There aren’t many events that impress me as deeply as Phil Lane, Jr.’s fireside talk last night. In fact, it left such a potent impression that I’m having a tough time putting it into words, but I’d really like to share with you all how it went.
Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life who, when you talk with them, can communicate much more than what they say with words. When Phil Lane spoke to us, he spoke to our hearts, looked into our souls and connected with truths that we all share within us.
While I listened to him speak I was struck by the strong, palpable respect he has for all life and all humanity, not just part of humanity but every race, color and creed. I was struck by the respect he has for elders — among them his grandparents and parents, but especially his father, who passed away in March of this year. His tone was that of complete and utter love, gratitude and respect, especially for the knowledge and wisdom they imparted to him.
Phil Lane is in fact Phil Lane Jr., member of the Yankton Dakota and Chickasaw tribes, renowned aboriginal athlete, and hereditary Chief. “Chief Phil Lane” could thus be an appropriate title. He went by “Phil” during the evening, though. He’s involved in development work around the world, particularly in Aboriginal circles, and in 2000 he received the Year 2000 award from the Foundation for Freedom and Human Rights in Berne, Switzerland, in recognition of his “unique contributions to improve the lives and future hopes of native populations”.
One of the things I learned about during the evening is the great potential of First Nations and Native people. I realized that, in overlooking the Native peoples of Canada and the rest of the world (as many of us often due in our busy, distracted lives), we are overlooking gems of inestimable value, who, if befriended, loved and attracted to the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, “will become so illumined as to enlighten the whole world”. (‘Abdul-Bahá).
Phil told the amazing story of pre-colonial American civilisation, that is, the story of the original Americans: the various aboriginal tribes of North and South America, or the “People of the Eagle and the Condor“, as he put it. Various tribes inhabited both continents, conducting active trade with one another, building temples, villages, cities, civilisations — and receiving guidance from Divine Messengers and Manifestations of God (one example he cited was Quetzalcoatl). He spoke of several civilisations that built empires: the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas, for example. He also spoke of how the Manifestations of God warned their people of approaching strife and counselled them to observe unity, lest they be destroyed. Unfortunately, they disobeyed and were eventually scattered by the forces of people who erringly sought to plunder their riches. I was deeply impressed by the way he told this story, never placing blame, but rather recounting in an objective way the actions of “members of the human family” (his words) who were simply misguided and lost in darkness.
He gave quite an interesting perspective on “bad medicine” or “bad magic“, in response to someone’s question. He said that there are four kinds of bad magic: bad thoughts (i.e. critical or negative thoughts, which hurt us and poison our relations with others); backbiting (i.e. criticizing others in their absence); criticism of others (i.e. negative or destructive criticism); and bad or dirty looks (sometimes called the “evil eye”).
A good part of his talk focused on the question of tests and difficulties: simply put, if God loves us, then why does He give us suffering? The answer which seemed to stand out was that through suffering, we grow, learn to abide by God’s will, and thus make ourselves better. Many examples of suffering and calamity were given — including several examples from current events. Even in the face of calamity that grips the world from every side, shaking it to its very foundations, Phil seemed to show no fear. Instead, making allusion to ancient Native prophecies that speak of the “shaking of the earth” — and asserting that the world at present is undergoing the “third shaking”, he explained that mankind is in need of a complete renewal, that the old ways of living will no longer suffice, and that Bahá’u’lláh has come to bring the long-awaited material and spiritual renewal, bringing us through the “third shaking of the earth” into the “fourth world”.
Masterfully and beautifully interweaving Native prophecies with Bahá’í teachings, he put forth a profound and vital message of hope: So many empires have come and gone in the past, brought down by their attachment to their vain imaginings and idle fancies, and their growing heedlessness of Divine Teachings. Today, however, we are at a unique stage, foretold by the Manifestations of God since the dawn of time, when the whole earth has come together and is ready to unite as one human family. Bahá’u’ll´h has come to establish that unity, and renew the Divine message for this day, a “day which shall not be followed by night”.
If you’d like to read more about Phil Lane and his work, please feel free to peruse the Four Worlds website, with which Phil is intimately connected.
If you’d like to read more about First Nations/Native people in Ottawa, in Canada, or in general, here are some links to start with:
- The Odawa Native Friendship Centre – a centre in West Ottawa run by the Native Community. The centre has often been used by the Bahá’i Community for 19-day feasts and holy day celebrations.
- The Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health – a health centre in Vanier.
- The Aboriginal People’s Television Network.
- The Canadian Museum of Civilisation‘s online exhibit on First Peoples.
- The Odawa/Ottawa Tribe.
- The Waban-Aki Nation: the Abenaki tribe established not far from where I was pioneering, in Quebec. Bilingual.
- SchoolNet’s article on residential schools in the aboriginal community.
If you’d like to read more about the relationship between Baha’is and First Nations/Native people, check out: