Vi Waln: Ignorance rears its head with posting about 'ugly' prayer

Last week a prayer was offered by Carlos Gonzales, a Pascua Yaqui Indian, at the memorial service held for the shooting victims in Tucson, Arizona. I am one who appreciates prayers by all people even when others don’t. The ignorance of people usually rears its head when you least expect it.

Last week, attorney Paul Mirengoff’s post on the Powerline blog read in part: “As for the "ugly," I'm afraid I must cite the opening "prayer" by Native American Carlos Gonzales. It was apparently was some sort of Yaqui Indian tribal thing, with lots of references to "the creator" but no mention of God… But it wasn't just Gonzales's prayer that was "ugly" under the circumstances. Before he ever got to the prayer, Gonzales provided us with a mini-auto biography and made several references to Mexico, the country from which (he informed us) his family came to Arizona in the mid 19th century. I'm not sure why Gonzales felt that Mexico needed to intrude into this service…the invocation could have used more God, less Mexico, and less Carlos Gonzales. "

Mirengoff later replaced his post on the conservative blog he contributes to with an online apology. The law firm he works for also issued an apology. According to their website, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP represents tribal governments in many areas. The apology issued by the law firm shows me that Native American money is always pretty even though our prayers may be ugly. I want to take this opportunity to ask that every tribe which retains Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP as counsel find a different law firm.

Mirengoff wasn’t the only person who made arrogant, ignorant remarks about the humble Yaqui prayer. One website stated the “January 13 Washington Examiner column said that while Gonzales has the "right to practice whatever faith he chooses," his invocation was "a rambling 'Native American Blessing'" that was a "statement of pantheistic paganism."

This made me wonder if most non-Indian people view our prayers as akin to pantheistic paganism. I bet they do! I wonder what would happen if I started writing twisted columns about christianity being pantheistic paganism. Obviously, the ignorant do not understand the concept of Mitakuye Oyasin.

Every single day many Lakota people utter Mitakuye Oyasin as their prayer. Mitakuye Oyasin is also the phrase acceptable in Lakota ceremony when it comes your turn to pray. The concept acknowledging “all my relatives” extends to the entire universe, including all the living entities which co-exist here alongside human beings.

In addition, the ceremonies I have attended are usually precluded by the interpreter offering a background of his credentials. That is, the medicine man or person who leads the prayer tells those present where his/her authority to conduct the ceremony comes from. This is standard practice, especially if there is a newcomer to the circle.

Praying to the directions is commonplace among Indian people living on the North American continent. The gift of life comes from all directions, does it not? In Lakota society each direction brings a different energy which lends power to our life. Without the sum of all this power there would be no life. The Indian people have carried this philosophy into the 21st century. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have to say I believe the prayers of the Indigenous people of the world have carried humanity and other living beings this far.

And who exactly is God? Is he the Creator? Is he Tunkasila? Is he Allah? Is he Quetzalcoatl? Is he Wakan Tanka? Is God male or female? Who really knows? There is a name for “God” in many languages.

Today, the balance of our Mother Earth is extremely precarious, to say the least. The Indigenous people of the world know this. Our prayers continue for our world to once again come into balance. The thoughts of human beings who do not understand the concept of Mitakuye Oyasin affect the health of our planet every single moment. The disease of the mind is a continuous, powerful force which touches all of us. The lawyer who called a prayer “ugly” is a prime example of a human being whose affliction is his own disease of the mind.

Each year the Lakota offer themselves in renewal ceremonies. The people sacrifice themselves to pray for another year filled with an abundance of food, water, health and help for all the living beings of the universe. We see the results of our prayers each year in the spring when the earth renews herself. Water sources are replenished with the spring rains and our world flourishes once again with animals, fish, trees and plants.

Prayer is crucial. I sometimes wonder what would happen if the prayers of the Indigenous people of the world fell silent. Our tribal healing ceremonies are upheld by a handful of committed people. We also know the personal integrity of some who partake in ceremony is questionable. The disease of the mind affects us all in some way.

In my opinion, all the prayers in the world cannot change the disease of the mind. It is up to Paul Mirengoff and others who think like him to change their individual thought process. It is sad that highly educated people who have lots of money continue to look down their noses at the humble prayers uttered every single day by Indigenous people on behalf of the entire universe.

Still, I believe the prayers of Indigenous people all over the world will continue to be offered for humans like Paul Mirengoff. He obviously needs help in order for his thought process to evolve. Do not let the delusion of those afflicted with the disease of the mind cause you to falter on the Canku Luta. Native American prayer is not ugly. Please continue to say or sing your beautiful prayer out into the universe each day and life will be good for you. Mitakuye Oyasin.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at

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