November 6, 2008

Do I Miss Her?

Yes, I do. I will be the first to admit that politics runs through my veins. I come for a long line of policy makers, movers and shakers. George Nelson Townsend, my greatx5 grandfather staked out the Northern Illinois territory, gave the towns their names, road to the gold rush out west and back to Stockton, Il. Going back to the 1500s the Townsend family has been instrumental in shaping certain points in history. From Rebbecca Townsend's role in Paul Revere's last ride, to the Townsend Hall Museum in Oyster Bay, across the seas to a farm that was built outside of London at the "Towns End" in the 1500s, my family has been drawn to change. It was with a heavy heart that I left my role at the Wisconsin State Capitol back in the late 1980s. I was part of history and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I was given to participate. I sat with lawyers as we shaped the Wisconsin Forestry Protection laws, I sat with voters in the embroiled battle over Native American Treaty Rights. We had a large constituency of Native Americans in our northern WI district and I learned life-changing lessons from the Elders who went on to be my friends. It was Obama's speech that drew me back to the marble halls, the gold and mosaic ceilings and to the memory of one particular Elder who was a brilliant spokesperson. He was beautiful to behold in his three piece suit and long braids. If any of you have been in the Wisconsin State Capitol you will know that it can be disorienting. The main gallery has a North, South, East, and West sign above each chamber to help the tourist, lobbyist and visitor, find their way. As I listened to Obama speak the memory of Ed strolling up to me in the hall swept over me and I cried. So long ago, this man, who worked tirelessly to defeat Thommy Thompson's attempt to destroy Native American Treaty Rights walked up to me and said, "Laurie...which way is South?" I was flying through the hall heading for chambers because we were in budget session. I stopped, a bit annoyed, and pointed at the signs. He looked up at me so slowly I had no choice but to slow down. He smiled, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "it's so hard to find my direction when there are no trees to guide me." He patted my shoulder and walked away. I can still see him, strolling away, his meaning forever em blazed in my memory. What a beautiful soul. I hope somehow, somewhere, he can see this, and know that I remember. I have taught my children the lessons and I have faith they will teach theirs. Obama's words rang out over the globe two nights ago and they still ring in my ears now. He reminded me of Ed and he also reminded me of Chief Seattle. Just when I believe no logic and reason can be heard, a special human spirit surprises me. I must admit I grew weary of the battles. I shrunk away from duty, became disgusted with the people's apathy, and chose the path of art to heal my wounds. Yes I admit, I tucked my tail. I was shamed into silence by friends when I said I was a "Liberal" . I hang my head now at that weakness. For a moment, a brief moment, I missed her....politics. Obama stirred it up and I thank him. I am going to leave you with Chief Seattle's words from so long ago. My heart is cautiously opptimistic and I send this to you for consideration. I have heeded these words. May you also give them consideration. With gratitude, Laurie B. The Great White Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. He also sends words of friendship and goodwill. This is kind of him since we know he has little need of our friendship in return. But we will consider your offer. What I say the Great White Chief can count on as truly as our white brothers can count on the turning of the seasons. My words are like stars: they do not set.How can you buy or sell the sky; the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. We do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water, so how can you buy them from us? We will decide in our time, but every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every glade and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people.We know that the white man doesn’t understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the Earth whatever he wants. The Earth is not his brother but his enemy; and when he conquers it he moves on. He leaves his fathers’ graves behind and doesn’t care. He kidnaps the Earth from his children. His father’s graves and children’s birthrights are forgotten. His appetite will devour the Earth and leave behind a wasteland. The sight of your cities pains the eye of the red man. But perhaps this is because the red man is a “savage” and doesn’t understand.There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of insects’ wings. The clatter insults the ears. But perhaps I am only a “savage” and don’t understand. And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lovely cry of the whippoorwill or the argument of the frogs around a pond at night? The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of the pond, and the wind itself cleansed by the midday rain or scented with pinion. The air is precious to the red man for all things share the same breath: the beasts, the trees, the man. The white man doesn’t seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying for days, he is numb to his own stench.If I accept, I will make one condition: the white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers. I am just a “savage” and don’t understand any other way. I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. I am a “savage” and do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be more important than the buffalo whom we kill only to live. What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone then men would die from a terrible loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth.Our children have seen our fathers humbled in defeat. Our warriors have felt shame. After defeat they turn their days in idleness and contaminate their bodies with sweet food and strong drink. It matters little where we pass the rest of our days; they are not many. A few more hours, a few more winters, and none of the children of the great tribes that once lived on the Earth, or that roamed in small bands in the woods, will be left to mourn the graves of a people once as powerful and hopeful as yours. One thing we know that the white man may one day discover: our God and your God are the same. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land, but you cannot. He is the God of man and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white. The Earth is precious to him, and to harm the Earth is to pour contempt on its creator. The whites too shall pass, perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your own bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed. The secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by telegraph wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. And what is it to say goodbye to the swift and the hunt, the end of living and the beginning of survival.We might understand if we knew what it was that the white man dreams, what hopes he describes to his children on long winter nights, what visions he burns into their minds so that they will wish for tomorrow. But we are “savages”. The white man’s dreams are hidden from us. And because they are hidden we will go our own way. If we agree, it will be to secure the reservation you’ve promised. There, perhaps we may live out our brief days as we wish. When the last red man has vanished from the Earth, and our memory is just the shadow of a cloud passing across the prairie, these shores and forests will still hold the spirits of my people, for they love the Earth the way a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat.If we sell you our land, love it as we’ve loved it. Care for it as we’ve cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land, as it is when you take it. And with all your strength and all your might and with all your heart preserve it for your children, and love it as God loves us all. One thing we know: our God is the same as yours. The Earth is precious to him. Even the white man cannot be exempt from common destiny.o. Peace.

4 comments:

manamoon November 6, 2008 at 11:02 AM  

You've brought me to profound tears. Thank you

Pam, probably. November 6, 2008 at 3:38 PM  

Hear Hear.

Patricia Lanchester November 7, 2008 at 5:50 PM  

Wonderfully spoken! What a rewardingly rich journey you've had. I fully enjoyed reading about it.

Deronda November 8, 2008 at 10:41 PM  

Thank you!

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"All images and content of Laurie Beggin's Glass Musings and Through The Looking Glass © 2007 Laurie Beggin, unless otherwise noted."