Friday, June 18, 2010
Voicing my Gratitude
I have fallen hard for you guys. Although words will never be enough to express the gratitude I feel to you for the experience which you shared with me, this is to give you a slight idea. I love you.
If I’m to begin at the beginning, then I am to speak of the city, the running around, breaking into houses, chasing fuel for the flame and constantly going on fast forward. The beginning is the journey to the place which is a beginning of its own.
I entered The Place walking through a gate, surrounded by a cloud of sage. I tied an intention, took a deep breath, and stepped through.
Three fires were lit, bright as the sun, shooting fireflies into the air. We sang, and as the rhythm of the drums moved our bodies, we danced. The sky lit up, and with silent lightning it illuminated the joy on our faces. We carried the flame together, singing it alive, first to the ritual fire and then to the fire circle. The drums beat, and again losing all inhibitions, we danced. We let the world go, we became the world, we danced. Your songs pierced my soul, while your motion captivated me, and I fell into the world of which I have always dreamed.
We danced, until the moon no longer outshone the stars. We danced, until our feet became tattooed with the rhythm of the drums. And then I slept, a peaceful sleep to the chirping of birds and the rustling of trees. I slept deep, hugging close the magic which you have helped me feel.
I listened close to the place you have created, to the connections that you amplified between earth and sky, fire and water. After breakfast I went exploring. I walked around the ground, which you have decorated with intention, taking in the space I was lucky enough to occupy. I climbed a rock, I faced the water, and I breathed; watching, listening, being, I breathed and I was thankful to be alive, to be here, to be.
Time was no longer linear. Six sunrises followed three nights, sleep felt like a waste of life, and shoes began to feel like an unnecessary barrier. I tuned in, I let my roots sink deep into the soil, and with every sunrise I experienced a different state of ecstasy. When I thought I couldn’t dance any longer, you drummed harder, you danced stronger, you sang louder. You charged me with your energy and all I wanted to do was to give back, to be able to give you the enjoyment and fulfillment you have given me.
We raised a May Pole, we wove a web, we connected to each other, often without words. I have never met so many people brave enough to look me in the eyes. You taught me how to breathe anew. How to breathe the world into my soul, how to breathe so that all which has been pent up can come out, how to breathe myself into euphoria.
When I expressed my wish to fly you let me through another gate, across a bridge, and to a place of magic. Here spirits roamed, beasts explored and the air crackled. Here I was transformed, and here I learned to fly. I learned not to be afraid of the woods.
You shared with me your soul through your artwork, through your music, though your dance, through your laughter, through your love, through your beautiful voice. You reached out to me and let me reach back to you. Beneath the stars you helped me dance with fire, hearing its silent roar engulf me as I spun and you sang, or played, or watched. You reminded me how important it is to smile. You thanked me for being myself, and I want to thank you for being.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
When I work magically with a guise it teaches me the same lesson. I am not always what I seem, and I should look carefully before judging or dismissing ideas about who I am or could be.
Guising gives me the opportunity to take a look at what I consider to be beyond my own boundaries. When I guise as a being who is deeply wild, I can embody more wildness than I can ever imagine having in my ordinary life and self. In doing so, I gain a chance to question those limits: am I really tame and civilized as think? Is there wildness I didn’t see or recognize in me? What else am I missing when I say and act as though I am not wild?
Guising also works to free me from the ways that habit and expectation limit my perceptions of others and of the world. Sometimes things seem clearer, even harsh, through new eyes, and at other times they look softer and less clear. Knowing how different even the very familiar can look reminds me to find out what I can see when I really look, even with my everday eyes.
No matter how deep or magical my connection with a being I am guising is, in the end, I must come back to a shape that’s nearly the same as the one I left. In that “nearly,” though, lie the most powerful lessons of guising: the ones we bring back to our everyday lives.
At Rites, there were several opportunities to take on a guise. Did you choose to do this work there or somewhere else, or to interact with someone in guise? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.
[photo by David J. Anderson]
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Delivered at The Parliament of the World’s Religions
Convened at Melbourne, Australia
on the Traditional Lands of the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation
December 9, 2009
We are Indigenous Peoples and Nations who honor our ancestors and care for our future generations by preserving our lands and cultures. For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have maintained a fundamental and sacred relationship with Mother Earth. As peoples of the land, we declare our inherent rights to our present and continuing survival within our sacred homelands and territories throughout the world;
We commend the Australian government’s recent support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted on September 13, 2007. We call on all governments to support and implement the provisions of the UN Declaration, particularly the right of self-determination;
Since time immemorial we have lived in keeping with our sacred laws, principles, and spiritual values, given by the Creator. Our ways of life are based on thousands of years of accumulated ecological knowledge, a great respect for our Mother Earth, a reverence and respect for all our Natural World relations and the survival of our languages, cultures, and traditions;
The Indigenous instructions of sharing and the responsibility of leadership to future generations are wise and enduring. As the traditional nations of our lands, we affirm the right to educate our children in our Earth-based education systems in order to maintain our Indigenous knowledge systems and cultures. These have also contributed to our spiritual, physical and mental health; Indigenous peoples' concept of health and survival is holistic, collective and individual. It encompasses the spiritual, the intellectual, the physical and the emotional. Expressions of culture relevant to health and survival of Indigenous Peoples include relationships, families, and kinship, social institutions, traditional laws, music, dances, songs and songlines, reindeer and caribou, ceremonies and dreamtime, our ritual performances and practices, games, sports, language, mythologies, names, lands, sea, water, every life forms, and all documented forms and aspects of culture, including burial and sacred sites, human genetic materials, ancestral remains so often stolen, and our artifacts;
Unfortunately, certain doctrines have been threatening to the survival of our cultures, our languages, and our peoples, and devastating to our ways of life. These are found in particular colonizing documents such as the Inter Caetera papal bull of 1493, which called for the subjugation of non-Christian nations and peoples and “the propagation of the Christian empire.” This is the root of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery that is still interwoven into laws and policies today that must be changed. The principles of subjugation contained in this and other such documents, and in the religious texts and documents of other religions, have been and continue to be destructive to our ways of life (religions), cultures, and the survival of our Indigenous nations and peoples. This oppressive tradition is what led to the boarding schools, the residential schools, and the Stolen Generations, resulting in the trauma of Indigenous peoples being cut off from their languages and cultures, resulting in language death and loss of family integrity from the actions of churches and governments. We call on those churches and governments to put as much time, effort, energy and money into assisting with the revitalization of our languages and cultures as they put into attempting to destroy them;
The doctrines of colonization and dominion have laid the groundwork for contemporary problems of racism and dispossession. These problems include the industrial processes of resource exploitation and extraction by governments and corporations that have consistently meant the use of imposed laws to force the removal of Indigenous peoples from our traditional territories, and to desecrate and destroy our sacred sites and places. The result is a great depletion of biodiversity and the loss of our traditional ways of life, as well as the depletion and contamination of the waters of Mother Earth from mining and colonization. Such policies and practices do not take into account that water is the first law of life and a gift from the Creator for all beings. Clean, healthy, safe, and free water is necessary for the continuity and well being of all living things. The commercialization and poisoning of water is a crime against life;
The negative ethics of contemporary society, discovery, conquest, dominion, exploitation, extraction, and industrialization, have brought us to today’s crisis of global warming. Climate change is now our most urgent issue and affecting the lives of Indigenous peoples at an alarming rate. Many of our people’s lives are in crisis due to the rapid global warming. The ice melt in the north and rapid sea rise continue to accelerate, and the time for action is brief. The Earth’s resources are finite and the present global consumption levels are unsustainable and continue to affect our peoples and all peoples. Therefore, we join the other members of the Parliament in calling for prompt, immediate, and effective action at Copenhagen to combat climate change;
In July 2009, the Episcopal Church in the United States adopted a resolution at its 76th General Convention, repudiating and disavowing the dehumanizing Doctrine of Christian Discovery. By doing so, the Church took particular note of the charter issued by King Henry VII of England to John Cabot and his sons, which authorized the colonizing of North America. It was by this ‘boss over’ tradition of Christian discovery that the British crown eventually laid claim to the traditional territories of the Aboriginal nations of the continent now called Australia, under terra nullius and terra nullus. This step by the Episcopal Church was an act of conscience and moral leadership by one of the world’s major religions. Religious bodies of Quakers and Unitarians have taken similar supportive actions.
In conclusion, we appeal to all people of conscience to join with us in support of the following issues:
1) Climate change and its far-reaching impacts on our Peoples and homelands — for this we need immediate action.
2) The protection of Indigenous peoples' significant and sacred sites within their traditional homelands and territories and working to eradicate discrimination and intolerance against Earth-based Indigenous spiritual and ceremonial traditions.
3) Protection of Sacred Places used for prayer and ceremonies. At these special places we minister to the Earth and heal her sacred soul.
4) The critical need to strengthen and continue our unique cultures and languages, particularly by bringing together elder cultural and wisdom keepers and Indigenous youth.
5) The return of the bones of our ancestors and our sacred items.
6) The immediate support and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
7) To call upon Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican to publicly acknowledge and repudiate the papal decrees that legitimized the original activities that have evolved into the dehumanizing Doctrine of Christian Discovery and dominion in laws and policies.
Partial list of Indigenous Assembly participants:
Wande Abimbola, Yoruba (Nigeria)
Omie Baldwin, Diné (United States)
Nana Osei Boakye Yiadom, Adamorobe (Ghana)
Merekaraka Caesar, Wahine Maori (New Zealand)
Andras Corban-Arthen, Anamanta (Scotland/United States)
Ryoko Foose, Ainu (Japan)
Tonya Gonnella Frichner, Onondaga (United States)
Uncle Max Harrison, Yuin (Australia)
Linda Hogan, Chickasaw (United States)
Robert Houndohome Hounon, Vodun Hwendo (Benin)
Clarence Jackson, Tlingit (United States)
Jennie R. Joe, Diné (United States)
Mandaza Kandemwa, Shona (Zimbabwe)
Norma Kassi, Vuntut Gwich’in (Canada)
Leo Killsback, Cheyenne (United States)
Tsugio Kuzuno, Ainu (Japan)
Margaret Lokawua, Karimjong (Uganda)
Oren Lyons, Onondaga (United States)
Raúl Mamani, Kolla (Argentina)
Ray Minniecon, Kabi Kabi (Australia)
Lucy Mulenkei, Maasai (Kenya)
Joy Murphy Wandin, Wurundjeri (Australia)
Minnie Naylor, Inupiaq Eskimo (United States)
Steven T. Newcomb, Shawnee Lenape (United States)
Francois Paulette, Dene (Canada)
Christopher Peters, Pohlik-lah/Karuk (United States)
Anna Pinto, Meitei (India)
Constantino Pinto, Timorese (Timor Leste)
Uncle Bob Randall, Yankunytjatjara (Australia)
Darlene St. Clair, Bdewakantunwan Dakota (United States)
Artūras Sinkevičius, Romuva (Lithuania)
Joseph Henry Suina, Cochiti Pueblo (United States)
Jake Swamp, Akwesasne Mohawk (United States)
Yoland Trevino, Maya (Guatemala/United States)
Jonas Trinkunas, Romuva (Lithuania)
Rosita Worl, Tlingit (United States)
The Indigenous Assembly (and, indeed, the Parliament's entire Indigenous program) was a success in that it met most of the goals we had set out to accomplish, particularly so in bringing together and fostering connections among a diverse international group of tradition keepers, elders and activists. But the very process of organizing such a program also brought to the fore some volatile, contentious issues that are inherent to the very concept of indigeneity, and which marred the sense of harmonious cohesion we had envisioned at the outset.
The term "Indigenous" is used in both interreligious and academic circles with a fairly specific meaning: it refers to cultures and to peoples that have had a very distinctive, long-standing historical and cultural connection with a particular land. A practical yardstick often applied to this definition is whether a given culture pre-existed, and has survived, a major colonizing event such as Christianization/Westernization.
As with any definition, the meaning of "Indigenous" is easiest to express when we give it a very specific and narrow focus. When, for instance, the term is applied exclusively to people who have been born and raised in a specifically defined geographical region and within a particular Indigenous culture, fit a certain racial/ethnic profile, speak the traditional language, practice the traditional religion, and have deep roots in the community that maintains the Indigenous culture alive, then if a person meets those criteria obviously and fully, there should be no question about his or her claim to indigeneity.
Of course, defining the term in such a specific way automatically excludes a lot of people. From a theoretical point of view, that may not matter at all; indeed, it may be desirable. But when we move from the theoretical and the analytical into the realm of actual human experience, the exclusionary quality of such a narrow definition can clash violently against an individual's or a community's sense of self-identity, and lead to people becoming quite angry and offended. Moreover, the scope of that exclusion can disenfranchise important claims to indigeneity that don't necessarily fit neatly within a narrow and clear-cut definition.
For instance, there are Indigenous peoples who have been colonized to the point of losing their traditional spirituality, even though they may still live in their ancestral lands and may have managed to retain other key elements of their ethnic culture, such as language. A case in point was the Sami contingent that participated in the Assembly: there is no question that they are an Indigenous people, and are recognized as such by the U.N., the European Union, and the governments of the various countries wherein they reside. Yet, as I pointed out in an earlier article, it appears that the Sami Indigenous religion is all but dead, and that was certainly borne out by the delegates present at the Assembly – they were all Lutherans and Presbyterians, and none of the ones with whom I spoke professed to have any knowledge of their traditional religion outside of the realm of "folklore."
In attempting to define "Indigenous," some members of our Task Force had initially been adamant about not including in our program anyone who was Christian, feeling that the acceptance of Christianity was intrinsically at odds with an event intended to emphasize authentic Indigenous spirituality. They were persuaded to modify their views when it was pointed out that many "authentically Indigenous" people practice both their traditional religion as well as Christianity, and this middle-ground became our guideline. The Sami, being exclusively Christian, presented a dilemma for the Task Force, since they did not fit within our established criteria. (I, for one, was delighted that they were admitted to the Assembly in the end.)
On the other hand, there are Indigenous traditions which have specific procedures for accepting those who were not born and raised within them – procedures (and criteria) which can vary significantly from one tradition to another. This makes it hard to generalize, though typically such mechanisms can involve marriage, formal adoption, relocation or pilgrimages, cultural assimilation, specific training and ceremonies, etc. Once the non-native has been assimilated to the satisfaction of the elders of the community, she or he is generally accepted as a full-fledged member of that tradition, and in some cases can even attain the position of elder, leader, teacher or spokesperson (I know of several Indigenous traditions, for instance, which have official spokespeople who are not individuals born into those cultures, but who have married or been formally adopted into them).
In many (and probably most) Indigenous cultures, allowances of this sort have always been in place, because very few societies have been completely insulated from interaction with others. In some, those allowances have been relaxed or expanded in more recent times out of necessity, particularly among Indigenous traditions that are on the verge of extinction and are therefore more open to the inclusion of "fresh blood," as it were, in order to preserve their ways. This is a slippery slope, of course, fraught with many possibilities for abuse and scams – one has only to think of the myriad self-anointed "plastic shamans" out there, or the "traditional grandfathers/grandmothers" who use this as a rationale for ostensibly teaching gullible white people in exchange for considerable sums of money. But the fact that the possibility of abuse in these circumstances is very real does not alter the fact that Indigenous peoples often define themselves in ways that are far less rigid or specific than how academics or interreligious bodies would define them.
In a nutshell, then, there are Indigenous people practicing Indigenous spiritual traditions; there are Indigenous people practicing non-Indigenous spiritual traditions; and there are non-Indigenous peoples practicing Indigenous spiritual traditions. Considering that the Indigenous cultures are the oldest remaining ones on the planet, and that many of them are on the brink of extinction, to limit the definition of "Indigenous" only to the first category because it is nice and clear-cut, amounts to turning one's back on some of the peoples or traditions that are most endangered and in need of support.
Obviously, the Parliament's Task Force had to adopt certain standards regarding what it considered "Indigenous" in order to select potential speakers for its slate of programs, and as much as possible we tried to choose criteria that were general enough to be applicable to most authentic Indigenous traditions. In my opinion, however, the way some of those standards were actually applied was in some cases very selective or arbitrary, and at times lacking sufficiently clear information to enable us to make well-thought-out choices.
As a member of both the Indigenous Task Force and of the Parliament's Board of Trustees, it would be inappropriate for me to air our "dirty laundry" in public. But the way the Task Force conducted its process led to a number of problems, and several people who were very upset at the way they were treated complained about it directly to me; in my opinion, their feelings were quite justified.
For instance, some North American Indians who had proposed programs for the Parliament complained of being ignored or dismissed, and felt that they had been judged – by people who didn't know them at all – as not being "Indian enough" despite having dedicated their lives to the welfare of their native communities, or to the protection of their civil rights, or the promotion of understanding and respect of Indian cultures by the mainstream society.
On the other hand, representatives of Central and South American Indigenous traditions complained to me, both during and after the Parliament, about their lack of inclusion at the event. Indeed, the Task Force invited only one Indigenous speaker from South America (and none from
But that was not nearly enough, and word of this unfortunate situation has clearly spread to one degree or another throughout Latin American interfaith circles and Indigenous rights groups, and I have fielded the questions and complaints of friends from México to
A couple of them were even more specific in their grievances, and claimed that, in addition to the above, there is also a very noticeable prejudice on the part of certain North American Indian peoples toward their counterparts south of the border. They allege that some Indians from the
I am not really in a position to be able to gauge how accurate or widespread these troubling allegations may be – if anything, I would like to hope they are not much more than the result of momentarily hurt feelings over a perceived injustice, rather than widely held, long-simmering resentments. Regardless, it is clearly important that the various people involved in this process be mindful that, to one extent or another, such feelings exist.
On another front, several of the Indigenous representatives at the Assembly also noted with surprise the lack of Maori participation – given the relative proximity of Australia and New Zealand – and the fact that the only Maori delegate present, Merekaraka Caesar, actually lives in Queensland, Australia. This led some to wonder if perhaps there might be prejudice and discrimination on the part of some of the Australian Aboriginal peoples toward the Maoris. I have been assured by those who should know that this is not the case; nevertheless, the noticeable absence of a significant Indigenous community created further speculation and tension at the Assembly.
There were other complaints involving the Task Force – ranging from rudeness to racism – which bear reckoning, though I won't go into them here, as this is already much too long. The main lesson to be learned here, it would seem, is that when it comes to interacting with Indigenous peoples – who, historically, have surely endured the evils of occupation, slavery, racism, poverty, cultural destruction and genocide the longest – organizations like the Parliament must exercise a very high degree of awareness, of sensitivity and of diplomacy, even when their motives are good and their goal is to help. The suffering many of these people have felt, and continue to feel, can intensify what most of us might brush off as nothing more than a petty slight, and turn it into a deeply painful wound.
For people who are desperately seeking aid in their struggle to save their homes and their ancestral lands, exclusion – even if it is only perceived exclusion – easily translates into hopelessness. For people who've had the prejudices of a foreign race forced upon them for hundreds of years, the imposed standards of outsiders, no matter how well-intentioned or intellectually reasoned, only seem like more alien judgments. And for people whose ancient cultures, subjected to attrition, ridicule, and legal proscription, are hanging by very thin and fragile threads, the questioning of their cultural identity can feel like somebody trying to steal their soul.
As the Parliament continues to reach out to Indigenous peoples around the world, it would do well to keep all this in mind.
One of the most important events of the Parliament of the World's Religions – the Indigenous Assembly – was, quite likely, the least visible: attendance was by invitation only, and it was held in a former convent several miles away from the
In keeping with one of the Parliament's seven main themes (and as mentioned in these pages prior to the event), the idea of convening an Indigenous Assembly in Melbourne was, from the beginning, a major focus of the Indigenous Task Force's plans – we wanted to create a space wherein the international representatives of Indigenous traditions traveling to Melbourne would get a chance to meet with their counterparts from Australia and the South Pacific to discuss issues of mutual relevance, and perhaps even come up with a joint statement to be delivered during one of the Parliament's plenary sessions. Our initial plans called for a three-day assembly which, for the first two days, would be limited exclusively to the Indigenous delegates, then opened on the third day to include representatives from other cultures and religions. Unfortunately, budgetary and time constraints forced us to scale back our plans and keep the assembly to one day.
Early in the morning of Monday, 7 December, about fifty Indigenous representatives, volunteers and translators traveled to the Abbotsford Convent near Victoria Park, some six miles away. Most of us had already had breakfast, but upon arrival we were offered juice, pastries and other refreshments as we waited for everyone to arrive.
The proceedings started with a brief introduction by Task Force chair Omie Baldwin, followed by a traditional welcome to country by Auntie Joy Murphy Wandin, senior elder of the Wurundjeri people who are the traditional "owners" of the land that includes
Then we went around the room introducing ourselves to each other, and several people, including
We then had a relaxed lunch break, which allowed us ample time to lounge in the convent's courtyard and get to know each other a little more intimately. Besides spending some time with Jonas Trinkunas and Arturas Sinkevicius, my two Lithuanian friends, I had conversations with Robert Houndohome Hounon – the Voudon leader from Benin, whose trip to the Parliament had been partly financed by Angie Buchanan's pagan community – and with Chris Peters (Yurok), president of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, who had been our keynote speaker that morning. I also had the opportunity to talk with Uncle Bob Randall and his delightful American wife Barbara (from
We eventually returned to the hall for small group discussions on nine key topics which the Task Force had identified: Spirituality, Health, Repatriation, Environment, Water, Mining, Language, Land and Global Warming. I went to the table focused on Spirituality, and joined a group which included the two Lithuanian delegates as well as Yoland Trevino (Maya), Global Council Chair of the United Religious Initiative, and Merekaraka Caesar, (Maori), president of the Universal Peace Federation, who proved to be extremely nice and interesting people.
After some lively conversation, we coalesced into one big group again, to go over what we had discussed and to organize a committee that would synthesize our thoughts into a statement to be shared with those assembled at the closing plenary, and also be sent on to the international representatives who would meet in Copenhagen, right after the Parliament, for the U.N. Climate Change Conference. I will include a copy of the statement following this two-part piece.
We ended the day with a traditional Australian barbecue (yes they had "shrimps on the barbie," in addition to several other equally tasty items) and a very friendly group photo.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Over the past ten years I have had the honor and pleasure of creating labyrinths, both temporary and permanent. On beaches, through feet of snow, in groves and halls I have collaborated on labyrinth creation, but none as magical as the one this year at Rites of Spring.
The construction of a labyrinth can often be a heavily intellectual experience. It takes a good deal of thought and planning to lay the pattern correctly but also in concordance with the environment. Much of the time it can be a challenge to maintain a ritual focus when doing this part of the work. With support, I was able to devise a way to create an organic labyrinth design working with the land in the Green Ones Shrine.
A group of inspiring and creative people came together for Village Builders to create a sanctuary that was in harmony with the land and its beings. We gathered in the center of the pine grove with half our group holding the container around the outer edge. The five of us, in procession, began to walk a path out from the center leaving a trail of white yarn. As we walked a path into the earth we were guided by the land through rocks and trees, roots and brush. We had brought forth a sacred labyrinth pattern that was unique to that space and time and was guided by the collective energy there.
Using fallen branches, logs, rocks and leaf piles we created the walls to delineate the path circuits. The result was a natural, sacred shrine that radiated peace and harmony. Meandering the path of this 60 foot labyrinth in the pine grove seems to have brought a sense of stillness and tranquility to many people.
I feel honored to have had the opportunity to work with the Red Maple Grove. Their presence and willingness to open themselves to divine guidance facilitated a unique experience for themselves and the community. I cherish the sacredness of those moments we created magic and walked a path together