Mitakuye oyasin. The phrase is not usually spoken as a greeting. It is a Dakota closing, an “amen” given at the end of speeches to remind listeners of the interelatedness of all, living and deceased, human and non-human creatures, plants, rocks, soil, air, and water. We are all related.
This is wisdom to learn one’s entire life. This is indigenous wisdom which is known widely in Native cultures, ancient wisdom for the Earth and all its inhabitants which could help us have a future together.
I began to learn this in a new way last month when I spent a week on the Fort Peck Reservation in northeast Montana, more than 450 miles from my home in Bozeman, yet in the same state. With 12 others from my church, we worked with Dakota brothers and sisters (we are all related) to document a church cemetery on the prairie. We did this sacred work at the request of church elders who care for the graves of their ancestors (we are all related) and, to this point, have been the memory keepers for those buried there.
The losses and grief of a community became very real for us as we made records of so many children, so many young people, so many who lived short lives, and a few who lived long lives through painful historical times. It was holy ground, and holy work for us, as it is holy ground for the community centered around the Makaicu Church. We felt the deep grief of a people who have been traumatized by history–a history we have been part of (we are all related)–and we experienced the hospitality which is even more deeply embedded in the culture. History is not destiny, we learned, for Christ makes us one (we are all related).