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|Has Our Religion Lost Its Value?::: |
July 30, 2001:::
Kwa'sh Ho'n'a:wan Dewsu' :::
Haydoshna: A:dehyamme Ke:si?:::
by Wells Mahkee, Jr.:::
As hundreds of small explosions and the acrid stench of fireworks spread through the air on the night of July 4th, I felt a pang in my heart I had never felt before, as well as a deep sorrow that, despite being so intense, didn't allow me to cry. It wasn't until later that I finally realized that the sorrow I felt wasn't even my own. Strangely enough, I believe what I was feeling that night was the pain and sorrow of our ancestors and the realization that our own Zuni people no longer seem to believe in their religion.
What prompted me to come to this conclusion stems from my upbringing, and the strong beliefs that my family had with regard to our religion. Although I will be the first to admit that I'm not the most religious person in Zuni, I still hold a very high regard for the religion that held our people and our world together long before the arrival of Coronado in 1540. Basically, it all boils down to showing RESPECT for our religion. Sadly, I feel that many of our own Zuni people no longer believe in or respect our religion. Granted, I'm no expert on the issues of religion and respect, nor do I claim to know all the answers to these issues. However, I do feel that I am uniquely qualified to write about this from the standpoint of simply being a Zuni person who is deeply concerned about our future.
So where does respect come in? In addition to it being the July 4th holiday, which coincidentally, is a melika holiday, we were also in the middle of our summer rain priest retreats. During this time, the rain priests go into seclusion to pray for rain, and during this time, everything is to remain quiet within the village. However, even before July 4th, there were a number of children out and about setting off fireworks-even within the Middle Village area where the rain priests retreat. Again, I am no expert, but you don't need to be an expert to know that this was a highly disrespectful act committed against our religion. Many personal sacrifices are being made by the rain priests on behalf of our people, and when our own Zuni people can't even respect that fact…well, suffice it to say that I'm not the least bit surprised at why our community is so "out of touch" with themselves and the world in which they live. And many have the audacity to ask, "Why doesn't it rain?"
I've said this before, and I will say it again because I feel it is an important lesson to teach as well as to learn. My late father always used to say, "In order to get respect, you must first show respect." Quite simply, if you wish to receive blessings from your particular religion (or any religion for that matter), you must first be able to respect it. The Zuni religion is no different. Because of the fact that the July 4th holiday would be occurring at around the same time as the rain priests would be praying for summer rains, they appealed to the Governor and Tribal Council. Consequently, an appeal was made to the Zuni community on July 3rd not to set off any fireworks during the time that the rain priests were in seclusion. Councilman David Wyaco, Sr. even went on KSHI radio to appeal to the Zuni community, stating quite plainly that whether we liked it or not, this was our religion and way of life, and we should respect it as such. However, later that same evening, I saw and heard fireworks going off at various points in the village. It was painfully obvious that the pleas of our rain priests and those of our tribal councilman had gone unheard, or were blatantly ignored. And some still asked, "Why doesn't it rain?" The answer is obvious when you look down on the ground and see it littered with used up fireworks, once worth $10-15 each, but now worth absolutely nothing, its value gone in an instantaneous blast of fire and smoke. It's sad to think that today's A:shiwi would rather spend hundreds of dollars on fireworks that go up in smoke in a few seconds with nothing more to show for it than a landscape littered with little red sticks and burnt paper than heed the words of our religious leaders. Needless to say, I wasn't thrilled at all with the idea of allowing a window of time on the 4th of July to set off fireworks. Not to be a party pooper, but I honestly don't see why we even bother celebrating Independence Day anyway-it's not even our independence we're celebrating!
Granted, as Native Americans, we do enjoy a certain amount of freedom that has been acclaimed to us by the United States after they won freedom from England over 200 years ago, and many of you will probably argue that it is totally within our right to celebrate this freedom. But think about this for a moment-prior to1500, we were free, we were independent…we had freedom and independence at least 300 years before America even came into existence! Today, however, we struggle to maintain balance between two completely opposite worlds, where the highly competitive, materialistic society of the "white man" continually threatens to destroy the complacent, traditional world of the A:shiwi. So before you shell out your hard-earned money for fireworks next year, be sure to ask yourself: Whose independence are we celebrating?
When you realize the answer to that question, you may be greatly surprised. You might even think twice before spending $50 on fireworks when you realize that we all live and work on lands that aren't even ours, but merely held in trust by the federal government, who, if they really wanted to, could easily take it all away from us. We dare to celebrate Independence Day with our children when they are forced to go to school in buildings that are over 50 years old, simply because our state government won't give us our rightful share of federal monies to build new schools. Yet, this same state government insists on their "fair share" of gaming revenue from tribally-owned casinos. We pay homage to the "freedom" of our country's government while the tax dollars earned from our recent purchase of fireworks gives them the "freedom" to approve and possibly fund a strip-mining project that threatens to destroy our sacred Zuni Salt Lake. With this is mind, ask yourself again: Whose independence are we celebrating? It's certainly not ours!
My own religious beliefs and upbringing suggest to me that what we give is what we get in return. If we give nothing, we get nothing. Even if we feel that we have nothing to give, we still donate a small food offering or a sacred cornmeal offering along with a prayer to ask for whatever blessings we feel we are worthy of. That is the foundation our religion is based upon. Even the smallest act of disrespect made by anyone against that foundation will result in our ancestors taking something away from us little by little until we have nothing left …and still we ask: Why doesn't it rain? In closing, I implore everyone in Zuni to pay heed to the words of our religious and government leaders, and to show more respect for our religion-even though you may not believe in it or participate in it. Our lives and our futures may very well depend on it.