Native American Messenger of God

Mar 2011
8
Santa Fe, NM
#1
I remember on an earlier thread there was mention of various Native Messengers of God including Deganawidah. Since that time, I took a class through the Wilmette Institute on the Kitabi-Iqan and Gems of Divine Mysteries and ended up writing a paper on Deganawidah as Native Messenger of God using the Iqan and Gems as proofs of Prophethood. I thought I would post my introduction which may be of interest to some of you. If anyone wants to read the entire paper it's available at Bahai-Library.com. This is the direct link for the paper

Many Messengers of God - A Native American Perspective
Deganawidah - The Peacemaker
by
Paula Bidwell​

Preface
After enrolling in the 2011 Wilmette Institute course on the Kitáb-i-Íqán and Gems of Divine Mysteries I quickly realized how little I knew of Christianity and Islam. It seemed every other page held something I didn’t understand. Then I began to wonder why both are mentioned so frequently. The answer to that was so apparent that I almost didn’t see it. Bahá'u'lláh was addressing questions from people with these backgrounds. This does not demean other religions or spiritual traditions in the least. In fact, the Kitáb-iÍqán is in answer to questions from the Bab’s uncle, an Islamic scholar.

After realizing this, I wondered what the view of the Bahá‘í Faith was on other religions and other Messengers, especially those from North America. I found reference to this in an article written by Christopher Buck (one of our course instructors) and Donald Addison (Choctaw elder and professor of
Native Studies) the article is titled “Messengers of God in North America Revisited: An Exegesis of ‘Abdu‟l-Bahá’s Tablet to Amir Khán”, Online Journal of Bahá‘í Studies, Volume 1 (2207): 180-270).

The article explains the Bahá‘í Faith’s view of these Messengers and in addition states the benefit of the Bahá‘í Writings in it’s ability to heal previous conflict.

“The Bahá‘í attitude to earlier religions, therefore, is not that they are false or heathen, but that, at root, they are all true and that these fundamental truths still persist within them... Through the Bahá‘í teachings, the inner conflict which many still feel between their ancient religions and Christianity is resolved and, at the same time, they are enabled to understand their spiritual unity with the peoples of other continents, such as Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims with whom they will undoubtedly come into contact with
increasing frequency”. (The Universal House of Justice, letter dated 22 March 1988, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly (unpublished). Cited by Universal House of Justice,
letter dated 25 March 1997 to an individual Bahá‘í. Posted by Brent Poirier on the Tarjuman list, 9 June 2007.)

As my questioning progressed, it occurred to me that North and South America, Africa and the Island nations such as Australia and New Zealand have not had their Messengers of God “recognized” by the world communities of scholars, philosophers, theologians, etc. In the Bahá‘í Writings Bahá’u’lláh states:

“Unto the cities of all nations He hath sent His Messengers.” (Gleanings p.145)

Considering this, how could it be that some countries did not have “recognized” Messengers? As I pondered this, I began to realize that each of these countries have oral traditions. I wondered if these countries were treated as disrespectfully as my own Native North American culture where oral traditions continue to be called myths, legends, lore and fables none of which indicate truth, fact or authenticity. There is a similar disrespect when Euro-Americans call our traditional clothing “costumes”. These forms of attire are not worn for pretend or fantasy nor for a Halloween party. These types of disrespect made me want to write even more than before. I feel it is up to us as Indigenous people to speak openly and to educate. So, with that in mind, I started to search for anything written by Indigenous authors particularly Bahá’í authors from any of these countries using the Bahá’í Writings as proofs of Prophethood. To date, I found Donald Addison, a Choctaw Bahá’í (as cited above) whose example I can follow, although not as an academic, but as a Native “grass roots” individual.

The next question was, how would I begin to write about something so vast and to a mixed audience of both Native and Euro-Americans? I could almost predict the criticism from both sides. It was tempting to let fear keep me from writing. It would be so much safer to keep these thoughts to myself.

But after wrestling with this for awhile, I decided the end goal was far more important than what my own personality might suffer. I then remembered a quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
“As to those things published in journals against thee: Thou shouldst not be grieved nor sorry therefor, because thousands of journals have written traducing Abdu‟l-Bahá, have given false and base accusations and awful calumnies. Notwithstanding these he was neither troubled nor grieved thereby; nay, rather these caused me to exert myself more than usual in the path of God and to drink the cup of sacrifice and to boil in the fire of His love. Man must seek to gain the acceptance of God and not that of the different classes of men. If one is praised and chosen by God, the accusation of all creatures will cause no loss to him; and if the man is not accepted in the threshold of God, the praise and admiration o all men will be of no use to him.” (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá V.1, p.157)

Now that I was ready to move forward I needed to figure out how to write about my oral culture. I decided to think about this as “walking the middle path” between oral and written culture. This seemed like a good idea, yet I was very uncomfortable and found I made no progress. So, I decided to consult with another Native American Bahá’í, Joye Braun (Lakota), who carries a degree in journalism and is well published. Her first question was of utmost importance and contained the hesitancy I was feeling. She asked why should we have to “prove” our Messengers of God? We know who they are and shouldn’t feel trapped in the Euro-centric idea that the written word is the only authority. Then, her next comment really brought to light my dilemma, “... we as Natives rely on these western versions of authenticity to authenticate what we say, do or write about. We allow ourselves to fall into the trap of influence by foreign nations... now is all influence bad? No of course not! But we as Natives must shift our conscience to regain cultural authority in self determination...”

With all my heart, I fully agreed with this statement, yet I still felt compelled to attempt this paper using the written word to prove authenticity hopefully without disrespect or belittlement of my oral history and culture. As I sat quietly, I realized my reasoning for this compelling feeling is my belief in the importance of bringing recognition, respect and better understanding of Native American and other Indigenous histories, cultures and traditions. We all have so much to offer to the world in terms of Bahá’u’lláh’s Message. So important is the reality of world unity through diversity, that I was willing to risk most anything to make a step made, no matter how hesitant, toward this end.

As I continued forward, I first wanted to understand why Bahá’u’lláh wrote so much about the proof of Prophets. The most obvious answer was that He came from an Islamic background and culture and His first adherents were of the same background. Naturally, they would pose questions, especially about the “Seal of the Prophets”. The “Seal of the Prophets” is taken to mean that Muhammad was the last of the Prophets. Thus, I can see this was a question posed to Bahá’u’lláh many times.

Second, I wondered if the topic of proofs was clarified for those of us not from an Islamic background. I found the following statements from Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era which gave me a new understanding.

“The sun is its own proof, to all that have the power of perception. When it rises we need no ancient predictions to assure us of its shining. So with the Manifestation of God when He appears. Were all the former prophecies swept into oblivion, He would still be His own abundant and sufficient proof to all
whose spiritual sense are open.” (Esslemont, J.E., Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, United States Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition, p.6)

“Bahá'u'lláh asked no one to accept His statements and His tokens blindly. On the contrary, He put in the very forefront of His teachings emphatic warnings against blind acceptance of authority, and urged all to open their eyes and ears, and use their own judgement, independently and fearlessly, in order to ascertain the truth. He enjoined the fullest investigation and never concealed Himself, offering, as the supreme proofs of His Prophethood, His words and works and their effects in transforming the lives and characters of men. The tests He proposed are the same as those laid down by His great predecessors.” (Esslemont, J.E., Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, United States Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition, p.7

The next and final question was why I needed to cite references. I’m not a scholar or an Academic, couldn’t I just write my understanding and leave it at that? Then I remembered when I taught my children and other young people about our Native traditions and ceremonies I usually referenced which Elder,
Grandma or Grandpa, Aunt or Uncle etc. told me the story. This wasn’t because what I personally said had no value, it was so the young people could follow up and continue in their learning process with the family that held that particular story. I realized that “citing” references was what I had done all my life.

All of the above seemed to ease my hesitancies and fears and now I find myself finishing this preface. In the finishing, there are a few separate issues I’d like to address. Someone mentioned I should say a little about myself. I am a Native American Bahá’í - Shawnee, Delaware, Cherokee, Seneca, and for clarification, I also lived on the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota for many, many years. I speak their language and follow their traditions and culture, consequently many people assume I am from there. Although, I am not, I have to say they are the people of my heart and will always remain so.

I was also asked what was the most motivating factor for writing this paper. Without a doubt, to encourage other Native American and Indigenous Bahá’í’s to write about their Messengers of God. As you can tell from my preface this was a daunting task. I hope what I’ve written about my trials and tribulations will be of help to others, whom I fervently wish will improve on this initial “grass roots” endeavor.

There was another motivation for this work, and that is to share in an authentic and honest manner my thoughts as a Native American Bahá’í about the Peacemaker. Even though I am not Haudenosaunee, I’m still hoping that a Native perspective will result in a greater understanding of who we are in general and that the Peacemaker will prove to be just as authentic as those from an Abrahamic or Eastern tradition.

I also want to bring attention to the scholarly work of Dr. Christopher Buck who in numerous articles and papers has pioneered the idea of recognizing Native Messengers of God within a Bahá’í context. In addition, I want to express my personal gratitude for his encouragement during this work and most especially for his patience and respect in understanding a culture completely different from his own.

And also a special thanks to Dr. Rob Stockman of the Wilmette Institute who has supported Native Americans in so many ways, including making it possible for me to take so many classes over many years.


Sincerely,
Paula Bidwell
 
Jun 2011
1,542
Somewhere "in this immensity"
#3
God bless you, Paula, for sharing such a wonderful post.

I am an American citizen, and whenever I meet those who are descended from the first Americans, and when I visit the reservations, and learn of their stories and history, there is no doubt in my mind that these peoples were guided by true messengers of God, and indeed, the sun is its own proof.

I wish you luck in your endeavor, and please, let us know how to read it! I would love to read your work and become more acquainted with the words of these enlightened American prophets that I know so little of. I think it will be difficult to directly corroborate very much of it with Baha'i writings, because, as you rightly noted, the Baha'i revelation came to a specific place and culture and does not mention native American prophets, and I guess nobody ever asked! What a pity too.

Will any of your work be available electronically? I am a big kindle user because I don't live in America and travel too much to be gathering books these days.
 
Mar 2011
8
Santa Fe, NM
#4
Native American Messengers of God

Thank you both for your kind and loving responses to my post. Today was one of those days when I really needed encouragement. Sigh...

Anyway, the entire paper is available on Bahai-Library.com
Many Messengers of God, A Native American Perspective

Also on my blog - indigenousbahai.blogspot.com

Hope I did the links right?

I'm starting another paper about White Buffalo Calf Woman as a Native Messenger of God again using the proofs of prophethood from the Kitabi-Iqan and Gems of Divine Mysteries. I may need some help and am looking forward to asking the friends on Bahaiforums for appropriate quotes, etc.

With my heart I think of you all,
Paula
 
Sep 2010
2,106
United Kingdom
#5
Thank you both for your kind and loving responses to my post. Today was one of those days when I really needed encouragement. Sigh...

Anyway, the entire paper is available on Bahai-Library.com
Many Messengers of God, A Native American Perspective

Also on my blog - indigenousbahai.blogspot.com

Hope I did the links right?

I'm starting another paper about White Buffalo Calf Woman as a Native Messenger of God again using the proofs of prophethood from the Kitabi-Iqan and Gems of Divine Mysteries. I may need some help and am looking forward to asking the friends on Bahaiforums for appropriate quotes, etc.

With my heart I think of you all,
Paula
God Bless and keep you Paula :)

You are in my prayers! Whatever it is that has grieved you today, I will offer up to the Lord and ask him to shower you with his love.

I will really enjoy reading your paper.

Much love to you!
 
Mar 2010
13
Las Vegas, NV USA
#6
“The sun is its own proof, to all that have the power of perception. When it rises we need no ancient predictions to assure us of its shining. So with the Manifestation of God when He appears. Were all the former prophecies swept into oblivion, He would still be His own abundant and sufficient proof to all whose spiritual sense are open.”

This is such a vivid and striking quote!
How lucky would we have been to be able to look upon the face of God, like unto the sun.
There is no mistaking that. :)
 
Mar 2011
8
Santa Fe, NM
#8
Hi Work in Progress - If you or anyone else see anything in the paper that is confusing, needs to be changed, or is incorrect - please let me know. Currently, I'm working in a collaborative effort with several other Native Baha'is for Part II which includes Handsome Lake as a Lesser Prophet and then brings us all they way into today's world and how the Message of Baha'u'llah fits perfectly. When we're finished I think the papers should be submitted to the Research Department in Haifa. There is a possibility that a "category" can be added to the official list of nine religions that Baha'u'llah mentions. Dr. Ruhe (previous member of the House of Justice) wrote to Christopher Buck and stated such. I think this would be a beginning for many other indigenous Baha'is to become recognized world-wide by historians, theologians, etc. The Faith has given us a possible venue! If we think about it, the African, North and South American and Island Nations have no "recognized" Messengers of God, mainly because they are "oral traditions". Though through the Writings we know that they absolutely do have them. Thanks to everyone for such a warm and loving response to this paper!
 
Mar 2010
1,349
Rockville, MD, USA
#9

It should be remembered that although there are three or more possible Divine Messengers among the various Native Americans, there remains NO reliable evidence for any of these, largely due to the absence of writing in these areas at that time.

So while speculation is always welcome, it must still be treated as no more than that.

Regards,

Bruce
 
Sep 2010
2,106
United Kingdom
#10
Thanks to everyone for such a warm and loving response to this paper!
You are welcome Paula :) I have just read your paper in its entirety and I think it makes SUCH a compelling arguement!

I have already suggested in a previous thread that Deganawidah, the Peacemaker, was a Prophet of God. Your paper has gone further and beyond my estimations. It is truly wonderful. You have collected some incredible knowledge. I will pray that this does indeed get passed onto the UHJ Research in Haifa - it really deserves too! :yes:
 

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