Resentment of past injustices, particularly when it has endured for generations, is extremely challenging to transform. But with willingness and courage, some individuals and groups have been able to move toward healing.
The Maidu Indians of California are one such group which I read about in The Press Democrat newspaper last week. This tribe and 6 others were rounded up in August 1863 and forced to march from the Sacramento Valley to Round Valley in Mendocino. Of the 460 Indians who began the march, only 277 survived this Trail of Tears.
One of those who did complete the march when he was only 8 years old, was the grandfather of Fred “Coyote” Downey, now 73. Mr. Downey along with other tribal members started an annual march in 1996 to commemorate the genocide .
Mr. Downey said that deep resentment about what happened has been passed down from generation to generation. His goal was to help heal the wounds those events have left in the descendants of survivors, boost native pride and appreciation of traditional culture, and help tribal members positively move forward in life.
Another of the 50 participants said, “I would call it a healing process. I walk for my ancestors. I walk for my relatives who started walking with us in this walk and are no longer, and for our people in general.”
Many say prayers of healing as they walk for those who died and those who suffered after.
While none of them can or should forget what happened or the terrible crimes committed against their people, Mr. Downey and other participants recognize the harm to themselves if they cannot let go of the past and continue to be consumed with bitterness.
As author Annie Lamott said, “Resentment is like eating rat poison and expecting the rat to die.” Our resentment and bitterness over what someone else did to us doesn’t harm them at all, but it can have a devastating effect on our lives.
It takes time, willingness, and support, from a spiritual practice, a conflict coach, or other source, but we can all follow the example of these Round Valley Indians who are letting go of resentment, focusing on thoughts or prayers for healing, and walking towards a more loving, positive future.