Last Wednesday evening, the Heights Room was transformed into a small, Native American cultural museum, with traditional Native American artifacts displayed on tables and different toys and games gathered in the center of the room. The Native American Heritage Month closing ceremony began with an interactive presentation of Native American culture by guest speaker Ray LaChance, who spoke about his Native American heritage, which traces back to his great-great-grandfather’s generation. In his presentation “The Web of Life: A Tribute to a Culture Past and Present,” LaChance discussed the fundamental belief which connects all indigenous lineages by creating an equal, circular interconnection among people and maintaining a harmonious relationship among them.
The circular arrangement of seats in the audience also reflected the idea of reciprocal network of mankind and balanced interdependence among living beings. “From early childhood I was guided by the values and the principles of the web of life, of the circle of life,” LaChance said. “If you don’t know what that means, it’s that we’re all connected as a circle as of right now, and the disposition is that we’re all equal.”
As children of earth and nature, the indigenous people learned to develop a respect for life and preserve self by keeping themselves mentally as well as physically fit, LaChance said. Starting from self-preservation, commitment to life expands to love for family, appreciation of friends, sharing with the community, and doing good for the nation, he said.
LaChance showed his concern about the increasing forgetfulness of gratitude toward the environment and the bleak future of sustainability of the indigenous heritage. “My goal has always been to educate this generation about the positive tributes that many indigenous people brought forward to impact the future,” he said. “We are the students of this earth, and that’s our basic premise and philosophy as the native culture, and it gets harder and harder and more difficult every day. Why? Because our children are being immersed in the technological society, and in some ways it’s very sad.”
Under the general theme of interconnectedness with “Mother Earth” and “Father Sky,” the presentation not only introduced the values system and primary tenets of the Native people but also provided a new perspective of viewing and interacting with other cultures by redefining civilization.
LaChance noted the relentless violence of the Europeans and ethnocentric labeling of Native Americans as “savage,” providing examples of how civilized and organized the lives of the indigenous people were.
He argued that the indigenous culture developed a civilized society in their own sense by forming organizational structures characterized with leadership, religion, social class system, education, understanding of nature, and development of practical skills. “I want you to look at this perspective, the characteristics of civilization, from the eyes of a different culture,” he said.
In addition to sharing commonality of all cultures, the Native American culture left its mark in the history of the people, he said. According to LaChance, the indigenous people contributed their wisdom regarding agricultural technologies, communication techniques, and knowledge of the natural phenomena, and they served as an example to other cultures by living in accordance with their values of respect, humility, love, honesty, bravery and responsibility.
“It doesn’t matter what our culture is or isn’t,” he said. “We are people first.” “We breathe the same air, we drink the same types of water, we have the same concern about ourselves, our family, our community. Most of us are innately compassionate. That’s what we need from your generation and, going forward, my grandchildren.”
Following the presentation, LaChance performed a short musical piece with the traditional indigenous flute and invited every member of the audience to participate in the traditional Native American dances and games.
Listeners became active participants by learning ceremonial dance steps, playing instruments made of raw materials and engaging in games derived mostly from hunting and surviving skills in the wild. After sharing interactive, cultural experiences with the audience, LaChance closed the ceremony with a letter to the students, wishing nature’s blessings and saying a blessing himself with a Native American thank you, “Aho.”