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Diane L'xeis' Benson


A major tenet, a cornerstone of Indigenous cultures is the exercise and power of respect and resolve.

When understood and practiced as an integral part of the culture, it strengthens and unifies the families, the clans, and the tribe and influences the world around them.

Today, in these uncertain and unbalanced times, elders are vulnerable to political manipulations.

Is it respectful for family members to mislead or guide their own elders into political positions for their own purposes?

Within my tribe, there was a revered elder that was dedicated to the values of the people and was respectful and kind to all. One of his family members became politically involved and over time managed to get the elder to speak at a political convention.

This act violated the beliefs of the elder but he did it for his beloved family member. Sadly, he was internally compromised by this act and felt bad for it. For him, it had violated a core value.

Because in this day, more than ever, appearing to take political party sides creates divisions. Divisions crack the strength found in unity and peaceful co-existence.

We all have our roles and our beliefs but are we in danger of giving up one value that contributes to humanity and well-being for another that results in dividing us?

I look at my own family and how we are now divided by today’s politics. No benefit of the doubt seems to exist. Self-righteous indignation plays out on Facebook – a place that the originators dreamed would bring people together is now a tool for division.

I am not innocent in this as I too have been drawn into the vortex of emotional political stances.

Insults become easily expressed in this climate and that erodes the very values we profess. As a person of a tribe that traditionally has ceremony and process for the removal of insult, the tolerance of insult threatens the fabric of who we are.

It is so uplifting when we have practiced these ceremonies and I have been privileged in my life to participate in such events. When we give each other a safe space for expression and resolve, we heal not only ourselves but our communities, and we strengthen one another through respect.

We demonstrate true respect of our elders by practicing respect in all our relations.

My son once said to me that he believed the greatest gift that we as Native peoples have to give the world is the value and process of respect. It is a powerful awareness. Can we do it? Can we begin now in all our exchanges? Can I say, please forgive me, and begin again?

Please forgive me, and let us begin again.

Diane L'xeis' Benson
Petersburg, Alaska

Diane L´xeis´ Benson is a retired University of Alaska professor of Alaska Native Studies & Rural Development, speaker, actor, and writer. She was a former candidate for Congress and past President of Alaska Native Sisterhood, Camp 87.