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 piece 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 neighbor, my friend or the other guy, but ME.
It then becomes my responsibility to take the time to examine my
own behavior 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
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
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