The actual origin of the "prophecy" is not Native American at all (!) but is from a 1962 book entitled Warriors of the Rainbow by two white men, William Willoya, a Christian Preacher, and Vinson Brown, the owner of Naturegraph Publishers. The book was an evangelical Christian tract, and an attack on First Nations by attempting to evangelize within Native American communities. In the book, the legend states that Native Americans will be joined by their light-skinned brothers and sisters, who are in fact the reincarnated souls of Indians killed or enslaved by the first Settlers. It is said that the dead souls of the first people will return - in bodies of all different colors: red, white, yellow and black. Together and unified, like the colors of the rainbow, this group will teach all the people of the world to cultivate love and reverence for Mother Earth. Warriors of the Rainbow connects these fictitious "Indian" prophecies to the Second Coming of Christ, and has a covert anti-Semitic tone, while evangelizing against traditional Native American spirituality.
This story - misrepresented as ancient prophecy - is an example of modern "fakelore." The Warriors of the Rainbow myth inspired the naming of the Greenpeace ships; has been used in countless environmental protests; and is the namesake for a still-thriving hippie group, the Rainbow Family. While there are variations on the theme - especially as it has been popularized by New Age books, websites and internet memes - the common thread in all versions is that a time of crisis will come to Earth, people of many races will come together to save the planet, and is credited as a First Nations prophecy. "It is said that in a time of great devastation when the trees are dying, people will unite and create a new world of justice, peace, and freedom, and they will be named the Warriors of the Rainbow. They will reteach the values and the knowledge that was lost to time, and demonstrate how unity, harmony, and love is the only way forward."
Some versions of the story specifically state that the new tribe will inherit the ways of Native Americans, or that the Native ways will die out, to be replaced by the new ways of the "Rainbow People." So we see how a narrative that claims to support unity, is in reality an example of the white savior complex, and a device for cultural genocide. Native American author and poet Sherman Alexie has called this syndrome of native displacement the "inner Indian," and describes how white people co-opt Indigenous culture, most notably in his poem How to Write the Great American Indian Novel.
“In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written, all of the white people will be Indians, and all of the Indians will be ghosts.”
Pegi Eyers is the author of Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, an award-winning book that explores strategies for intercultural competency, healing our relationships with Turtle Island First Nations, uncolonization, recovering an ecocentric worldview, rewilding, creating a sustainable future and reclaiming peaceful co-existence in Earth Community.
Available from Stone Circle Press or Amazon.