What I Learned: Carolyn Jennings and Native American Religion and Spirituality

From the Wilmette Institute’s series of emails sent to learners three months after the course has ended, we share what Carolyn Jennings, a Bahá’í from Martindale, Texas, USA, learned from participating in the Wilmette Institute course Native American Religion and Spirituality (faculty: Kamao Cappo, Richard Hainsworth). Her final project was a PowerPoint that she shared in a presentation to her community and, in a shorter version, at a dinner for eight people, some of whom had worked on the Navajo Reservation. She was also inspired to visit an old friend who had studied for many years with Native peoples. And she is continuing to read books, portions of which were reading assignments in the course. The following are her comments about her project: 

“I wanted to say that my talk was based on “Ah-ha!” realizations I got from the course Native American Religion and Spirituality:

  • the historic uniqueness of clash of worldviews;
  • lost opportunities to learn from Native peoples the extent of genocide and the burying of the truth of what happened;
  • no reconciliation;
  • the deep and lasting atrocity of boarding schools;
  • continued stereotyping (I showed a short clip from the TED talk about stereotyping—the part about the google search for girls’ faces); and, my last realization,
  • the destiny of America is not just in the hands of or about white folks! (I am very embarrassed to admit that I had to figure that out).

“At the end of my presentation to my community, I asked the audience to move to the four corners of the room to discuss some really good quotations from postings made in the course (which went well). But, before they moved into groups, I told them I wanted to share one more thing: I showed the Nativez/Marley video. A friend suggested that I end after that by just shutting the computer and not saying anything. The most comments I got after were about that video and a quotation from a June 20, 2002, letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the Continental Board of Counselors in the Americas, saying that “The Universal House of Justice is deeply concerned about the welfare of Indian people of America and yearns to see them take their rightful place as a significant element in the spiritualization of humanity, the construction of a unified world, and the establishment of a global civilization.”

“When I was preparing my presentation, I met with a long-time acquaintance and friend of the Faith who spent many years studying with Native people and who was adopted by relatives of Black Elk. She gave me feedback on the talk and shared many wonderful stories. Another friend hosted a dinner with her family and Bahá’ís who had worked on the Navajo Reservation for ten years (after retiring, the wife learned that she was Cherokee, adopted as a two year old, and now a card-carrying member of the tribe!)  I presented an informal version of the talk to eight people at the dinner, and they gave me some great feedback.

“I just wanted you to know I really deeply appreciate the chance for the experience of learning and sharing so many insights.

“A couple of other things: I was so impressed by the selection in the course from John Fitzgerald Medina’s America’s Sacred Calling: Building a New Spiritual Reality that I am almost finished with the book and have a waiting list of friends who would like to read it. I am also reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, which is a most beautiful treatise on science and spirituality from a Native point of view.”

The course Native American Religion and Spirituality is being offered again April 1 – May 18, 2017, with Faculty Richard Hainsworth, Ceylan Isgor, and Brian O’Flanagan and Special Faculty Kevin Locke, who will provide several live web videos for the course.

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