Power of a Name


On Saturday I had the honor of attending a naming ceremony for two elders in the Upper Skagit Tribe. The family had not had a naming ceremony for many decades. In this type of ceremony, the eldest woman in the family chooses names from that family’s history and ancestors and gives the name to one of their family members. They carry that name in a way that honors their ancestors and their community and then can be passed on to others in future generations.

It was a beautiful ceremony. It was also prohibited by federal policy for nearly a century.

Indigenous rituals were illegal in the United States until 1978. The First Amendment to the US Constitution promises freedom of religion or no religion. Yet in the late 1800’s a “Code of Indian Offenses” was created that made policies that severely restricted and banned indigenous ceremonies, practices, and teachings. You can find out more here.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act that included Indigenous peoples in the promise of the First Amendment.

Additionally, many of the these traditions were interrupted by boarding schools and the pressure to assimilate.

But that nearly 100 years has taken a toll. How does a community recover a tradition that was banned? What trauma did those policies create? How did the silence of “freedom of religion loving” people impact communities that were not allowed the same rights?

I had many thoughts and feelings at the naming. Not the least of which was joy at seeing this particular community reclaim the power of a name, not only for the individuals named, but the ancestors and the whole community.

Our Indigenous neighbors deserved the support of people of all religious traditions to be able to practice their rituals and ceremonies. They often did not receive that support. They now deserve everyone’s support as they recover. May we take this opportunity to offer our support through relationship, participation, appreciation, and partnership for the common good.

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

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