Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table: Huston Smith In Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom

EDITED AND WITH A PREFACE BY PHIL COUSINEAU
WITH ASSISTANCE FROM GARY RHINE
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 253
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnqtq
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Seat at the Table
    Book Description:

    In this collection of illuminating conversations, renowned historian of world religions Huston Smith invites ten influential American Indian spiritual and political leaders to talk about their five-hundred-year struggle for religious freedom. Their intimate, impassioned dialogues yield profound insights into one of the most striking cases of tragic irony in history: the country that prides itself on religious freedom has resolutely denied those same rights to its own indigenous people. With remarkable erudition and curiosity—and respectfully framing his questions in light of the revelation that his discovery of Native American religion helped him round out his views of the world's religions—Smith skillfully helps reveal the depth of the speakers' knowledge and experience. American Indian leaders Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux), Winona LaDuke (Anishshinaabeg), Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), Frank Dayish, Jr. (Navajo), Charlotte Black Elk (Oglala Lakota), Douglas George-Kanentiio (Mohawk-Iroquois), Lenny Foster (Dine/Navajo), Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga), Anthony Guy Lopez (Lakota-Sioux), and Oren Lyons (Onondaga) provide an impressive overview of the critical issues facing the Native American community today. Their ideas about spirituality, politics, relations with the U.S. government, their place in American society, and the continuing vitality of their communities give voice to a population that is all too often ignored in contemporary discourse. The culture they describe is not a relic of the past, nor a historical curiosity, but a living tradition that continues to shape Native American lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94091-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xx)
    Phil Cousineau
  5. THE INDIAN WAY OF STORY
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. INTRODUCTION: THE PRIMAL RELIGIONS
    (pp. 1-5)
    HUSTON SMITH

    The Third Parliament of World Religions exceeded my expectations in a number of ways. The attendance was far beyond what I imagined it would be, more than seven thousand people paying what was required in time and money to make a kind of pilgrimage to South Africa. It was amazing for sheer numbers. But the objective and the quality of the presentations were even more important. In this time of so much ethnic conflict, with religion involved in people’s antagonism toward one another, to have them come together was a very important statement to the world that conflict is not...

  7. 1 THE SPIRITUAL MALAISE IN AMERICA THE CONFLUENCE OF RELIGION, LAW, AND COMMUNITY
    (pp. 6-23)

    Vine Deloria Jr. is from the Standing Rock Sioux Agency, in Fort Yates, North Dakota, and a leading Native American scholar whose research, writings, and teachings have encompassed history, law, religious studies, and political science. He is the former executive director of the National Congress of American Indians and a professor emeritus of history at the University of Colorado. In January 2005Indian Country Todaychose him for the American Indian Visionary Award. He has written many acclaimed books, includingEvolution, Creationism, and other Modern Myths; Spirit and Reason; God Is Red; Red Earth, White Lies; Power and Place: Indian...

  8. 2 FIVE HUNDRED NATIONS WITHIN ONE THE SEARCH FOR RELIGIOUS JUSTICE
    (pp. 24-38)

    Walter Echo-Hawk, Pawnee, is a courtroom attorney, political activist, lobbyist, tribal judge, and scholar. As senior staff attorney of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), he has been a powerful champion of human rights. Echo-Hawk has worked on cases involving Native American religious freedom, prisoner rights, water rights, treaty rights, and reburial and repatriation rights. He was a leader in the Indian civil rights campaign to obtain passage of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, which required the return of ancestral remains to tribal descendants. In 1992–1994, Echo-Hawk joined Reuben Snake in leading NARF efforts to secure...

  9. 3 ECOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY FOLLOWING THE PATH OF NATURAL LAW
    (pp. 39-57)

    Winona LaDuke, internationally acclaimed activist, lives on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota and is an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of the Anishinaabeg. LaDuke is founding director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project and the Indigenous Women’s Network and program director for the Honor the Earth Fund. In 1994Timenamed her one of America’s fifty most promising leaders under the age of forty. In the 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns, she served as Ralph Nader’s running mate for the Green Party. In 1988 she received the Reebok Human Rights Award. An accomplished writer, she is the...

  10. 4 THE HOMELANDS OF RELIGION THE CLASH OF WORLDVIEWS OVER PRAYER, PLACE, AND CEREMONY
    (pp. 58-74)

    Charlotte Black Elk is a cultural leader of the Oglala Lakota tribe. She holds numerous degrees, including one in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, and she is also an investment banker and an attorney. Ms. Black Elk is a primary advocate for the protection of the Black Hills and is noted for the Black Owl Ruling, a rule of evidentiary procedure that uses science to verify Lakota oral tradition. She is the great-granddaughter of the Lakota medicine man Nicholas Black Elk, who gained renown through John Neihardt’s classicBlack Elk Speaks, and lives with her family on the Pine Ridge...

  11. 5 NATIVE LANGUAGE, NATIVE SPIRITUALITY FROM CRISIS TO CHALLENGE
    (pp. 75-96)

    Douglas George-Kanentiio, Mohawk-Iroquois, was born and raised as one of seventeen brothers and sisters in the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory and is a member of the Bear Clan. He is vigorously involved in many issues surrounding the survival of the Six Nations, including sovereignty, the environment, social problems, land claims, and the revival of tribal languages. He is co-founder of radio CKON, the only native-licensed broadcasting station in North America, co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association, and a member of the board of trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian. George is co-author, with his wife, Joanne Shenandoah,...

  12. 6 THE TRIUMPH OF THE NATIVE AMERICAN CHURCH CELEBRATING THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION
    (pp. 97-112)

    Frank Dayish Jr., Navajo, is a lifelong member of the Native American Church of North America and has served two terms as its president. Dayish is currently the vice president of the Navajo Nation and serves as co-chairman of the Sovereignty Protection Initiative. He is active on issues of Native American religious freedom and is currently serving as the president of the Native American Church of New Mexico. He now lives with his family in New Mexico, where he breeds, raises, and shows Appaloosa horses.

    In this dialogue Dayish and Huston Smith explore the “triumph of the Native American Church,”...

  13. 7 THE FIGHT FOR NATIVE AMERICAN PRISONERS’ RIGHTS THE RED ROAD TO REHABILITATION
    (pp. 113-129)

    Lenny Foster, a Dine/Navajo from Port Defiance, Arizona, has been involved in the struggle for prisoners’ rights for the last thirty years. He is the director of the Corrections Project of the Navajo Nation Department of Behavioral Health Services and spiritual advisor to approximately two thousand Native American inmates in ninety-six state prisons and federal penitentiaries across the United States. He has authored state legislation in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah permitting American Indian religious practices in correctional facilities, a development that has led to a significant reduction in prison returns. From 1969 to 1981 Foster also participated in...

  14. 8 STEALING OUR SPIRIT THE THREAT OF THE HUMAN GENOME DIVERSITY PROJECT
    (pp. 130-145)

    Tonya Gonnella Frichner, Onondaga, is a lawyer and adjunct professor of Native American law, an activist devoted to the pursuit of human rights for indigenous peoples, and president and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance. In 1987 she served as legal counsel to the Haudenosaunee tribe at the United Nations Sub-Commission on Human Rights/Working Group on Indigenous Populations, in Geneva, Switzerland. She has been an active participant in international forums affecting indigenous peoples, including the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the negotiation processes concerning the draft U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the...

  15. 9 THE FIGHT FOR MOUNT GRAHAM LOOKING FOR THE FINGERPRINTS OF GOD
    (pp. 146-161)

    Anthony Guy Lopez, Lakota Sioux, is program director of the American Indian Endangered Species Program, a Thomas J. Watson Fellow, and a specialist on federal Indian law and policy. He is a sacred lands specialist for the Association on American Indian Affairs and coordinator of the Sacred Lands Protection Program for the association. Mr. Lopez also serves as a national coordinator of the Sacred Places Protection Coalition.

    In this dialogue at the Parliament of World Religions, Mr. Lopez and Professor Smith explored one of the most hotly disputed sacred land issues in the United States. On the peak ofDzil...

  16. 10 REDEEMING THE FUTURE THE TRADITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS OF SPIRITUAL LAW
    (pp. 162-183)

    “For hundreds of years,” Bill Moyers said inA World of Ideas, “the Haudenosaunee people have been talking about democracy, community, and reverence for nature, and Oren Lyons of the Onondaga is helping to continue that conversation . . . by preserving and transmitting the memories and traditions of his people. As director of the Native American Studies Program at the State University of New York of Buffalo, he shares with others the ancient wisdom.”¹

    Oren Lyons is the faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee. In this conversation, which was recorded in the spring of 2000, in Malibu,...

  17. 11 THE HEALING OF INDIAN COUNTRY KINSHIP, CUSTOM, CEREMONY, AND ORATORY
    (pp. 184-200)

    As the legendary San Francisco newspaper columnist Herb Caen once said, “Some remember, some care, some still fight.” In that spirit of creative resistance the second half of the conversation between Huston Smith and Vine Deloria Jr. explores several profound themes at the heart of the Indian struggle for religious freedom.

    For Deloria one of the central issues still facing Indian people in North America is the great divide between indigenous and Western religious thinking. “The first and great difference between primitive religious thought,” he writes, “and the world religions . . . is that primitive peoples maintain a sense...

  18. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 201-204)
    HUSTON SMITH

    As I let the extraordinary days with these wonderful native leaders wash over my mind, my reactions fall into two categories. The first is very personal. As I look across these tables I see the faces of eight new friends. I am going to just recite their first names to drill them into my memory, because I hope to remember them for a long time: Tonya, Frank, Walter, Guy, Winona, Doug, Lenny, and Charlotte. I will always be happy that we had this week together in Cape Town, South Africa.

    Having expressed that personal note, let me turn to the...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 205-210)
  20. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 211-216)
  21. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 217-218)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 219-231)