A much-appreciated affirmation
This column is dedicated to Greg. Now you know the rest of the story.
It was a meeting on the Southern Ute reservation in Ignacio, and I was an invited speaker. There weren’t many people in attendance that weren’t Ute.
The speaker before me made a statement that made me cringe, a not very appropriate thing to say when you’re a white man among Indians. But I was concentrating on my speech since it would be my turn next.
When I finished a Ute woman got up and, seething from the previous speaker’s comments, began a tirade directed toward me as if it had been my words that had offended her. For reasons I can’t explain, her words rather than offending me struck a cord deep within and I began to feel her anger and pain. Fate had arranged for me to be the sole recipient of such hateful words coming from pent-up emotions. Her words felt like flaming arrows.
It was not a personal attack. This lady didn’t know my lineage or me. She didn’t know that my relations descended from Mushulatubbee, whose Choctaw name was AmoshuliTubi, “Warrior Who Perseveres.” Born in 1770, he was the principal chief of the Choctaw Indian tribe during their forced removal to Oklahoma.
The woman’s hatred toward a conquering race ” the slavery, the persecution, the murders and other unspeakable horrors ” hit me like a tsunami. The tears began rolling down my cheeks. It was not from shame for I was not responsible for the treatment of her people. Nor was I embarrassed at what was happening. But the tears would not stop. The only comparison that comes close to describing how I felt would be an out-of-body experience.
I looked out at the silent crowd and saw the survivors of a Ute Nation. Far in the back row against the wall of the auditorium were the Elders watching and waiting. I was the last speaker, so when the tirade stopped people got up and started leaving. A tremendous sense of calm and peace entered my whole body, and I felt cleansed, much like the purification from a long ceremony when the door of a sweat lodge is opened.
As the room cleared the Elders from the back row got up and approached. Before me stood the wise ones of the Ute Tribe. They represented the traditional wisdom that is passed down from one generation to the next.
What happened next was simple yet powerful. One of the Elders shook my hand and said, “You keep doing what you are doing.” It was an affirmation that years of passionately and patiently working between the United States and the Ute people as the “‘tween” man was important. Making sure the government redeems its trust responsibility by honoring its treaties also honored them.
When all was done I headed home. As the car began gaining speed, out of nowhere an eagle swept in front of the jeep low enough that our eyes met. Mitakuye Oyasin. Ah ho.
For more than 30 years Bill Kight of Glenwood Springs has worked for federal land management agencies consulting with Indian tribes. He shares his stories with readers every other week.
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