The Attack on a Native American Blessing

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 13, 2011 — 126 Comments

Yesterday, a memorial service was held in Tucson, Arizona for those killed and injured in the horrific shooting this past Saturday. While President Obama’s speech was almost universally praised for its heartfelt honoring of those involved, and “elevating the political debate,” other aspects of the evening were not received as warmly. Most notably, there’s been a wave of criticism regarding the opening invocation by Dr. Carlos Gonzales, a Pascua Yaqui Indian and associate professor at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine.

Some critiques of Gonzales’ traditional blessing were mostly puzzled and relatively mild, like Fox News anchor Brit Hume, who described the invocation as “peculiar,” and setting a strange tone for the rest of the memorial.

Certainly the mood in that auditorium suggested that the sense of mournfulness that you might have expected and sobriety you might have expected was not to be found tonight. And of course, I think, the whole thing is attributable in part to the remarkable opening blessing that was delivered by, what was his name, Carlos Gonzales, who by the time it was over with, he had blessed the reptiles of the sea, and he had prayed to the four doors of the building, and while I’m sure that all has an honorable tradition with his people, with it was most peculiar.

However, pundits like Michelle Malkin and Power Line’s Paul Meringoff were far more harsh. Using adjectives like “babbles,” “rambling,” and “ugly.”

Native American gives rambling speech while holding a feather. His remarks are frequently interrupted by whoops and cheers. He gives a shout-out to his son serving in Afghanistan. Brags about his ethnic Mexican background. Babbles about two-legged and four-legged creatures and the feminine energy that comes from Mother Earth. Mercy.”Michelle Malkin

As for the “ugly,” I’m afraid I must cite the opening “prayer” by Native American Carlos Gonzales. It was apparently was some sort of Yaqui Indian tribal thing, with lots of references to “the creator” but no mention of God. […] In any event, the invocation could have used more God, less Mexico, and less Carlos Gonzales.”Paul Meringoff

Mark Tapscott at the Washtington Examiner went even further than Malkin and Meringoff, calling the invocation a “stark statement of pantheistic paganism,” that was “a blatant violation of separation of church and state” that sent “a message of exclusion to the many.” Sadly, this mean-spirited and ignorant commentary didn’t stop with a few big names.

“In fact, a whole weird vibe was set at the very beginning of the memorial with pseudo-Native American medicine man Carlos Gonzales. He began the off kilter scene with his pseudo-blessing of rocks and trees, northern doors, and — well, whatever he was blessing, anyway. His self-referential promotion was also quite off-putting.”

Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today wonders if you were “annoyed” or in “agreement” with the blessing given by Gonzales, while pointing out the rationale for his inclusion in the program.

“Gonzales was a fitting choice for several reasons, says Patty Talahongva, who is Hopi and past president of the Native American Journalists Association. The tribal reservation is in the district of gravely injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. And he’s a symbol of Arizona’s diversity — part of the university president Robert Shelton’s ongoing campaign to bring all streams of thought, culture and tradition into the campuses. (Hence the title “Together we thrive” on the funeral programs).”

Talahongva expands on this in an essay for Youth Radio.

“So tonight it comes down to words from an aboriginal man, from a race of people who have consistently helped this nation in times of strife. Arizona is home to the Navajo and Hopi Code Talkers who are credited with creating codes in their traditional languages which were never broken by the enemy during World War II. They helped save countless American lives. Quite often the words and voice of the American Indian/Alaska Native is lost in America, their indigenous homeland, but tonight the country will hear from a man who clearly represents America and her rich diversity… Words matter. Words can sometimes save lives. And when words are spoken in prayer, in a positive way, they can surely do more good than harm.”

What’s troubling about this wave of criticism towards Dr. Carlos Gonzales is that it shows how little tolerance there is in some corners for any expression of religion that isn’t Christian or some flavor of ceremonial deism. Even during a memorial that many felt was uniting and uplifting, the wave of scare quotes, snide remarks, and insults against indigenous religions couldn’t be held back. This is the same impulse that led to the disruption of Rajan Zed’s Senante invocation, the ignorance and arrogance that only comes from almost total religious and cultural power and privilege. These hectoring voices darkly reinforce the attitudes that continually place Arizona’s recreation over the sacred land of its indigenous peoples. They are a sour note in what was, on the whole, a moment where our country, in all its diversity, came together.

ADDENDUM: Power Line’s Paul Meringoff has issued an apology:

“In a post last night, I criticized the use of a Yaqui prayer as the invocation to the memorial service in Tucson. In doing so, I failed to give the prayer the respect it deserves. Although I did not intend this as a slight to the religion or to the Yaqui tribe, it can clearly be interpreted as one. For this, I sincerely apologize to my readers, to the Yaqui tribe, to all tribal leaders and Indian people, and, specifically, to Carlos Gonzales who delivered the prayer. I regret my poor choice of words, and I have removed the post.”

It seems that being disrespectful can be bad for business.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • I think it's unfortunate that the vast overwhelming majority of mainstream news outlets who commented neutrally or negatively on this blessing aren't aware that – with respect to extemporaneous public speaking – Native tribes traditionally avoid prepared statements or rehearsed words out of the belief that true, sincere words are spontaneous and not memorized from a list. What a shame that a meeting designed to heal and build unity couldn't accept unity with Native expressions of sincerity.

    • Ursyl

      "Pseudo medicine man"???
      Was that person not listening? The man IS Native American, and made a point of saying that he is NOT a Medicine Person, but has been given permission to speak such blessings.

      Honestly, way to make a total twit of oneself in public commentary.

      • Robin Artisson

        I thought the howling and cheering of the crowd was a bit off-putting. As for the blessing, it was fairly standard, if a bit modern feeling. Nothing offensive about it, of course. As for Christians being upset that he invoked the "Creator" and not "God", that's just to be expected. They don't play well with other people's supreme beings. No matter how I felt about this man's blessing, and no matter what complaints I might privately have with it (it's over-focus on a nebulous native "creator" is too close in spirit to non-native Monotheism, to me- I've long raved, with others, about Native Americans trying too hard not to offend white sensibilities by over-focusing on their "Creators") I'd still rather hear this guy pray all day long, than to have to hear a Baptist or a Muslim pray for just a minute.

        • Ursyl

          AMEN to that! 😉

        • Rombald

          Do you actually know anything about the Pascua Yaqui religion? For all I (and, I suspect, you) know, it could be monotheist.

          • Robin Artisson

            I happen to be quite knowledgeable on the subject of First Nations religious systems in North America. I've yet to come across one that was monotheistic. Granted, my depth of knowledge extends mostly to the Siouxan, Algonquin and Inuit families of cultures, but the scholars whose insights on these religious systems I treasure are unanimous about one thing- they weren't monotheists.

            The notion that is so prominent, that Native Americans "all believed in one creator" and all that other garbage is christian missionary glam and propaganda. It's another "accommodation" of historical facts to suit a certain powerful culture.

            The closest thing you'll get to a real insider view of Lakota culture, for instance, is without a doubt James R. Walker- he wrote on their beliefs at a time before the beliefs were crushed and scattered, and was (to this day) the only white man that they recognized as a Wicasa Wakan, a holy man. He converted to their cultural belief patterns (loosely, as they are many) and he wrote some amazing records of his interviews with their various elders and power-workers. This was back at the turn of the last century.

            He, and others since him (and some of them Native people, thank the Gods) first broke apart the nonsensical notion that the Lakota- or any of their neighbors- were monotheists. As a scholar, and despite his acceptance and transformations, still an outsider in ways, he does have his limitations, but his books are the best if you want to get deep and get there quick. For the Inuit, please see the true seminal work studying their cultures across Canada, from ocean to ocean- "Powers Which We Do Not Know" by Daniel Merkur. You never saw a more polytheistic collection of cultures outside of Ancient Rome.

            Yeah, I've read about the Yaqui, because they got a lot of unfortunate press thanks to the evil huckster Carlos Castaneda. As Catholic as the Yaqui may be now, their native religion certainly wasn't "Creator monotheism" as far as anyone can tell.

          • I know a little. I wouldn't exactly call it monotheist.

        • Crystal7431

          Lol! Me too.

    • Quite right, James. And excellent coverage as always, Jason.

  • Ursyl

    They have a problem with his use of the phrasing "Creator"?? What, is the Abrahamic deity not seen as Creator in their Christianity?

    Mindboggling. Who knew?

    • DaBroad

      Quite a few will tell you no, they worship the "real" one and all others are "man made".

      And they get funny if you don't refer to "the creator" by his formal English name, "God", with a capital "G". It confuses them.

      Seriously – I've had a conversation in this vein with more than one person…

      • But even "God" is not a "name", it is a title or a rank.. The God has a Name, that is why Jews refer to the Hashem. Doesn't anyone read a Bible anymore…

        • small minds, small hearts, small connections if connected to anything at all.

        • Crystal7431

          I've had similar conversations. And no, many don't understand that god is a job description not a proper name. It's sort of rude, I think.

        • grimmorrigan

          They are too busy being told what is in it.

    • Bookhousegal

      Ah, if only they read the Declaration of Independence that way, instead of the opposite. 🙂

  • kenneth

    Why didn't they come right out and say what was on their minds and in their souls and just call the guy a "dirty injun"?

    • Actually, if you read some of the comments, they zoomed in on his Mexican heritage much more than Native American, thinking the blessing was just weird or inappropriate (due to none of the victims being NA). "Indians" are much more of an accepted group of people than those whose last names end in Zs 🙁

      • Sssh! Let's not confuse people by pointing out that most Mexicans are of Native American decent!

        • Now what would be the fun in that? I rather enjoy hearing heads exploding. It sounds just like when I'm popping the bubble wrap! 😀

          • Robin Artisson

            Stupid exploding heads are one of the three terrors of the Firenet. There's a popping sound that precedes each one. No problem!

          • I'm not following you. I'm guessing that's a video game, sci-fi or anime reference, none of which I really get into. (I know, I'm lame.)

          • Ursyl

            I think that that was a Princess Bride reference. The fireballs being one of the three terrors of the Fire Swamp. Fortunately, there's a popping sound just before they go…

          • I'm more upset at Brit Hume's hamfisted way of putting it – "he had prayed to the four doors of his building." Really, Hume? Did you not even bother to send an intern to look up what that might mean? I expected the Right in the media to slam it, but more mainstream news is losing an opportunity to report on this speech and what it meant; not advocate for it, just explain it, which is what they get paid to do, after all.

          • Shiloh

            A.C you are correct.

            People lose sight of the purpose of these types of things choosing instead to see some perceive slight and rant and rave about how offended THEY were, how upset THEY are. It's not about THEM or US. It's about those lost and who lost, those hurt and perhaps in a larger sense the local, state and national communities.
            Our sense of loss and reflection on these events as a community who should (in theory anyways) be united in our horror at events such as these and in our sadness for those lost and harmed, in our empathy for all hurting because of the events. That’s as far as our individual involvement should go.

            I found these words lovely and regardless of your faith or beliefs, no matter how eloquently or crudely spoken, if the sentiment is meant to inspire, heal and bring peace and hope then no one should feel they have the right to complain.

          • That's a movie I never was able to get into. I know, I know, how unPagany humorist of me, but every time it comes on cable, I click over to something else after about ten minutes. Then again, I've also never seen any of the Star Wars movies all the way through, so what do I know about good cinema? 😛

          • DaBroad

            Try the book. Much better. Author William Goldman.

          • Kristy

            actually I believe it was by Morganstern. Goldman did the bridged version.

          • Bara

            There is no unabridged version, the "tediously long" unabridged version is a joke on Goldmans part.

        • TLY

          Excuse me Mexicans are not a decent of Native Americans.

          • In a sense that a person from Mexico probably isn't, say, Lakota, Hopi, or Navajo, you're right, but many of the people of Mexico are descended from the Olmecs, Maya, and/or Mixtec First Nations people– either as Mestizos (mixed with European ancestry) or Indios (indigenous Native Americans).

            It's like saying I'm of European descent– it doesn't mean that I'm automatically, say, of Italian ancestry. My ancestors did come from Europe, just not that particular area.

          • I was unable to view Gonzales' blessing until today.

            I was not expecting to be nearly as moved by it as I was. The words all had "life"–they were clearly spoken from the heart, and in a spirit of reconciliation and generosity. I agree with those who found the frequent cheers and shouts jarring, though I suspect that reflected the natural human instinct to be active participants, in some fashion, in communal ritual.

            For all that, I was quite moved by the whole–and found myself unexpectedly affected by the camera shot of the Obamas, heads bowed, taking in what was the closest thing to a ritual of my people I've ever seen a President of the United States present for. I would have thought I'd set any hopes or expectations for that aside–but seeing it on camera, a President of the United States behaving as though one of the earth religions was real enough to matter… it touched wounds in me I'm not sure I quite understood I had.

            I am sorry for the pundits who do not recognize the prayer of a sincere heart, in whatever religious language. It makes me sad for the probable poverty of their own spiritual lives.

            Thanks for posting the clip, Jason. It meant a lot to me–and, I'd suspect, to a lot of other non-Christians, in Arizona specifically as well as throughout the world.

          • Um… where exactly do you suppose the Native Americans who were living in Mexico went after the Conquistators invaded? They didn't all simply drop obligingly dead, after all. And while I am certain that there are Mexicans of more or less full Spanish ancestry, I'm equally confident that they are a minority of the population. Face it, not that many people immigrated from Spain–and fewer women than men. Therefore, logically–?

            (This is one of the reasons why I think it is so insane when Anglos get bent out of shape about "immigration" of Mexicans into the United States. Excuse me, but whose ancestors do we think got here first?)

          • Rombald

            The confusion might be over the "American" bit. In English, that refers either to (1) the USA or (2) the whole of the Americas. Most Mexicans are at least partly Native American in sense 2, but probably not all that many are in sense 1.

            It's odd that Sense-1 America includes Hawaii, which isn't even in Sense-2 America. Mind you, you get this sort of problem with almost all national or geographic terms – exactly what are the limits of Britain, Russia, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, etc.??

  • In reading Tapscott's "article" I find it interesting that criticizes president Shelton's choice to include a Native American blessing on a university campus as infringing on the "separation of church and state" while simultaneously lauding the numerous politicians who chose to read passages from the Bible. I would appreciate it if people would make their choice clear. Demand a separation of church and state and keep your religious beliefs out of my laws, out of my political environment and off my governmental land or at least be honest and tell me outright that this is a "Christian nation."

    Is it really so much to ask for a coherent argument that I can try and refute these days?

    • Bookhousegal

      Hrm, I'll just take more 'stark statements of pantheistic paganism, ' please. 🙂

      Sweet Mother of Punk, but they just keep sending me T-shirt material. 🙂

    • DaBroad

      They'd be GLAD to tell you this is a "Christian Nation". There's some that base everything they say, believe and do on those two words, no matter how inaccurate they are.

  • Why is a Native American Blessing “a blatant violation of separation of church and state” that sent “a message of exclusion to the many.” …but it is ok for the Former AZ Gov to recite lines from the Old Testament? Why is no one picking on the other people who quoted spiritual text or said religious stuff? Oh yeah, because apparently, only Christian stuff is allowed….how rude.

    • sarenth

      What about Obama? He was quoting Scripture throughout his speech. Gods above, so long as the words give comfort and hope, why is there a problem?

      • G Redford

        "Some offended by memorial service tweets. Meant no disrespect. Was frustrated by programming that seemed to distract from purpose."

        Wait so a Native American blessing at a memorial service in an place where such things are apparently common is distracting but using Twitter during the event is not?

    • ES1966

      Because despite all their outrage, most Pagans don't have the cojones to stand up and heckle, mock and ridicule Christians when they're ranting scripture at a public event.

      • Bookhousegal

        That's not 'cojones.' Some other parts as termed in the vernacular, perhaps.

      • I see no value in mocking another's religion. And it seems to me that a ceremony that honors people's loss of loved ones to death is not the time and place to criticize anyone's religious expression. It only causes more hurt to those who are hurting already. Further, given that we are spiritual and emotional creatures, it seems entirely appropriate to include religious references in this particular instance, even in what could be considered a secular venue. Those of us who work in the area of interfaith relations appreciate the diversity and the tolerance for others who do not see the world the same way that we do.

        • The above post was from Macha NightMare (aka Aline).

      • Be that as it may, ES, but that would hardly help… would only make things worse… Fighting fire with fire is good in some ways… Not this way… It only makes the fire grow… Best for us to lead by example…

      • BuddhaBelly

        It's rather difficult to stand up to a mob…There are many more of them, then there are of us…and they DO get violent. I've had it happen to myself when I've done such near a group of christians in the past…3 months in the hospital recovering is not fun…oh and they usually get away with things like that…

  • Rev.S. G. Williams

    Oh my Goddess and God IGNORANCE runs so rapid in America!! This Blessing wa beautiful. If it made me cry and cheer at the end, then it did its job ! I felt an awesome energy!!

  • Just to be clear that it wasn't only Fox, Kathleen Parker at CNN had this to say: "Father Sky and Mother Earth, seriously?" (source:!/kathleenparker/status/2535….

    • Blarg — meant to continue…

      This sort of sentiment seemed to be fairly quickly exposed via Twitter (etc.) as many figures tweeted live during the event. Some recanted or apologized, but not all. For example, Ms. Parker eventually tweeted:

      "Some offended by memorial service tweets. Meant no disrespect. Was frustrated by programming that seemed to distract from purpose." (source:!/kathleenparker/status/2539

      I'm not sure how question someone's call to a deity or deities is not somehow disrespectful, but I guess she tried.

      • Sta?a

        Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

        Before I started flinging the words around that immediately came to mind, I went and looked some of them up. And yes, these reactions are ethnocentric, ignorant (of First Nations' culture, of the Constitution), and racist.

        Wow. Just… wow.

        I found Dr. Gonzales' words deeply moving. Then again… I would.

        Jason, you mention "the ignorance and arrogance that only comes from almost total religious and cultural power and privilege." You nail it squarely: well-said.

      • I tried to follow your original links, but they were broken. Not to worry– they're available in their disrespectful glory at

        Just for the sake of posterity, the tweets were:

        Our two-legged brothers? What the . . . ?
        about 23 hours ago via web

        Father Sky and Mother Earth, seriously?
        about 23 hours ago via web


        • Odd… they worked and still work for me. Must be a browser thing. Thanks for the clarifications, though!

          • My reaction to the Fox News commentary I saw does me no credit, I'm afraid, but perhaps Wild Hunt readers will give me ten points for sincerity. It was, "What kind of person talks about another person's faith in that ugly, demeaning way? Why should I ever pay any attention to someone like you? This is trash talk by trash."

            And maybe I am coming down to their level in saying such a thing. Like I care.

  • William Hood

    “a blatant violation of separation of church and state”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Does this guy say the same thing about the National Prayer Breakfast or any other Christian dominated government function? Hypocrite.

    • Zaratha

      Conservatives only believe in separating church and state when the church in question is non-Christian.

    • Rombald

      At government functions, there are two ways to maintain separation of church and state. One approach is to ban all religion, but that is difficult at something like a funeral.

      The other approach is to cater for the religions of all parties involved, but no others. I would tend to support this, and I would say that, although personally I would prefer a Pasua Yaqui invocation to a Christian one, it was inappropriate in this case, and only the religious beliefs of the dead people, and perhaps also Gifford, should have been catered for.

      Otherwise, where do you stop? Should you try to have representatives from every religion on earth at all government functions?

  • Grimmorrigan

    She is in America.

  • TeNosce

    I'll give the organizers of this rally an 'A' for effort, but…

    By no means an authority on this matter, I routinely sweat with a local tribe at their addiction center. I understand the meme that this guy represents, and that stereotypical "Native American" fashion of prayer delivery. Conversely, I've suffered under the likes of angry minority professors who treated their cultural awareness classes as a sort of dungeon for white guys.

    Something about this guy made me doubt the depth of his spiritual authority. With the president in attendance, was no REAL medicine man available?

    • lysana

      He is a professor at the university. Far quicker to tap someone already there than to go off-campus. And he is authorized by his elders to do that, so I don't think it's the place of outsiders to judge.

      • TeNosce

        Please let me clarify. There are different kinds of authority. I meant the kind that one can feel. I just wasn't feeling it in this guy. That's all I meant.

        Sorry if I offended.

        • Bookhousegal

          He's not a medicine man, he's med school faculty. (And he said so.) He had permission from the tribe to perform that blessing, (And not incidentally represent his tribe) ….and he made his debut at it in front of the whole nation as well as an auditorium full of thousands, among whom was the President of the United States.

          Frankly, I think it came off darn well.

          I don't know what expectations you're trying to compare this to, honestly. I

    • Zaratha

      By no means an authority on this matter

      …but you'll go right ahead and give your uneducated opinion anyway.

      Hint: sweating with some Indian guys sometimes does not make you an authority on Indian cultural and spiritual authenticity. Maybe you should have paid closer attention during those cultural awareness classes instead of playing Persecuted White Guy.

      • TeNosce

        I'm not allowed to have an opinion after 25 years of my own experience with God and teachers of varied traditions? Okay, I'll stop cause you said so.

        Hint: You, Zaratha, and people like you are the problem. Indigenous people can be mired in ego like anyone else.

        • bard08

          I support Dr. Gonzalez and the peole that chose this invocation rather than calling on an executed man. It is astounding how shakey the faith of Christians and the likes are that they cannot stomach a blessing from a different faith. Are they afraid to be converted that quickly? If only it was so easy…
          And it sounded like nonsense when he asked for blessings from the four directions? It was ridiculous to some when he called on Father Sky and Mother Earth? Right, because Noah putting every animal on a boat is believable.
          I would even go as far as to say that Dr. Gonzalez' blessing was too Christianized.

          • I don't think we get to judge Gonzales' blessing, or his religion, bard08. Isn't that kind of the point?

          • The comments made by mainstream media is just another example of how acceptable it is to commit racism against First Nations People. It is done every day., and people do not even notice or care. The word redskin is a racial slur but it is the name of a professional football team. Why not mock our spiritual beliefs, as these commentators did? Things that have Spiritual meaning to us are turned into mascots or mocked without shame. Those of you who mock our belief in Earth Mother apparently live on some other planet. Surely Mother Earth does not make it possible for them to exist!

          • My high school football team was called the Apaches, something that bothered me vaguely even in 1968. I was surprised and pleased to learn that circa 1977, the name was changed, and the stupid parodies of "Indian dances" that were a feature of pep rallies went by the wayside. We need much more sweeping change of that kind.

          • Tea

            More ignorance on display.

        • simplicio

          This comment owns because you're not even willing to admit the smallest, tiniest hint of fault.

          Hint: You're an annoying douche.

    • It was not a RALLY. It was a memorial service for the dead. Sheesh.

      • caraschulz

        I wish someone had told the college students that.

      • Good call. The "it's a rally" meme has popped up in Eliminationist media. It was even described as "a show" on FoxNews! Sheesh x2.

    • TeNosce

      Never again will I share a personal opinion about a guy holding a feather.

  • Many people don't understand how integrated Arizona is with our Indian communities. They provide ceremonial services for all kinds of reasons including memorials for our political representatives and notable citizens.

    In 1998, Robert "Tree" Cody (Oou Kas Mah Qwet), a famous member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community performed a flute song and then gave a traditional blessing for former Senator Barry Goldwater at the beginning of his public memorial service. In 2003, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Phoenix Catholic Diocese was given a traditional blessing of sage smoke by a member of the Fort McDowell Yavapai community during his installation Mass.

    Dr. Gonzales was asked by the Tucson community to perform the opening rite because he represented healing and unity. He did a fine job in setting the tone for the rest of the evening. Whatever the media wants to say, they'll say – I'm done listening to them.

    • I wonder how much more the Christian Supremacists on the Right-Wing are gonna have to pull crap like this before Conservative Pagans finally say, "Enough!' Between this and Michael Savage's "Ban Wicca" comments, it's pretty obvious to anyone with a brain which side has the moral high-ground in regards to religious tolerance…

      • A lot of us have been thinking the same thing. This reminds me a bit of an old SNL routine that featured a spot about the "Women Against Women" org. The silence from certain quarters on these issues is rather sad.

    • Pagan Puff Pieces

      I hope someone in Arizona is saying "No, this is normal in Arizona. We do this all the time."

      • sassysr

        This is so derogatory in more ways that I can even say. As if we haven't done enough damage to the Native American culture. It amazes me that people can be so arrogant and down right mean when someone tries to offer blessings that may be different from their own. Instead of finding unity we judge, criticize and ridicule. Apparent, they aren't paying attention to what is going on in the world and what drove such a violent act to happen in the first place.
        I think that Mark Twain's quote says it best. "We despise all reverences and all the objects of reverence which are outside the pale of our own list of sacred things. And yet, with strange inconsistency, we are shocked when other people despise and defile the things which are holy to us.
        – Following the Equator

        • Pauline

          Thank you for defending the Natives of this great country. When I meet my savior, I surely don't want to have judgement in my heart against anyone. God gave this country to the Natives and why is that so hard to accept, because of the truth and surely not because anyone is left out. We all are benefitting from this great country. If this country would accept the truth, I truly beleive that God himself would look down and overflow us with his great blessing. This on word truth is going to keep alot of Christians from out of heaven, because in order to accept truth you have to give up pride.

        • Pauline

          Thanks sassysr, your real name is?

  • I watched the memorial from start to finish last night, and I was deeply moved. (Jason actually got an email from me right at that moment, because he was the very first person I could share my joy with! hee-hee!)

    I like memorial services that celebrate life rather than drown in sorrow and despair, because it reminds us of our purpose for being here in the first place. Several years ago, when one of our local community's Elders had passed, her service was full of fun chatter, Huzzahs! and much noshing and feasting. That had a much more lasting impact than when I was little and attended my great uncle's wake, where everyone huddled around in hushed voices, commenting on who came and who brought the biggest bouquets.

    People have made many criticisms, such as Mrs Obama not dressing appropriately ("What, is she going to the beach?"), the President reading someone else's words from a teleprompter (whether or not it was even true), the music chosen wasn't depress- I mean solemn enough, the service itself as some kind of Democratic pep rally, and of course those who talked shit about the blessing. So many people commented how they flipped the channel during the blessing, because it wasn't Christian or "at least" Jewish. 🙁 Yeah, like Jews need to be thrown a patronizing bone once in a while. :((

    I mentioned this to our son last night after I started seeing all the nasty comments appear (like on Glenn Beck's "The Blaze" site), and his comment was pretty on time:

    'Hello. It's Tucson. They have NAs there. Lots of 'em. And doesn't that guy work at that school or something?"

    Thank you Ryan for your no nonsense, straight-forward rationale. I'd like to say he gets it from me, but in reality, I get it from him. 😉

  • blah

    this is not only attack on native american religion (and indeed, on all non christian religions. do you think reaction would have been different if there was hindu blessing?, it is just plain racism.

    • Zaratha

      Thank you. All of these right wing talking heads are doing is engaging in the same kind of racism they always do whenever brown people show our faces in public to memorialize the dead. The fact that it was an Indian delivering a "pagan" blessing just gave them extra room to be assholes, they trash black Christians regularly for not behaving "appropriately" at public funerals/worship services (remember the old saying that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week).

      This form of racism dictates that there is only one proper response to memorializing the dead, one that is not coincidentally a WASP response regardless of the actual religion of the person expressing this culturally tone deaf view (ergo: our SonOfArt showing his ass as usual upthread). In the US, public mourners are expected to have a stiff upper lip, with stoic sadness being the only emotion permitted, perhaps a few Manly Tears being shed. Don't make a fuss, by any means. Any reaction which differs from this WASP standard and it's "trashy", "inappropriate", and dare I say…"too ethnic". Again we're seeing anything that even slightly deviates from the prevailing majoritarian sensibility being trashed by ignorant bastards that are fearful of anything outside their own narrow, homogeneous cultural reference.

      I grew up in a community that doesn't even call our funerals "funerals" most of the time, we call them homegoings, and the atmosphere and expected behavior is very different. While the celebrants are sad that the deceased is no longer with us, the prevailing feeling is one of joy and celebration that the person has "gone home" to God. Joyful music is played, there is laughter and applause as well as tears, people tell funny stories along with the eulogies. And while I'm Pagan and feel alienated by the Godtalk, because my personal cosmology is very different, that style of remembrance still resonates with me, perhaps because I see traces of our ancestral Pagan ways. I saw absolutely nothing inappropriate about the Tuscon memorial service (except maybe an uncomfortable emphasis on Jesus-anity given the Giffords' faith) and I seriously question those who do.

      But this is nothing new. We saw the same kind of racism at work during the memorial service for the Wellstones, when white conservatives clutched their collective pearls because they dared to play soul music. There was similar sentiment about Rosa Parks' memorial service. It smacks of cultural imperialism, and it's frankly disgusting. Hell, I've been to some Irish wakes that would scandalize some of these pearl clutchers, yet they were no less reverent.

      • Matt

        I think that if a white person got up and did a Wiccan blessing, for example, the media would have been just as critical. I do not think it boils down to racism as much as ethnocentrism. There is a difference–one is based on the belief in the superiority of one race over another; the other is one's cultural (including religious) standards being superior to another.

        Racists? No, I don't think so.

        Ethnocentrists? Yes.

        This is a very important distinction: say the word "racism" and you will get blown off by many conservatives. To many conservatives the label "racism" is becoming meaningless because it is being used incorrectly by so many people.

        I thought the blessing was nice. I am glad they included it. I wasn't particularly crazy about the speaker's delivery…but, whatever.

      • bard08

        If Dr. Gonzalez gave a Christian sermon he would have been fine. The fact that he gave a pagan blessing is where the scoffs are coming from. In the criticisms from the ignorant people that started this discussion, are commenting on his use of "Father Sky and Mother Earth" and so on. So I would not say racism, but religious intolerance. Personally, I think one song is sung too often and the later not enough.

        • blah

          bard08, Matt, cultural imperialism is heavily tied to racism based on physical features, and stems from same ugly prejudices. if you look at various instances where one culture tried to obliterate other and assimilate local population you'll see both physical racism and cultural imperialism. it's pretty hard to say which one comes first and how they feed each other, they seem like two snakes that coil around and meld into each other. if you ever listened to racists, you'd see them pointing at "degenerate" art, religion and language to prove that groups they hate are inferior to them. then they turn around and say that it's no surprise that their culture is inferior, considering the people who create it are inferior.
          and so the magickal racist circle continues to spin.

      • Huzzah, Zaratha!

    • blah stated, "do you think reaction would have been different if there was hindu blessing?,"

      Oh, they've ALREADY done that…

  • Shana

    What does 'separation of church and state' have to do with a memorial service anyway.

  • Daniel

    A blatant violation of Church and State? Oh, please. What about prayers said before Congressional meeting (most of which are Christian-oriented)? What about having to put your hand on the Bible in court to take an oath. Many community gatherings are, for the most part, Christian in their focus before meetings commence. They should really look at their imbecilic ramblings before they start spouting them.


  • So calling upon the Creator (a very fluid term that could be interpreted in many ways) is a violation of the laws of Church and State and exclusionary; but, invoking God (or Jesus) isn't? That just proves that evangelical Christians are incapable of the most infantile logic.

  • Lynnae

    I thought it was beautiful! Thanks for the beautiful blessing Dr. Carlos Gonzales! May peace, comfort and blessings be with the family and friends of those lost. Blessed be.

  • Alex Pendragon

    Huh? This esteemed gentleman made perfect sense to me; as Wiccans, we call upon the Guardians of the Four Quarters during the casting of our circles, and we would have felt in very familiar territory with his blessing. These bigoted idiots had their minds made up to redicule anyone who wasn't Southern Baptist from the git-go, so I am not surprised by their "reporting" at all. Disrespect is a hallmark of these overblown baboons. It had nothing whatsoever to do with "coherance".

    • Riverbend

      I felt the same way–I loved the concept of the directions as "doors" (did that one idiot commentator really think Dr.Gonzales was literally speaking of the doors to the auditorium? Wow. Sometimes I forget how amazingly ignorant monotheists can be of ANY other religious framework), and was mentally comparing it to the imagery my Druid tradition (OBOD) uses, while thoroughly enjoying that rare feeling of comfort and familiarity and of pride that beliefs similar to mine were being honored, taken seriously, and used to honor others.

      Unfortunately I knew as soon as Dr. Gonzales was introduced that the wingnuts would be having a field day with it…sigh.

    • Connie Gilbert

      My family was very moved by the blessing, we are also Wiccan. It was so similar our quarter calls, even started in the East and went Deosil (clockwise). The blessing of above, below and center were also familiar. I knew there would be complaints by egocentric minds but I praise the University of Arizona for the choice. I wonder how old and how widespread this tradition is, much older than Christianity at least.

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    I have been to funerals of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Native folks, Pagans and Shintos. I don't agree with all the customs. I don't agree with all of the ministers' words. I don't agree with some of the ceremony. But ya know what, it's not about me; it's about honoring the deceased, comforting the family and loved ones, and doing an appropriate ritual commensurate with THEIR beliefs. To make comments about one's disagreement with minister, ceremony or customs at a funeral is just incredibly rude, insensitive, and an unacceptable lack of manners. To those who criticized this ceremony: DIdn't ya Momma give you any fetchin' up? Shut up and be respectful, already. It's not about YOU, it's about the bereaved.

    • caraschulz

      That raises a question – if it was a memorial service for those who died…which one(s) were Pascua Yaqui Indian?

      • simplicio

        A better question would be: who cares? Unless you're some kinda stupid cultural essentialist.

        Oh wait.

        • Pauline

          My question is this? Does anyone have anything to say about anyone else that spoke besides the Native American?
          This leads me to believe that the Native people are still not accepted in their own country given to them by God our creator of the Universe, Heave and Earth?

      • Bookhousegal

        Memorial services are in large measure for the living, and especially in that case for the community and the nation. As long as they're not *claiming* the victims for any particular religion, there should be nothing to worry about there. (More worry of that from all the *monotheistic* references, which tend to do exactly that, though I didn't particularly notice any.)

        Blessings, particularly of a gathering itself, shouldn't have to cross that line, or be assumed to.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    So, if Bible quotes don't count as violating separation of Church and State and a Native American blessing does, does that mean that they themselves are admitting that Christianity has sold itself out into meaninglessness and is just a cultural artifact and not really religion?

    • Crystal7431

      Sounds like it to me.

  • Pauline

    A beautiful blessing, indeed, to my native brother. The truth is we the First Nation, is first and the church is built on truth, is it not?? So, accept the truth for what it is and the truth will set you free. Creator is in the Bible representing God, so stop downgrading our native people, if you would of listen carefully you would of understood the meaning of this blessing. If you call yourself Christian and I do also, you would understand the Spiritual meaning of the four doors and heaven and mother earth. Does this earth not feed you and clothe you? I could go on and on. Just remember to bless and not curse. My Church family please spend more time with the Holy Spirit and get some wisdom about this country and our Native people. Stay in Unity and be blessed. Pauline

    • Bookhousegal

      Well, I'm not sure you caught on, but we're actually mostly Pagans here, (And *we* certainly 'get it,' we come from similar traditions about the four directions and Earth and Sky and all that, some *very* similar: that invocation would fit right in with a lot of our ceremonies, actually.) From our point of view, it's certainly not 'downgrading' Native Americans to say they 'aren't Biblical' or 'about the Church.'

      (Frankly, from our point of view, that 'Church' is built on.. * Not* getting it. As you can see from a lot of the behavior about that. They do the same thing to us, and they did it to our ancestors. Guess they weren't expectin' the ol' regeneration bit at all. Pretty sure our ancestors told em about that, but you know how some types can be. 🙂 )

      You know, don't let *anyone* tell you there's something spiritually-inferior about "stark statements of pantheistic polytheism" (Yeah, they're comparing your people to *us* …as an insult.) or whatever they call *anything* about you or your people that they consider 'Not Christian enough.' Believing that's a big part of what made *our* ancestors nuts, led us to doing bad things. Don't let em pull *that* one on you, cause whatever you do,
      it's *never* 'Christian enough,' for these types on the attack, here. . Not even among each other. Don't let em push you around, whatever you believe, or it never ends.

      Everyone gets on the uncomfortable side of history once in a while: and the truth as I can tell it is, It ain't as permanent as some tell you to believe it is. 🙂 You've got no reason to make apologies or accusations *here.* 🙂

  • Stef

    Thanks, Jason, for letting us know about the Yaqui blessing backlash. I am Native (Cherokee), and am sickened and saddened by the remarks you mentioned. I am consoled, however, by the fact that the Creator gets to comment too.

  • nice message just somthing new , its different to see Native speaking i just hope and pray they heard the message ,but i guess if they r complaining then they didnt get it. the world needed to hear these words of wisdom and feel grateful that they were said , God knows that it needed to be said.

  • sarenth

    I watched the whole thing through various videos on Youtube; a beautiful, heartfelt blessing asking for understanding, peace, and healing in a deep, evocative way. I was happy to hear Dr. Gonzalez's words. Ves Heil to him.

    • frannie m.

      for all the people of the non-native status this is out right rascim, why can't you learn about us as native american people, we have rights to pray in our language as well you in your language, our way of asking blessings for the ones who lost their loved ones is just as good for the "CREATOR" to hear our prayers as your god is to hear yours
      what is the matter with you?as Dr Carlos said lets all live in harmony
      you should try it once you might just like it so threr

  • Well reported. Thanks, Jason.

  • Lori F – MN

    What do you think if the Dali Lama had been invited to give the invocation? Same sort of thing. After all, it's not one of the Abrahamic Tradition.
    I listened to part of the invocation and personally didn't understand about him giving his credentials. But the audience understood and appreciated it. Who are these ignorant, self-centered, Christian-centric critics to not be patient and polite? It wasn't for people from NJ or CA or OH. It was in Arizona. The only persons qualified to give opinions are those who are natives of AZ.
    As for Carlos refering to 'the creator' and blessing the four corners/winds/doors – too many persons take things too literally and don't understand symbolisim unless it's familiar.

    • I can certainly appreciate that Carlos Gonzales was speaking from the heart. For this his words are a true blessing.

      The worst thing that I could say about it is it's a little boring. But then I find most group ceremonial to be boring, especially Christian ceremonials.

      It's just plain funny that there are so many out there who think their brand of boring is the one, true, acceptable kind.

      • Thunderbelly

        Malkin needs psychotherapy and medications. Someone needs to help her understand there is no hope of her actually becoming a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant male.

    • I disagree. I think it was for all Americans.

  • lynn


  • I watched every second on that service. I liked the opening blessing a lot. It wasn't perfectly in line with my religious beliefs, but close enough, and very refreshing in such a setting. I think it was especially appropriate because of the geographic locale.

    Then I got annoyed at Eric Holder's reading, and then at Janet Napolitano's. Then I realized that this ceremony needed to speak to all Americans, and that that Bible reading stuff probably spoke to many citizens. The opening prayer spoke to Corby and me. The other stuff spoke to other demographics. We still all share this country.

  • tuschkahouma

    this country is now having to deal with emboldened imbeciles who speal loudly and offensively without
    any concept of consequences. I am of Choctaw and Biloxi decent and speak the Choctaw language.
    Our language was used in World War One as a code language in France. I can recite the Lord's Prayer
    in Choctaw. The unknowing in this country have to realize that there were over 600 dialects of indigenous
    languages here before spanish or english. Thousands of people speak Choctaw in MS. LA, AL, and OK.
    We're not going away…get used to it nahollos.

  • Roboz

    *shakes head* white people…

  • I have problems with a religious prayer opening the sessions of congress.
    I find that peculiar.
    I think the substitution of parts of our secular constitution read every day would be more appropriate.

  • Perhaps if corporate America had more respect and tolerance for all of creation (i..e. reptiles, animals, earth,) we would not have the problems with the environment and with people's intolerance and violence in America and around the world. When we treat all of creation as our relative we treat them as we would our own mothers, fathers, grandparents, sister and brothers. The world could use a large dose of Native American spirituality and cultural beliefs.

  • James Chesky

    That the invocation by Dr. Carlos Gonzales was criticized was not a surprise when you consider the sources. That they did not UNDERSTAND the spiritual strength of his invocation was not a surprise either, again when you consider the sources of these criticisms. These critics give Christians, white people and American citizens, a bad name. That these are the same people who praised Bush for his illegal and egregious behavior and now find fault with the invocation by Dr. Carlos Gonzales is no surprise because they live in such a narrow, hateful world. I pity these critics and pity more the fools who follow them.

    • Wes Isley

      From my own viewing, this blessing was warm, appropriate and clearly understood. If anyone thought it rambled or was "ugly," that only reflects their own ignorance and prejudice.

  • Pauline

    I would like to thank each and everyone of you that defend and respect our Native people and cultural, as being a spiritual people. God our creator will bless you for blessing the first ancestors of this great country. Bless all of you.

  • Remember when the news used to be about the facts an donly the facts?

  • I’m reminded of the South Park episode where the new-age woman sells apache hair tampons.

    There’s an air of bread-and circus with this event that doesn’t quite fit.

    I would never disrespect Indigenous beliefs. I’m a huge fan, but why would a person who is not a shaman be asked to perform this ritual, in public, involving the President?


  • Ohstowe hajuks

    By way of introduction, I am a retired school teacher, and I am Metis just as professor Gonzales is Mestizo. My father was an immigrant from Europe and my mother was a Canadian, of mostly Hodenosionne and Anishnabe blood, but also about a quarter French and Scottish. I taught history and civics for over forty years.

    It was obvious to me in watching the video that professor Gonzales was very much conscious of just where he was, and who was standing in front of him. I suspect that he was asked to do this just a day or two before the memorial. I also suspect that someone among the event organizers said, "Lets find a Medicine Man to do the invocation," but no one knew where to find one, or they could get one to participate, and so someone local said, "What about professor Gonzales? He can do it." And so they asked him. And of course professor gonzales was very cognizant that he is not a Medicine Man, as he said in his intro. But we Native people try to teach all of our young people to stand up with courage and dignity when they are asked, and speak gently whatever the truth is that comes to them, and I am sure that professor Gonzales wrestled for a while before agreeing to do his best for the memorial.

    So there he was, one more Indian in a long list of Indians that includes the likes of Himatoi yolatkit (Chief Joseph) and many other great chiefs of the past, charged with trying to stand in front of the President of the United States and say something meaningful. And I am sure he asked himself, what is meaningful here? And part of the answer that came to him was that he is a Hispanic/Native American from Arizona in a time when outright fear and hatred of the one third of the people in Arizona who are Hispanic is being openly expressed as part of the political dialogue in his state, and here he is, speaking before the President of the united States with most of the nation listening.

    So he decided to make a soft-spoken, but courageous point of explaining just what he is, and what he isn't, standing there in front of the President and the governor, and all of those people. Such a consciousness of place, and such a balance of personal pride and humbleness, and such a soft-spoken explanation, are very typical of the best traditions of many Native Americans when we are asked to step forward and speak. Gonzales is not a Chief, or a Medicine Man or Woman. he is not trained in the great and noble public speaking skills of a traditional Native leader. But he did follow the best tradition of what Native Americans everywhere here in North America try to teach our children early on, to stand bravely, and with humility, when called upon to speak, no mater how shy you actually are.

    As for his invocation of the Creator's blessings, what he did was follow a very traditional pattern of Native American prayer that my people call the Ganayasta, but which has thousands of other names as well, in which you begin by addressing the Creator/God with your own personal, traditional tribal honorific title, but then, out of respect to all of the other people present who are from other tribes and Nations, and would not understand your tribal names, you continue in your address by using the generic title "Creator."

    Then you give thanks, or ask for blessings, for yourself and all who are present, and especially for those who are the subject of the gathering. then you also ask blessings for the ancestors, and the two legged, the four legged, the winged, and the finned, and those who crawl in the earth, (my people sometimes say "All our relations," meaning all living things) and also for the earth and the sun. My people usually add the stars, the waters, the four winds, the fire, etc., but the short list always contains those that Professor Gonzales mentioned. Anyway, his prayer was very traditional, and he presented it in a good spirit from a good heart, to the best of his abilities.

    Sadly, all the "Bad hearts" among the Christian fundamentalists, and the conservatives, and those who try to manipulate them, exploded in the kind of vitriol that amply demonstrated the highly cultivated cultural ignorance, insensitivity, and disrespect for others that has been allowed to flourish in some parts of this country for way too long even as we, as a country, become more diverse than ever before in our history. How sad this is for our America that we can no longer recognize when a man simply and sincerely tries to give it his best.