Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Native Summer

In 1971, there was a sleeper hit movie called “Billy Jack” about a ‘half-bread Indian’ and it has been one of my favorite movies of all time along with its sequels.  It was this film that began my interest in Native Americans and started planting the seeds of a serious spiritual journey that didn’t take root until many years later.

At the time, I also wasn’t aware of the conditions on the reservations and what all Native Americans are dealing with.  To this day, they continue to be one of the most discriminated against groups of people either on or off the reservations.  They were our original Americans and they have been treated poorly and unfairly ever since the early Europeans committed genocide on millions, took their land, and forced thousands onto reservations. 

And yet, they are a beautiful people whom I have come to highly respect and admire.  I have learned so much from their spirituality and much of it has become the foundation of what I believe today. 

Because of “Billy Jack,” I thought I would like to become a missionary to the Natives on their reservations.  In 1978, I signed up to become a student missionary through my church, and soon I was on Vancouver Island for a week of training.  But I had a rude awakening when I found that the various religions attending were arguing over who was going to ‘save the Indians.’  It was then and there that I decided I was just going to live with them, love them, and accept them just as they are. 

At the end of the week, we were broken into teams and assigned to various reservations across the British Columbia area.  My teammate and I were assigned to the Okanagan Reservation.  We started out in an old summer house that had only one working light and the water was pumped from a nearby stream.  We also used an outhouse with no door and could only go during the day because of the bears. 

Soon, we went to live with the Ben and Rosie Louis family, which consisted of their 15 children, the youngest being 21.  My teammate Eileen and I then lived in a pick-up camper trailer that sat on stilts in a yard.  I remember one night we awoke to the trailer being bumped to and fro.  Frightened, we looked out the window to find a horse scratching his hind end on a corner of the trailer.  Later, we moved into the home of Ben and Rosie who lived back a really long lane.

Most of the family was involved in rodeos so we had a great time riding horses and attending the events with the family.  I even got to try barrel racing and pole bending on a horse that was pregnant and blind in one eye, and my new-found friends were surprised that I did so well.
While there, Eileen and I also conducted a vacation Bible school for the kids and I fell in love with each and every one of them. 

I had so many wonderful experiences that will last me a lifetime!  I learned to milk a cow.  I learned to Indian leg wrestle and was quite good at it beating most everyone until I wrestled one of the guys who rode bucking horses, and he about threw me through the wall!  I even swam in the lake that was the home of the legendary Ogopogo monster! 

While there, I fell so in love with the whole family and we ended up sort of adopting each other.  I came to consider them as much my family as any of my blood family, and some of us still keep in touch to this day.

Because I decided to love and accept them just as they are, the staff psychiatrist said I was the only missionary student who did not experience any culture shock.  This was a great lesson to me in the importance of loving people unconditionally.

This also taught me how important it is to get to know people from other cultures, as well as those whose beliefs may be different than ours.  When we do, we find that we have more in common than not, and we can actually make many lasting friendships. 

I would like to dedicate this article to my Native family whom I love and miss so very much!  They’ve all been such a blessing to me and I’m a better person because of knowing them and all they’ve given me.  They’ve touched me deep within my soul and a part of my heart will always remain with them.

“Respect others.  Help others.  Love others.  These are the keys that unlock our soul.”  Anthony Douglas Williams

(Pictured:  Ben and Rosie Louis, both of whom have since made their transitions.  I miss them dearly.)

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper July 22, 2016.

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