Thursday, August 25, 2005

Cleaning Up the Aftermath

Treat the earth well.
It was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
we borrow it from our Children.
Captain Robert Gray explored the Pacific Northwest in the late 1700s. I remember reading and learning about him when I was in elementary school. Then I came across a story in my local paper written by Larry Bingham. ["We are sorry" published July 24th, 2005 in The Sunday Oregonian; link not available.]
According to Mr. Bingham's story, William Twombly, a descendant of Robert Gray was reading about his ship captain forefather when he came across a disturbing story. Mr. Twombly had always heard the heroic adventures, but hadn't heard the less praiseworthy actions. In Columbia's River: The Voyages of Robert Gray by J. Richard Nokes, Mr. Nokes relates that Captain Gray burned the village of Opitsat and kidnapped and killed the brother of one of the chiefs of the Tla-o-qui-aht people.
William Twombly, upset by the story, decided to do something about it: a historical reconciliation--a modern day apology for the actions of his ancestor. Through a series of serendipitous events, Mr. Twombly connected with Joe Martin, a canoe carver descended from the tribe. Twombly met with Mr. Martin and the elders of the tribe to discuss how to proceed. He deferred to the tribal leaders in devising the protocol for the reconciliation.
In mid-July, the Tla-o-qui-aht people in their canoes met the Lady Washington (a replica of Gray's ship) when it sailed into Clayoquot Sound near the island where Opitsat village stood before it burned. Twombly read his apology from the ship:
"Many years ago, our ancestor came into your territory and your waters, and he's a man we have been proud of for many years. But as we have learned more of our history, and learned more of your stories, we have begun to realize that part of his story is one that has been disrespectful to your people. He abducted one of your great chiefs, the older brother of Chief Wickaninnish, the greatst chief on the west coast of Vancouver Island, of a great people...
"So we have come to honor you, to honor our shared history and to apologize for the insult that occurred at the hand of our ancestor, at the hand of our family many years ago, and to say we are sorry for his abducting and insulting your great chief and his family, and for the burning of Opitsat. It is something we have felt pain about, and we are now feeling great honor that you welcomed us back into your territory."
Then Barney Williams, Jr., the elected chief of the tribe responded:
"We want to thank you for your words, on behalf of Chief Wickaninnish. ...We hear your words, and our chiefs accept the words you have spoken to us. It is with good hearts that we carry you the rest of the way to our nation, to our homeland through these waters. We will guide you safely, our chiefs and our people will guide you safely. We accept your apology."
Both parties then went ashore to the site of the burned village. They ate together. They exchanged gifts. They spent the weekend together dancing, telling stories, and talking about the future.
How many more apologies do we need to make?
How many times will our descendants have to apologize for us?
~Native American Blessing~
And then let's eat, exchange gifts, dance, tell stories, and talk about the future.

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