'Mitakuye oyasin' meaning 'all my relatives' is something Lakota people say when we pray. Do we really mean it? Our words are being poised in front of us as we contemplate this horror that happened on the East Coast.
The pain, the fear, the anger, and thirst for revenge are causing many to contemplate more violence. Then there are those who say the United States is only getting what it has handed out. Are any of these emotions suited to 'mitakuye oyasin?'
How many of our relatives, innocent people, were killed in the last 10 years in the bombing of Iraq? How many bodies of our relatives will be pulled from beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center?
Is there any difference between one set of relatives and another? Are they all human beings? They each have different religions. Some are Christians. Some are Moslems. Both have spiritual beliefs that are different than the Lakota way of looking at life.
Yet when we pray we say all of them are our relatives whether Christian or Moslem or Jew or someone who follows other beliefs. So a body pulled out from the rubble in one part of the world, or a body pulled from the rubble in another, are they still our relatives?
Were those sailors killed at Pearl Harbor our relatives? Were the people who died at Nagasaki and Hiroshima our relatives?
If we are truly Lakota and we really mean what we say when we say 'mitakuye oyasin,' then the answer is yes. Where the soldiers shooting at our grandparents at Wounded Knee our relatives? If we are true to our word then we have to say 'Yes.' That is a hard one to say.
It's not easy being Lakota. The elders always tell us that. There were many holy men from other times and places with names like Jesus and Mohammed who would, not just understand, but know what that means: it's not easy being Lakota. They also knew what 'all my relatives' mean.
Tunkasila, God, or a Supreme Being, if you will, is always handing us gifts but we don't recognize them. These gifts come in strange wrappings. We are being handed a major gift right now, the gift of truly understanding 'mitakuye oyasin.' How do we unwrap it? And then, how do we pass it on?
We, Lakota people, are so tiny in number when compared to all the other kinds of people in the world. We experience oppression and injustice at the hands of the United States everyday. Our people quietly die each year because of the oppression and injustice. Yet, if we really know who we are as Lakota people, we give thanks for the opportunities the Creator gives ... and mean it. It's not easy being Lakota.
It is this understanding of 'mitakuye oyasin' that the world needs, especially now, especially in the United States. How do we teach this understanding? We are so tiny, and poor in money. But we are rich beyond belief because we have this understanding of 'mitakuye oyasin.' We have something the whole world needs.
If the rest world truly understood 'mitakuye oyasin,' would there be massive killings like the World Trade Center?
The people of the strongest and richest country in the world have suddenly become victims. Why are so many of the world's smaller countries, ones that have been opposed to, and in some cases oppressed by the United States, suddenly coming forward to offer words of condolence and support?
Could it be that the people in those countries can empathize because they know what it feels like?
What place in the world is not subjected to terrorism as a daily or weekly occurrence other than the United States? Now the United States knows what it feels like all over the world. Now the opportunity is here for Americans to begin learning what ''all my relatives' truly means.
When your relative is hurt, you go to them and offer them healing. We have that opportunity now. Lakota children are hurting because they feel the pain of the children in New York, Washington, D.C., and other places whose parents have been killed, or are missing. They also feel the fear that such a tragedy causes.
We, adults, have a responsibility to help all the children heal. We have the responsibility to teach them about 'all my relatives.' And not just Lakota adults, but all adults have that responsibility.
I have often believed that if the majority of Americans knew the whole truth about the injustice and oppression experienced by Native American people, then they would want it stopped. I know from experience that most American people do not know the whole truth.
The same goes for the United States' involvement with other countries of the world. I do not believe any ordinary person living in the United States really knows the whole truth about what goes on in the rest of the world. But if we all felt that all people were 'our relatives' then this world would definitely be a different place.
I would like to suggest we help our children begin healing themselves and other children in New York, and Washington, DC, and in Pennsylvania, by helping them write to each other, school to school, individual child to another individual child, to talk about the mutual pain they all share. The fear and pain of the most innocent ones of all, the children, must be healed lest this violence continue into their generation and their grandchildren's generations. If we help heal their pain and teach them 'mitakuye oyasin' at the same time, do you think maybe there will be less violence? Isn't it worth a try?