Respecting Other Beliefs – Thoughts on Native Spirituality & Even Mormonism

*Note: This is a longer article and I’ll be making corrections over the next few days. I just wanted to get these thoughts out quick!

I get very angry at people who think they know everything and are so blinded that they have NO RESPECT for something sacred which is not a part of their own belief system but belongs to another person’s spirituality. It’s a real problem that I’ve noticed between non-Indian people and their curiosity with Native American beliefs and practices. It really irks me because a lot of the warnings and truths associated with Indigenous beliefs systems are designed to protect and benefit those people who adhere to them. Often Native people will give advice and insight to visitors and non-Indians to their community which sometimes gets blatantly disrespected, ignored, or rejected. This rash ignorance and disregard of the rules has often led to fatalities, or dangerous consequences to those who don’t listen. How do I know this? – Because I’ve had my own life experiences with these things. In one specific area that comes to mind when writing this post that serves as a great example is the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the Grand Canyon, in Arizona.

I know this sounds kind of confusing, as I’m a Mormon (LDS) and I have different beliefs than those practiced by traditional Native communities around the Southwest which I have visited with and networked with over the years. In returning to communities like Havasupai every year, it is rugged and potentially dangerous to outsiders and tourists who often don’t adhere to even the basic warnings, and safety guidelines set-forth (in-writing) by the Havasupai tribe. I’ve seen these warnings and guidelines ignored, sometimes at the peril of those who break the rules, etc; For example, someone drowning at the bottom of a 200 foot waterfall called, Mooney Falls! The basic rules state  that there is a deep undertow which can grab people and drag them under, but I’ve also been told that there is a powerful spirit in the waterfall that one should respect by leaving it alone! This is both an example of the literal scientific view and one that is more of a cultural or religious view that came from an Indigenous friend of mine long before the Havasupai put up a sign warning tourists of the strong undertow of Mooney.

While there’s a lot that I’m alluding to here, and I’m hesitant to mention anything more about Indigenous belief systems is because I’m not in a market for exploitation and despise cultural theft. There’s so much to be understood though and it takes years for visitors to Native communities to learn what most basic “true respect” entails and what it means, and why it is important to follow simple rules and regulations out of this respect. It all starts at square-one of obeying regulations in-place for visitors and tourists to these communities. How would you like to be mowing your lawn one morning, while trying to relax and enjoy your morning when a bunch of dumb-ass tourists show up to take pictures of you with no regard for your privacy!? Make sense?

Where do these rules apply when visiting the Southwest? EVERYWHERE! Every indigenous community that I have spent time in, whether it be the Pueblo, Navajo, Havasupai; they all have regulations in-place to protect what is sacred to them, and to protect those who are visiting these areas. How do I know this?

When I first started talking networking with people from other cultures I had the temptation to question other peoples’ beliefs but I’ve learned over the years that I don’t need to know EVERYTHING and I have seen enough in the natural world to learn that I don’t need to question why something is sacred or powerful; I’ve simply learned to respect someone else’ beliefs even if I don’t fully understand why things are the way they are. I’ve learned that things are powerful in nature and our world is full of unknown forces at work every day. I’ve also learned about things that I will not mention in this post or this blog, simply because I know it would be inappropriate and disrespectful. I have also learned, many times, that knowledge – once gained entails a lot of responsibility because once something is LEARNED there is no going back!

What prompted this post? Well, this is a personal journal – And I just wanted to share a few thoughts and insight on why people shouldn’t always have to question what they don’t understand. My grandfather, Paul Lamoreaux, always had his logical ways of doing things and I was always tempted to question his authority and in his patience and wisdom he would always tell me; “Well Nate! There’s a method behind my madness!” This made sense to me more and more and I learned to trust my grandfather and tolerated the fact that he would know certain things that I did not. Alas, he was much more wise than I…

So the moral to this whole entry is this – Respect what is sacred even if it is not your belief system. It has never been difficult for me to naturally have this respect for other beliefs, traditions, religions and life ways simply because most Mormons understand the concept of respecting what is sacred. Mormons don’t allow photography or documentation of what happens inside LDS Temples, Etc. Those who enter the temple, who are worthy, take a covenant not to discuss what happens inside the temple. These teachings that I learned growing up in the church were a prerequisite of knowledge that I needed to understand ‘a basic respect’ that should be afforded to all beliefs systems including those that belong with other cultures.

Honey-lit Afternoon

Dreams of a honey lit aspen afternoon
Smiles full of laughter
Trying to keep a straight face
Lost in the reality of it…
In the simplicity of your dignity and grace

Coming off the mountain
And meandering off the desert mesa
With you nearly by my side
On a sunny summer afternoon
Singing folks songs…

And I look back on it all
And it all comes back to me
In the moment

By Nathan Cowlishaw

Real Beauty

Real beauty surpasses the physical realm
and is eternal.
There is a reason we change worlds
while this life is short.
Our evolution is infinite
even though we all must face death one day.

by Nathan Cowlishaw