Navajo Peacemaker: Walking in Beauty in Iran

Walking In Beauty As A Framework for International Peacemaking In Iran

Navajo Peacemaker Michelle Cook, 23, reflects on her journey to Iran

By Michelle Cook

International politics and decisions impact Navajo people and Indian country in very real ways. If the U.S attacks Iran it will have consequences for the numerous Navajo and other indigenous peoples who are currently serving in the armed forces. Leaders, advocates, and youth of Indian Nations have the responsibility to ask questions to protect indigenous service men and women from fighting wars or engaging in military conflict that can be prevented or is unnecessary.
Few Americans are aware that in 1953 the U.S through the C.I.A orchestrated an overthrow of the popularly elected Iranian government and installed in its place a puppet government. This was primarily a response to the Iranian decolonization efforts to manage and benefit from their oil, which had previously been under direct control by American and British companies. This effort of decolonization would strip the U.S and Britain of their profits. The U.S created a coup that overthrew Prime Minster Mosaddegh, leader of the decolonization efforts; putting in his place the U.S backed Shah Mohammed Reza.
The U.S backed Shah Mohammed Reza and this regime ruled over the Iran with an iron fist violating the dignity and human rights of anyone who questioned. In the 1970’s the Iranian youth and peoples engaged in the Islamic Cultural Revolution lead by Imam Khomeini and threw out the U.S backed regime creating the new theocratic nation of the Islamic Republic. Ever since the revolution Iranian people have been managing their oil. Few are also aware the United States supported Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980’s.
Currently, actors within the United States government claim that Iran is threat to national security and as a result of this perceived threat the U.S government believes it has the right to wage a military attack on Iran. The United States claims that Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction however the United States has yet to provide conclusive evidence to substantiate this claim. Additionally, Iran as well as other “non-nuclear weapons” states through the signing of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have the legal right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, therefore, they would not be acting outside their legal limitations if processing uranium or developing nuclear technology.
If the United States were to attack Iran it will be with no moral or legal authority. In fact an attack on Iran will be illegal under international law and could be seen as an act of aggression. Considering the current Iraq occupation and the volatile situations of occupied Palestine, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Afghanistan a U.S military strike would send an already unstable Middle East further into chaos and farther from any realization of meaningful and effective self-determination, peace, and security. This is not to say Iran is a utopia, Iran like all states has its own set of social, economic, and political dilemmas and these problems will only be effectively solved by the Iranian peoples themselves not by Americans from thousands of miles away. Iranian people and peoples of the Middle East are not “terrorists” when they defend land and resources that rightfully belong to them. Unfortunately American people have been led to believe the stereotypes and often perceive Islam and peoples of Middle Eastern descent as nothing more than “terrorists” and violent people.
As opposed to dialogue the United States has made threats of violence and have created sanctions that have isolated Iran from the international community, elevating anti-American sentiments as opposed to resolving core contentions. Many Iranians and American alike believe that the core contention between the U.S and Iran lie not in issues of “terrorism” but rather Iranian control and management of its oil. The potential war with Iran would only benefit the oil companies who want to monopolize the market and dictate the price of oil. The lives of Navajo people and the welfare of American people are worth far more than green paper or barrels of lifeless Iranian oil for the profit of western trans-national corporations.
I went to Iran, because people have the right to hear both sides. Furthermore, the American people and Navajo people are entitled to know what we are being led into and deserve nothing less than full transparency when situations such as these arise. I went with a peacemaking tradition armed with Navajo prayer and the wisdom of the ancestors.
Iran is an ancient place, its population is 62 million, about half of whom are below the age of twenty. Iran is also home to several distinct tribes, such as the Ashayer, Gonbad, Qashqui, and Bakhtiyari. These tribes are nomadic, moving with the seasons, herding sheep across vast mountain ranges. Iranian tribes like the Navajo tribe are also weavers. It is the tribal peoples of Iran who are the renowned weavers of the many of the Persian Rugs. These tribes face some of the same challenges indigenous peoples in the Americas face, poverty, lack of health services, traditional mobility, and language revitalization to name but a few. In the United States rarely do we hear about these tribes or the beauty and diversity of Iranian peoples and cultures.
I met with Iranian youth who are in the process of defining and redefining themselves in relation to Islamic Republic of Iran. I found a people who are in the process of striking a balance between ancient Islam and modernity. I found strong women who are defining women’s rights in Iran on their on terms and at their own pace.
As I walked through those ancient sacred lands, I didn’t see terrorists. I saw the faces of real people; I saw families, mothers, fathers, and children, not racist stereotypes found in the media. Iran is home to many kinds of cultures and faiths.
I found some of the most kind and hospitable people I have ever encountered. I found the people who practiced Islam to be a kind and prayerful people, much like Navajo people. In Islam guests and strangers are treated as messengers of God and are given great respect, I was this given this degree of respect and was invited into their homes, where we ate and prayed for peace together. Saying both Navajo and Islamic prayers.
I wanted Iranian people to understand the diversity of America, the idea of sovereign Native Nations, of distinct peoples, as nations within a nation. I wanted them to understand some of the realities, strengths, and challenges of indigenous peoples in the United States, most importantly not to see Navajo as a vanishing people, but as active protagonists in a long and epic battle for complete harmony and self-determination. I wanted them to know the Navajo people not only as the people who walk in beauty but also as a fierce warrior people who have fought and are still fighting for the liberation, restoration, and healing of our peoples, the earth, her resources, our culture, and our language.
When I shared my story with Iranian people, I felt a real sense of solidarity, almost a familial connection. I found people who were compassionate about the struggles of indigenous peoples of North American. Although we are different, we have one thing in common. Iranian peoples like indigenous peoples want to determine their future, practice their culture, and religions without interference from outsiders, foreign rulers, and influences. I talked with veterans of the Iran and Iraq war of the 1980’s who defended their land and are advocates for peace because they never want to experience war or it’s destruction in their lands again in fact the Iranian people are still healing from the trauma caused by this war.
The Navajo people have much to teach the American people and the world in terms of non-violence and conflict resolution such as the Navajo Nation Peace Makers Court and Navajo Peacemakers. The aim of Navajo peace making is to resolve conflict and restore harmony to individuals in conflict non-violently based on Navajo custom and belief. Navajo peacemaking framework is built upon the Navajo philosophy of hozho, and uses a process that stresses dialogue and what Robert Yazzie explains as “talking things out”. The United States can learn much from Navajo in this regard, for the U.S has consistently failed to facilitate dialogue or talk things out with the Iranian people or the government. This failure not only threatens the safety of the American people but also the lives of Iranian peoples and young indigenous and Navajo soldiers. If the U.S government is unable or unwilling to facilitate this dialogue civil society and Indian Nations must advocate for and create these conversations.
As Navajo people we are taught to take care of the earth, and in return she will take care of us, this is an ancient practice of ecological sustainability. If we violate the rules of nature, as well as the teachings of the Holy People they can discipline us, therefore we are taught to do whatever we can to maintain hozho. This is what the elders have said. The holy people, also taught us how to live, and not to consume too much of any resource, this teaching extends to oil consumption. Wars should not be fought for oil. Oil is like the blood of the mother earth. Navajo people and American people need to look to ancient wisdom and reevaluate the consequences of the over consumption of earth resources; both bio-fuels like palm oil and ethanol as well as fossil fuels like oil and coal. One needs only to observe the changes in the weather, the hurricanes, and floods, imbalances in the atmosphere, to see the consequences of drifting away from our ecologically sustainable practices. Some call it climate change perhaps Navajo see it as discipline by the Holy People for living out of balance with the earth and not respecting her.
We are the Diyin Nohookáá Dine'é the Holy Earth Surface People. Navajo people are vested with the sacred responsibility of maintaining hozho. We were taught by the Holy People to value and respect all life as sacred. This includes the earth and human life. This also includes the lives of Middle Eastern peoples and the Iranian people, however different our cultures may be. I believe hozho or walking in beauty can be applied to create harmony on local and global scales. To create and advocate for a world and society where peace and harmony abounds personally, locally, nationally, and internationally. Walking in beauty or walking on the path of pollen, it is a hard path to walk, but it is a way the ancestors gave to personally and collectively find peace. Walking in hozho or peace is walking like a warrior, but not all warriors carry arms, some carry songs, some cedar, and some carry prayers for peace.


Anonymous said…
What a beautiful story you shared. I hope you can spread the word on the people of Iran, who would be most impacted by war. Innocent, beautiful, culturally rich, loving, people. Like all people anywhere.

Thank you,
kathy said…
As someone who works on cultural and educational programs to help foster appreciation and knowledge of the diversity and beauty of Middle Eastern cultures and peoples (and who also has several close family members who are descendant of Native Nations), thank you, thank you for undertaking this journey and sharing your experiences with us.
Anonymous said…
Beautiful. Thank you.

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