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An Indigenous Perspective on Forgiveness

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

Many FNMI (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit) People have lived with harm inflicted upon us by attitudes of superiority, as well as emotional, spiritual, physical, and sexual violence. Racism and discrimination additionally affect our ability to lead a healthy lifestyle. These ways are not in line with Creator’s will for our lives, and it is not how we lived our lives before the settlers came. We must return to our roots, and this includes enacting an Indigenous perspective on healing that comes through forgiveness.

As a teenager, I would sit in the circle and listen to the Cree Elder speak his wisdom. On one such occasion, he spoke of the need to forgive. “The people who did us harm,” he said, “do not care if we forgive them or not, they could not care less. They simply go on hurting and harming people the way they always did. We forgive them, so we will not carry the wounds of their actions in our hearts.” The wisdom of his words stuck with me more than three decades later.

To properly heal, we have return to who Creator intended us to be without all the harms that were inflicted upon us in the brokenness of this world. Before the settlers came, we respected one another and ourselves. Many, if not all First Nations people used the medicine wheel to guide us in our walk with Creator. The medicine wheel is divided into four sections and promotes balance in life. We can further use it to promote the different elements of forgiveness. Consider, that often we focus solely on forgiving the perpetrator, but fail to recognize the anger and unforgiveness we may be internalizing towards ourselves, and others. Sometimes we even become angry with Creator, not because Creator has done anything wrong, but because his ways are not our ways, and sometimes, we feel his ways are unjust...that he should have intervened but did not.

Here, I will provide an Indigenous perspective guided by the wisdom of the Elders. I will use the Elder’s teachings by speaking first to the teachings of the braid, the medicine wheel, the sharing circle, and then finish off with the importance of smudging while we pray.

The braid is reminiscent of how Creator fashioned us in a way that our minds, bodies, and spirits work together. A strand of three is not easily broken, and so when our mind, body and spirits work in tandem, then neither are we easily broken, because the three components that make up who we are, are deeply intertwined. However, when damage to one area of our being occurs, it spreads to the other areas, and if not properly dealt with, our entire being can become infected. That is, damage to one’s body affects our mind and our spirit, and vice versa.

Consider, when our minds are inflicted with emotional violence we begin to carry the pain in our bodies. Initially, we feel it in our hearts, can see it in our eyes, and it is reflected in how we carry ourselves and can be seen in our posture. It affects our spirit, as the pain in our hearts render us unable to speak our mind in a careful and gentle fashion that does not inflict harm on others. Damage to our bodies also affects our relationship with Creator as we query, “why did you let this happen?”

Physical violence inflicted on our bodies hurts our minds as we ask ourselves, “what did I do wrong, or what is wrong with me that you hate me so...?” It further harms our minds as it turns to racism and discrimination. Sometimes, our minds become filled with anger that turns to hatred that can manifest into physical outlashes. It also hurts our spirits as we begin to see ourselves and others as unlovable, and we too begin to inflict harm on ourselves and others. Our heart becomes inflicted with pain, infected with bitterness, and we begin to inflict harm upon our bodies in the form of addiction, self-harm, and suicide.

Healing from trauma involves a personal decision that is followed by a journey. In order to heal we must implement forgiveness. The teachings of the medicine

wheel remind us that we are all related, that the red, yellow, black, and white people that comprise the four nations of the earth are all our relations.

Forgiveness also has four parts. First, we have to forgive the person that harmed us. Next, we have to forgive others that played a part in the harm inflected upon us. Then, we have to come to terms with Creator's sovereignty, and finally, we have to forgive ourselves.

We begin by forgiving our perpetrator, as we come to an understanding that they too are fallen creatures. Their faults too, are covered by the self-sacrifice of Creator’s son. Sometimes the wounds are so deep forgiveness becomes a daily journey taking our hurt and pain to the cross. When we do not have the heart to forgive, we ask Creator to give us the heart to forgive.

We also need to forgive others we believe played a part in doing us harm. Perhaps a parent left us with a person that hurt us. Much like forgiving ourselves, we need to recognize that harboring ill feelings towards others only creates a bitter heart in us. While others may have played a part in life circumstances that have had negative outcomes in our lives, unforgiveness only eats away at our ability to thrive in a healthy way. It further affects our relationships with others, Creator, and ourselves.

We need to come to terms with Creator's sovereignty and divine will for our lives.

Although Creator does not actually do us any harm, we sometimes blame Creator for not coming to our aide, for not helping or preventing the incident that harmed us. What we need to understand here, is that Creator always promotes free will. Creator did not force Eve to eat the apple, but placed the apple in the garden and told her she could eat from every tree except that one. Creator does the same thing with us and our perpetrators alike. While Creator weeps when we are harmed, he always allows room for free will, and always provides a way in which we can heal.

We must also forgive ourselves. When bad things happen, we often blame ourselves for having a part in it. Perhaps, we feel we should not have put ourselves in a particular circumstance, trusted a certain person, or acted in a certain way. No matter what the people around us say about this, if we feel we played a part in negative outcomes, then we need to forgive ourselves. We need to understand that we simply cannot see into the future, and that our life experiences affect our judgement and ability to negotiate harmful experiences.

When we no longer wish harm upon our perpetrator and come to a point in which we are actually able to pray and hope that our perpetrator and others who played a part in our demise will find healing. Only then will we know we have truly forgiven. This is when our mind, body, and spirit will begin to work in tandem again. We are made stronger by the negative experiences we are able to overcome. Implementing forgiveness for all four parties we come to an understanding that we all fall short of Creator’s perfection, that nothing in nature is perfect, and neither are we. Other than Creator, there is no one that is without fault, not even one.

Some say that we should not forgive while the colonizers are still inflicting harm upon our people, but Creator’s son says we should forgive seventy times seven times. In other words, we should forgive an infinite number of times. However, forgiveness does not mean we have to adopt the violent and hateful ways of our perpetrators. Forgiveness does not mean we have to put ourselves and others that we are responsible for back in the line of their fire. Forgiveness simply means we no long harbor hate, we no longer resent or wish our perpetrator harm, and we no longer carry the wounds of their actions in our hearts.

This is important because like physical wounds, the wounds of our minds and spirits can also become infected and turn bitter, it poisons the soil of our hearts so none of Creator's seeds can take hold. When this happens, we have to trust Creator’s son to be our good Samaritan by allowing him to clean, disinfect, and bind up our wounded hearts, minds, and bodies.

When we are physically harmed, we cleanse and disinfect our wounds. We bind them with herbal remedies given to us by Creator. We further use bandages, and sometimes even splints or stitches. Occasionally, surgery is required before we can heal. Then, we give our body time to rest and nurture it with proper nutrition. Only then does our body fully heal to the point in which it can once more function the way it is intended.

Our minds too, must heal before they can again function the way they were intended. When harm comes to us, the memory of that pain is stored in our limbic system. Our limbic system then sends messages to our body triggering the fight or flight response when we encounter that person, someone with similar characteristics, or a similar circumstance. To overcome this, we must subject ourselves to new and positive experiences that involve those that did us harm or have similar characteristics. We must learn to work through difficult circumstances that remind us of our injuries. Sadly, if we are not able to re-write our experiences, then it negatively affects our ability to heal. Essentially, we are unable to move on.

Sometimes speaking of our wounds in a sharing circle helps us to clear our minds of the hurt, anger, and bitterness that can take hold of us. By going around the sharing circle, we speak to how the actions of those who did us harm negatively affected us. This is especially helpful when our perpetrator sits and listens carefully to the ways in which their actions inflicted harm on another. In this way, we heal our minds.

When we smudge, we are lifting our prayers up to the Creator. Smoke of the sacred herbs, mixed with the prayers of Creator’s people ascend to him (Rev 8:4 NLT). Cleansing ourselves with the chemical compounds of the smoke that kill bacteria is much akin to water baptism that is symbolic of how Creator’s son washes us clean of our wrong-doings.

We begin by washing our hands in the smoke and then proceed to smudge our minds, so no bad thoughts enter in. We smudge our eyes, so we only see the good in people. We smudge our ears, so we only hear good things. We smudge our hearts, so no bitterness enters in. Then we smudge the rest of our body, so we only use it for good. The smoke carries our prayers up to the Creator, and he finds them pleasing.

When we are able to smudge and pray for the healing of those who did us harm we know we have forgiven all who have done us harm, and our wounds will begin to heal. We also know that Creator’s son will also forgive us, as we have forgiven them. In this way, we find healing for our spirit.


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