Photo: The grave of Miami Chief Francis Godfroy located at Chief Francis Godfroy Cemetery, Miami County, Indiana. This is an image of a place or building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States of America. Its reference number is 84001203. CC BY 4.0 – Sarah Stierch, 18 March 2010
Course: The Great Spirit Speaks: Voices of the Wise Ones
Lead Faculty: Kevin Locke
Editor’s Note: Victor Chaney took The Great Spirit Speaks in 2021, and was invited to participate in the 2022 course as a Discussant. He contributed actively to the forum discussions, and below are some comments he posted at the end of the course in the forum titled Four Indigenous Steps to “Enlighten the Whole World.”
Until about 1½ years ago, I had never heard about the concept of indigenous acknowledgement. Even after reading the information contained in Great Spirit Speaks: Voices of the Wise Ones, I was still unclear about the what, why, and how of it all. However, it seemed to be important.
I made it a point to find out about groups that do this, when they do it, and who coordinates it. I found that it is primarily developed and used by educational institutions and some municipalities. Many rely on similar templates, only changing the tribal name. Perhaps some of these groups had altruistic motivations, although it may have just been “the thing to do” for others.
With the encouragement of the Institute faculty, I found the major tribe in this area (Miami). I also found the ancestral spiritual leader of the Miami, whose name was Wesakechak. I could find very little information about him, and most of the Miami in this area have no idea who he was. Nevertheless, I proceeded to put forth the idea of an acknowledgement to a number of local Bahá’í administrative bodies. I thought that, if I didn’t know anything about it, maybe the Bahá’ís also don’t know much about it.
For the most part, I heard feedback to the effect of “let’s think about it.” But with my consistent nudging, the committee developing our conference for the launching of the Nine Year Plan asked me to formulate an indigenous acknowledgement for the conference. As a result, the conference opened with a brief introduction, followed by this statement, read by the committee chair:
“Thank you so much for coming this morning. Our area is blessed with people from such diverse backgrounds and you today express that diversity. Before we get started, we want to acknowledge the fact that we are on the land of the Miami people, who brought the first vibrant community to this area. We are now going to begin with devotions.”
After that, I read a slightly revised version of the acknowledgement that Kevin Locke wrote and shared in the course:
“Grandfather above, we acknowledge the holy ones you have sent upon this land to kindle the sacred fire in the hearts of us—your grandchildren. We are eternally grateful that, in ancient times, you have sent Deganawida to the Haudenosaunee, [pronounced “hoo-dee-noh-SHAW-nee”] Sweet Medicine to the Cheyenne, Wesakechak to the Miami, and a myriad others to breathe holiness and beauty upon this Turtle Island and your grandchildren here, and to teach us Your laws and to enable us to draw close to You and especially to love and cherish our relative, Grandmother Earth, and all that dwell upon her. In particular, we acknowledge the holy ones You have sent to the spot upon which we stand and the nations and kindreds who have been the custodians of that sacred trust. We ask that You breathe upon and fan the embers of the fire of love and faith in our hearts and minds, that our footsteps may tread Your path and we may restore peace and order upon this blessed land.”
I don’t think that this is something that most administrative bodies will jump into. It is still a rather new thing for people to grasp. It took me about three months to feel comfortable with the idea, and I was thinking about it consistently. There is no reason for me to believe that any other event will also have this as a start, but maybe. There was no talk of codifying it. But… it happened.