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The American Indian Quarterly 29.3 & 4 (2005) 691-706

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Sayt k'ilim goot (Of One Heart)

Transforming Suffering

Suffering occurs. This is the first of the four Noble Truths from the teachings of the Buddha.1 Recently, I was granted a scholarship to attend a residential training retreat titled "Meditation in Action" at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, facilitated by Donald Rothberg and Diana Winston, founder of the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement Program. There were approximately seventy-five retreat participants with fourteen in our group and approximately ten staff members. Each participant was given a community chore upon registration, and my chore for the week was clearing the food away following breakfast. The chores introduced retreat participants to the staff and the workings of the Spirit Rock community life. In the words of the Spirit Rock News, the Spirit Rock Teachers Council of nineteen members

have generally practiced insight meditation for over twenty years. Many have trained in the monasteries of Asia. Over the years, they have each been invited into a formal teacher training group by the most senior teachers based on their depth of practice, maturity of understanding, and compassionate heart.2

It was pointed out to me by a co-participant that I was the only First Nations participant and one of three people who were from the American minority of African, Hispanic, or First Nations descent.

Spirit Rock rests on Miwok territory north of San Francisco, yet there is no acknowledgement of this historical and current fact anywhere either inside or outside of the center's buildings. The Buddha taught there are two arrows in life and that to be struck by the first is painful and that to be struck by the second arrow is even more painful.3 "In life, we cannot always control the first arrow (pain). However, the second arrow is [End Page 691] our reaction to the first (suffering). This second arrow is optional."4 My First Nations lineage originates in Haida, Heiltsuk, and Tsimshian Nations of British Columbia, and the lack of acknowledgement of the Miwok Nation that survived the onslaught of colonization in the San Francisco area was a portion of the pain from the first arrow. The second portion of pain was that not one of the large teaching staff publicly demonstrated their contact with or acknowledgement of the oppressed Miwoks where their retreat now rests. The ignorance demonstrated in the lack of acknowledging or teaching of the history of the First Nations people in which Spirit Rock Meditation rests is an example of the pain that we share as First Nations people: for this is a center that teaches practical methods for peace and compassion in everyday life and as such needs to understand and teach the suffering of First Nations people in their own national history. Prior to my entry into the training retreat, I spent two days searching for a First Nations gallery such as my brother's, Eagle Aerie's, located in Tofino, British Columbia; Douglas Reynolds's in Vancouver; or the Inuit Gallery in Gastown Vancouver but without success. The lack of presence of the First Nations of the San Francisco area urged me to gain information on the settlement of California.

Click for larger view
Figure 1
"Spirit Rock Meditation Center."

This is a familiar story for Indigenous people globally: it is the story of lost land, violence, greed, hatred, delusion, and, where the Indigenous [End Page 692]

Click for larger view
Figure 2
"Crying woman," Kispiox, British Columbia.
people have survived, it is the story of suffering re-created to the point where it is now despair. There are many versions of this story in many different languages but with the same interpretation of the human condition of oppression. The format I have chosen for viewing First Nations oppression in North America is primarily through Buddhist teachings of the relationship between pain and suffering and Gitxsan, Nisga'a and [End Page 693] Tsimshian teachings of sayt k'ilim goot which...


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