Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Representing Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, and Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Women Indigenous Spirituality: Giving Voice to What Cannot Speak

A Native American woman medicine healer shares in an interview with Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kathy Bond what she would say, if given the opportunity, to Pope Francis and the Catholic bishops and auditors meeting in Rome for the Synod on the Amazon, regarding the value of indigenous spirituality and traditions in helping to heal our broken world.

Living in Oregon’s green forest for the last 50 years, Sweet Medicine Nation, a Native American woman medicine healer of Chickasaw lineage, has worked to give voice to those things of nature that cannot speak. Through indigenous ceremony and education at the non-profit organization she founded called Four Winds Foundation, she offers opportunities for people to experience deep connection with nature and spirit and to focus on indigenous perspectives and present-day needs to preserve lands and original waters.  

Being of multicultural heritage, Sweet Medicine has dedicated her life to building bridges of respect and intercultural understanding among the people of the world. She initiates global educational exchanges through youth summits and Elder Wisdom circles, including the circle of 13 grandmothers that guided the Convergence of International Women: We are Medicine this past September in Peru, where this interview took place. 

The following is the response Sweet Medicine Nation gave to the question: What would you like to say to Pope Francis and all those meeting in Rome for the Synod on the Amazon?

What I would speak to in a Synod is to speak for all of those who have no voice [and no way] to stand in a Synod: the trees, the water, and the animals. 

First was born the stone, the earth itself, and without it, we would have no stability. It was the first sacred law to have gravity considered a rock. Second was the plant, all the growing things, from the smallest fungus and moss that is the synapse of the earth all the way to the mighty sequoias. To speak of their heart and their needs and their purpose for being here, to give us oxygen that allows us to have feelings and medicines that can cure what ails us and our world.

I would speak for the animals that are becoming extinct because of our greed. They have families just like each and every one of us, they have children, they want grandchildren, and they are doing their purpose that the great Mystery gave them to do which was to cover the earth. The last born of this line was the two-legged. And I am sorry that I come in this form and that I have to speak for those that have been forgotten. Because without the oxygen, without the stone, without the animals, without these plants, today we would not live a very long life. Most indigenous people never lived to be 80 [years old], that was an ancient, ancient person. 

I would to speak to the vulnerability of our wanting to control things that are natural. That yes, we know that fire is natural but at the same time fire that is not used in a good method is part of greed. Taking responsibility to challenge this is what sometimes gets away from us. 

In the forest department that sets fires where I live, every fire has gotten away. But they forbid us to set fires and none of us have ever left our fire as the forest department has. We have never burned down anybody's home or their yards as these other governmental organizations do. And they never apologize. I've had to ask for apologies. 

I would say that I come here as a representative of the world of nations that cannot stand before you today and I would [say] consider who and what is the higher law. The natural law was here before we had language. And who are we to feel as if we have the higher law when it is in God's hands, the great Mystery's hands. What befalls us? We must guard and protect the knowledge and the wisdom of our inner council before we even turn ourselves over to other councils.

We, the people of the United States, were taught that we have the opportunity to speak and yet we have been silenced. Other things, money, this kind of evil, or control or power have become the greater god rather than what our faith and our hearts dictate.

I would ask each one of you [at the Synod on the Amazon] to consider when you deliberate and make decisions that you are looking at the total of those that you have been entrusted to care for. The fish can't make it home if when we are farming, polluting lakes, and rivers and ocean. We are farming fish. They don't want to be farmed, they want to be free just like you and me. 

Many of these things I feel passionate about, I have taken stands, and I have organized within my own non-profit organization. These issues are vital to our survival. We cannot forget these first natural laws: know all things come of the mother, no harm should ever come to the children, health: body, mind, and spirit, and one family. Brothers and sisters of all nations need to help one another. We need to remember our ancestral ways and our ancestors. We need to respect our elders. 

And we need to remember compassion and non-judgment. … We don't understand others’ ways until we walk in their moccasins. 

This is what I would say.

Image: Sweet Medicine Nation in Mexico, 2019. Photo courtesy of Sweet Medicine Nation.