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Family enjoys reservation trips

By: Lynda Hudzick, Contributor

Although not trained in the field of architecture, Pam and Bob Censier of Elizabethtown still admit that they've spent the last 20 years building bridges, and couldn't be happier with the results.

      Members of the Baha'i faith, Pam said, "Bob was elected to go to the national convention of the Baha'i faith in Chicago a few years ago, and we were able to speak with a friend, Jacqueline Left Hand Bull, who is a Lakota Indian. There were some reservation projects going on at the time, and we asked if they needed any help. She told us of a beautiful reservation in the northwest corner of Wyoming that could use us so we decided to go."

      The Censiers, and three young people who traveled with them during that first visit, ended up staying on the reservation for six weeks. Their intentions were not to proselytize the Baha'i faith, but just to help wherever they were needed, thereby living the Baha'i message of unity.

      "At first we didn't know many people and didn't really know what to do when we got there," Pam said. "But soon, we started to meet people, and found ways to get involved, and before we knew it, it was time to turn around and come home, but we so enjoyed every minute of it. After all this time, we've found our niches. Bob does a lot of hay cutting, physical and mechanical work, and I have learned many of their native crafts and spent time with the children. This year will be our twentieth visit, and we've made some life-long friends that we stay in touch with year round."

      The reservation where the Censiers visit is the home to two tribes, the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho Indians. Bob said that there are some tensions between the two tribes, but he is pleased that they've been able to help build some bridges between the two.

      "The message of the Baha'i faith is one of unity, and one thing that's been such a bounty for us is to help bring these groups together," Bob said. "For example, we've taken some Shoshones to the Arapaho Sundance, something they wouldn't do on their own, but with us as neutral friend, they will go. We've been fortunate to have at least fifty people from home here visit us out there, and they've had a chance to learn a bit about the culture. There have also been people from the reservation come to us. In fact, we have a Shoshone couple living in town now, and we feel blessed that part of the reason they came was because we were here to help and support them."

      When speaking of Indian culture, Bob said that we're really talking about 520 cultures, all very different from each other in many ways, and yet he said that he and Pam have discovered there are common threads among the groups.

      "The tribes are fiercely patriotic," Bob said. "The first thing that comes into the Dance Circle at a Pow Wow is the American flag, right next to the tribal flag."

      "Because it was their country first," Pam said.

      Patience and the ability to be at peace with silence is another common factor among the tribes.

      "The Indians will spend time in silence, watching before accepting, and they are comfortable with that," Bob said. "We've just learned so much from them, and we don't intend in any way to be spokespeople for their cultures, but by spending so much time with them, in a small way we've become a part of those cultures."

      Bob and Pam have experienced that acceptance in part because of their willingness to learn and work with the Indians themselves.

      "The Indian people don't come in contact with a lot of white people except those that bossed them around," Pam said. "I think they really appreciate the fact that Bob will jump in there and work with them. You just go and you just do. I remember the second year we were out there, I asked them to make me a pair of moccasins, and they said I could make them myself, then they just taught me how."

      The problems that the Censiers have found on the reservation are not unique to those people. Bob said that the same problems could be found in any culture.

      "Of course the stereotype comes up again and again, people asking us do we see alcohol as a problem out there," Bob said. "I don't recall seeing maybe a handful of people publicly intoxicated. More importantly, I want to stress the fact that they will be the first to point out that although they've had problems with alcohol, our culture has an even worse problem, and that is materialism. If you're sitting in one of their homes, and remark on a drum they have displayed, for example, they will tell you all about it and then when you are ready to leave, they will get up and just give it to you. That just doesn't happen here."

      Tribal life, Pam said, is completely different from the culture we live in.

      "Families are so big, and they share everything," she said. "There may be one checkbook for a whole extended family, and if someone needs something, they just say where's the checkbook and get what they need. This feeling of community goes back to when a buffalo was killed, and everyone shared the food."

      Bob said, "We think of that way of life as being ancient history, but it's really not that long ago."

      Both Bob and Pam said that the satisfaction they've gotten from spending time on the reservation, learning about and absorbing some of the Indian culture, has helped them learn to take things as they come, and to spend more time on what's really important.

      "So much of it is just heart," Pam said. "Just the spirituality of being there, and of experiencing the silence and the comfort that can give. It's almost a universal acceptance that wherever you are, if your heart is pure and your intentions are pure, and you don't have an agenda, you're forgiven if you make a social blunder. They know how important it is to take care of each other, because of the tribal way they've had to depend on each other. You can't exist by yourself. Here, in our culture, no one wants anyone to help them. But in the tribe, the kids know they can turn to anyone if they need something and somebody will be there to give that child what is needed. To me, that's what it's all about."

©Copyright 2003, Elizabethtown Chronicle (PA, USA)

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