A recent letter took us to task for not being more sensitive
to the Native American population in our midst. The problem
arose when a columnist for one of our publications wrote about
a talk she gave at Onteora about Indians and the environment.
She wasn't Native American, and the word Indian is a sore point.
The letter writer, a pastor for two area churches, noted that
there is a wealth of resources for giving such speeches in the
area. Point well taken. But we also must acknowledge that while
saying what should have happened after the fact has an element
of 'crying over spilt milk,' the very process of becoming aware
of our actions, however inadvertently they hurt, is a good one.
A second letter, in this week's publication, ably answers one
of the pastor's comments about ensuring that only those expert
in a subject, by ethnicity or background, address it.
It's a strong discourse and, with the background issue involving
the battles that racked our region a few backs over the Onteora
mascot now out in the open again, a particularly apt one given
the time of year' and the national and regional changes recently
embodied in the results of the November 7 elections.
When I first started framing how we would discuss these matters
here, in a paper set for official release on Thanksgiving Day,
I kept getting drawn back into a sense that what I was witnessing
was a classic 'Us and Them' situation. I was thinking in terms
of the ways we cherish HOW we learn something as much as what
it is we are supposed to have learned. Hence the continuing
nostalgic value of Pilgrim hats, turkey feathers and Indian
headdresses this time of year' truth to the story or not. Call
it Santa Clause, if you will' we pick the narrative out of history,
the easy lessen, and tend to leave out the hard truths.
The original letter writer, when informed of this frame of thought,
replied that 'it is sad when the issue continues to be framed
as an 'us vs. them' debate. Better, he suggested, that everyone
remember that instead of such a split, all parties 'are very
much a part of the same community.'
'This is an issue where, unfortunately, some members of the
community seem to fail to recognize other members of the same
community,' the dialogue continued. 'What we need is a larger
sense of our entire community, and a larger sense of its history.'
I really couldn't have said what was driving our thoughts on
the subject better' both in relation to the Indian issue, as
well as to all the accusations of patriotism and treason that
have been bandied about over the past few years.
When we share our meals this week, let's do so with a sense
of largeness that includes not only those at the table, but
those who share similar tables' as well, if our hearts are big
enough, all those who WANT to share our table. After all, we
made our tables as big as they are for deep moral reasons, for
an ideal we think it best not to forget in the face of common
fears. Or hurts.
Likewise, if some among us are still unawares how they might
hurt another, don't try to hurt them back but be aware that
all change, all healing, takes time. Go gentle, in other words.
'Either we are a whole community that recognizes the fact that
every part of the community is precious, and to be respected,
or we are a fragmented community in which one part thinks it
has the right to declare another part dead, or to 'honor' that
other part without permission,' said our partner, this week,
in discourse. 'As a community, it is OUR choice.'
It all comes down to compassion and empathy, in the final rounds.
Those are the issues all true holidays should celebrate. PS