The Benefits of Studying Native American Religious Figures and Ideas

Christine Pratt of Belchertown, Massachusetts, describes the rewards she gained from taking The Two Peacemakers: Bahá’u’lláh and Deganawida and the ways she applied her learning in her cluster.

Christine PrattI signed up for The Two Peacemakers course because of a longtime interest in indigenous peoples. I was rewarded with two courses, the ostensible one being an examination of the life of the remarkable Deganawida and his teachings as they stand and compared to Baha’u’llah’s peace mission, the other being the incredibly rich conversations on the forum. Out of the conversations and additional readings, I developed a better understanding of the differences in worldviews between Native Americans and Europeans and began thinking about how understanding native processes for community functioning could impact Baha’i communities that are still heavily influenced by a culture dominated by western scientific thought, education, and economics. I hope to find new paths to introduce indigenous ways of thinking about things in my cluster, for example, how we run reflection meetings.

As a writer, my learning about cultural misappropriation was significant. Non-Indians appropriating Indian songs, prayers, or images, even if they are well-meaning, can cause a breach of trust and they will miss the opportunity to learn about the context in which that ceremony or song is used. In one of the threads, we discussed the use of words and place names. As I often treat social justice issues in my creative writing, I therefore determined to ask for volunteers who can vet any future creative writing that has particular cultural references not native to my own. Luckily, I found a couple of volunteers during the course. I was also apprised of current social and economic justice issues of Native Americans and First Nations, as well as being reminded of old injustices. I may address some of them in future writings.

For my final project, I decided to share what I was learning with my cluster. My Spiritual Assembly had just decided to incorporate short deepenings at Feasts. I took the Feast of `Ilm and prepared a deepening on the Haudenosaunee [“Iroquois”] and the Peacemaker. I planned the devotions with a couple of prayers and passages relevant to the topic of peace and the station of the Manifestation to set up the deepening. For the deepening, I used a PowerPoint program created by Paula Bidwell that covered the unique characteristics of the Peacemaker Deganawida, had others read a passage from “Concerning the League” which gives a taste of his teachings, and quickly scanned through a newly released picture book to show the progression of the Peacemaker’s journey to the creation of the Haudenosaunee, who had been disparate nations warring against each other until he brought them together.

I am finding it useful to plan well and put my presentation on paper but to be flexible in the event. In this event, I had read the 2015 picture book “Hiawatha and the Peacemaker” in advance and listened to the accompanying CD. I was prepared to have the deepening be more child-centered if one of our members, a six year old, showed up. He didn’t. As it turned out, while the hosts were getting ready, their 11 year old son listened to the CD and both he and his older sister read the book before we began. Feedback from my small community was positive. They really enjoyed learning something new that can also be tied into the Faith.

I also volunteered to be the visiting host for an ongoing devotional at a religious center on a local campus. The planning part included a script for me to follow with a collection of music, narrative, and readings. I had a collaborator who might have done something with the three sisters tradition [corn, beans, and squash], but decided instead to mention it in the conversation that followed the deepening. She brought a junior youth who offered to play a piece on the piano so we started with that. Three young women attended from a world religions class, so some time was spent getting them comfortable. Following my script, I started with the “Friendship Song” on a CD by Joanne Shenandoah. We had several prayers and then I narrated the story of the Peacemaker by alternating my narration with the audience reading passages on a second sheet that was passed around. The readings included passages by Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá, plus two sections from Deganawida’s teachings from “The Council Way.” I briefly described the symbol of the Great White Pine and Four Roots of Peace. Then I introduced the Thanksgiving Address of the Haudenosaunee. People passed this around and shared the readings. I ended with a song by Searching Owl, “We Are One.”

The response was positive. One of the Baha’is, enamored of the teachings of Deganawida, wants to read “The Council Way.” The three young women may return. I had mentioned the new picture book, “Hiawatha and the Peacemaker” and one of the friends of the Faith, a veteran primary school teacher, got it right away, says it is amazing, and is going to ask the school librarian to buy it.

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