The following is a letter I wrote to Arla Patch, a trainer for Maine-Wabanaki REACH. REACH stands for Reconciliation, Engagement, Advocacy, Change and Healing. It is a coalition of native and non-native people working in support of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). REACH conducts trainings for non-native people who wish to become allies in support of REACH’s work. These are my reflections after attending two Saturday workshops. The first was an all day talk by one of the commissioners of TRC, gkisedtanamoogk, a member of the Otter Clan of the Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts. The second workshop was an all day Ally Training organized by Maine-Wabanaki REACH.
January 11, 2015
I want to begin this letter with a heartfelt “Thank you!” for what you gave to all of us who attended the training yesterday. I had a vague idea of where we might be headed by the day I spent with gkseudtanamoogk but the viewing of “The Canary Effect” and the discussions that followed, centered around what I learned about the five hundred year history of genocide perpetrated on the Indigenous peoples of North America by my European fore-bearers, stunned and saddened me.
This new knowledge and our discussions were transformative for me. I have now begun a process of self-reflection that I know will be unfolding for some time to come. As I shared with you, my spiritual path has been profoundly shaped by my studies of Native ways, culture and spirituality. I have crafted a way of being in the world that has resonated deeply with my inherent knowledge of who I am based in part on what I have learned from my Native teachers.
In 1974 my wife and I bought a large parcel of land in New Gloucester we which dubbed Norumbega (a Penobscot word that once referred to all of the northeastern part of what is now the United States) to honor the Native People who once called this home. In the intervening years, it has nurtured my soul. As I a child I spent countless hours wandering the woods and shoreline of my hometown of Cape Elizabeth. I could not have expressed it at the time, but intuitively I knew that where I was happiest was outside. Years later, while perusing my studies of Native American culture and spirituality, I allied myself with a Lakota Medicine women named Night Walker, who gifted me with the Native name of Woods Walker, to reflect that part of me that had always been such a vital part of who I was and am.
As I also shared with you, I am now calling into question not only the many practices such as the Smudge Ceremony and Sweat Lodge Ceremonies that I have adopted in my spiritual journey, but also this naming gift from my Lakota teacher. The practices that I adopted from my teaching circles with Night Walker, I feel I can no longer embrace because of what I have learned in the past two Saturdays. I now have a profound appreciation for what we have taken from the many tribes of Native Peoples; their children, their land their very culture. My adoption of their rituals is another form of this “taking” which I cannot now condone. That I did this with no malicious intent does not matter. I must now find my own rituals that flow from my ancestors culture. I will have a private ceremony on my own to burn my smudge bowl and the tobacco, sage and cedar that I have for years held sacred. This is unsettling to me but I understand the need to do this given that my heritage is not Native and by continuing to conduct even the simple ceremony of prayer with the burning of these plants violates what I am trying to foster in my role as an Ally for the Wabanaki.
I know that I can still hold all beings as sacred. I know that I can still make every step upon the breast of Mother Earth filled with gratitude and respect. I know that my life is still filled with a sense of wonder and awe at what the Lakota call “The Spirit That Flows Through All Things”.
I can still hold as sacred every rock, tree, blade of grass, falling snowflake and drop of water that I encounter in my rambles with my dog in the woods of Norumbega which will forever be the spiritual center of my life. What I must do now moving forward is to find new ways to pray. That will not be hard. I have never had difficulty quieting my soul, stopping my movement and opening my heart to my Creator. In reality, nothing has changed. I am still the same person I was before being in the presence of gkisedtanamook and you. What has changed is that I am now filled with a new sense of purpose, a new energy and direction to take my respect for Native people. I now have concrete work to do and I am excited to begin.
Blessings on your day,
New Gloucester, Maine