We are the ones we are waiting for. This is the hour; we are in the time of change. However the urgency of this time in history — spiritual or physical — can be stated, it was so said at the International Indigenous Leadership Gathering.
Over seven days, starting on May 31, a thousand people came to the Fountain Indian Reserve off Highway 99, near Lillooet, British Columbia. This was the second of four such gatherings to be called by the St’át’imc Chiefs Council, with the final event due to take place in 2012.
Chanupa carriers, prophecy keepers, and leaders of ceremony came from as far away as New Zealand and Mongolia to share in a celebration of indigenous wisdom and practice.
Every speaker shared some part of the impact of their own colonial history, Maori or Quechua, and how perseverance allowed them to hang on to their traditional teachings, even by just a thread. The determination to continue that perseverance was a major goal of this Gathering. People spoke of the importance of their indigenous language and culture, and how those things are essentially rooted in the land. The land, “every blade of grass, every drop of water,” as Many Horses put it, must therefore be understood to be and treated as sacred.
People from Saskatchewan and the U.S. mid-west told how they can’t drink water from the wells by their homes. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was referred to by many, and it is seen as a sign of getting too close to ancient prophesies that picture this time in darkness. Last year just before the first Gathering, the H1N1 virus broke out, also a sign of prophesies coming to pass. But “prophesies aren’t made for people to live in doom and gloom, but so that you can change something!” argued Paula Horne-Mullen from South Dakota.
Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota, is the 19th generation carrier of the sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman bundle. Of his predecessors, one made possible a legendary peace treaty between the Okanagan and Secwepmec of B.C. Looking Horse spoke of World Peace and Prayer Day, June 21, as a time to visit sacred sites and leave prayers there for the future of the earth and the people.
Unfortunately, too few non-native people will know where those sites are, on their newly-acquired homelands. The pain of colonization has left a void between indigenous knowledge and “progress,” and yet all speakers insisted that the many peoples of the world must unite spiritually at this time, no matter their colour or creed.
One of the dozens of sacred chanupa pipe carriers at the Gathering was Matilda Brown of the host St’át’imc. She told the people, “It’s time to move from the humanness and step into our spirituality. We all have that power. My people, black, yellow, red, and white, the Creator put us here for a reason.”
Of the many who spoke to the importance of indigenous (be it Saami in Sweden or St’át’imc in Canada) knowledge being shared, Phil Lane Junior was perhaps the most direct:
“Everything that has happened has been in preparation for us to step forward and take our leadership role at a global level; at a national, provincial and regional level. We have to prepare so that as it grows darker and darker, our light gets stronger and stronger. The darker it gets, the clearer that light is. My grandfather told me the spiritually weak will always come to the spiritually strong. This is our day. We are the ones we have been praying for.” Lane is the director of the Four Worlds International Institute. www.fwii.net
The indigenous struggle has been many and varied, particularly in non-indigenous spiritual worlds.
In the churches:
“Missionaries are creating a fake people. Now in Mongolia, we are sending those missionaries home,” said Tsengel Purevsuren from Mongolia.
In state laws:
“In Peru, they made a law that all land belongs to the government and in Bagua, for instance, they can sell that land to the petroleum companies while the people who have always lived there have nowhere to go,” said Rene Salas of the Quechua.
And in assimilation tactics:
“I remember the first time I was called a stupid Indian. I was six years old. I made a mistake in arithmetic, and that was also the first time I was ever hit,” said Gerry Oldman of the St’át’imc.
The struggle is ongoing.
The loss of languages is acute. British Columbia is home to 60 per cent of Canada’s first nations languages, with 29 endangered and three extinct. This cultural disaster is by no means unique to this province.
“When we were in Ireland, we met Elders there who are trying to protect their language,” said Ms. Horne-Mullen.
Family violence is as well an assault on traditional teachings. Angela McDougal, Executive Director of the Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver, said: “One of the worst legacies that has been left to us by the colonizers is the dismantling of our family roles. What we have right now is an epidemic of family violence. In my father’s country of Ghana, women die from it. And they die here too.”
And what all these presenters were saying to the people is, your language is sacred, it was given to you by the Creator. Your family and their land and culture are sacred. “Do you have any idea how precious your life is?” asked Katherine White Cloud, Sioux.
Darrel Bob, former Chief of Fountain, clarified the vision for the Gathering and its teachings: “It’s up to each and every one of us to decide what our footprint is going to be, because it’s going to matter to our children. I know that what I don’t do is going to be left to my children to do, so I try to do what I can while I’m here.”
Courage to do more was offered in the sweat lodge, which ran several times each day, and in the songs exchanged late into the night between the nations and continents. And probably in woven designs, shared in wool, cedar and pine needle, between women of many nations.
Ceremonies from many nations were held. Geshe Yong Dong, a Buddhist monk from Tibet, offered a prayer teaching — one of the 82,000 his teacher taught. People learned to chant with the directions and calm and balance their energy.
Dr. Lee Brown, Cherokee, keeps prophesies. He told the Gathering, “I’ve seen some flashes of light in my life, and miracles where people are healed instantly, but usually healing is just a lot of hard work. We need to look at the purity of our conduct, and our deep, deep innermost intent: why are we doing what we’re doing?”
The energy at the Gathering was palpable — calm and happy. And hopeful, and determined: indigenous wisdom is essential to the world, and it will still be shared among all, from a place of compassion and a sense of responsibility to Mother Earth and all people, and their common future.
The St’át’imc people and their nation run from Whistler and Port Douglas in the south to Lillooet and near Cache Creek in the north. The St’át’imc Chiefs Council is a political union of the leaders of 11 communities that remain out of an original population in the region of more than 20. In 2011, the St’át’imc, or “Lillooet Tribe,” as they are also known, will celebrate 100 years since the signing of their first written Declaration of Nationhood, recorded at the time as evidence of claim and resistance against British Columbia and Canada’s appropriation of their lands, people and jurisdiction.
Kerry Coast publishes The St’át’imc Runner newspaper.