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Understanding 500 Years of Colonization, With Thanksgiving

In the 1970s and 1980s, when I was younger, with black curly hair and in great physical condition with perfect plumbing, I was invited to speak to various Indigenous high schools as well as to colleges and universities. I learned that students sometimes ask questions that take years to answer.

Through my parents and our extended family, I was given a solid spiritual and cultural education. I was blessed to have parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who were spiritually as well as intellectually gifted — my special Wopida Tanka to my parents, my grandmothers Ella Vale and Lyma Deloria, my Uncle Sam, and Uncle Vine Deloria Jr., whose writings, perspectives, and thinking continue to have a major impact on the revitalization of Indigenous thought, wisdom, and action!

In my younger days, I was visibly on fire with the expectation of the fulfillment of our Indigenous Prophecies, our Ceremonies, our long-promised Global Cultural and Spiritual Awakening, and our Vision of the Prior Unity and Oneness of Our human family. In fact, some relatives thought I was a little insane at times, but I was honored and inspired to share my cultural and spiritual perspective, respectfully, whenever requested. As my father would always say, “My Tipi flap is always open,” even when addressing the Annual Conference of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), where there were over 1,500 participants.

Before I address the life-changing question posed by a young man from Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Montana, following a Rocky Boy High School graduation talk in 1979, it’s important to understand some personal history and background. This question continues to change my understanding of the impact and outcome of the last 500 years of Indigenous Colonization.

Understanding the Past 500 Years of Colonization

To understand the past 500 years of global colonization, beginning with the colonial actions of European Nation States, with the full support and spiritual guidance of the Catholic and Anglican Churches, it is critical to first understand that the colonization process goes further back into history than the last 500 years. In fact, it goes back further than human memory. The Rome Legions, the City States Of Greece, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, the Persian Empire, the Arab Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Mongolian Empire, and others too numerous to mention outside of the Americas — all were colonizers.

As a result of empires and kingdoms rising, colonizing, and falling over the last 4,000 years and even earlier, there are still deep sources of unresolved, intergenerational grief, trauma, internalized oppression, and lateral violence that continues to impact our human family even today. Therefore, to understand and heal the colonization of the past 500 years, it’s crucial to address the impacts of all the various forms of colonization, that we ourselves, as a human family, have inflicted on our own human family, due to what was inflicted on us in the process of colonization.

With the realization and understanding that only colonized people colonize people, only opporessed people oppress people, and only hurt people hurt people, the promised time has come to address and heal all forms of colonization, oppression, and prejudice of any form. To achieve peace on Earth and a new global civilization, this healing and reconciliation process, by definition, needs to be a global process involving every dimension of human society, with a bottom-up/top-down approach. This includes the scientific and spiritual understanding and reality that we are one human family, intimately related to all life, and that the hurt of one is the hurt of all, and the honor of one is the honor of all!

This linked Histomap gives a glimpse of the last 4,000 years of wars and colonization, including the last 500 years. From an Indigenous perspective, every human being living, dying, and being born today is a spiritual and genetic representative of all those beloved ones that have walked the Spiritual Path of Life, the Red Road, before us. Each of us, through purifying our hearts, will awaken to the spiritual reality that each of us… every human being… is a sovereignty — ancient, imperishable, and everlasting. This purification process, personally and collectively, takes great faith, courage, compassion, love, forgiveness, and patience!

Wise elders have told me that there were great civilizations that once flourished on our Mother Earth, but now are covered up and gone without a trace. In addition there were other Sacred Messengers of Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit), including the Peacemaker, The White Buffalo Calf Woman, Sweet Medicine, and Kukulkan, whose names have disappeared, but the changeless, eternal, natural laws and spiritual teachings that underlie all of Creation that they taught are still alive and with us, today and forever!

Compared to other parts of Mother Earth, the 100 million Indigenous Peoples who lived across the Americas prior to 1492 lived together in relative peace and harmony. Kinship trails crisscrossed the Americas, and trading, learning from one another, and forging enduring, culturally and spiritually fulfilling relationships with others was preferred to conflict and the needless shedding of blood.

In fact, most highways and byways across the Americas today were built on former kinship trails — trading routes that bound together the Americas and the Union of the Condor, the Quetzal, and the Eagle. I have traveled these kinship trails many times. From my perspective and experience, while Indigenous Peoples of the Americas may outwardly express and symbolize our cultures and spiritual teachings differently, within the heart of Indigenous Peoples, the natural laws and core spiritual teachings are one and the same.

The Destruction of the Aztec and Inca Empires

We, the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, certainly were not perfect by today’s social justice standards. Unjust slavery and caste systems were practiced by some Indigenous relatives. The Great Toltec spiritual messenger, Quetzalcoatl, warned against using human sacrifice and the consequences of violating that Sacred Law. The Aztecs choose to ignore this Sacred Teaching of Quetzalcoatl, sometimes known as Kukulcan.

As a result, Hernan Cortes, with less than 100 men, and helped and supported by the Tribes and Nations whose most beloved children were being sacrificed in violation of the Sacred Teachings of Quetzalcoatl, was able to sack and destroy the beautiful city, long-known as the Place of the Seven Sacred Lakes. In doing so, they destroyed the Aztec Empire.

The Seven Sacred Lakes have dried up. The city at the heart of the Aztec Empire is now known as Mexico City. In the end, all the Indigenous Tribes and Nations living in what is known as Latin America, including those that helped the Spaniards, were savagely and cruelly colonized! The British, French, Dutch, and Portuguese colonizers all did the same, and even though each European colonizer had their own style, the purpose of colonization was the same.

As well, a prophecy foretold that the great Inca Empire would be destroyed if the Incas became disunified. As was foretold, there was disunity between two Inca half-brothers — Atahualpa, with his capital in Cajamarca close to what today is Quito, Ecuador, and the other, Huasar, with his capital in Cusco, Peru. This disunity of the Inca half-brothers, preceded by devastating European diseases and the great treachery of Francisco Pizarro, led to the destruction of the Inca Empire.

As foretold, the Union of the Condor, the Quetzal, and the Eagle was broken! And with the building of the Panama Canal, the Union was literally, physically severed.

The Papal Bulls of 1452, 1455, and 1493

The Roman Catholic Papal Bulls of 1452, 1455, and 1493 fully supported and justified colonizing Indigenous Peoples, seizing their land and committing physical and cultural genocide. The same treatment was mandated by these Papal Bulls to every member of our human family who was not a “Christian.”

For instance, the Bull of Papal 1452 mandated the right to attack, conquer, and subjugate Saracens and pagans as stated below:

“We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property […] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.”

The Papal Bull of 1455 and 1493 reinforced and expanded the Papal Bull of 1452.

Many relatives do not know that these same Papal Bulls also led to the Jewish community being put into into ghettos — and deepened persecution, separation, and marginalization. In part, these Papal Bulls were directly responsible for various forms of “Holocausts” across the Americas, around Mother Earth, and in Europe itself.

To be crystal clear, I cannot call these actions Christianity — actions which were cruel, unjust, and committed in the name of Lord Jesus Christ. From my perspective, these despicable and genocidal actions were the work of a spiritless “Churchianity!”

Compared to many other relatives of our human family in the Americas, we lived together in relative peace and harmony, prior to the predestined arrival of our already deeply colonized relatives from Europe. In fact, in many cases, we felt a great pity for our poor, hungry, and oppressed relatives from Europe.

The Pilgrims, Thanksgiving, Starve or Surrender, and Genocide

It was our Indigenous compassion for the suffering of other human beings that led to what is today called Thanksgiving Day. After a brief interlude of 54 years of peace with the Pilgrims, the rest of the 500-year colonization process of the Indigenous peoples across the Americas included physical and cultural genocide, and were vicious, cruel, violent, and deliberately carried out to “kill the Indian and save the child.” This phrase refers to the process of completely assimilating Indigenous children so that no trace of the “Indian” was left. This was the purpose of the “Indian” boarding schools in both Canada and the United States.

As part of a “Starve or Surrender Policy” by the U.S. Congress and Presidents, the destruction of our primary food sources was devastating; the buffalo herds that made their annual north-south journey across Turtle Island, consisting of more than 60 million in 1870, were reduced to less than 500 animals. Many other food sources such as the salmon were destroyed or were greatly reduced.

Like the buffalo and the salmon, our Indigenous population was reduced as well, claiming the lives of at least 90 million Indigenous relatives. Many of these relatives who died in the American Holocaust also died as a result of diseases for which they had no immunity, including the disease of alcoholism.

All across the Americas, Indigenous Peoples were simply considered non-human and non-Christian. They were slaughtered, enslaved, and their lands were unlawfully taken, justified by the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny. These legal tools of colonialism were backed up, as previously shared, by the Papal Bulls of 1452, 1455, and 1493.

Intergenerational Trauma, My Beloved Parents, and the Impact of Indian Boarding Schools

My father told me, much later in life, that the reason why, in my younger days, that he always tried to keep me close to him at home, strongly supported me participating in athletics, and did not let me socialize “downtown” in the small city of Walla Walla with my classmates after school, was because he did not want me to lose my wildness!” In fact my father would always tell me, “Son, I was born wild and I am going to die wild! I do not want any part of Pepsodent Toothpaste, Preparation H, Diet Coke, or Wine Cooler Culture!”

What my beloved father did not understand at the time was that, as much as I knew without question that my father and my mother loved me as much as life itself, they were also passing on their intergenerational trauma, oppression, and pain with their unconditional love. I questioned their sometimes hurtful behavior when parenting, which was contrasted by what they and my extended family were teaching me about the great culturally and spiritually rich teachings, traditions, and history of our extended Chickasaw and Dakota Families — and especially the Sacred Teaching that we should never physically strike a child.

Now I realize that the true meaning of why my father kept me close to him was so he could tell me our family stories, over and over, until I learned them by heart. He shared with me who my ancestors were and what he had learned from them, both culturally and spiritually, and the rough roads as well. He especially held up my Uncle Sam Deloria and Vine, Jr. as role models for me, along with my grandfathers, grandmothers, and others who had gone on before me.

My Grandmother Vale did the same regarding the heritage, history, leadership, and community service of our extended Chickasaw Family. Like my father, my mother demonstrated her spiritual virtues and values in action. Before they passed to the Spiritual Worlds beyond, we were in peace and harmony together, and any past hurts had been lovingly resolved between us.

I am very thankful for my beloved parents, and for every moment of my life — even those painful times that seemed so unjust and far beyond my control at the time. Had I been able to see the end in the beginning, I would have understood that every test, difficulty, and challenge that comes to us in life, no matter how painful, is for our spiritual growth and perfection. This is very difficult to accept and surrender to sometimes, but it is nonetheless true.

Leaving Home, the Impact of Internalized Oppression and Addiction

After leaving the love and protection of my beloved parents, I soon found out that the world my father knew and loved when he was a boy was not like the world that I had to deal with after I left high school. In spite of my academic and athletic accomplishments, my intergenerational trauma and shame led to alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy relationships in an effort to kill the pain and stop the suffering. I did not yet understand that my unhealthy and destructive behavior only further deepened the cycle of my pain and suffering.

As the pain and suffering deepened, the more I sought out cultural and spiritual ways out of them. At the same time, my addictions continued to pull me deeper and deeper into further pain and suffering, and I found that the cycle of pain and suffering continues to deepen until we physically die — or we are gifted with the spiritual inspiration, strength, and courage to humbly and completely step out of the pain and suffering into a new springtime, a new worldview, a new perspective, a new viewpoint, and a new life. A life where everything seems bright and sunny, with great visions and dreams of infinite possibility. At the same time, after this “personal spiritual springtime,” I learned that when we say we believe, we will be tested!

The Challenging Question

In May of 1980, with my youthful spirit, my belief in the prophecies, my family history, my physical and spiritual strength, and my positive viewpoints, I was invited to give the graduation speech at the Rocky Boy High School in Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Montana. I had good relationships in the community through the Windy Boy family. I learned so very much from these wonderful Rocky Boy relatives, especially about the Native American Church, the Sweat Lodge, Fasting, and Sun Dance Ceremonies.

The question asked by a Rocky Boy High School student after my graduation speech continues to inspire and illumine my heart and mind until today.

The Relationship Between Indigenous Ceremonies and Giving Thanksgiving for 500 Years of Colonization

First, however, with the background and understanding of what I have shared previously, I would like to share with you the relationship between the Native American Church, Sweat Lodges, Fasting, and Sun Dancing — and the many other similar Indigenous ceremonies that have assisted, supported, and inspired me to personally give Wopida Tanka, Great Thanksgiving, for the past 500 years of colonization and beyond.

I am very thankful for the gift of now being able to better see and understand history from a spiritual point of view. From this view, you understand that outwardly, our challenges, tests, difficulties, and suffering, may seem like fire and vengeance, but inwardly they are purifying water!

I could tell that my very passionate, inspiring, and uplifting graduation speech, from my perspective, pleased the elders, parents, and graduates — except for one young man. He was respectful, but I could sense that he was not harmonizing with what I thought were the uplifting and inspiring messages I was sharing. After the graduation ceremony, this young person approached me at the community graduation dinner.

“Why Did God Punish Us?”

He said, “Phil, I heard all your great words about our old Indian people, the special love and care they gave to those at the twilight and sundown of their lives, the way they cared for and loved Mother Earth and all Life. The way we prayed, fasted, and sacrificed ourselves to learn to know and love our Creator with all our hearts. The greatness of our elders and visionaries, and the great courage of our warriors. Most of all, you repeated how much we honored, respected, and loved the Great Spirit, and at all times tried our best to be good relatives to all of life!”

Then he looked deep into my eyes and strongly said, “Phil, if what you said is true, why did God punish us, so cruelly and brutally, without mercy?” As he shared this question with me, my soul, heart, and mind filled with pain, suffering, regret, and shame, not just regarding my own personal journey, but my heartfelt awareness of the cruel suffering, pain, and injustice of the physical and cultural genocide inflicted on the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.

I understood that the Hurt of One is the Hurt of All. This wonderful young man from Rocky Boy had asked the very same question that had painfully lurked in my soul, heart, and mind for as long as I could consciously remember.

Shakened to my spiritual, emotional, and intellectual core, all I could say to this heartfelt young man was that he had asked a great question, I would pray about it, and hopefully have an answer for him when I returned to Rocky Boy several months later. The spiritual reality was that when I was asked this question, I had no answer!

Fasting for the Answer on Bear Butte

After the graduation ceremony at Rocky Boy, I went to Fast on Bear Butte. I carried two heartfelt questions on my Fast. One was a personal question regarding the spiritual meanings of my Ihanktonwan names, Shunkmanu and Chanupa Sapa. The other question was a question that every human being on Mother Earth who was brutally and cruelly colonized and oppressed, individually and collectively, may ask: “Why were we punished so cruelly, unjustly, and severely when we believed we were living our lives in harmony with the natural laws and spiritual teachings of our elders and spiritual messengers?”

As my lips begin to crack and my tongue enlarged in the hot sun, trying to take in more moisture, I went deeper into my fast. I begin to reflect on the different Indigenous ceremonies that I had had the opportunity to participate and learn from: fasting, Sweat Lodges, sun dancing, smokehouse dancing, and others. I realized that every Indigenous ceremony that I have ever had the honor and privilege to participate in always includes some form of physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental suffering and sacrifice as part of the spiritual learning and transformation process.

This fast on Bear Butte was tough! When it was hot, I prayed it would be cold! At night, when it was cold, I prayed it would be hot! I tried my very best to stand and pray to the Seven Directions, but I found I had a very, very fickle mind! Finally, I surrendered!

When my Fast was finished, I slowly walked down to the Sweat Lodge, at the bottom of Bear Butte. As I walked down to the Sweat Lodge, the answer to the question, “Why did God punish us?” began to unfold. I realized that when I went up to fast on Bear Butte, after a very hot and prayerful Sweat Lodge ceremony, and then prayerfully, without food or water, endured some pain, suffering, and heartfelt reflection, I was a different person after having gone through this ceremonial healing process.

While I sacrificed food, water, and companionship to be alone and offer my prayers of thanksgiving, requests, and love to Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, I was stronger spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and volitionally. I also gained a deeper respect and relationship with food, water, and companionship.

Sun Dancing for the Answer, with Pete Catches at Little Eagle

My fast at Bear Butte was followed by my first Sundance at Little Eagle, South Dakota, on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, just over Chain Buttes from Wakpala, where my father was born. Pete Catches, Oglala Lakota, was the Sun Dance intercessor, with the support of Art Amiotte, his son Pete Jr., Tom Goldtooth, and the guidance of the Little Eagle Sundance Committee and other Oceti Sakowin elders and spiritual leaders.

Pete liked to dance what he called “two blue days and two yellow days” — two nights and days straight of Sundancing. Short breaks were taken when the Sacred Pipe was filled and offered to the Sun Dance singers, to sing for another round of dancing.

I remember one morning break that lasted for an hour or so just before sunrise. The sheet lightning was so strong during the night and early morning that relatives were coming to Pete, frightened that we would be struck by lightning.

I remember so clearly with the sheet lightning all around us that Pete spoke to us during a break at about 4:30am. In essence, he said, ”Boys, I cannot think of a better place to go to the spiritual world than right here Sun Dancing, but I am an old man. Your relatives are very worried about you being struck by lightning, so we will take a break for now.” Before sunrise we were dancing again.

We concluded the Sun Dance with a Sweat Lodge. While it was hot, I received what I longed for the very most, water! When you go without food and water for several days or more you understand Mni Wiconi. The Sweat was followed by traditional foods — and again more of what I missed most of all, water.

That night, after the Sun Dance ceremony was finished, I prayed and reflected on the question of the young man from Rocky Boy: “Why did God punish us?” As I prayed, I remembered the prayers and ceremonies I was honored and privileged to participate in, before and after he asked his question.

The Answer Comes Like a Bolt of Lightning

Then the answer came to me like a bolt of lighting. The Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and beyond have just completed a 500-year-long Sweat Lodge, Fast, and Sun Dance ceremony. Every challenge we faced during the past 500 years was not a punishment, it was a spiritual preparation for our work today, tomorrow, and into the future. To lead through consultation and free, prior, and informed consent. To make the path of healing, restoration, reconciliation, and forgiveness visible by walking it. To unify with other members of our human family and together take unprecedented, unified action to protect and restore the Sacred!

We are leaving the sacred ceremony of the spiritual wintertime of 500 years and stepping fully into our long-promised spiritual springtime, spiritually stronger and more unified than ever before in our history! We have clearly demonstrated through our prophecies, prayers, dedication, and determination that physical surrender does not mean spiritual surrender. We deeply understand from hard-won experience that every member of our human family in some way longs for love, compassion, healing, understanding, justice, and peace.

Most importantly, we spiritually understand that there is no death, just a change of worlds. We fully understand that all members of our human family who have passed to the spiritual worlds beyond are praying for and supporting us in this physical plane of existence, just as we remember and pray for them!

Many prophecies, both from the Americas and beyond, foretell that the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas have a great global destiny. These prophecies all confirm that the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas will become so illumined that they will enlighten the whole world.

In essence, as I have shared, these prophecies foretell that after a long spiritual wintertime of 500 years, the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and beyond, will become so spiritually and intellectually advanced that we will be a unifying and guiding global force. We are destined, along with others, to fully demonstrate that we are all members of one human family, and that the hurt of one is the hurt of all, and the honor of one is the honor of all!

This is the spiritual reality I am continuing to understand and realize from the question of the young man from Rocky Boy almost 40 years ago! What I am continuing to better understand and accept, my very beloved relatives, is that the past 500 years of pain and suffering, the physical and cultural genocide, and the vicious global struggle over material and spiritual values have not been a punishment from our beloved Creator!

The Higher Purpose of Our Challenges as Indigenous Peoples

These challenges have been given to each of us, our Tribes and Nations, with the utmost love and compassion, by our beloved Creator to prepare us to play a primary global role in guiding and participating in the co-creating of a new global civilization.

The spiritual foundation of this global civilization is based on the Indigenous understanding of the fundamental oneness and unity of all life — including all members of our human family. We are all a part of the sacred oneness of life; we are all Indigenous Peoples of Mother Earth.

The full recognition of this fundamental truth, of oneness of our human family, requires the abandonment of all prejudice of every kind — race, class, sexual orientation, color, creed, gender, the degree of material civilization, and anything else that justifies us to consider ourselves superior to or less than others.

This spiritual understanding and consciousness naturally unfolds the realization of the equality of men and women, the balancing of the extremes of wealth and poverty, the unity of science and spirituality, universal education, the independent investigation of truth, and unity in diversity.

With this prayer and understanding, my whole being is filled with Wopida Tanka, Great Thanksgiving, for the past 500 years of colonization and beyond. As a result of all our prayers, challenges, learning, and sacrifices, a new global civilization is arising, where the voices, the wisdom, and the vision of the Indigenous Peoples of Mother Earth are beginning to be justly and respectfully represented in all consultations regarding our collective future as a human family, and how we may all live in harmony and unity with the spiritual principles and natural laws at the foundation of all Creation.

My Highest Prayer for Our Human Family

These are the spiritual qualities we are learning and manifesting through the many challenges we are facing and overcoming! These are the spiritual qualities that will animate, harmonize, and peacefully manifest a new global civilization:

Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of your friends and relatives, and look upon them with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of your pledge.

Be fair in your judgment, and guarded in your speech. Be unjust to no one. Be as a lamp to them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, and a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.

Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all your acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring.

Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of humankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility.
—The Blessed Beauty
(The Spiritual Teacher who revealed this Sacred Teaching, also known as the Ancient of Days)

With Warm and Loving Greetings,

Father, Grandfather, Uncle, Cousin, and Brother Phil


Hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr. is a member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations and is an internationally recognized leader in human and community development.

For more than 50 years, Brother Phil, as he prefers to be called, has worked with Indigenous peoples from North, Central and South America, Micronesia, South East Asia, India, Hawaii, and Africa. He served 16 years as an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada (1980-1996).

With elders from across North America, Phil co-founded the Four Worlds International Institute (FWII) in 1982. FWII became an independent Institute in 1995. Phil is Chairman of the Four Directions International and First Nations Solar, Indigenous-owned companies that serve as Four World’s economic development arm.

With Phil’s guidance and applied experience, FWII has become an internationally recognized leader in human, community and organizational development because of the Institute’s unique focus on the importance of culture and spirituality in all elements of of human and community development. FWII’s current Vision and Focus, may be found in Prophecies, Dynamic Change and a New Global Civilization: 2020-2030-2050.

The Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive The Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.

This article appears in:
2018 Catalyst, Issue 23: Thanksgiving and Indigenous Wisdom

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