Learning about Cherokee values, social teaching while on retreat in the mountains
CHEROKEE — The similarities between Catholicism and traditional Cherokee beliefs inspire us to contemplate the ways God has manifest Himself to humanity throughout time. Recently I attended a seminar called "Walking Our Spiritual Paths – An Introduction to the Spirituality of the Cherokee People" on the Qualla Boundary in Swain County.
For five days we learned about Cherokee culture and spirituality, past and present. We enjoyed traditional foods, visited historic places and used our new knowledge to reflect on our own life experiences and beliefs.
The number seven is sacred in the Cherokee tradition, just as it is to Judeo-Christian tradition. Cherokees hold seven core values, and these mirror Catholic social teaching:
Pictured:During a five-day retreat and seminar called "Walking Our Spiritual Paths – An Introduction to the Spirituality of the Cherokee People" on the Qualla Boundary in Swain County, participants visited the ancient mound at Kituwah, Mother Town of the Cherokee. (Photo provided by Erin Carpenter)
Life and Dignity of the Human Person: Catholic teaching says we should make an effort to avoid war. Russell Townsend, a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer with advanced degrees in archeology, marvels at the fact that the Cherokee chose not to fight Removal in 1838, when they were armed with the same weapons the white settlers had. He credits divine intervention for guiding the leaders of his tribe to avoid a conflict that would probably have resulted in more deaths.
Call to Family, Community, and Participation: The democratic principles our country was founded on may be derived from the Greeks and Romans in theory, but Russell Townsend likes to point out that England was still, at the end of the day, a monarchy. It was not until colonists came in contact with the frontier and saw the egalitarian societies of the American Indians that democracy as we know it became a reality.
Rights and Responsibilities: This teaching involves human rights and our responsibilities to one another. Patty Grant spoke of the "Historical Grief and Trauma" of the Cherokee people and how it perpetuates family dysfunction. She offers her mental health services through an agency called "Analenisgi" which means "they are beginning" in Cherokee and refers to the journey toward healing and wellness.
Outreach to the Poor and Vulnerable: Cherokee people look out for one another. The North American Indian Women's Association, who prepared a traditional Cherokee dinner for us, often do fundraising dinners for individuals in the community who have fallen under hard times.
The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers: This seminar was organized by the Catholic Committee on Appalachia, which works actively to promote workers' rights in the coal industry. The group also fights mountaintop removal.
Solidarity: This teaching tells us to be peacemakers, for we are all one human family. Cherokee Elder Freeman Owle brought us to the sacred mound at Kituwah, once a "peace village." Anyone who came to Kituwah from the surrounding area would be safe from prosecution, and after a year of working in the village, that person would be pardoned for his or her crime.
Care for God's Creation: We found hope for the future when Dr. Carmelata Monteith toured us through the Cherokee Central Schools pre-K-12 campus, which achieved the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification. Students will be planting vegetables in garden boxes at the schools to bring them closer to God's creation and to provide healthy food at school.
Erin Carpenter is a parishioner at St. Joseph Church in Bryson City who lives in Cherokee.
— Erin Carpenter, Special to the Catholic News Herald
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy