In November of 2008 I had the privilege of serving as the Keynote Speaker at the Confederated Tribes of Siletz’ 31st Restoration Celebration. I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but in summary the U.S. government decided our people were no longer Indians in 1955 and voted to cease recognition of our government-to-government relationship. In 1977 congress reconsidered and reestablished that formal relationship, hence the reason we celebrate each November. In any case on a beautiful Saturday in November on the Oregon Coast I shared for 30 minutes what restoration has meant to me, a person who was born after the 1955 termination. I expect I’ll write later about the things that I thought important enough to include in that speech that I titled “History, Healing and Hope”
I’ve done a lot of public speaking over the years. It is not something I pursue but on the other hand it’s not something that I shy away from either. From a content and delivery perspective I was quite pleased with that speech. After all, I put a lot of time and effort into it. I’m sure that most people by now have forgotten much of what I talked about, such is the nature of speeches despite our best efforts. So while I was pleased with the speech I was caught off guard by what happened next. Something changed in me that day; something I never would have expected. Leading up to this speech, for maybe the first time, I thought about my life as a whole. I mean really thought. Not just about a previous event, a time in the past or regrets and accomplishments. No, I took a rather complete inventory of where my life has taken me and what I have learned and the results were surprising. In fact life changing.
Now sure, I’ve thought about these things from time to time, but never in a focused way over several weeks. I suspect that very few of us really do this. If we did, as I’ve found out, we would live life differently. I’m not looking to write a book here in my first post so suffice it to say that one thing I have concluded is that I am at a point in life where I realize that I have an obligation to share what I’ve learned. You see, in Native American culture elders hold a place of respect. Now, I’m only 49 and by no means consider myself an elder. But on the other hand I don’t believe you just wake up the morning of your birthday and decide “I’m an elder.” And in truth, what do you think when you hear the word “elder?” Do you visualize an old person that needs to get off the road so your life can zoom on at 75 mph?
In a time where the elderly are overlooked for jobs, treated rudely by to many young people and in general considered marginally productive by society, this idea of respect for elders is an non-traditional concept in our modern society. But not so in Native culture. In native culture the term elder equates most closely to wisdom. Unfortunately our current culture could learn a lot from that elderly wisdom. For example I’m pretty positive that if we had bothered to listen to the advice of the elders in our life our country would not be fiscally bankrupt, buried with debt, focused on greed and believing that we deserve to (fill in the blank) just because someone will give us a credit card, write us a loan or tax someone else to provide it. So I decided it is time for me to write about not only what life has taught me, but to also share some of the things that led me to the conclusion that “Life’s been good to me so far.” And I’m expecting it to be even better in the future!