Indigenous peoples offer love, encouragement, hope to the Dalai Lama
SEATTLE - As the 14th Dalai Lama walked into the room, the reception was similar to one a family might give one of their own.
Forget that this man is the political and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, a Buddhist monk believed by his followers to be the god of compassion.
Or that he is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Or that he had just shared the stage with Washington's governor and would soon meet with a fellow Nobel laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
On this day, the Dalai Lama was someone to be prayed for, as Lummi Bear dancer Raymond Hillaire said, ''to lift up some of the hurt he is carrying.''
And so, in a private gathering April 12 at Seattle's Qwest Field, Native people from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico - people whose cultures survived efforts to snuff them out - shared love and encouragement and hope with the leader of an exiled people.
The Dalai Lama was in Seattle April 11 - 15 for the Seeds of Compassion Conference, a series of events to empower participants to be compassionate members of society and teach them how to nurture compassion in future generations. Lama Tenzin Dhonden, the Dalai Lama's peace emissary, was an event co-founder.
Some 80 public workshops were held. The Dalai Lama participated in several panel discussions, among them a discussion with Tutu of the common theme of compassion that lies at the heart of the world's spiritual traditions.
The Dalai Lama had asked for indigenous participation. Former Lummi Chairman Darrell Hillaire, a member of the conference organizing committee, organized the April 12 gathering.
Called as witnesses were Lootie Hillaire of the Lummi Indian Nation; Oren Lyons, Haudenosaunee, who has devoted much of his life to the cause of indigenous rights, the environment and interfaith dialogue; Henrietta Mann, Cheyenne, president of Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal College; and Anthony Pico, former chairman of the Viejas Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.
Native leaders said the experiences of the indigenous people of Tibet and the Americas are similar: Railroad tracks laid across indigenous lands, opening up indigenous lands to settlement; efforts to force cultural assimilation; the imposition of oppressive laws.
But the indigenous experience in the Americas is also one of survival. At the heart of that survival: cultures, traditions and values that are as old as time.
''We have a lot in common,'' said Jay LaPlante, Blackfeet/Cree, a founding member of the Native Wellness Institute. ''All of our Indian people are praying, just like him ... [Tibetans] should do everything they can do to hold onto their culture. There's hope.''
Duwamish Chairman Cecile Hansen, great-grandniece of the city of Seattle's namesake, welcomed visitors to her ancestral land. The Hillaire family sang a welcome song and Raymond Hillaire danced the Bear Dance, a dance of healing.
Honor songs were sung and gifts presented to the Seeds of Compassion Youth Ambassadors and to event volunteers. The Youth Ambassadors are middle and high school students who have committed to ''compassion in action'' through community service, team building and leadership development training.
Tom Sampson, Saanich, told the gathering, ''Today can never be erased from our history.''
''Our journeys together are so important and we have so many things to do. Let us go forward today with a good heart,'' Tulalip Chairman Mel Sheldon said.
Ricardo Cervantes Cervantes Tlahuizcalpantecutli, spiritual leader of the Toltec Nation of Teotihuacan, entered, dressed in Toltec regalia. He knelt and blew a conch shell horn and silently prayed.
Then, the Dalai Lama entered and silently went around the room, greeting people before heading down to the field to speak about the need for compassion in the world to a crowd of about 50,000.
On the field, the Dalai Lama was joined on stage by Gov. Christine Gregoire and the witnesses from the indigenous gathering. The Dalai Lama was welcomed by a procession of 1,000 people representing different cultures. Simone Porter, an 11-year-old virtuoso violinist, performed a stirring classical piece. A choir of 1,800 children and parents sang.
After the event, the Dalai Lama again visited the indigenous gathering and was presented with prayers and gifts.
Tlahuizcalpantecutli held a shell from which smoke rose, the remnant of a holy fire that originated in a ceremony attended by children in Teotihuacan.
''If you teach a child something, they will share it with others on the road of life,'' he said in a statement released before the conference. ''Therefore, the most important thing to teach children is how to carry love, compassion and harmony in their hearts.'' He presented the fire to the Dalai Lama as a blessing.
Others presented the Dalai Lama with a traditional wool blanket, a cedar hat and a carved eagle walking stick.
After the Dalai Lama left, the witnesses spoke of the day and what they saw.
''I saw that you have maintained your songs, your ceremonies, your way of life,'' Lyons said. He said culture is important in changing times.
''Children should be able to tell who they are. Every one of us has a nation. We have to respect that.''
Mann, whose Cheyenne name means ''The Woman Who Comes to Offer Prayer,'' prayed that children ''may know our languages, know who they are, know they are loved.'' She asked the gathering to be children of compassion ''because we are all related.''
Pico, the former Kumeyaay chairman, said love and compassion can overcome oppression.
''We've been oppressed, we've been murdered, we've been subjected to cultural genocide. Can you believe it? We're still compassionate,'' he said. ''I don't care where I go in Indian country: I see love.'' He encouraged those in attendance to ''love all those we don't even know.''
Hillaire, the Bear dancer, said, ''I'm proud of each one of you who answered the call to lift up some of that hurt he is carrying. It's an honor for him to ask for indigenous people from all over to be here.'' He added, ''We're all in this world together. Learn to live with the neighbors around you.''
Then, a prayer was said for the Dalai Lama. The day ended the way it began: with the sound of a Coast Salish drum, a song sung in an ancient language, as Ray Fryberg, Tulalip, closed the event.
Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at email@example.com.