Wounds Remembered

View from our tent MD

[View from our tent Friday morning, photo by Margy Dowzer]

Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island was a powerful, moving, four-day gathering, with teachings and ceremonies led by Indigenous elders from near and far.  It included the stories of so many people, many of which are not mine to tell. But I want to share some of my own story at the gathering.

Wabanaki means people of the dawn, and there were ceremonies at sunrise each day led by Bobby Henry, a spiritual leader from the Seminole in Florida. I am also a person called to the dawn, so I was present each day for that time.

The first day, several of us had gathered near the arbor in the mist around 5 a.m., but no one had yet arrived to lead the lighting of the fire.  So I prayed my own dawn prayers, and felt this message from the sun–“You are all bathed in love.”  Later that morning, Anishinaabe women from the Midewiwin Lodge sang a song about the love the Sun has for all of us.  I was so moved by the melody, the voices, the drumming on the Little Boy drum.  It went straight to my soul.  They said it was about the first woman to walk the earth, expressing her joy at seeing everything in creation.

The first day was devoted to healing the wounds carried within the hearts and minds of the people from our long history of violence.  The wound that became clear to me was a Great Forgetting:  first there was a great disconnection of my ancestors from their connection with all of creation, and then there was a great forgetting so that the people would be unaware that they were wounded, disconnected, and thus never realize that they had once been connected.  At the end of the ritual, we each were invited to offer tobacco to the fire and make a solemn promise.  My promise was to remember, to remember the wound and to remember the connection.

Also coming into my thoughts was the herb that has appeared on our land–St. John’s Wort–which has traditionally been understood as useful for depression, and also as a wound healer.  I seemed to hear in my mind, this plant can help when you remember the wound of disconnection, when you open to the pain underneath the great forgetting.  I had harvested some of the plants earlier in July, and they were infusing in oil at home–the oil turns red from the plants.  When I got home, I also harvested more of the plants and hung them to dry in our garage, for making tea.

I know that there will be many more rememberings, lessons I carry from this time, but perhaps that is enough for now.  I do want to offer my thanks to Sherri Mitchell who has carried the dream of these ceremonies for many years, and who called us together and enabled it to come alive.

 

Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island

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Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island-Image from Sherri Mitchell

Margy and I are packing up this morning to drive north for a special ceremony.  It has been difficult to pull everything together.  This packing, the 2-3 hour drive, finding the strength it requires to travel–all of this is really a part of the ceremony.  We bring our complete selves, with our own wounds and brokenness, our own love for the earth.  We ask that our participation may be a blessing.  Send us your blessings too.  It is quite an amazing gathering and hundreds of people from around the world will be together from July 14-17. Here is the call and description from the event page posted by Sherri Mitchell:

Prophecy of the Eastern Gate

Our ancestors tell us that the Eastern Gate is where we will gather to begin the healing of this land. It is here in the East where first contact was made between the Native peoples and the newcomers. It is here that the first blood was spilled between our people, and our history of violence began. So, it is here on this same land that the healing must begin.

The Wabanaki, the people of the first light, are the keepers of the Eastern Door. We are the first peoples to greet Kihsus, the Sun, each morning, and Nipawset, the Moon, each evening. Now, we open our hearts and our homes to greet all of you, so that together we may begin to heal the wounds of Turtle Island and set a new path forward for all life.

This ceremony will be a coming together of people from all over the world, to acknowledge the common wound that we all carry from our shared history of violence. No matter where we come from, we all carry the wounds of historical trauma within us. Whether we were the victims, the perpetrators, or the witness to that violence, that wound is imprinted on our spirits. Now, the time has come for us to acknowledge that wound, together, so that we can heal it and begin working together to heal Mother Earth.

Structure of Ceremony
The first day will be for healing the wounds carried within the hearts and minds of the people. The second day will be for healing the wounds of Mother Earth. And, the third day will be for healing the energetic and spiritual imprint of that wound that lays over the Earth.

The ceremonies will be conducted by spiritual elders from Indigenous communities around the world, and by spiritual leaders from other traditions. We will be gathering on healing ground, along the Penawahpskek (Penobscot) River, at Nibezun in Passadumkeag, Maine.

People from every corner of the world, and from all walks of life are welcome. We ask that you come with a good heart, and good mind, and carry the intention of healing with you.

Colonization Stories

Broken Tree DSC01792The theme at my congregation for November is “What does it mean to be a community of story?” Of course, stories can be truth-telling, or truth-hiding. For example, I have mixed feelings about the Thanksgiving holiday. I am very much in favor of gratitude. But the stories American culture tells about the holiday have been used to hide the truth about a deep crack in the foundation of our nation, and have distorted and corrupted the high ideals many cherish as the basis of our American democracy.

I am speaking about the colonization of this continent, a destructive process unparalleled in history. Millions of Indigenous people were killed, or died from disease unknown to them. Land was stolen. Treaties were signed and then broken, and then never talked about again. Most of our senators and representatives in Washington know nothing about the legal responsibilities of our federal government to the Indigenous nations within our borders.

Why should we care?  Those of us whose ancestors were among the settlers of the continent?  We have benefited from this colonization, but we have also been harmed by it. Colonization is at the root of the many of the problems that all of us are facing now: the destruction of the natural world, climate change, oppression of one group by another, the overarching greed that has bankrupted our economy. (There is a longer list I could make.) I don’t believe we can fix any of those problems without revisiting our history.

Sadly, churches were/are a large contributor to colonization. I am part of a new project here in Maine, called “Decolonizing Faith.” A few clergy colleagues and I, under the auspices of the Wabanaki REACH program, are exploring the history of colonization, and the role of the churches in it. We recently spent a long weekend with a few partners from the Wabanaki people, having deeper conversations about the impacts of colonization on Wabanaki people, and building trust for future work together. We hope that we might begin to envision how people of faith could help in the process of de-colonization, non-Indigenous people joining together with Indigenous people for the benefit of all people.

Our next plan is to create and hold day-long workshops for people in faith communities to explore these questions together. But we realized this topic is so huge, that perhaps we should start by encouraging people to attend the Ally workshops that are already being offered here in Maine by Wabanaki REACH. These workshops look at the history of U.S. Government relationships with Native people, explore the dynamics of systemic racism, and ask what non-native people can do as allies. Once people have this basic foundation, they will be better prepared for looking at how churches were involved in the problems, and how we can be part of the solutions.

I would encourage folks in Maine to sign up for the ally trainings–you can find out more at the Wabanaki REACH events page.   These trainings will be a prerequisite for the first Decolonizing Faith workshops we hope to offer this winter or spring.

Decolonizing Faith, Part One

Dawn at the Pond

I am at a small gathering of Native and non-Native people exploring the topic of Decolonizing Faith.  We have been looking at the history of colonization on this continent, and the role of churches in that process, and the effects on Indigenous people’s lives.  We’ve listened to stories shared by Wabanaki folks of disrupted families, foster care, adoption, love and care of relatives, abuse by church leaders, the long path to healing…  We’ve been here since Friday evening, and will stay until Monday.

We are in a lovely house by Chemo Pond (pronounced Sheemo Pond) in Clifton Maine. The natural beauty of the pond is, in itself, healing.  The calls of the loons.  The breezes in the trees. The reflection of red leaves on the water. I took a swim in the pond on Friday, and Saturday morning I sat outside in the dawn watching the sky grow light in the east.  Today it is raining. Today we start to ask, what can be done to turn around the process of colonization (which has never stopped.)  And what might be the role of spirituality and the role of faith communities in that work? It is good to be here.

There will be much more to think about, to write.

Respite for Mother Earth

Today I am participating in a non-action, non-event. It is being sponsored by Dawnland Environmental Defense, an alliance of Native and non-Native peoples united in the protection of the Dawnland with particular focus on the sacredness of Water. The “Dawnland” is the land of the indigenous Wabanaki, this place where dawn first comes to our country. Everyone is invited to participate in a RESPITE for Mother Earth ~ “stay home, do little, pollute little, buy nothing (especially gas!), explore ways to lower your carbon footprint, regroup, relax, and give your Mother a break!” (It actually covers Aug 13-15 but today is the day I am able to participate.)

In our search for greener housing, there are times when it seems important to stop looking, stop driving around, stop even thinking about projects and buildings, and remember the ground underneath our feet, the root of life, the Earth who is Mother of all. I was able to go outside this morning and listen to the crows and chipmunks sounding an alarm–I think I may have seen a small hawk in the neighborhood. I washed out our bird feeder, and filled it with fresh seed. I read somewhere that bird calls wake up the plants each day, and can wake up our hearts as well.

There is one task I am doing–writing and emailing a letter about a mega-dump that is threatening the Penobscot River. If anyone is willing to help, especially Maine residents, you might use this information to create your own letter, or look at the Dawnland Environmental Defense page for further information.

Michael T. Parker, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Solid Waste Program, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 0333-0017

michael.t.parker@maine.gov

Application #: DEP # S-20700-WD-B1-N

I am writing to request a public hearing on the expansion of Juniper Ridge Landfill, which is located just upstream from Indian Island. It is already a threat for the future viability of the river, and doubling the size (as is now being proposed) will allows a larger mountain of toxic trash to be placed on sensitive wetlands. This will have a detrimental affect on Penobscot people as well as all people who love the Penobscot River.

It is important that affected citizens have a voice in this proposal that threatens their water, the wetland ecology, and the air. It is important that hearings be held in a location convenient for those who will be most affected, such as in Old Town, Orono, Alton, or the Penobscot Nation area. Please inform me of further details on such a hearing.

Sincerely,

The Rev. Dr. Myke Johnson

Ma'skwasi Sipo (Birch Stream), traditional Penobscot hunting, fishing, and gathering territory, is located in close proximity to the mega-dump, Juniper Ridge Landfill.

Ma’skwasi Sipo (Birch Stream), traditional Penobscot hunting, fishing, and gathering territory, is located in close proximity to the mega-dump, Juniper Ridge Landfill. Photo from Dawnland Environmental Defense Facebook page.

A Moment of Healing on a Broken Land

In November of 2006, eight people from my congregation gathered in Orono, Maine with about seventy other people for a celebration of the Giving Winds Capital Campaign. The invitation had mentioned hors d’oeuvres, but it was more truly a feast. We had corn chowder and salmon patties, bacon-wrapped scallops and stuffed mushrooms, veggies and corn fritters, and blueberry cake and fry bread. We listened to drumming by two young girls’ drumming groups, and heard the thanks of several of the leaders of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet tribes. We left with gifts of sweetgrass and traditionally made herbal insect repellent, and beadwork pins.drumming

We heard the story of how the Giving Winds campaign came about. It began in brokenness. The Maine Council of Churches had decided a few years before to oppose a referendum that would have allowed the tribes to pursue casino gambling as a means to economic development. Representatives of the tribes had come to a council meeting to urge them to reconsider, and to speak about the difficult financial issues faced by their communities. But many members of the council had ethical principles against gambling, and they voted to go ahead with their opposition.

It was another painful moment in Indian relations with the non-Indian community here in Maine. But Tom Ewell, then director of the Council of Churches, did not want it to end there. He did some research and discovered the Four Directions Development Corporation that was just getting started. It was seeking to provide home loans and small business loans to Wabanaki people from the four tribes in Maine. Indian people had difficulty gaining credit, because if their homes were on Indian land, they could not be used as collateral for traditional mortgages or home improvement loans from a bank. Four Directions hoped to fill this gap, and to provide financial education and support for start-up businesses.

And so the Maine Council of Churches partnered with Four Directions to create the Giving Winds Capital Campaign. Congregations and individuals across Maine donated money and made low- or no-interest loans that were matched by the Federal Government. The campaign worked to build trust and connection between Indian and non-Indian people in Maine. When we ate with each other at the celebration in Orono, it was a moment of healing on a broken land.

I wanted to share this story because all too often, people feel it must be impossible to heal from five hundred years on a broken land. But I don’t believe it is impossible. Difficult yes, but there are simple steps we can take that move us in the direction toward wholeness. If we can learn to share the pain and share the struggles of Indian peoples, then we also will find ourselves sharing in the celebrations. Sweetgrass