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (The Secret of Divine Civilization 60) will suffice:

       All the peoples of Europe, notwithstanding their vaunted civilization, sink and drown in this terrifying sea of passion and desire, and this is why all the phenomena of their culture come to nothing. Let no one wonder at this statement or deplore it. The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilization, is human happiness; and human happiness consists only in drawing closer to the Threshold of Almighty God, and in securing the peace and well-being of every individual member, high and low alike, of the human race; and the supreme agencies for accomplishing these two objectives are the excellent qualities with which humanity has been endowed.

In short, the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, Kevin said, give us a new perspective. In the divine drama, all Revelators are part of one overall plan. All the peoples of the world are one people. The essence of decolonization is that we all search our own minds and move away from materialism and toward spiritual values. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets of the Divine Plan lay out in detail new roles for us. The March 1, 2017, letter from the Universal House of Justice on materialism and the global path to economic well-being has much to say about the defects of our material civilization. As he concluded his remarks, Kevin said that we all have a part to play in the New Theophany.

Kevin’s 45-minute talk was followed by questions and answers, including, for example, ones about the roles Ruhi study classes and the junior youth empowerment program can play in the decolonization process and about how Euro-Americans can help with the decolonization process. Kevin quoted President John F. Kennedy, who said that the American Indian is the least understood and the most misunderstood and the most different from Euro-American culture. Decolonization, Kevin said, about getting outside our bubbles, seeking universalism, and recognizing that we are all heirs to the riches of human civilization.

One listening to the Kevin’s Deepen! Talk asked about a quotation from the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Tablets of the Divine Plan 33) that has puzzled many who do not know Persian and Arabic.

Attach great importance to the indigenous population of America. For these souls may be likened unto the ancient inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula, who, prior to the Mission of Muhammad, were like unto savages. When the light of Muhammad shone forth in their midst, however, they became so radiant as to illumine the world. Likewise, these Indians, should they be educated and guided, there can be no doubt that they will become so illumined as to enlighten the whole world.

Kevin’s responded by saying that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá never called American Indians savages, only the pre-Islamic peoples in Arabia. But the real point, he went on to say, is that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was talking about the process of transformation brought by the Prophets of God. Kevin also asked Persian and Arabic scholars to weigh in. A few minutes later Dr. Moojan Momen sent the Arabic word that has been translated as ‘savage’ and a brief explanation of what the Arabic word means. When we asked Dr. Moojan to clarify his comments for publication, he referred us to Omid Ghaemmaghami, an excellent Bahá’í Arabic scholar, who has written:

. . . it’s also important to note that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did not limit His characterization of “savage” to Native Americans or people of Africa, as is often alleged by nefarious enemies of the Cause whose modus operandi online is to cite passages out of context and attempt to cast as negative a light as possible on the Bahá’í teachings. As we know, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also referred to the Arabs of the Jáhilí period before the coming of Islam as “lawless,” “barbarous and rapacious.” He called the people of Europe in the Middle Ages, “the most savage of the world’s peoples, the most ignorant and brutish. They were even stigmatized as barbarians—that is, utterly rude and uncivilized.” He reproached the people of Iran in His own time by asking, “how long shall we spend our days like barbarians in the depths of ignorance and abomination?” In each instance, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is invoking a classic Islamic argument: the paramount need for divine education. The word islám, it is often said, denotes conforming, submitting, or committing oneself to the Will of God. And, yet, Muslim scholars seldom contrasted islám with disobedience or rebellion to God, as one might expect; rather, they defined islám in juxtaposition with jáhilíyyih, the word commonly translated as “the age of ignorance” and applied to the period of moral excess, extremes of behavior and barbaric conditions that characterized the west-central region of the Arabian peninsula before the appearance of Muḥammad. They did this to prove that the pre-Islamic Arabs were in desperate need of a new divine Educator, for they had sunk to a decrepit moral state and taken on the characteristics of the animal. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá amplifies and extends this argument throughout His Writings, e.g.:

Were there no educator, all souls would remain savage, and were it not for the teacher, the children would be ignorant creatures. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá 126: 98.1)

Consider likewise the animals: If an animal is trained, it becomes domesticated, whereas man, if he is left without education, becomes like an animal. Indeed, if man is abandoned to the rule of nature, he sinks even lower than the animal, whereas if he is educated he becomes even as an angel. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,  in “The Need for an Educator,” Some Answered Questions 8: 3.3)

To access the Deepen! Web Video of Kevin Locke’s talk on “Colonization and Decolonization: A Lakota Perspective,” click here. To access his 21-slides, click here. To access Kevin Locke’s talk on “An Indigenous Perspective on Fasting,” click here.

Watch for additional Deepen! Web Videos by Kevin Locke, as discussions are in progress on topics that he will record after a trip to Indonesia, where he says that the diversity he will encounter is not strange but rather just another part of the diverse human experience.

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