The Chaco Canyon Tapes - Part 2

Interrogative Imperative Institute

Purpose, identity, meaning, valuation, understanding, justice, freedom, responsibility, potential, commitment and choice are very much at the heart of The Chaco Canyon Tapes


This story of spiritual awakening, together with its concomitant thematic explorations, provide a context for reflecting on matters of fundamental concern to all of us.

The Call of the Owl - Part 2

She gave her words a half a minute or so to sink in and returned to talking about her parents. "My Mom and Dad were punished at the boarding school whenever they were caught speaking their native tongues. As a result, by the time boarding school was through with them, they had lost the ability to communicate with their families and their people."

Beth closed her eyes for a time and continued to speak. "All through boarding school, which lasted about ten or eleven years, my parents were not permitted to learn about, or practice, their spiritual traditions and customs. Instead, they were forced to become Christians.

"In my parents' case, it was Catholicism. However, some boarding schools were organized by the Mormons, while still other boarding schools were run by various Protestant denominations."

She opened her eyes, pressed her palms on them for a few seconds and started again. "By the time their, shall we say, 'education' was completed, my parents had lost their names, language, spiritual tradition, families, people and identities.

"My mother and father were completely alienated and alone. They neither belonged to the Native community, nor did they belong to the non-Native community.

"Somehow my parents found one another. Their love for each other helped ease the pain, but, in the end, it wasn't enough.

"Their lives had been consumed by the emotional, spiritual, physical, sexual and educational abuses which had dominated their lives for so long. They had been made into the living dead during a period of their lives when they were completely defenseless and at the mercy of people, who, in their hearts, hated my parents, no matter how those people tried to rationalize what was going on.

Beth was about to continue on, when I stopped her. "I notice there doesn't seem to be any intense emotion associated with anything you are saying, and, yet, these are all very traumatic, horrific issues to which you're referring.

"I'm a little concerned that maybe you have separated off your emotions from the informational content of your account. What do you feel about what you are saying?"

"I feel a deep sadness. How could one not feel sadness, but I have learned to hide my feelings from most people in this society. I know what I feel, but I choose not to show it except to a few individuals, like my brothers."

Beth paused and lowered her head for a moment. She began speaking with her head still lowered but gradually raised her head to engage my eyes briefly before looking out the window again.

"Dr. Phelps,... I'm sorry, David,... you have to understand,... what has happened to my family is not unusual among Native peoples. There have been very, very few indigenous peoples anywhere in North, Central or South America- in fact, anywhere in the world- who have not suffered tremendous losses and abuses due to the way many aspects of non-Native societies have treated Native peoples for hundreds of years.

"My heart feels tremendous sadness and grief, not just for my family, but for all the Native families who have pain and sorrow similar to, or greater than, mine. My heart cries every day, but my eyes cry only now and then.

"You asked what I feel, David. I also feel very ashamed about what has gone on."

Beth must have noticed the puzzled look on my face. She stopped speaking, considering how to proceed, and, then, she went on.

"Please don't be too defensive about what I'm going to say, David, but I feel ashamed for non-Native peoples in North America. I feel ashamed for them because they have permitted their educational, political, judicial, religious, and military institutions to oppress and destroy so many Native peoples without having done anything to stop these tragedies.

"I feel ashamed for non-Natives because too many of them have allowed their culture to become so morally bankrupt that relatively few non-Natives feel any sense of outrage about what is being done in their names to preserve the freedoms and rights of democratic society at the expense of Native peoples."

The tone of Beth's voice remained even. There still was no resentment or anger present. She was mentioning things without there being any accusatory quality to her words.

"I don't know if you are aware of it or not, David, but a great deal of the gas, oil, metals, energy, minerals, and timber on which an extremely sizable portion of the GNP of North America is based comes from Native lands. Apparently, as long as non-Natives can continue to reap the financial, career and life-style benefits which have been bought and paid for by the suffering, hunger, and poverty of Native peoples, they really don't want to look too closely at what is helping to make it all possible."

She smiled apologetically. "Sorry, sometimes I get carried away and say, perhaps, more than I should."

"There is no need for you to apologize," I said. "However, I'm afraid, your earlier request of me to the contrary, I'm feeling rather defensive about what you have told me."

I was feeling very off-balance and awkward. Beth's words and story had resonated with something very deep, but unarticulated, within me. I was sensing a truth in what was being communicated by her, as well as in the simplicity and sincerity through which the message was being delivered. On the other hand, part of me was kicking and screaming against accepting its truth.

Nonetheless, I had learned a long time ago that the therapeutic relationship can be as difficult a struggle for the therapist as it is for the client. So, I gathered my courage and spoke the truth.

"Not many people enjoy having their moral shortcomings exposed," I admitted. "Unfortunately, I'm probably as good a candidate as anyone toward whom your feelings of being ashamed would be appropriately directed."

Her eyes never left my face while I was confessing. There was a sense of appraisal in her gaze. It was simultaneously both compassionate and, yet, exacting.

Suddenly, I felt as if I had become the client and Beth was the therapist. I was asking the questions, but she was conducting the interview.

"Maybe," she suggested, "we should get on with the rest of the information you requested earlier."

"Are you sure you want to continue?" I asked. "Do you feel I will be able to help you in the way that you need?"

Beth's brow wrinkled a little, and, then, her eyebrows arched somewhat. Then, she said: "I suspect the jury is still out on that issue for both of us. Why don't we proceed and see where it leads?"

I reflected on her proposal for a moment or so. I was beginning to wonder what was going on.

Finally, I said: "You referred to some brothers earlier, where are they?"

"I haven't seen Warren for a long time. The last thing I heard about him, which was several years ago, he was down in South America, traveling about in Peru, Chile, and Brazil. He was spending time with various indigenous groups."

Beth lowered her head again. She raised her head, looked at me, then she looked down again briefly before raising her head once more.

She began slowly. "My other brother, Brian, who is Warren's identical twin brother, is in prison. He is doing 10 to 15 years for, allegedly, killing a federal agent."

"From your use of 'allegedly' am I safe in assuming you don't believe your brother is guilty?"

Beth shook her head up and down a few times, then she asked: "Have you ever heard of Leonard Peltier?"

A faint memory trace of recognition flitted across my mind. However, I couldn't quite grab hold of the threads of the reality to which the trace related.

When she saw my hesitation, Beth continued. "He was convicted of killing two FBI agents in 1975 at a place called Jumping Bull Ranch out Dakota way. However, there is a great deal of evidence to indicate Leonard was framed by the federal government."

"Why would they do that?" I queried.

"Leonard was a member of A.I.M., the American Indian Movement", Beth responded. She went on: "A.I.M. was creating a lot of problems for federal and state governments by exposing a variety of unseemly affairs.

"For instance, A.I.M. was bringing forth a great deal of evidence concerning the virulent forms of racism being practiced by many representatives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The members of A.I.M. also exposed the corruption of the puppet Tribal Councils which were betraying their own Native communities while serving as agents of a variety of vested corporate and government interests. In addition, A.I.M. helped raise the consciousness of a lot of Native and non-Native peoples alike, with respect to the wretched living conditions on the reservations."

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