My grand parents on my dad’s side were from Sonora, Mexico: 90% of Mexicans are mestizo, part Indian and part Spanish. They most likely had the blood of the Tohono O’Odham (Desert People), Akimel O’Odham (River People), Mayo or Yaqui running through their veins. So I did inherit a quarter of Native blood but did not grow up with a tribal identity. My experience was multicultural: my mother was of Irish descent and my dad Mexican. My early childhood friends were Japanese, Mexican and Anglo. When we moved into our new home my friends were mostly Anglo.
The next ingredient in my cultural identity was contributed by my involvement in the freedom loving Hippie culture of the late 1960’s. This culture was eclectic, earth friendly, communal and open to separate realities through mind-expanding drugs and non-Christian spiritualities. It was during this time that I developed a profound attraction to pursuing a shamanistic lifestyle in Mexico. I had numerous visions of the beautiful interconnection of all created things: which is both spiritual and colorful. God’s covenant with all things is the rainbow (Genesis 9:12-17); any connect with my visions? Perhaps. These experiences and others contributed to my multi-cultural identity and also initiated my interest in Native American culture.
The next ingredient in my cultural identity was my introduction and commitment to the Way of Jesus. In the midst of drug and alcohol abuse I yearned for freedom from the bondage I was under. That freedom came through the vision of Jesus and an understanding that he was a present help to those in need of strength: Strength to be free, strength to live, strength to grow and prosper. Jesus was the maker of the rainbow covenant, who through death, resurrection and ascension gathers and reconnects the stray sheep to one another completing the circle of life.
I’ve been a follower and then a minister of Jesus for the past 34 years. My experience and knowledge of the bible, the church, the world and theology therefore has a strong influence on my culture, which is always growing and redefining itself.
The last ingredient to my cultural identity has been a recommitment to an artistic lifestyle and the Native American beliefs of my earlier years. With the arts it is unclear where that’s going. The new interest in indigenous beliefs was sparked through a Native American Art class I took about six years ago and a book I read about Native American history. Shortly after these influences took root I started growing my hair long as a way of honoring the generations of Native children that were forced into missionary-government sponsored boarding schools, had their long hair cut and forbidden to use their language and openly practice their religion. I also re-evaluated the history of Christian missions and its alignment with world powers (the dominant culture) and how these two advanced together and conquered indigenous populations worldwide in the name of Christ and Civilization. Sadly the persecuted (the church of the book of Acts) had become the persecutor! The mission to become humbly incarnated into every nation, tribe and language group had been replaced by cultural genocide, forced conversions and assimilation. The church had become the beast and Christ was crucified afresh. I am still a follower of Christ but I refrain from identifying myself as a Christian precisely because Christian culture has done so much evil in the name of God! I used to be republican until I saw how much evil a so-called Christian president could do! Big government, business and organized religion spell big problems for the meek; luckily they not the former will inherit the earth! Praise to the Creator who will restore the earth and its creatures (peoples) to their past-future glory. This will occur when the exploiters of creation are thrown down never to rise again!
I’d like to end by returning to the original question about my culture and people.
I have more Irish blood than Indian or Spanish, so I try to honor all three sources of my ancestral background. However, culturally I’m neither Irish nor Mexican (Indian-Spanish) but multi-cultural. In many ways my heart is more Red than White, when I look at traditional Native culture I do not feel condemnation like my European ancestors did instead I feel respect and admiration. As a follower of Christ, I feel if he had been born Native American he would have walked the Good Red Road and gave his blessing to many of the ceremonies and stories of the people. He would have come to provide his people a fuller understanding and a better life much like the Buffalo Calf woman did. He would have told new stories to engender hope and he would have challenged traditions that served self interests instead of our relations to the seventh generation. He would have anointed himself with sweet grass, cedar and sage instead of myrrh, frankincense and olive oil. He would have incorporated the sweat as a symbol of purification and rebirth instead of water baptism. In place of communion through bead and wine, he may have used tobacco and the sacred pipe as a means of re-connecting all things to the creator in a spirit of humility and prayer. In place of the image of Jesus dying on a cross for our sins there may have been the image of a Chief dressed in his finest regalia and headdress riding out to war, to give his life in battle against the white devils from across the seas. The cathedral of nature would have replaced manmade churches. The vision quest would have replaced Bible schools. The vision of heaven up in the sky somewhere would be replaced by a vision that includes harmony between “all our relations” here on earth! If Jesus were Native American!
A Final Word
What I am ultimately is not determined by my ancestors or my cultural influences (not to diminish their importance) but by the state of my heart. What’s on the inside is what matters! Even in Indian country some refer to Indians that are assimilated into the dominant culture as manzanas (“apples” in Spanish) red on the outside but white on the inside. It’s the heart that makes a person Indian. To judge any person based on the color of their skin is superficial. To be honest we cannot and must not lump people together based upon their race or culture. An Indian that does this is no better than those who stole their land. Remember, the phrase “all my relations” includes the white man as well as the winged ones, the four legged, two legged, etc. The heart that accepts and honors all relations is the Red way; it’s this vision of the heart, the vision of love that makes the inside “red.” In the same way, the Christ Way refuses to show favoritism, if we love only those who love us and who are our brothers of the same race, tribe or nation then our hearts are evil. “A man is a Jew (worshipper of God) if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit,” Romans 2:29. A person, regardless of culture and bloodline is true to themselves, to their people and to the Creator when love for all “relations” is alive and well. Therefore I am an Indian, a Jew, an Irishman, a Spaniard and a Christ follower because I love … this is how I honor my ancestors regardless of what tribe they originate from! It is love that makes a person a son or daughter of the Creator, of Jesus. Without love I’m inconsistent, hypocritical and hurtful to all my relations! I do myself, my family, my tribe and my nation no good!
Getting over European trickery, genocide and enslavement executed in the name of God is not easy. “When the Spanish came, they asked us Indians to close our eyes to pray. When we opened our eyes, we had the Bible and they had our land,” popular Guatemalan saying. The hurt of the past heals slowly but it must heal if we are to do the people we feel close to any good!
Why do I support the Native American community? I support the Native American Community for the same reason I started growing my hair long: As a way of honoring the generation of Native children that were forced into missionary-government sponsored boarding schools, had their long hair cut and forbidden to use their language and openly practice their religion. As a follower of the Christ Way, I am appalled by the unloving insensitive actions of those who supposedly represent the same Creator God that I believe in. May my friendship of Native Americans and the good Red Road be a small step in undoing the destructive “good intentions” of those who went before us. May the blood of Christ appease the thirst of wrathful Christians. May they learn peace and “ beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” becoming caretakers of the earth and its peoples never to “take up sword against nation, nor train for war anymore,” Isaiah 2:4. May the curse of exploitation be lifted- May healing begin!
Stories of Bill Redondo, Fresno, California