Philanthropy411, in partnership with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team. This is a guest post by Richard Woo, CEO of the Russell Family Foundation.
By: Richard Woo
I’m writing about the second day of the community site visit in rural Colorado organized by Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) and Asian American & Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP). In my earlier blog post I admitted to a sense of anticipation as the time approached to visit Amache, where 10,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II, and Sand Creek, where Cheyenne and Arapaho villagers were massacred in 1864 by the Colorado militia. It’s hard to find the words to convey the powerful experience of visiting these places. For that reason, I won’t go into much detail about the day’s events, but rather focus on my response to those places. Two words summarize my response in the broadest sense: respect and resolve.
In my earlier blog I described the Amache and Sand Creek visit as a means of “paying respect” to those who came before us. Like many people, I have difficulty confronting unpleasantries like tragedy, suffering and death—all of which occurred in varying degrees at these two historic places. For example on a personal level when I attend a funeral of a close relative or dear friend, the phrase “paying respect” is a convenient and simple way of glossing over the multitude of complex feelings and behaviors likely to occur such as sorrow, weeping, mourning, celebration, anger, an affirmation of beliefs or a deep questioning. Because I knew I would be visiting Amache and Sand Creek, where the unpleasantries of tragedy, suffering and death played out decades or a century before on a larger systems scale, I suspected that the emotions would rise fiercely. And they did—for me as well as the other 36 people on this immersion experience.
At Amache, Bob Fuchigami, the 79 year old retired professor who was imprisoned there as a teenager, led the group through a candle lighting ceremony to remember the more than 110,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese from Latin America who were held against their will in ten concentration camps across rural America. Members of our group recounted their own personal experiences in the camps or shared the stories whispered among their elders following the war. Emotions did rise. We paid our respects.
Later that day over lunch at Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site operated respectfully by the National Park Service, our group gathered with descendents of the survivors of the Sand Creek attack. There were men and women from the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations spanning four states: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Oklahoma. Some of these leaders drove 10-15 hours across state lines to honor us with their presence. We listened to stories of:
- bureaucratic and legislative wrangling over the historic designation of Sand Creek,
- local community denial questioning authenticated facts, and
- unresolved grief over the loss of human body parts taken during the massacre and kept in modern-day private collections as trophies of the “Indian Wars.”
Together we walked to the site of the massacre, conducted a memorial service and stood in the place that is sacred to the Cheyenne and Arapaho people. Again, emotions did rise. We paid our respects.
I came away from this experience with a deeper resolve to continue my work in philanthropy as one of many meaningful paths towards change, justice and innovation—themes that were touted throughout the Council on Foundations conference. At Amache and Sand Creek, those words (change, justice and innovation) came to life well beyond what was possible on a plenary stage or hotel breakout room. I gained new perspectives on time and my small place in that universal time. I witnessed the resolve of Bob Fuchigami and the Cheyenne and Arapaho people to maintain their dignity over a lifetime and many lifetimes. I walked away celebrating the leaders of Amache and Sand Creek for their steady commitment to resolve complex community differences. They are doing so, not by dwelling on the past, but rather drawing out its lessons and through that process healing wounds long left open or overlooked. Through the resolve of these peacemakers today all of us will be safer tomorrow.