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Ojibway: Like boulders on the path

We are the ones we have been waiting for.'' This final line from an oration ascribed to the elders of the Hopi, I don't know from where or when, sent to me by a friend, has stayed in my mind. Like a shadow, these words lengthen as the days each draw to dusk; sometimes they push me more down the daily path where I meet the unexpected boulders that are hard to get around. And the question comes again: ''What am I waiting for?'' In the last weeks a host of Indian friends called and wrote about their hurt, anger, frustration and bewilderment at Pope Benedict XVI's recent words to the indigenous in Brazil and to the world. For me, and so many Indian Christians of all paths, the urgency of the controversy feels like another huge boulder on the path we didn't expect or need. ''Who am I waiting for?''

The global community is in a profound and painful shift that we have yet to understand or know where it is taking us. Many see again the painful collision between the ''Old World'' and the ''New'' that has not ended after five centuries, or so it feels like when the Catholic Church speaks in ways that alienate. World views are in collision and the dust is everywhere. But it is more than that. It is also the vast shift in migration South to North across the developed world that will change cultural, social and institutional life for everyone and the very notion of what it means to be a nation-state when borders no long hold in and leave out. The impact of globalization shifts the political and economic power West to East and back again. And in the midst of all this, the indigenous everywhere are caught in the middle and suffer the consequences in all aspects of their lifeways. And all indigenous have a stake in the conversation. Even the dust feels sometimes like rocks.

The questions we ask ourselves and of each other are changing, evolving; and so they must. The persistent question, for instance, of whether one can be an authentic Indian and Christian at once really no longer holds. The reality is always more than ''either/or.'' Same with the question of which is the defining inclination of identity - Indian first, Christian second, or vice versa. Am I a citizen of a nation or an indigenous citizen of the world? We need to find new questions, new ways to get around and understand the boulders that divide the path and keep us apart. We are the choices we have made as much as we are children of our parents and their choices. Among ourselves we have rocks in the path we have to struggle to get over, or under, or just get past: religious and spiritual conflict, the destructive impact of adaptation, assimilation, racism, cultural disintegration, et al. We may have different names for all the rocks, yet we always know them by their feel. We can't blame each other for the rocks or continue to throw them when we can't get past the stops along the path.

A larger dialogue is beginning to force its way into our consciousness and our communal experience as individuals, tribes and nations, one that is beginning everywhere among the indigenous of the world and has yet a defining method or process. You just have to listen to the crosswinds, the voices that are getting stronger. Look to our storytellers, artists, novelists, academics, healers, cultural bridge-builders - they are beginning to speak a new story about ourselves. It's a story based in the dialogue about the future, about healing the past, and about the very possibility of life itself.

The collision of world views felt in Brazil between church and the indigenous isn't down there; it is a collision felt across Native America in the soul of every person, family and tribal community where faith and religious practice divides and alienates. How important and valuable it is that our indigenous brothers and sisters stood up and challenged the singular power of the pope and demanded a different consideration of what the past means and what the future holds for them in Latin America. The dialogue will not now go away for them - it is only now just beginning and on different terms, and it will take us beyond where we think possible if we care for it.

To every table we come to talk, in every circle we sit and seek wisdom. We bring unique and invaluable gifts; we are the ones we have been waiting for. We know what adaptation means in ways others do not - we have been adapting to each other since beyond memory. We know multicultural life in ways others can only imagine because we have had to struggle with intertribal, interracial life at home, in the cities and in between and account for the consequences.

We are challenged in this encounter between ourselves and the world to be more self-aware, intentional and determined to build circles and not walls, to do the ways of healing when we can't wait any longer for that ''other'' to get it, or let go, or just get out of the way. As a man of faith I also know I am, as one theologian put, a parent and child, teacher and student of my culture, traditions and spirituality. In whatever council fire we sit, however, we pray for wisdom, life, or healing, in the end for pope and Andean chief, councilperson or the ordinary Indian man or women struggling to live in a good way, the only lasting and important question we have to ask each other is and will remain: ''What does God, the Sacred as we know it, ask of us now?''

The Rev. Paul Ojibway, S.A., is a member of the Fond du Lac Band, Lake Superior Chippewa and Franciscan Friar of the Atonement, in residence at Orinda, Calif.