Forgiveness workshop

I am reminded of the time I was asked to lead a workshop on forgiveness at a peace conference sponsored by the Little River Band of Odawa First Nation here in Michigan. At the time I was doing some work with the Fetzer Institute’s international Love and Forgiveness project. The workshop was packed with First Nations people and a handful of white Americans like me. I got started with my standard approach in these workshops but before I could get through the introductions, a Seneca woman from Wisconsin stood up, introduced herself in her tribal language and then told me “We don’t care about your ideas on forgiveness. We have our own ceremonies for dealing with that.” An Odawa man countered with his own experience of how forgiveness was helpful in his experience as a recovering alcoholic and I just sat down and let it go! This went on for a couple hours. Feelings were so strong that after we took a break they smudged the room to help settle the emotions. It was a tough place for me to be but in the end I received two of the greatest compliments I was ever given in my work as a mediator. One was from a venerable retired tribal judge who looked at me and said, “You’re a good facilitator.” The other came from another tribal member who told me, “We came all the way from Washington State to participate in the conference but were getting frustrated. This was the best workshop here because you let us talk.” Afterward, the Seneca woman gave us small net bags containing dried kernels of white corn and told us these were descendants of the corn given to the troops of General Washington at Valley Forge during the hard winter of 1777-78. I still have mine. Forgiveness indeed.

Barry Burnside, an old friend from my days in 1988 living in Christian community at Koinonia Partners outside Americus, Georgia.