A group of veterans kneel before the elders asking for their forgiveness (Photo credit: Josh Morgan)
Context & Experience:
In December 2016, a highly emotional forgiveness ceremony united veterans and natives at Standing Rock Casino, in the context of the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline movement.
More than 500 people participated in the ceremony, including veterans from all branches of military service.
Wesley Clark, Jr. led a group of veterans who knelt before the elders asking for their forgiveness for the long brutal history between the United States and Native Americans:
Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.”
Lakota spiritual leader and medicine man Chief Leonard Crow Dog formally offered forgiveness and urged for world peace: “We do not own the land, the land owns us.” This was a historically symbolic gesture forgiving centuries of oppression against Natives and honoring the partnership with the veterans in defending the land from the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Several rituals were used during the healing ceremony, including a blessing of sage.
Click here for more information
Forgiveness remains a fairly understudied topic within psychology, and neuroscientific studies dedicated to forgiveness are also relatively few. However they already highlight very important dimensions in the mechanisms of revenge and forgiveness as intertwined aspects of cognitive systems designed to navigate the difficult terrain of complex social interactions. Understanding the brain systems that underlie the fundamental choice to forgive or not — and to seek forgiveness or not — particularly in the case of the most harmful behaviors and transgressions of the human laws, is crucial to better know how to repair relationships in a way that is respectful and sustainable. The methods of neuroscience have evolved enough for us to more concretely research the tragedies of our world, and the courageous journey of those who choose to forgive.
Another dimension in this case is the power of ceremony and rituals that not only mark the imagination but help transform traumas and representations at a very deep level. Chief Leonard Crow Dog evoked transcendent values not only through the formal offering of forgiveness, but also in his call for world peace. Under the right conditions, such values can lead to choices that go beyond human division. Identifying these conditions and conducting further research into the mechanisms involved will greatly enhance peacebuilding processes.
3.2. Rituals provide a sense of safety that can allow for the suspension of the fight/flight response and can ease the stigma around traumatic experiences
4.2. Rituals serve as an important mechanism to convey intentions and create a space for the possibility of mutual understanding
5.1. Benevolence, compassion, and forgiveness are powerful values that can motivate a person to choose peace
5.2. Some conditions are needed for the values to actually translate into choices that go beyond usual human divisions, including in the most stressful circumstances
6.2. Some form of deliberate practice, devotion, or ritual is necessary to reaffirm these powerful and emotionally-charged memories and maintain the connection between outward behavior and core spiritual values
7.2. Transcendence is also associated with a sense of hope that supports individual and collective well-being
Similar experiences and practices in this database:
Escuelas de Perdón y Reconciliación / Schools of Forgiveness and Reconciliation, Es.Pe.Re (Fundación para la Reconciliación)
The Fundación para la Reconciliación has been working to create a training that supports individuals – both perpetrators and victims – and their communities in “forgiveness.” Rituals are a very important part of the process, to create and maintain a safe space, and support empathy and compassion.
At the end of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war, purification and reintegration ceremonies organized at the local level (at times in connection with Christian or Muslim traditions) have played a crucial role in supporting community peacebuilding, showing the power of indigenous spiritual processes.