'For All My Relations'

Heavily dressed for the half-meter of snow covering the hillside, a small group of people stood quietly around what looked like a perfect, if rather large, Christmas tree. Mostly American Indians from a variety of tribes and all members of an Indian congregation, the people were speaking prayers on behalf of the tree.

It could have been most any annual congregational outing to harvest a Christmas tree for their church, except that these prayers were a thorough mixture of Christian prayers and traditional Indian tribal prayers. Some of the people were actually speaking to the tree, speaking words of consolation, apology, purpose, and promise. The two pastors held tobacco in their hands, ready to offer it back to the Creator, to offer it for the life of this tree, to offer it to the four directions, above and below, to offer it in order to maintain the harmony and balance of creation even in the perpetration of an act of violence.

There is a real sense of cultural value being exposed in this gathering. There is here an attitude toward creation and all the createds that sets American Indians apart from other Americans and most Europeans. Yet it is rather characteristic of a great many of the world's indigenous peoples and represents a set of cultural values that perseveres even in those indigenous communities that have been converted to Christianity.

Perhaps an outsider would describe the attitude of these Indians as one of awe or wonderment. We American Indians think of it as neither, but would prefer to call it "respect" -- the appropriate attitude of respect necessary to fulfill our responsibility as part of the created whole, necessary to help maintain the harmony and balance, the interdependence and interrelationship of all things in our world.

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