Monday, November 25, 2013

Contemplating the West...

As I prepare my spirit-self for a ceremony that will take place in the spring, I have been mentally attending to various details, unfolding… relaxing into the open space within me and just seeing what comes. These contemplations have tended to align with the earth elements, and medicine wheel teachings, and how each one of these will manifest into the ceremony. To call this contemplation, isn’t quite right. This is free-flowing introspective practice, which opens the channels of insight. It is really a way of being - with each of these aspects.  I envision them as points of light, like sparks – around which energies, understandings and knowings – gather. For me it is a process of opening myself – growing quiet and seeing what shows up. It’s about listening, watching – waiting - and feeling the vibrations as connected things engage one other.  It’s about how knowings come to me. One point of light around which there has been much activity has been the Western direction on the medicine wheel.

The directional door through which our beloved departed ones pass on their journey to the ancestors, is in the West.  I have a hard-hard time with these passings. A very.hard.time.  When one of my beloved people pass through the western door, if we have shared a close bond. The hole left by their Westing – is like a vortex into which energy is drawn, into which thought patterns flow like the cataract of Niagara. Very recently, with the guidance and perspective of a beloved friend – immersed in his work, a wondrous enlightenment shone through my previous experience with death journeys. Three losses that have been devastating to me, my cousin, my Mother, and my infant Grandson - I am experiencing them anew. Now in addition to the very real sorrow that lives in the memory of each passing, a sense of wonderment also resides.

By relaxing into this open space in the West – and feeling the vibrations as connections are made - I have this beautiful, amazing energy flowing, the strings are thrumming with vibrations. I feel the life-rhythms. It is totally wonderful to me, that the act of Westing, passing away, walking on, crossing over - is a process by which our dear ones, encounter the moment when the trappings of this Earthly existence slide away. Societal rules, morays, constructs, and value systems are just not important any more and we are gifted – with unfettered, unconstrained existence as our essential selves. Our Isness, our Spirit gets to burst forth and move and work and flow in ways that are simply not possible when Earthbound, and clothed in the gift that is our body.  We move and engage in delightful entwinement with our Divine Beloved, how amazing is that?! So the West is a totally amazing spiritual launchpad, so that’s one aspect - I’ll call it Yin.

To balance the ethereal Yin – there is a very physical, very grounded, very substantial Yang. West is where the Earth element resides. Solidity, stability, nourishment, endurance, the sustaining force – all of this is embodied by the Earth element.
Everything.everything.everything.everything is reliant upon Earth. This is true of each element - but Earth, especially so. Earth is richly adorned with traces and pieces of all that has ever existed on the planet, in one form or another.

Earth is connected to our five senses in profound ways. If we allow ourselves the opportunity to lay very still with an ear to the Earth, we can hear the gnawing of creatures, the vibrations of beings in motion within, and on top of the Earth. We can hold earth in our hands and experience through our eyes and our touch-sensing, the dampness, the texture, the heat, the viscosity of that which we hold.  By cradling Earth in our hands, by being outdoors during planting or when it is raining, or as the frost is coming out of the ground, or by digging into the rich, sweet Earth with our fingers - we can smell the bouquet of the Earth, the complexity and the nourishment Earth holds in her particles. We can truly smell the cycles of decay and regeneration going on, in that moment. By chance encounters with windblown Earth, by sliding face first to home plate, or by doing a graceless faceplant, we taste Earth. Sometimes we taste by design – or some of us do – directly, or in particles lifted up by tender greens and fiddleheads plucked for salad that never quite make it to the house. Mom told me many times as a child, that we all needed a bit of dirt to grow. Was this a testament to the merits of randomly eaten Earth, or a witness of the life-long connection to the ground –experienced by her middle child? I dunno. Earth is sacred to me. Truly.sacred. I always-always have a bit of Earth – in the form of rocks, on my person, in my pocket. The lovely plate of rocks in the picture is on my desk at work. There are rocks in each vehicle that I drive. I have an extensive family of rocks that move in and out of my care. It is an act of sacred connection to pass a rock that has journeyed with me, to another beloved soul. Rocks ~ the most solid and substantial of Earth forms, have memory.  Pebbles, stones, rocks, boulders – carry the energy, and contain the story – of every place they’ve ever been. The planet, the ground, the soil, the flesh of our Earth Mother - the place where we connect to our sacred physical selves – this is the West and it is where we all come home.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Early Morning Barn

I wrote this piece several years ago: Each morning, I rise early, so many obligations to be attended to - before even preparing for my work day.  I prepare formula for Honey and Angel, the two baby pygmy goats I am bottle feeding. They were orphaned at three days old, we lost their Momma to a bad heat wave.   With a pleasantly warm bottle in the crook of each arm my first steps outside into the new day take me through morning mists - the morning sky holds the suggestion of an orange sunrise.  Through my ancient choreworn sandals, my toes are drenched in morning dew…a very good start to my day.Though sleep still clings to me, the familiarity of routine carries the sleepwalker to the barn.  The Eastern and Western doors are wide open at this time of year, so it is like still being outside.  As the twins enjoy their breakfast, I watch the sunrise over the distant tree line through the open Eastern door. Barn swallows dart in and out of the open doorway - stitching flightpaths through the misty morning air. Their chirps blend with the bleats of the big goats who would love an unscheduled meal, and the drowsy grunts of a pig rousing from her slumber.  Rhythmic sounds from the nursing goats another layer of sound. The sweet smell of hay, and the earthy smell of manure greet me and it is not at all unpleasant. It smells like serenity. My vantage point to greet the dawning day is an upturned milk crate, where I sit holding goat bottles.  Barn cats swirl around my ankles, a feline interpretive dance troupe - awaiting the unlikely event… that one of the goats won’t finish her breakfast, thus blessing them with milky leftovers.  The earthy smell of manure mixes with the cool morning air and the sweet smell of hay to create the distinct aroma of “early morning barn.”  The clinking of the glass bottles breaks my reverie – the goat girls are all done, and the barn-dancers are out of luck.  They seem to sense this and wander away.   Fully awake and somehow refreshed, I make my way back through the dewy grass to prepare for my work day.  These two worlds - in such stark contrast - work seems mostly like I am playing a part - not written for me...
~ ~ ~ 
*the last line - is particularly poignant for me today*

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Prove It!

Pesticide residue carried by rainwater finds its way through the leafy canopy to the forest floor and into the groundwater where it mixes with other compounds and has disastrous affects on the earth’s biosphere. Similarly issues of Indigenous identity filter down through the culture, mixing with loss of language, poverty, struggles to continue traditional spiritual practices, and conflicts between government and educational systems colonially imposed on tribal societies that are in direct conflict with traditional belief systems. The cumulative effect of this toxic cocktail is catastrophic on individuals and tribal societies.

Ask who is Indigenous / Native American / Indian, and you will get vastly different responses depending on whom you ask. The U.S. Census Bureau, state governments, federal government, and tribal societies all have different definitions. None of these definitions define what an Indian is, they define who is eligible for certain services. They cannot begin to define, represent, or describe the historical, cultural and spiritual bonds that guide me as I walk in this life. My Indigenous identity reaches into the in-articulable parts of me. All of the others are definitions - with an agenda.

Native American / Indigenous identity is very complex.   For the purpose of the US Census anyone who claims to be an Indian is an Indian. In the 2000 Census, 2.5 million people identified themselves as American Indians, representing a 26 percent increase over the previous decade. More people self-identify as being of American Indian descent than are enrolled in federally recognized tribes or can prove decadence.  

So you’ve got this totally open concept on the census, if you claim it, name it so to speak. However in almost any other place that you might be asked that is not the case - you’ve got to “prove it.”  It’s all about having “the card.” The Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB card). If you are a traditional craftsperson you must have your card to identify your goods as Native American made. To be eligible for a certain forms of financial aid to further your education, you have to be a card carrying NDN. And only Indigenous folks of the CDIB variety, are granted permits to possess certain items of spiritual significance such as eagle feathers.  I’ll talk more about those feathers in a bit.

In order to enroll in a federally recognized tribe, you must be able to prove who you are. During the period of Indian removal beginning in 1831 extensive records were generated for the purpose of identifying Indian populations.  These records took the form of numerous Indian rolls (the Miller and Dawes Rolls for example).  “The rolls” were used for treaties, trade, land claims, allotments, removal, and many other purposes.  During this time period there were a great many Indian folk who were not willing to stand up and say, “yes, I’m an Indian!” Who can blame our ancestors for being reticent? Past interactions with the society “taking attendance,” had been marked with cruelty, inequity, deception and suspicion to say the very least.  At that time, in some jurisdictions people were arrested, convicted and incarcerated (or worse) simply for BEING Indian.  In many places self-identifying as Indian was suicidal!  It is tragically ironic that once we were asked to self-identify and were persecuted for that, to the point that people denied their own heritage to survive. Today our very identity is called into question.

While self-identification as Indian is much easier today, a person may be unable to enroll if their amount of Indian blood falls under their tribal society’s blood quantum requirements; or if the tribal society from which they descend never attained or has subsequently lost its federally recognized status. There are plenty of Indian folks walking around today who belong to “non-existent” tribal societies - according to the federal government. Although each tribal society defines its own enrollment requirements, the federal government decides what Indian nations exist and which do not. Part of the criteria for federal recognition is that there are membership criteria. Many tribes include blood quantum as one of the criteria. In this system, non-Indian is the default, and everyone is approaching non-Indianness. A family line can get more non-Indian, but not more Indian. In setting up rigid requirements for federal recognition and CDIB cards, a mechanism for defining Indians out of existence has been established.  As Indigenous people marry mixed bloods or non-Indians, blood quantum diminishes in each subsequent generation. The fewer members with adequate blood quantum, the fewer enrolled members the tribe has, when this reaches a certain point, the tribe may lose its federally recognized status.  When that happens to tribal society after tribal society, the federal government will finally be freed of an embarrassing obligation.

In exchange for nearly all of the land in what is now the United States, the U.S. Government made treaty agreements promising goods and services to different tribal societies. These goods and services included education, health care, food and annuity payments. Nearly all the goods and services were promised to continue in perpetuity.  A great many of these treaties were blatantly disregarded, but contemporary tribal societies are demanding that the federal government honour the treaty agreements and make restitution to tribal members.  If there were no federally recognized tribes, there would be no one to which such reparations need be made.

Now, lets talk about those feathers. Under the current laws only individuals of certifiable Native American ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain or possess eagle feathers. What’s the big deal about eagle feathers? First let me clarify that Indigenous people do not worship the eagle or its feathers. Eagles are honoured and considered sacred. They represent honesty, majesty, strength, courage, wisdom, and freedom. Eagle flies higher and sees better than any other bird. Therefore, its perspective is different and it is considered closer to Creator. Our use of eagle feathers in ceremony is that of intention and focus – and honouring.  When we hold that feather, we take our highest spiritual self to Creator through our prayers. The way that an eagle feather is used might be compared to the use of a prayer shawl, or rosary. The eagle feather like these other items are tools for introspection, meditation and prayer. Have people seeking these other items been asked to prove their identity to obtain them? I’ll bet not.  The nature of Indigenous spirituality is that of interwovenness; one cannot separate the cultural from the spiritual.  In demanding proof of our political/cultural identity, we are being asked to prove that we are entitled to practice our traditional beliefs as well.

In Indigenous circles, the issue of tribal enrollment remains controversial.  Thousands upon thousands of people are unable to identify as a member of a federally recognized tribe for reasons such as lack of adequate documentation, low percentage of Indian blood, or political forces within their tribal government. I fall into that category.  People like me exist in a kind of parallel dimension, walking in two worlds, the Indigenous and the non-Indigenous, in a society that does not acknowledge or value who we are. I know my identity. I walk a traditional spiritual path, and honour traditional teachings… as we like to say “I walk my talk.” I am an active participant in a vibrant local Indigenous community. I do not need a piece of paper to validate my identity, particularly one that is issued by a colonially imposed system that is contradictory to traditional views of Indigenous identity. 

I DO resent, that my people, the FIRST people, are the ONLY people that when it comes to our identity… are asked to prove it.