08 August 2012

Mitakuye Oyasin: All my Relations

It may seem like I am on a sudden roll with these postings.  It is more appropriate to say that the world is moving quickly, and the experiences are coming at us more intensely than usual.  As my heading suggests, I see this blog site as a place to reflect on events as they impact me, and as I process them using the gifts and skills of my craft.  Usually, some days may pass while I ruminate on an issue or event.  Sometimes, the scene gains resolution quite quickly.  This morning, an offer came my way that triggered a sudden organization of several thoughts.

For about ten years, I have been working on my ancestry.  This has not been the usual hunting the trail of grandparents and lineage.  This has been a DNA project that was begun by the geneticist, Dr. Spencer Wells, and the National Geographic Society.  It also included IBM and the University of Arizona.  It has morphed a bit over the years, but the National Geographic and Dr. Wells are still doing the project....known as the Genographic Survey.

Behind the Genographic Survey, has been the Human Genome Project, which began in 1989 and concluded in 1994.  It explored decoded the entire human DNA.  Cyber-systems and programming allowed this mind-boggling process to be accomplished in half the time they thought...such is the speed of computing evolution.  That project was overseen by Dr. Francis Collins, a physiologist and genetics expert.  He is now head of NIH in Bethesda, Maryland.  Collins' book, Language of God, and Wells' books, Journey of Man & Deep Ancestry are important reading in this field.

In a paragraph:  The male Y chromosome does not replicate when sperm and egg meet.  It is complete and is passed from father to son intact.  The female mitochondrial DNA, likewise does not replicate in reproduction but passes from mother to daughter intact.  As generations move forward, there are occasional errors in transfer...like a typographical error.  These are called "markers" in genetics and act as "bread crumbs" -- allowing the geneticists to trace backward.  Once a marker is present, it remains in subsequent generations -- along with any new markers that occur.  What was discovered is that ALL human beings (Homo sapiens) come from a single source...in eastern Africa...about 65,000 years ago.  As migration began, groups moved along different routes that eventually populated the planet.  All humans have the same first marker...male and female.  So, the person next to you is ultimately related to you -- regardless of ethnic origin, "race," or geographic origin.  Our physical differences are the result of thousands of years of geographic, environmental and genetic conditions.  If one's family of origin lived along the  equatorial regions, their skin is darker.  If one's family settled and lived its generations in the colder northern climates, their skin is lighter.

I started this project, because I expressed interest in what was being done by the Genographic Survey at the very early stages of that work.  I got to get a basic Y-Chromosome panel done for free.  Since that time, I have upgraded twice.  The advancing technology has allowed geneticists to further identify haplogroups and fine-tune marker identification.  In summary, my ancestral (and that of all my paternal relatives) route of journey from Africa included the middle east (possibly the Canaan Valley), the area of the Phoenician empire (at about that time, so my ancestors were Phoenicians) and, after the conquest by Alexander the Great, the journey moved to what is now Spain and then integrated into Celtic clans and eventually migrating to what is now Scotland.

Always the scientist, a year ago I tested this by having a Y-Chromosome analysis done by a private company (Genelex).  Alas, the same results.  PLUS, I now know that my haplogroup is in the northern European category.  This means, at least twenty generations have lived in that area and thus providing me -- and my relatives -- our physical characteristics.   I also did this, because I had been told that one of my early 19th century ancestors was Cherokee.  The Genelex study showed no evidence of markers that would validate  that claim.

Today, I ordered the latest in the Genographic Survey chromosomal study.  In about 8 weeks I will have an even tighter model of the migration track my paternal ancestors took.  It will also evaluate my maternal ancestral path (which I have not had to date).  This is very exciting.  With the first three sets of Genographic data, I have connected with a Jewish guy in eastern Europe, two people in Scotland, a person in northern England and three people in the United States whose markers are so close as to make their ancestors and mine the same folks....in two of those contacts, the branch off was about the time the Phoenician Empire was scattered by Alexander the Great.  This makes history truly real and alive!

The contact with National Geographic this morning precipitated this blog post.  Like the Aurora, CO shooting tragedy, the Oak Creek shootings at the Sikh temple touched me deeply.  My way of spirituality allows me the to explore these feelings beyond simply the human indignation, but also on the level of the transcendent nature of who these victims really are.  In spirit, they are me.  We share the intimacy of God's image implanted in us to make us uniquely human.  That's the other piece of the "Adam/Eve" journey.

It is a unique kind of fear that drives persons to bigotry and hate for someone physically different than ourselves.  We have used those differences to justify wars, slavery, abuse and genocide.  I have trouble wrapping my head around how a person, like the shooter in Oak Creek, WI, looks at a group who looks and acts differently and concludes they are another race and, therefore, not at all like him.

As I continue to grow in a lot of ways, I almost do not notice skin color, ethnic differences or different physical characteristics.  Beyond, "gosh, their ancestral migration path went in that direction" (looking at a world map), they are essentially me...sharing the same early markers that identify us as uniquely human.  I am enriched by their backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives that they bring into relationship.

The First Nations people seemed to know this intuitively.  The title of this post is "Mitakuye Oyasin."  It means 'All My Relations.'  The Lakota medicine wheel is divided into four quarters with four colors:  white, yellow, red and black.  Even before they began to know immigrants into their lands, they called these the "four main groups" of the earth's people.  Mitakuye Oyasin isn't just a recognition of their own family.  It is a recognition that we are ALL related.  My learning this in my early studies with the Lakota opened a whole new dimension of understanding the spirituality behind our being human.  God is Love.  When we go there, we find no differences.   They're just folks like me...and you.


Fr. Fred+

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