Standing Rock One Year Later, Victory for the People

“It is easy to be grateful when things are going our way, but to be thankful in the hardest of times is a true sign of strength, nobility, and grace.” -Chief Phil Lane

Background: Few recognize just how successful the youth-led indigenous movement to protect sacred water continues to be despite some painful defeats. Last fall was a powerful time for all of us with a heated election season along with the clash between Water Protectors and law enforcement at Standing Rock. The new year came with a dramatic low for people everywhere who care about our waters, our planet, and the climate, that´s the brand new Air Source Heat Pumps are being used now to help the environment. It grabs the water that´s in the air and turns it into drinking water. As we come into the one year anniversary of Standing Rock Youth running 2,000 miles to bring their message of Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) to Washington DC, we have some good news and a special opportunity for you to participate in keeping the prayer alive.

In March of 2016, Inspired by Waniya Locke along with the Keystone XL Fighters, and spiritually guided by Wakpala Elders Vernon and Theo Iron Cloud, Bobbi Jean Three Legs and other youth in Wakpala organized a run for the water and people. After first running through communities in Standing Rock they ran 11 miles from Wakpala to Mobridge to bring awareness of the dangers of DAPL to their neighbors outside of Standing Rock. The run included children as young as 5 years old, teenagers, elders, and youth in their early 20’s. One runner, Elder Kevin Locke, was in his 60’s. Parents drove behind them while backing them up with prayers and water. The first run from Wakpala inspired the Oceti Sakowin Runners from across the Sioux Nation to bring the No DAPL message to the Corp of Engineers Headquarters in Omaha. From there they brought their message, Mni Wiconi, which means “Water is Life”, to Washington, DC. and the world!

Led by Bobbi Jean, these youth ran 2,000 miles arriving in Washington DC one year ago this week (wow, time flies). They brought with them a petition signed by 157,000 people which was started by Bobbi Jean, and Anna Lee Rain Yellowhammer in hopes to stop construction on an oil pipeline that threatened the water supply in her community along the Missouri River. Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Shailene Woodley (see her tweet below from 2016), Jane Fonda, Mark Ruffalo, and Jason Momoa got behind the campaign and what followed is one of the most historic and timely movements in modern history.

The policy of an incoming president to turn his back on the youth, the water that sustains life, and our future underscores decades of failures in the US and abroad to address important environmental issues. The youth were heartbroken but remained undeterred in this battle for our collective future. The embers of this fire continued to glow. The roots of this global movement run deep and we are just now seeing the resilience of this community that continues forward, together with hope, determination, and love in our hearts. Still it was a long, hard winter for all of us, especially the people of Standing Rock and Wakpala.

“All the communities of Standing Rock stood strong against DAPL. We gave our time, volunteer work and whatever financial support we could. Millions of dollars were raised and spent in the name of Standing Rock, but when it was all over our children and young people of Wakpala were left with nothing, not even a decent basketball court or a playground where our many children and young people can play. Because of the loss of resources from our Casino due to blocked highways and other stuff, our elders and children have less than before, This is very tough on our families and children, especially when 86 % of our Standing Rock community members have no jobs and most are forced to live on welfare.” -Wakpala Elder Who Wished to Remain Unnamed

Collective Strength: What keeps us strong in hard times is a spiritual resilience that is shared across generations, it is ancestral, it is universal in every culture, and it is contained in the people’s stories. After the agonizing defeats in late 2016, with the direction of Chief Phil Lane, Unify compiled a free e-book called Pray with Standing Rock, Birth of a Global Movement which you can download here. Unify is an international community that supported Standing Rock on the ground, as well as through their vast social media network online by curating and producing live broadcasts, videos, and curating content from others to share through their large network. You can learn more about Unify’s role in supporting Standing Rock by reading their Executive Summary here.

Moving Forward: Chief Phil Lane and Four Worlds International Institute, again in collaboration with Unify, have decided to launch a small campaign to honor the community of Wakpala where the whole movement began. As we look and move forward we must always remember to honor the roots. The thought of children in Wakpala without even a decent, safe playground is unconscionable. So together we are going to do something about it. We are calling on you to join us as we raise funds to build a playground to honor the youth of Wakpala who brought this important message about water to the world. Please visit here to help us say “Thank You” to Wakpala!

As children we all probably heard the saying, “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you played the game.” This wisdom may not have soothed us in the moments of sorrow directly following a painful defeat but sometimes the difficult moments shape our character better than anything else. In the face of defeat, we emerge stronger than before, strengthened by the love and support of our global community to address the pressing issues of our day. It starts with creating safe places for children to play while knowing that they are loved and supported!

Ancient Trickster Wisdom for Uncertain Times

Sometimes you need to break the tradition in order to keep the tradition alive and the accepted tradition breaker is the clown. – Hopi Scholar Michael Kaboti

This was one of the first teachings I learnt from the deep cultural wisdom of the Hopi People. The western mindset is built on having answers, whereas traditional cultures have reserved a special place for the unknown, often called reverently the Great Mystery. We are living in potent – yet uncertain – times, and the trickster/clown archetype has some powerful medicine that will help us dive into the depths of this uncertainty in a fearless way.

The trickster teaches us that sometimes it is better to wonder than it is to know. Accepting this truth can be exciting and humbling for us as humans. The words human, humor, and humility, all come from the same linguistic root for a good reason. We are noble beings when we are in balance with our folly. When we become arrogant and rigid is when we often create the most trouble for ourselves and those around us. When we get too high on our horse, the trickster is the one who will knock us down a notch and remind us to laugh at ourselves, otherwise others surely will.

Many Native American Tribes Consider the Coyote a Trickster and a Teacher

What is the Trickster?

The distinction between clown and trickster is subjective; however, generally, tricksters are considered more mythic and archetypal, whereas clowns are their more worldly counterparts. Thus, the trickster comes in many forms, including clowns, merry-makers, buffoons, and jesters – they can be playful, mischievous, disrespectful, backward, paradoxical, or even obscene. This archetypal energy can play out through various circumstances in our lives, and make us feel like we are the butt of a cosmic joke.

Tricksters cross boundaries in society, playfully disrupting normal life. This bending of the rules usually appears in the form of tricks or thievery. Tricksters openly mock authority, and can be both cunning and foolish. They break rules, boast, and play tricks on those around them.

Take, for example, the great American contribution to clowning, the hobo-clown. We laugh at him as he slips on a banana peel and everything goes wrong in his life. This form of slap-stick humor teaches us to laugh at life’s challenges and not take ourselves so seriously. Sometimes things go our way and other times it can seem like the whole universe is conspiring against us.

Once you can laugh at a situation it will no longer have power over you. – Slave Adage

Tricksters come in many forms including clowns, merry-makers and jesters.

Tricksters Around the World

Tricksters and clowns exist in almost every culture around the world. Many Native American Stories have the trickster embodied as a coyote, and Coyote Tales were central to long nights around the fire during winter months. The Lakota call their trickster, Heyoka, and he is often seen sitting backwards on his horse. The Azande People in Central Africa have Ture, a trickster that is a spider who can change form into any animal. Ture brought food, water, and fire to the people, but he is always tricking people, stealing from them, serving his own interests, acting crudely, and being disrespectful.

Oftentimes we are grateful for the gifts and revelations the trickster brings us without actually condoning the behavior of this confusing character.

These characters that don’t neatly fit into traditional categories, or can’t simply be called good/bad, are the characters who fall in the trickster category. Often we are grateful for the gifts and revelations the trickster brings us without actually condoning the behavior of this confusing character.

Joker is Wild and Anything Goes…

Hopi Clowns in Action

Writing about Hopi ceremonial culture is very delicate because they have strong oral tradition, but Hopi artist and scholar Michael Kaboti explained the importance of sharing the clown wisdom everywhere that it has been forgotten. So I am happy to share a magical experience I had at a sacred Hopi dance in honor of my friendship with Michael. The Hopi Mesas are beautiful places with ancient wisdom, but it is not respectful to visit without an invitation, or someone that can guide you through proper protocols.

The villages sit high above the painted desert with stone buildings that are hundreds of years old. Some structures are said to be over a thousand years old, and the houses surround a central plaza where the ceremonial dances take place. People crowd the plaza and sit on the roofs under the hot Arizona sun to learn and remember aspects of their ancient culture.

During the dance, at a certain moment, the clowns enter the plaza. Boisterous, disrespectful, talking loud, eating, throwing food, maybe even desecrating the altar and acting completely oblivious to the fact that there is a sacred ceremony happening. The audience oscillates between laughter and a feeling of anger as these clowns act increasingly rude and disrespectful.

Hopi Clowns taunt the Sacred Kachina Dancers

Confronting Ignorance

As the ritual theater unfolds, the Kachina Spirits enter the plaza in full regalia, decorated from head to toe with yucca whips and gourds of holy water. They have come to reprimand these unruly clowns and purify them from their ignorance. When the clowns see the Kachinas, they run into the audience to get away. The audience cheers as the Kachinas follow them in the audience. What few people notice though is that the Kachinas are throwing the water on the audience as they run after the clowns.

The clowns represent the ignorance of us humans, the childishness that we exhibit, the way that we can be so self-absorbed, so arrogant.

When the Kachinas chase the clowns, it is the humans watching that receive the purification. This deep cultural wisdom allows people to laugh at themselves indirectly, and be purified of their own judgment and anger through ritual theater. A beautiful aspect to this dynamic is that the clowns are considered to be the parents to the Kachinas. In this way, there is also a reverence for the child-like innocence within us, that we must strive to evolve, but we will always be humans full of folly.

Tragedy and Comedy Artwork by Lionel Milton

Profane and Sacred

The trickster makes us examine the profane and the sacred. It brings the shadow to the light. Both the profane and the sacred are two sides of the same coin, and they often define each other. French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, considered this to be the central characteristic of religion. He believed that the sacred represents the interests of a group or community, which is embodied in cultural symbols. The profane involves the opposite, the not-so-special, the mundane, the human day-to-day individual concerns. Durkheim made a very important observation that is not part of conventional wisdom, which is that the sacred/profane dichotomy is not equivalent to good versus evil. The sacred can be good or evil, and the profane can be either as well. We do not live in a world of absolutes, there is much grey area in between. This is the place where the trickster taunts us, pushes us out of our comfort zone and helps us evolve.

Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden. – The Elementary Forms of Religious Life by Émile Durkheim

Only when we confront our unknowns and our ignorance, and accept them, can we embrace new ideas. We can often become so attached to what we know that there is no room for anything else to enter our consciousness, and this is usually when we find ourself face-to-face with the trickster archetype. The antidote to too much pride is a dose of humility, and the trickster is more than happy to laugh at your human-folly in case you should ever forget it.


The trickster taunts us, pushes us out of our comfort zone and helps us to evolve.

Developing a Relationship with the Trickster

Sorrow, loneliness, doubt, anger, depression, confusion, and many other shadow emotions, are universal to all human experience. This is why we laugh at the sad-clown who is down on his luck, because we can all relate to these feelings. Our ability to have compassion for these aspects of being human, and have a relationship with these expressions of the self, is the key to personal mastery.

Losing control, or melting down, may be embarrassing, but we cannot always be in control of circumstances and sometimes breaking down is essential to transformation. Sometimes we are as helpless and foolish as a clown, and the only way to respond is with compassion, humility, and humor. The ability to laugh at ourselves is invaluable in this inevitable process, this is central to the medicine of the trickster.


Tricksters bring compassion, humility and humor to difficult feelings and situations.

Trickster Medicine in Modern Times

It is enlightening to look at the chaos of our modern times from the perspective of the trickster. We have politicians completely disconnected from their role as representatives of the people. We have extractive industries wreaking havoc on our sacred environment, desecrating the waters, air, and land. We can feel ourselves losing control of this monster that has become modern society, and the feeling of helplessness grows.

We are like that crowd in a Hopi Village watching the dance. It is sometimes funny to watch, but we are also fighting this deep anger and sorrow for what has become of our society. We point fingers at the politicians, and the corporations, yet they are manifesting an aspect of humanness that is within all of us. How do we shift our relationship with these shadow parts of ourself? How do we accept this inevitability, while also purifying ourselves and returning to our rightful place of humblest servants to this wild and beautiful creation that we are part of?


Tricksters help us to face the chaos in our society and see it in a new way.

Nowhere to Run

Sometimes a healthy dose of humor, deep felt compassion, and acceptance for all things that are beyond our control is the best way to shift the paradigm by healing from the inside. There is nowhere to run, when the trickster has come for us, we must learn to accept this wisdom regardless of how uncomfortable it may be.

Creating Culture: A Village Way of Life

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

― R. Buckminster Fuller ―

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Spring is here, and with it comes plans for summer adventures that are truly transformational! The alternative festival scene often attracts those who resonate with counterculture ways of thinking and being. Yet it is this subversive hotbed that takes the status quo, transmutes it underground, and sets the new trends for its re-emergence in mainstream popular culture. Isis Indriya and Eve Bradford have been vanguards of this movement for over ten years. Both have been guided by personal and community spiritual practice for many years and in every sense these two live what they teach. Their brainchild Living Village Culture aims to influence society through bringing culture back into the heart of community. This project is experimental in nature through seeing what emerges when we create a village way of life in modern, western contexts such as festivals and symposiums.

Their next offering is The Village Symposium, which will be held over five days (April 20th-24th) in Nevada City, California. A journey into community building, education, ritual and social change, this will be a conference exploring the place where science and mysticism meet. It will explore how we as humans can reinstate ourselves back into a harmonious and symbiotic relationship with the web of life. The Village Symposium is a taster of what can be expected from The Village at Lightning in a Bottle festival later this spring (May 25th – 29th).

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Community Creates Culture – The New University

Our generation is one in which individuals have been separated from their lineages and from a community-based way of living. Our interconnectedness with one other and the planet has been denied through linear time systems, hierarchical social structures, centralized politics, capitalistic economies and the false separation of mind, body and spirit. Western education and its institutions propagate these systems, leaving a stark gap between what we are taught and reality.

Conscious gatherings such as festivals are increasingly putting energy and resources into bridging this gap through formalizing the ‘school of life’. No longer just places to listen to music and party, gatherings have become a place where we can learn from each other and professionals at the top of their game through workshops, talks, film screenings, ceremony, symposiums, debates and exhibitions.

Combined with the advance of technology that facilitates mass communication, this new culture has helped forge ‘communities in the sky’ that go beyond borders and do not need permission from any institution to exist – the ultimate E-democracy. We now have the power not just to envision a new world, but to co-create and actually realise it coming into being. This is not about predicting the future, this is about inventing it.

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The Living Village Culture family sits at the core of these changes, through actively seeking to provide an authentic community experience at festivals and gatherings. The curation of their event narratives is based on cultivating skills and practices focused on earth-based wisdom and mystical traditions. Spaces are created that bring the sacred into a contemporary context through an honouring of our ancestors and the spirits of the land in ceremony. This experience fosters collaboration and creativity and makes space for the coming into being of a new culture where knowledge is crowd sourced.

It is through experiences such as these that we can collectively remember who we really are.

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Faith Spotted Eagle, Native Elder Reflects on Keystone XL

There has been much celebration in the wake of Obamas decision to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline, but there are a few things that should not be overlooked going forward. The roots to this movement are well beneath the surface of what most people recognize and they stretch back for centuries. They are spiritual, even mystical, and they belong to the families whose ancestors have lived here since long before this land was called North America. Long before there was a need for environmental movements, indigenous people lived with a deep reverence and respect for the natural systems that sustain all of life. These people are still with us today.

Faith Spotted Eagle is a 65 year old grandmother who lives on Ihanktonwan Dakota Territory (Yankton Sioux) in Southeastern South Dakota. She is a fluent speaker of the Dakota Language and a member of the Ihanktonwan, although she descends from the Sicangu, Hunpati, Hunkpapa and Mdewakantonwan and has French/Irish blood through her grandmother Julia Deloria and John McBride. She has two children. Kip Spotted Eagle is a Dakota Language Instructor and Brook Spotted Eagle is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Washington in Cultural Anthropology. Her new grandson is Tokana Ikpanajin Spotted Eagle.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 7.52.57 PMAbove: Faith Spotted Eagle    Photo: Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/MCT

I have had the pleasure to work with Faith and many others to inform people about the Treaty to Protect the Sacred and the Keystone XL battle. This morning I received a message from her saying that she has some important reflections from her community about the recent Keystone XL decision by President Obama. She speaks with the nurturing strength and wisdom that only a grandmother can possess and  It is an honor that she wanted to share them here with us.

After the KXL “not in the national interest” words finally were actually said, I had a couple of days to pause and then I came to several realizations. While numerous groups were counting coup on stopping KXL and telling their understandings of how the victory was achieved, my thoughts were immediately directed to other things that now could receive attention.

Yes, there are at least 100 other things that are threatening our existence as Indigenous people and it’s back to defending the front line, like we have been doing for 500 years against ongoing threats. That is the story of the life of a Native. Every single day of our life is devoted to fighting fights like KXL. So it is familiar territory.

I am not needing to say that I was the one who stopped KXL but I am feeling the need to give thanks to the SPIRITUAL MOVEMENT that was launched in treaty territory, original territory and the Oceti Sakowin and the First Nations up north. The Spirit was moving strong due to the thousands of prayers that were heard by the universe and beyond for Mother Earth, entwined with the healing prayers of other populations.

The difference in this fight echoed in my mind with the words of my dear father Henry, who long ago said: “you know my girl, in the years to come there will be more “Ska Oyate” defending our lands with us when they have more knowledge and will rebuild memory of the spirit of this land”.

He said it would take a couple hundred of years as they heal from their historical trauma also. I am thankful for the allies that we have gained from the “Ska Oyate” the White Nation and other immigrant populations, as we continue to challenge marginalization and privilege. When they heal, we heal. Together.

As we reflect on President Obama’s decision, we must tell our own narratives of how we view this intersect in time. Too much of our history contains narratives of us by other people, as I already see articles stating that someone else organized us natives for the KXL battle. I don’t think so…

Although the prayers laid by the IDLE NO MORE movement greatly inspired us. The battle was for a larger purpose, as our elders have prophesied the war on water for decades and the coming “shaking of Mother Earth” which is happening now.

Our movement was led by “spiritual activism” as we offered tobacco and prayers for every step forward and backward. Ceremonies were held constantly in almost every Native community across Turtle Island to be mindful of the “spirit moving” activated by the common purpose of protection of sacred water, land, and the generations to come.

Another very old camp circle principle that surfaced was “activism by consent.” In the Native world we don’t just appoint ourselves to lead a movement. We are given consent based on our respect, our actions towards our relatives and our people. Whether that was elected leadership based on colonial tenets or grassroots organizing, old conflicts and divisions were laid aside to commonly defend against a major threat to sacred water.

The message had to be (and is) unified. There were checks and balances that we don’t need to write about in an article, but it is comforting that they are still there. There is actually no word for activism in our tribal languages, it is just our responsibility of being a “good relative” to the earth and those dwelling on it.

Nation to Nation dialogues and joining occurred in sovereign ways. This includes the signing of the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred at Ihanktonwan Territory by the Ihanktonwan Treaty Committee and the Tsu La Letuth Nation as well as the Mother Earth Accord. Ten Native Nations have signed the International Treaty and many others with the Mother Earth Accord.

The Lummi Nation brought their Sacred Totem Poles to pray with our “bundles.” The First Nations of Grandmother’s Land up north exchanged strategies, guidance, laughter, ceremony and presence with those of us in the southern direction. The heads of the Pawnee Nation and the Nez Perce showed up to stand strong with us when we walked out of an attempted Department of State consultation that was out of order.

When the DOS reported on it they called it a “demonstration”. It was an assertion of our right to be respected as Nation to Nation parties and that we would not allow ourself to be manipulated. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman mobilized locally, regionally and nationally to work in unification with the grassroots, the Treaty Councils, the Women’s and Men’s Societies.

The Oceti Sakowin, Seven Council Fires of the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota, individual tribes and other tribal nations provided support for gatherings, events, ceremonies and direct actions. Three Spiritual Camps were created at Rosebud, Lower Brule and Cheyenne River, preparing to defend on the ground. Grassroots entities such as Brave Heart Society, Oglala Tokalas, Owe Aku Moccasins on the Ground, Pte Oyate Ospaye, Wiconi Un Tipi and many others hosted direct actions in cooperation with Honor the Earth, Ruckus, Chorus Foundation, Brave Heart Society and many others. There is much thanks to also give to Ojibwe and Dine’ Waterwalkers, A.I.M. Members, and all who marched, prayed, cooked, and supported in every possible way.

The first Spiritual Camp was held on the Ponca Trial of Tears at the Art Tanderup farm. These spiritual camps were a door for youth to become involved and speak of their concerns. These camps were attended by other Turtle Island defenders such as the Black Mesa Coalition, the southern defenders against Tar Sands, the activists fighting the Bakken Oil presence and of course, the Indigenous Environmental Network was invited in by the Oceti Sakowin.

At all of these gatherings, children were always present… watching, learning, speaking, praying and helping… for the future. Spiritual leaders, both men and women were always present to maintain the balance, including the Keeper of our Sacred Bundle, Arvol Looking Horse.

Elders like Marie Randall who is in her 90’s, from Wanblee, SD stopped KXL trucks to communicate that this is serious business. Urban Natives joined with their reservation counterparts in hosting demonstrations, banner drops and forums against KXL. Tribes of the Oceti Sakowin joined with Dakota Rural Action to form NOKXL Dakota to combat Transcanada in direct actions, horse rides, summits and to battle Transcanada in the SD Public Utility Commission hearings. There are so many more and I apologize for leaving anyone out. In summary it was a Sovereign Nation movement all across Turtle Island and it was successful!

From the beginning, the goal was to utilize the new weapon of social media, widespread public outcry and strong defense of treaty and unceded lands (original territories). The opposition was always about jobs, jobs, jobs which is second nature to systemic capitalism. Our approach was “traditional technology” (prayer, ceremony, direct action, which are the original bio-instructions from the earth).

As Deksi Vine Deloria said, “to be Indigenous is to be of place.” Our culture actively draws on the power of our sacred sites and their power physically and spiritually. It is Native metaphysics which is why we do ceremony. The solution to climate change is how we live in relation to all living things and redefine our technological niche in nature with respect.

Many in the movement against KXL rejected “philanthropic capitalism” and fought back sometimes without funding, depending on grassroots methods of survival. Philanthropic capitalism is being funded to do someone else’s philosophy, which often conflicts with grassroots earth philosophy. Some funders are now learning this and we appreciated their support.

As this is being written, a SD Public Utility Commission hearing is being held on another threat, the Dakota Access Pipeline which once again is trespassing in Treaty and Aboriginal lands in northern and eastern SD and North Dakota. A dream team of tribal attorneys representing Cheyenne River, Rosebud, Cheyenne River and Yankton are battling in the PUC process against the two pipelines, KXL and Dakota Access. Even though the Presidential Permit has been denied for Transcanada’s KXL, the SD PUC is insisting on having the hearings continue on whether Transcanada should receive a permit through SD for KXL.

Lastly, in any blessing received by Indigenous people, it is essential to have what we call a “wopida or wopila”, which is a giving of thanks to restore the balance for gifts received. This is why of course, that tobacco is always offered to the spirit world. The Allies and Pipeline fighters did this of course, at the invite of the Sicangu Oyate (the Burnt Thigh people) of Rosebud at Wicokahiyiya (middle of the day) this past Saturday, November 14, 2015 at Mission, SD.

Now we return to the list of the 100 things to defend against, including the recent bill introduced in Congress to assume plenary power of tribal recognition led by congressional people (one from Utah) who have no inkling of who we are. As former Chairman Brewer said, our horses are always ready and we must defend on this one. Tunkan Inajin win , he miye ksto!!!
-By Faith Spotted Eagle, Tunkan Inajin

The battle against Keystone XL was an unprecedented collaboration to protect the land from extractive industries that threaten our water, air, and delicately balanced climate. Yet there is still much work to be done. If adopted, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), will allow corporations to sue governments for enacting environmental protections. If TPP were law right now, corporations could overturn the Presidents decision to reject Keystone XL. Now we celebrate, tomorrow we actively face these challenges together with strength, grace, and compassion to do what’s right for future generations.

Wisdom of an Andean Mystic

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 12.03.19 PMFew people realize that the Hopi Tribe of Northern Arizona have clans that are descendants of tribes from the northernmost to southernmost tips of the Americas (and quite possibly beyond that). The Q’ero are believed to be descendants of the Inca, who fled high into the Andes where they successfully hid from outsiders until recent decades. Kenosis Spirit Keepers had created the cultural exchange program, and Don Americo Yabar was playing a central role in translating between cultural leaders. I was brought along by Carla Woody to help document and assist Hopi elder, Harold Joseph.

Our first destination after reaching Cusco was the giant stone remnants of Sacsayhuaman, the historical capital of the Inca. An architectural marvel and modern day mystery, the walls are made of impossibly large stones that are beveled and stacked perfectly without mortar.

Upon entering the site, my Hopi friend who had never been there before pointed and said, “We must go there and find a snake carving to make an offering before we explore the site.” He said that the structure was built to correspond to the tallest mountain and is oriented the same way they oriented the Hopi Villages on the Mesas. To my surprise he walked us directly to a a giant snake that had been built into the wall that fit his description where we made an offering of Hopi Corn.

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The giant stone remnants of Sacsayhuaman

Sacred sites and ceremony

Days later we had our first meeting with the Q’ero and Don Americo Yabar outside of Cusco. From here we all traveled together to sacred sites for ceremony and stories around the fire. I particularly enjoyed tagging along with Don Americo who is playful and poetic in his words, mannerisms and way of life. Being with him in nature reminded me of being a child, where the landscape surrounding us was alive and filled with stories.

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Above: Harold Joseph (left), and Don Americo Yabar

Standing by a river he told me how the Inca had so much energy. He said that they never drew their energy from their own internal battery, instead they drew it from the stars, the land, all of the universe. He demonstrated, with eyes closed and palms open towards the raging white-water of the river:

“Breath this power in through every pour in your body, through the palms of your hands, and the breath that enters your lungs. That is the power of the Inca, the power of the Andes.”

To this day I use this practice and feel that I have increased my ability to absorb energies from the land. Give it a try at a power spot near you. In our modern society based on individualism, we have cut ourself off from the greater source of life that surrounds us.

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Chucuito fertility shrine

Another profound experience was visiting the ancient Chucuito fertility shrine with giant stone penises. I had seen the overtly sexual Inca carvings and artwork at gift shops along my travels and thought they were humorously perverse. Yabar looked at us as we stood in the shrine and said:

You’re bodies are very angry… 500 years of being told by the church that your natural urge for pleasure, connection, and procreation is sinful. Inca knew that there is no spiritual knowledge without first having a clear connection to nature and sexuality.

Standing behind us at the shrine was a church with a steeple that had penises on the top instead of a cross. Some say that the site is a hoax put there for tourists but the Inca were clearly uninhibited about sexuality.
Q’ero and Hopi Spirit Keepers Share Traditions

We are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we believe, and the stories our culture tells us. Undoubtedly the Church, commercialism, and colonialism have influenced our thinking and our culture even if we are not actively religious. What would our society look like if we were taught to connect with the energies of nature, if pleasure and connection were considered sacred instead of sinful? Well I guess that sounds pretty ‘Pagan’ and I’m okay with that…

The World Needs Aloha

Beautiful beaches, rainbows, tropical fruits and epic hiking make Hawaii one of the worlds most popular tourist destinations. Simultaneously this small island chain represents a microcosm of global issues and a cultural tradition rich with solutions that can benefit communities around the planet. The word aloha is commonly understood to represent “I love you”, “hello”, and “goodbye” but it is much more than that. Aloha is a way of living that embraces the larger interconnected web of relationships surrounding us in nature along with our responsibility to be respectful custodians within this web of life. Currently this way of life is being threatened on the islands and all over the world so Hawaiians have embraced creative ways to re-awaken us all to the beauty that is possible.

Using Hawaiian language grammatical rules, we will translate this (aloha) literally as “The joyful sharing of life energy in the present” or simply “Joyfully sharing life”. The Deeper meaning of Aloha

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The finite ecosystem of an island can teach us a whole lot as we begin to recognize the finite resources on our whole planet. Ancient Hawaiians were masters at regenerative agriculture, working with nature to increase abundance of food, fresh water, and fertile soil. The year-round growing season has made Hawaii a great place for experiments in permaculture. It has also attracted biotech industries like Monsanto and Syngenta.

A recent film Aina, That Which Feeds Us takes a deeper look at the ways that the biotech industry runs contrary to the cultural heritage of the islands. AINA means “that which feeds us” in the Hawaiian language. This 23 minute film highlights a way to address some of the most pressing environmental and health crises facing the island of Kauaʻi, and of island Earth. You can watch the full film for free on their website as well as get involved locally to promote more sustainable and regenerative farming practices through the films inspiring educational message.

Permaculture is the practice of producing food, energy, etc, using ways that do not deplete the earth’s natural resources. It is a system of perennial agriculture emphasizing the use of renewable natural resources and the enrichment of local ecosystems.

AINA trailer

Hawaii was also recently in the news as negotiators around the world converged in Maui to finalize talks on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). This corporate trade deal will effect many pacific rim nations and also runs counter to the basic aloha principle of sharing resources while respecting the land and the people. Since TPP paves the way for corporate exploitation, local protestors used a traditional way to bring attention to this secret deal. The event drew international exposure as hundreds of people surrounded the building where negotiations were being held and blew conch shells.

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Because the islands sit in the vast ocean with mountainous peaks, it is one of the best places for star-gazing. The Polynesian People have a great history of navigating the oceans by observing the night sky. Recently, a thirty meter telescope (TMT) was proposed to be placed at the top of the watershed on Mauna Kea. Despite a love for astronomy and science, this telescope threatened the finite water source on the island. The issue also put an international spotlight on the colonial roots of science, and put Hawaiian culture center-stage in a global discussion. Is it okay to reach for the stars if we can’t take care of our own eco-system? This concept was explored in a recent blog, De-Colonialize Astronomy.

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Hawaii is a gem on our beautiful planet. It is a great place to visit and explore, but it’s greatest gift may be in the culture itself. The land has informed this rich culture for centuries and today we have an opportunity to embrace this universal wisdom and consider it in the context of contemporary global issues. How do we protest unsustainable and unjust policies while bringing positive change using respectful and creative practices? Hawaii has the answer… The world needs more Aloha!

Trail of Tears, Immigration, and Healing of Nations

Author of well-known Medicine Cards and Choctaw Pipe-Carrier, David Carson, shares stories of hope and healing with historical roots and contemporary relevance.

From the Trail of Tears forced relocation of Native Americans to displaced Syrian or African refugees, the stories may differ but the wounds and opportunity to heal remain the same. Native Americans have a unique perspective historically, and a wisdom that can help us inform our current situation. Invasion, displacement, genocide have been with humanity forever. In the culture and in the land that surrounds us, even in our blood, all of history is alive within us. This includes the glory and the trauma of our individual and collective past. Healing this history requires looking within one’s self and perhaps taking a moment to hear the untold stories of our history.

“I wouldn’t be here without this history. So to rage against this history is to rage against myself…”   -David Carson

Today people are more willing to re-examine colonial attitudes and the ways these archaic belief structures are still playing out in the world today. Along with this has come a global discussion about our relationship to the land, and a scrutinizing of current political/economic systems. Indeed, we stand at the crossroads of a great opportunity for healing. In many tribes this time of healing has been spoken of in stories for generations.

 

In 1994 Alison “Tootie” Montana, a prominent Black Indian Chief from New Orleans, had a vision of bringing together many diverse tribes to celebrate their shared history. David Carson, Choctaw author of “Medicine Cards” and Kam Nightchase, a Lakota Pipe-Carrier, also shared a similar vision. Reverend David “Goat” Carson of New Orleans led the organizational effort to make this vision a reality at Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park. The gathering was called “Sacred Medicine Circle at High Noon” on Aug. 20, 1994, and a White Buffalo was born later that week. This is said to be a good omen of unity and healing between all tribes and nations.

Unity looks like an impossible dream today though with racial division, immigration, and refugee crises continuing to make top headlines. The lines dividing nations are always changing yet there are no borders in our blood or our common humanity.

Is citizenship or identifying with your own culture more important than recognizing the common humanity in other human beings?

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Only through making the inward journey can this story ever be healed. Remembering, honoring, and making peace with our personal and shared history is something that each of us can do to bring peace into the world. As you will see in the video below, David Carson knows this as well as anyone. His stories and understanding are unparalleled because he has lived them his whole life.

What happened to natives in America provides a good window to understand a universal struggle that is playing out all over the world today. After the Trail of Tears, when natives were forcefully marched off their ancestral lands and onto reservations, natives were required to register themselves on the Dawes Roll. This was an “official” government list of “card carrying” natives.

Some bands of Indians refused to be listed on the Dawes Rolls because they considered it an insult to have the government that abused them be the ones to make their heritage/citizenship “official” or not. These people had children and grandchildren who are still with us today, some assimilated and some continuing to keep their culture outside of the official “books”.

“Outside Indian Country most don’t realize that over the past 10 years, several thousand people have had their tribal citizenship status terminated. Most were not dismembered for wrongdoing or adopted by other Native nations. They were simply identified by their elected officials as allegedly no longer meeting revised citizenship criteria.” –Dismembering Natives: The Violence Done by Citizenship Fights

Citizenship is based on a set of man-made, ever-changing rules usually devised to serve a political or economic agenda. The end result can be devastating when these ideologies become internalized and a sense of belonging is lost. Externally this becomes wars, internally it can become self-hatred. We heal when we extend the welcome-mat, and allow ourselves and others to belong. We are connected by the good, bad, and ugly parts of this history. Connected it what’s most important.

David Carson speaks about healing the trauma from within by “taking the bitter with the sweet” and his wisdom is applicable to all of us no matter what culture we come from. Carson speaks of, “Coming into a new world that we don’t know how to describe… It has to do with light,  it has to do with self-understanding, it has to do with inner-dimensions.” He shares about the “snake of energy” that went from the northern to southern tip of the Americas and the heritage of Mound Builders.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” -Joseph Campbell

 

 

 

When we look to knowledgeable elders and explore our own historical struggles, we begin to see similar patterns emerge for every culture. The oppressors and the oppressed have changed roles on many occasions while the triumphs and suffering continue to be present with us today. Together we can resolve these wounds while deepening our sense of respect for other cultures as well as our selves. This is how new stories are created, this is how we can fulfill a dream of peace and unity, but it will take doing some work within. Deepening compassion for yourself will help you be compassionate for the struggles of others. Cast away your fear, ask questions, explore… only you can heal your history.

How a Hopi Elder Changed My Life

Secluded in the Painted Desert of the Southwest the Hopi are a private but open-hearted, indigenous Nation that have preserved one of the most ancient cultures in North America.

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They are essentially an oral tradition people which means that they have other ways of keeping their history than written words that includes dances, songs, and storytelling. They even have a word, ‘Navoti’, which refers to the information that can only be exchanged through the spoken word, it has to do with the silent space between words, the feelings and gestures that can not be transmitted in the written form. This why I am usually hesitant to write about my experiences with the Hopi (along with a history of cultural appropriation and misunderstanding from anthropologists and spiritual seekers from the ‘New-Age’). So rather than attempt to write about the Hopi culture, which I am not qualified to do, I am compelled to share a story from my 20 years of experience and friendships on the Hopi Mesas.

“Hope” is a video representation of Hopi Prophecy Rock
Tribal culture is often more focused on the community than individuals, and any wisdom that individuals posses is generally considered the collective wisdom of the tribe. This can be a sensitive issue when elders speak out beyond the village, or draw attention to themselves, but there are times when it is necessary. Famed Hopi artist, mythical archaeologist, and poet, Michael Kaboti once explained to me, “Sometimes, in order to keep a tradition alive, you have to break the tradition. For that reason we have clowns as the accepted tradition-breakers.”

Nature, the First People and the spirit of our ancestors are giving you loud warnings. Today, December 10, 1992, you see increasing floods, more damaging hurricanes, hail storms, climate changes and earthquakes as our prophecies said would come. Even animals and birds are warning us with strange changes in their behavior such as the beaching of whales. Why do animals act like they know about the earth’s problems and most humans act like they know nothing? If we humans do not wake up to the warnings, the Great Purification will come to destroy this world just as the previous worlds were destroyed.
Grandfather Thomas Banyacya, speaking before the United Nations in 1992

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Above: Grandfather Martin Gashweseoma wearing “Pahana Chief” vest
The elder who changed my life is not a clown, but he has always been a trickster in my life. With the exception of Thomas Banyacya, who was the first elder to share Hopi Prophecies with the world, he may be the most well-known Hopi elder to outsiders. His name is Martin Gashweseoma (left), and he is known as the Keeper of the Sacred Fire Clan Tablets. I first met him at an international gathering of indigenous elders called Belonging to Mother Earth in the late 90’s.

Martin

Many of the attendees had really hoped that Martin would come to the gathering but he had declined. On the second morning of the week-long event there was a sunrise pipe-ceremony held on the beach. During the ceremony, we were visited by dolphins who swam in a circle just a few feet from the shore during the whole ceremony. I instantly felt they were visiting us and aware of what we were doing though logic would say that it was a coincidence. Still there were no dolphins anywhere else along the beach but right in front of us.

Later that evening we received word at the gathering that Martin had called in and had changed his mind and decided to come after all. His reason? He said that dolphins had visited him in his dream and told him he needed to go to the gathering… Arrangements were made and he arrived the next evening.

I was at the gathering hosting youth activities and workshops all week with my company, Living Folklore. We had been invited because of our history working at schools and reservations using art, circus performers, stilt walkers, and clowns. Every tribe around the world has some sort of clown character, so mimicry, puppets, and playful games are a great way to entertain audiences from different cultural backgrounds that don’t all speak the same language. On the evening of Martins arrival, one of our performers was invited to a birthday celebration that a bunch of elders would be attending. Martin stole the show when he asked her, Giggly Sprout the Clown, to marry him. It was beautiful to see the power of laughter as a universal form of relating between all of these elders, many of whom spoke different languages.

During the next day Martin and his translator, Emory, shared many stories and prophecies to a small gathering of people. It was a profound experience and a great responsibility to hear this wisdom, but it was many months after the gathering that Martin began to work his magic on me. I had a recurring dream for weeks and in it was Martin laughing at me. Sometimes I could hear him laughing but I couldn’t see his face, other times he was looking directly into my eyes and laughing. At first I assumed it was just a strange dream and then I began to wonder what it might symbolize.


Martin Explains the First and Second Prophecy Rock

I went through a lengthy series of initiations that involved clowns and masked characters on various Hopi villages before I was told where Martin lived.  After a while I visited him and was greeted at the door of his home with the same laugh that I had heard in my dreams. I asked him if he remembered me and he said that he always remembers his dreams… From this moment I actually began to believe that it might be possible for people to travel in their dreams and visit others. I have continued to study and work with dreams ever since.

Once, while showing me the Second Prophecy Rock, Martin spoke of the “technology that came from our DNA”. At the time I was not a fan of technology, I saw it as the source of so much destruction on our planet. I asked him, “You mean that computers, cell-phones, and internet can help humanity heal the planet?” He responded, “If only those with bad hearts use this technology, we will have big problems. We need people with good hearts to use this technology to benefit Mother Earth.” It is true that the technology we have came from our imaginations, our dreams, our DNA. Computers are nothing more than circuit boards made from crushed rocks and plastic from decaying fossils. Tools aren’t inherently good or bad, it is the intention with which they are used.

On a subsequent visit with Martin he told me that he had just returned from Japan. I teased him saying, “That isn’t very traditional for a Hopi elder to fly on an airplane.” He responded that indeed it was his tradition because they asked him to share the prophecies and that is his job. So I asked him what he told people in Japan and he responded, “I told them to leave before the tsunami comes.” This was over a year before the tsunami that crippled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant happened.

On the evening before the tsunami in Japan I saw Martin in my dream again. He kept appearing in different dreams saying the same thing. This time he wasn’t laughing. He said again and again, “It is time for these things that we have spoken of, it is time to wake up.” The following day Japan was hit with a devastating tsunami. Many will call this coincidence, or claim that it is a made up story. I do not believe that I have any special powers, I believe we all have the power to pay attention to our dreams. I believe we have much to learn if we do so. I believe that the earth wants us to wake up, I believe traditional elders have much wisdom for us should we choose to open our minds, our hearts, and listen. What do you believe?

What we can Learn from Forgotten History

During the early days of slavery in the American Southeast, native Seminole, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Creek Indians were known to raid plantations and free captive slaves. Despite their cultural differences, they recognized their common struggle against oppression at the hands of colonial rule. In an attempt to keep these original African and American people divided, colonial authorities granted slaves to some native tribes.

The tribes recognized the slaves as equals, married them into their families and culture while continuing to raid plantations and free other slaves.

This has a lot to teach us today as all of us from diverse backgrounds around the globe face common threats. It is also a testament to not “buying into” or believing narratives that allow for oppression of others.

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If you believe people have no history worth mentioning, it’s easy to believe they have no humanity worth defending.
 William Loren Katz

Colonialists assumed that the narrative about wealth, owning slaves, and power was universal. They wrongly assumed that natives would also live by this belief when they granted them slaves. Changing power structures is most effective when the stories that support them lose credibility. As we have seen throughout history, and what is now backed by science is the power of our beliefs to shape our reality. To learn more about the Biology of Belief, you may want to explore the work of Dr. Bruce Lipton. What are contemporary stories that keep us divided?

Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. – John F. Kennedy

 

Successful political and social movements succeed by building coalitions and alliances between diverse groups that share a common interest. Movements are easily diffused when division and mistrust is seeded. Today humans everywhere face common threats of exploitation, contaminated water, air, and more. What are some other common threats that people everywhere can agree on?

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Beautiful Hand-Beaded Carnival Suits

Antiquated colonial belief systems have been incorporated into modern corporate structures and woven into policies and laws that continue to haunt us. The core belief that justifies the exploiting of another people is the same as the notion of exploiting natural resources, exploiting children, or exploiting women. The beliefs of scarcity, fear, superiority, competition, and entitlement are central justifications. Like the early colonialists, many of us assume that these stories and beliefs are universally true but they are not. Are we willing to examine our own assumptions and rewrite these stories together?

We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet.
 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

We have seen environmental groups compete against each other for grants while their shared cause suffers. We have seen social movements scream louder, insisting that their cause is the most important and nobody’s voice is heard. Meanwhile we continue to see the global elite, and corporations write oppressive trade laws like Trans Pacific Partnership, FIPA, and TTIP – that weaken democracy, threaten the environment, and open the gates to exploit workers. These antiquated policies keep us all pitted against each other while instilling division, oppression, and exploitation into the fabric of our economic system, and justice system.

The same cooperation shown between slaves and Native Americans that eroded oppression in their time can be used today to make a more equal, safe, sustainable future for all of us. We can listen to the voices of others who are feeling oppressed and find our common cause. We can embrace environmental causes that recognize the importance of a healthy ecosystem as integral to a healthy society. We can stop listening to the narratives that keep us separated, turn-off our television, and start sharing stories that bring us together for a common cause. Our connectedness has grown exponentially through social networks, it is time for our connectedness to included the realm of the heart and compassion into an integrated community of people who genuinely care.
Divided, our global issues are overwhelming. United,our collective strength is unstoppable!

PHOTO CREDITS: CHRISTOPHER PORCHE WEST

Indigenous Roots of the English Language

Respect for native wisdom and spirituality is long overdue, but those of European descent need to also know their own forgotten indigenous heritage.

While many people are actively trying to honor indigenous ways and heal historical wounds leftover from colonialism, many who have European roots are completely oblivious of their own pre-colonial history. In Europe after the Roman Empire decimated most of the tribal communities, France, Britain, and Spain began colonial practices that spread oppressive policies around the world as well as at home. The modern concept of the elite 1% was alive and well during the middle ages and going back far into antiquity. White indigenous people living in tribal ways long ago were oppressed and ripped from their traditional connection to the land just as Native Americans were. In order to have healing across cultures and peace in this world, it is important to know your own past and heal the wounds of your own lineage.

““Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors.” –Vine Deloria, Jr.

I was very lucky to be initiated and taught rune songs as well as migration stories as a young adult. I learned them first in the oral tradition while sitting with my auntie making beadwork and crafts. It was a revelation to realize that some wisdom is better spoken than written, and I have struggled ever since to strike a balance between what is appropriate to write about and what is not. I have found that knowing my own cultural history has opened many doors for me in connecting with diverse people whose cultures I respect and admire.

Bind-Rune with all 24 original runes in one mark.

Recognizing how subjugation and colonial practices continue to hurt people of all ethnic backgrounds is part of the much needed healing. Irish slaves, indentured servants, serfs, and witch-burnings were common traumas for the newcomers to America. Having escaped many of the horrors of the old world, these settlers armed with guns were quite savage in their treatment of Native Americans. Identifying these historical traumas does not justify them, but it helps to inform some of the attitudes that came with the early settlers. It is understood in the field of psychology that children who are treated violently or with abuse have a greater propensity to enact that behavior as adults.

(Pictured above: Bind-Rune with all 24 runes in 1 mark)

The English Language which came from the old world has sadly been forced by oppressive military and exploitative business practices. However it is evolved from an ancient tribal language that was once etched on stones, and told through songs and stories around the council fires. The Runic Language (Alphabet), the Elder Futhark is the root of many of the characters that are now the letters of the English Alphabet.

It is true that we are “sentenced” to perceive the world through stories. That words are “spells” made from spelling. The invention of the printing press allowed for oppression and suppression in ways that never existed before it (notice “press” right in the middle of words like “impress”, “suppress”, “repress”). Books were bound (like people), and covered (like much of our indigenous history). Authority was given to the authors of these stories whether through the laws of the kingdom, or Biblical Law. The keepers of the peoples stories, whether the church, or the kingdom became the ruler of the people.

In the olden days people knew their stories through the oral tradition, through a dance, or a song from a bard. These stories, and our understanding of our place in the world, was not owned or privatized. It was commonly shared and understood. That’s why the Runes were primarily an oral tradition with corresponding written marks. The passing of stories and wisdom through trusted personal networks kept them sacred.

The rune marks are said to be derived from the natural patterns in nature. You can see them in the veins of a trees leaves, in the cracks in dirt. Though they were carved onto stones, traditionally it was unacceptable to kill a tree to make paper to write words on. It is believed that the words and the characters (letters) are alive and they live in the vibrations of our human voices. An understanding of these concepts allowed a person to “read” messages into nature, and the 24 original characters are said to represent our 24 vertebrae. In this sense it is also believed that the runes represent our own internal genetic wisdom, giving us a way to see deeper into our own selves.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have an auntie or uncle to teach them rune songs but if you are interested in deepening your understanding of the mystical, indigenous heritage of the English Language, I highly recommend The Leaves of Yggdrasil by Freya Aswynn. Unlike most New Age interpretations of the runes which are relatively shallow, Freya is initiated in the oral tradition and was ordained to share some of these teachings in writing. It is a beautiful way to gain a deep cultural perspective on the indigenous world-view of Europeans that preceded religious, imperial conquest, and colonialism.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson

The current interest in indigenous wisdom by non-natives is a high form of flattery though it is sometimes insensitive and comes across in unflattering ways. There is a yearning to connect with a forgotten past that is universal to all humans. When each of us connects with our own ancestral lineage we will see that we all share an inherent wisdom and memory of what it is to belong in the larger community of life that surrounds us.  It is time to rewrite the stories that separate us and understand that we don’t live in a hierarchy of species, we live within a sacred circle.