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Conflict, Chaos and Choices

by Asanee-watchew-Iskwiw (Lorraine Sinclair)

Every issue that I have ever been involved with, I've seen and experience conflict of perspective and action. My experience has primarily been with the environmental movement and the Native political and spiritual movements.

Everyone has their own motives and plans for action. The action plans often differ which can really test an individual's motives. Each person has to ask themselves on a regular basis, "Why am I doing this work and what do I hope to achieve?"

I would assume that most social planners, activists and other facilitators of change desire a world of equality, justice and perhaps even peace and harmony. The reality is that we are all human beings with a rough and smooth side. I believe that it is the smooth side of all of us that sustain our motives while it is the rough side which bears the burden of conflict.

The impetus for our motives is based upon our experiences, our own dirt and a burning desire to do something to make the world a better place. Unfortunately our dirt gets in the way of making the world a better place. When we all know what dirt belongs to who and we begin to claim our own dirt, it will be a beginning of peace and harmony. And regardless of whose dirt it is, it all stinks.

A common peace of dirt I keep running across in my travels is ego and control. Ego is good - to know who you are and what you stand for and remaining true to that. However, when one strong ego is challenged by another strong ego; refusal to put yourself in the other person's moccasins results in conflict. When two strong egos collide, stubbornness takes over. The conflict then moves to a place of control and the issues lay in limbo while two or more people struggle for power. Conflict is easy enough to avoid; just run away and let someone else handle it. Or stand there in your rightness and battle it out until resolution is reached.

We all want and truly believe we are right. And we are...for ourselves. We each carry our own truth based on our experiences and it is not for another person to say that so and so is wrong. They, like me, came to their truth as a result of their own path in life. So, how do we resolve conflict?

I have to keep going back to the Native traditional teachings which remind me of a bigger picture. The teaching that motivates me on a personal level is that the healing of Mother Earth begins with ME. Not my neighbour, my friend or the other guy, but ME.

It then becomes my responsibility to take the time to examine my own behaviour and how I might have contributed to conflict. When I can identify my own dirt with complete honesty, I can then take the next step. For me that lesson embodies humility. Humility is understanding that we are all imperfect human beings. Humility ensures that do not ever place ourselves above another. It reminds us that we are all teachers and students alike. Humility teaches us that we are all mirrors of our beauty and dirt.

When we forget this teaching, we'll be reminded by the grandfathers in some aspect of our lives. How we handle the on-going lesson of humility determines our contribution to world peace and harmony.

It takes a bigger person to put the ego aside, step out of the way and let Creator's will be done. Creator gave each one of us the breath of life through spirit and He gives us the power of choice. And there are times when we need to choose to get out of the way to allow Creator's will to be done.

From what I understand of traditional community-building - the power and strength of an individual was important but NEVER to the detriment of the community.

Choosing the leadership in the community was based on acknowledging the individual(s) who embraced the principles of honesty, humility, patience, faith, kindness and sharing. When a person lived by these principles and had the experience of leadership, wisdom was the outcome. And it was that wisdom which determined the value of the leader to the community.

Honest communication was and is the road to resolution of conflict. The mediator(s) should be the rest of the community who try to maintain objectivity. In other words (as Milton keeps reminding us), "keep the personal out of it, and remember the issue". It's pretty tough to keep the personal out of it when we disagree with one another. But we need to try.

Unfortunately, being the human that we are, we choose sides, pass judgement and gossip to one another about our position and opinions.

There are many times when I get frustrated with other groups and individuals who ultimately have the same motives as I yet choose different methods of facilitating change. There have even been times when I've said to myself (on my high horse), "How can we ever achieve peace and harmony, when I'm surrounded by assholes?" There have also been times when I've needed to take time out to re- examine my self and do some personal healing. I think if we all just worked on healing ourselves, change would happen naturally. And it is happening. It's just not happening as fast or in quite the way as some of us would like.

I have to share some of what I've learned from wise people in my life about community-building.

My mother brought us up in our family to "get along with each other." It didn't matter that we were (and are) six different and strong-minded individuals with six different opinions; we had to learn to get along. And sometimes you have to "fight it out" to learn to get along. With learning to "get along" came the basis of my learning respect of others.

My dad taught us timing and patience in his 30 plus years in politics. Far too many times, his political adversaries stabbed him in the back and family members urged him to retaliate or fight back. "Keyam" was his response. Keyam in Cree means, "it is not the right time yet"; "let it be". He always believed the truth would eventually come out and he wouldn't "lower" himself to fight dirty. Through it all, many of the back-stabbers have fallen by the wayside, but dad has maintained his integrity.

There are two men friends - Ray and Ken - who constantly remind me of the short time we have on this earth to live. Ray learned that he was Metis and was in search of his roots when I met him in 1979. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis that same year and within a few short years was in a wheelchair. He has been completely paralysed and blind for more than 10 years now. He has learned more about living and spirituality than anyone I know. All he has is his mind and spirit and he has made good use of the time to know himself and the Greater Truth and continue to grow.

Ken is an Indian man who was diagnosed HIV positive about 4 years ago. We became friends 2 years ago. He shares my love of Mother Earth - we have laid together on a hill wrapped in our sleeping bags watching the falling stars and just being happy with the Universe. Ken know his death is imminent and he lives each day growing and changing. Through him, the world around him grows and changes.

And finally, Chief Robert Smallboy who, in 1981, saw my heart and pointing me in the direction of protecting and defending Mother Earth. Mother Earth is the common ground we all seek.

We are living in very confusing and dangerous times. Everything that happens to each of us in our personal lives is a test and opportunity for growth and change. When we face these tests with courage and integrity, it is another small step towards building community. Each time one of us falls and is hurt, it affects the rest of the community. We all need to accept the responsibility of extending a hand to help a brother or sister who has fallen.

An obstacle that we, as human beings, have to learn to overcome is that we are living in a world of many different Nations and ways of doing things. Non-natives have their own way which is important to understand because it often doesn't mesh with the Native way. And how are we ever going to teach them our way of seeing and doing things if we can't even get along with each other? The choice is ours.

Lorraine Sinclair (Asanee-watchew-Iskwiw - Mountain Woman)
Mother Earth Healing Society
P.O. Box 53, 10024 - 82nd Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T6E 1Z3
ph: 403-461-9532
fax: 403-450-2665

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.