By Cindy Fogle
Imagine a spectacular 360 view of the Blue Ridge Mountains atop a grassy knoll in Weaverville, NC. Here, people of all ages, from infants and toddlers, to folks in their wisdom years, came together to experience the sacred. The ancestors gathered, too, honoring the presence of two beloved elders: Amy Walker- Eastern Band Cherokee/Lakota and Wanbdi Wakita, Dakota. For an afternoon, we were transfixed and transported into the time of village, where elder wisdom was revered as the lifeblood of a healthy community.
Amy Walker spoke of the importance of each person being valued and feeling valued. Folks seated around the fire let that wash over them… all too often a radical idea in today’s modern culture. Amy also spoke of the need to value everything around us. Every insect, tree and animal…that they deserve to be valued and respected, as well. She also conveyed that it is much easier to access the sacred than we might think. “It’s like taking a paper thin leaf and holding it to your cheek. The sacred is just on the other side of that leaf. It’s right there for us. All the time.”
Wanbdi spoke of the importance of good self-care. He cautioned that we cannot do our work in the world if we are not first attending to ourselves. We need to take care about what we put into our bodies and get enough rest. He shared his firsthand experience of supporting a Women’s Sundance in Manitoba led by his wife, Pahan Pte San Win, for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. He spoke of the women dancing without food or water for 4 days and their grandsons singing for them during this entire time. He emphasized this time of women rising and commanding respect.
Amy relayed her excitement having just come from an Eclipse ceremony with Haudenosaunee women on their land in New York. Again, the theme of women rising emerged and echoed Wanbdi’s teaching of the men needing to support the women at this time. Amy taught the value of listening to the message of illness. What is it trying to teach us? And how healing can occur once this message is understood. Both elders encouraged us that we can be filled with joy and peace, no matter what difficulties we have endured. Overcoming addictions and the traumas inflicted by intergenerational grief and trauma that came out of the boarding schools in both the US and Canada, these elders a living testament that all past pain and suffering can be healed.
The elder fire concluded with Wanbdi pausing in silence, listening for guidance. We waited, caught fast now in the mystery. Then he picked up his drum telling us that the Buffalo Song had come to him in a dream in the early morning hours. He was instructed to sing it for us even though he had only shared this song 5 times before in his life of 77 years. He invited us to make ourselves comfortable, clear our minds and be totally present. Then, he began to sing this most powerful song. Some of us wept, others had visions of the ancestors. I weep now as I remember that moment and tell you that the ancestors have been visiting me in my dreams since that memorable night.
The following evening we returned to the fire to share the dreamtime or any other experiences we wanted to bring to the circle. We were invited to check in initially describing ourselves as an aspect of weather. Attendees seemed to represent every conceivable weather pattern, from dark clouds to sunny skies or a mix of everything in between. Others found it challenging to put into words what they were feeling in that moment. One couple shared that they had driven home in silence wanting to let the Buffalo Song and the medicine of the elders steep in the quiet.
In my share, I spoke about a conversation I’d had that morning with Wanbdi and Amy about a time when I, as an SFF representative, saw Faithkeeper, Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons address the United Nations. “Indigenous Peoples hold the moral reserve of the world,” he told the packed auditorium. Amy and Wandbi shook their heads, YES. And Wanbdi turned to me and said: “Now, it is your turn.” (Time for the non-Indigenous peoples to step up.) I shared his admonition to us at the fire. The urgency, the need; it is indeed up to us to bring this sacred worldview into our lives for our own well-being, the well-being of our communities and the future of Mother Earth.