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Coffee with Warren: Stoney Nakoda wisdom counters racist rampage in Buffalo

A vivid lesson, so relevant to the racist rampage in Buffalo, was taught me our first year by the late Chief Walking Buffalo (George McLean) about one of the most important values in his Stoney Nakoda culture: the beauty of diversity-in-harmony.
Warren Harbeck May 19
Tom and Geri Biberger celebrate the beauty of diversity-in-harmony in their Cochrane backyard garden

The recent racist rampage at a Buffalo, N.Y. supermarket has touched me deeply. A gunman killed 10 and wounded three only a few blocks from where I used to deliver newspapers as a young teen nearly 70 years ago. Reflecting on the incident has renewed my appreciation for Stoney Nakoda wisdom on the beauty of diversity-in-harmony, as so often expressed in a beautiful garden.

I was born in Buffalo. When I heard the news of the shooting, I wondered whether any of the victims might have lived in one of the homes I delivered the evening paper to back then. So senseless, so tragic!

My wife Mary Anna and I relocated to Alberta when I was 25, to cooperate with the Stoney Nakoda community at Morley in the translation of the Bible into Stoney Nakoda and to assist in developing a writing system for the language. I soon discovered it was I who had much to learn from Stoney Nakoda Elders for my own spiritual wellbeing.

A vivid lesson, so relevant to the racist rampage in Buffalo, was taught me our first year by the late Chief Walking Buffalo (George McLean) about one of the most important values in his Stoney Nakoda culture: the beauty of diversity-in-harmony.

Consider all the different kinds of trees and plants there are in the forest, the globetrotting goodwill ambassador said. There are poplars, spruce, pine, willow, cranberry, and a wide variety of flowers. But they don’t fight with each other. They get along together just fine; they live in harmony.

The beauty of that harmony, when it is found among people, is expressed in the Stoney Nakoda language by the wonderful word, oyade (oh-YAH-day), “town” or “community,” he said. This is also the word for “peace.” Thus, a community is a place where peace and harmony prevail.

Some 20 years later, another Stoney Nakoda leader, Chiniki First Nation Chief Henry Holloway, made an implication of this abundantly clear in a story he drew from his background in ranching.

He spoke of how the old-timers used to sit together on the bench outside the saddlery shop along Cochrane’s main drag. There were ranchers from all around Cochrane, including from Morley. They’d be comparing ropes and the latest news on livestock auctions, and so forth.

“But they weren’t sitting there as ‘those White guys,’ at one end of the bench, and ‘those Indians,’ at the other end,” he said. “They were together on that bench just as ‘human beings’” who were enjoying each other for what they shared in common as people who loved the ranching life and all that it involved.

Well, Walking Buffalo’s and Henry Holloway’s lessons certainly find parallels in the beautiful flower gardens around Cochrane in the summertime. In the varieties of plants brought together, those gardens are awesome lessons in the beauty of diversity-in-harmony – just as we as human beings can be as we come to enjoy each other’s differences, brought together in oyade­­ – brought together in the beautiful garden of life.

May their wisdom counter the racism behind the tragedy in Buffalo.