“The elders used to call Myntdu River their mother,” shares H. H. Mohrmen, a Jaintia Unitarian minister and an environmentalist from Meghalaya. Mohrmen is in a jeep with journalists, who are traveling to cover a unique riverine festival that is hosted by elders from communities downstream of Myntdu. The drive on winding roads in the West Jaintia Hills passes by tall areca nut trees wrapped in pepper vines. Below, a rust-hued riverbank glistens in the sun.
Voices of Wisdom, in Asheville NC, completed one circle and initiated another. Before I knew anything about the Sacred Fire Community or Foundation, I knew Wanbdi Wakita. The circle began about 15 years ago, in the heat of Wanbdi’s Purification Ceremony, where I prayed to my Ancestors to help guide me on my journey.
Wanbdi Wakita, whose name translates into English as Looking Eagle, was born at home with the help of a midwife on a breezy day in October in the community of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation. It was 1940. Overseas the world was at war, but a different kind of struggle was taking place at home.
The Indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Martha in Colombia have a mission of utmost importance: to bring healing and balance to the earth for the benefit of all of humanity through their spiritual work of offerings and ceremony. They consider their land to be the heart of the world, contained by an invisible “Black Line.”
The Maasai youth, whose people reside and travel along the border between Kenya and Tanzania, sit in the crosshairs of modernization. Like many Indigenous youth they face immense pressure by outside forces attempting to instill in them that their ways are backwards, irrelevant and something for which they should be ashamed.
Dormant for 150 years, a lost Indigenous language is brought back to life by a Native woman, setting into motion a cultural revitalization process.
Five Indigenous Elders Share their Wisdom
Recently, traditional wisdom received some high-level acknowledgement in an area where it rarely gets much credibility. That’s because the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to three people including China’s Youyou Tu. Dr. Tu was honored for her work in isolating Artemisinin—which is used to prevent malaria. Her research began with the systematic study of malaria treatments as prescribed by traditional Chinese medicine.
Language extinction can lead to cultural annihilation. When a language is lost, a culture is lost as songs, ancient ceremonial chants and vibrant storytelling traditions vanish. In North America, the legacy of settler colonialism, a violent and racist boarding school system, where Native children were forbidden to speak their mother tongues, endangered many Indigenous languages, driving some to extinction.
The 2015 Ancient Wisdom Rising (AWR) gathering is over, but I will continue to savor the rich experience of being with over 180 kindred spirits for two days as we enjoyed the wisdom of several prominent elders from around the world.
“I come from a long line of teachers of rivers, who did not live in big cities and traffic,” shared Chief Caleen Sisk, spiritual and tribal leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe at Resilience of Sacred Places: Defining Security, dialogues hosted by the Sacred Land Film Project and the David Brower Center in July 2015. These dialogues shared the vision and perspectives of Native American women, defenders of sacred sites and Indigenous cultures, on “homelands” and “security.”
Three gatherings took place in the first two weeks of June. The first was in Brookfield, MA with Kahontakwas Diane Longboat (Mohawk) and David Tall Pine White (Nipmuc). The following weekend we book-ended the continent with Marcy Vaughn (Tibetan Bön) and Paula Nelson (Eastern Band Cherokee) in Greensboro, NC and Chief Ernie Salas (Kizh/Gabrieleño) and Chief Caleen Sisk (Winnemum Wintu) in Santa Monica, CA.
It can be said that human beings are a continuum. We are pieces, stories, visions and reflections of those who walked this Earth long before us.
The Ancient Wisdom Rising gathering is an effort to preserve the living continuity of ancient wisdom through dialogue, connection and discovery.
“We need strength-based grantmaking, which recognizes the internal strengths of Indigenous peoples and their inherent knowledge and wisdom.”
Sacred Fire Foundation believes that elder wisdom holds answers to many of the world’s pressing challenges. Honoring ancestral wisdom is a way of deepening our roots to build our resiliency and be grounded in a world that often seems destabilizing and uncertain. We recognize that all our ancestors also waded through the uncertainties of life, adapted to their natural environment and braved many storms, and this knowledge is comforting knowing that we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel or invent a new app to solve problems.