I remember the pow-wows, the moccasined feet stepping, leaping, fancy dancing, shuffling amongst persistent sounds of rattles and jingle dresses, whirling shawls and feathered head dresses, ankle bells and stomping. Above all the keening singers at the giant drum. That drum, relentless pounding in flawless sync by four men, sometimes more.
All of it, a prayer.
Like being hit by lightning, it was, the first time I recognized the beat of Earth’s heart in the sound of the great drum.
its throb, my heart.
A voice inside the beat says,
“I know you’re tired,
but come, this is the way.”
A native American butterfly sits upon the toes of the descendent of British colonizers of the continent. The tiny creature is widely known as the Question Mark Butterfly.
The descendant considers, heavily, the centuries-long genocide some of her ancestors began, waged against North America’s indigenous peoples. Focusing on the punctuation mark on her visitor’s underwing, she has a lot of questions. The big “Why?” of the family tree.
She, who loves and respects the people she came from in this day and age, draws ever more strongly into her heart the friendship she has with various descendants of the first Nations known to have inhabited North America.
Their ready humor, biting though that may be. Their smiles, their readiness to help her in ways she needs as a person of special mobility challenges, their readiness to share from their hearts, to look at the future we enter together, so many different kinds of people from such diverse spots on Earth.
She knows a little about the long awaited justice these Native people long for. She knows of the kidnapping of children to drain their language and culture out of them, the beatings, the shootings that still happen — she saw them herself, back when she was a journalist. She remembers how many Massachusett Indians sleep alongside her forebears in a small cemetery on a forested hill back on the East Coast.
She smiles, because she also knows the outstretched hand of friendship, the offering of prayers and dance for universal peace and friendship Native people continue to offer to the world. She knows of the important speeches some of them make before the United Nations — in common with indigenous leaders from other spots on Earth — prescient warnings of global climate disaster should the governments and industrialists of the world fail to cease its over-exploitation of resources.
She remembers smoking the pipe with William Commanda, Band Chief of the Kitigàn-zìbì Anishinàbeg First Nation which is near Maniwaki, Quebec, and roughly fifteen others. Him she knew as Grandfather Commanda.
He brought a large group of people through New Mexico in 1995 as they were walking from Mashpee, Massachusetts to Santa Barbara, California, both places she knew well. Inspired by Native traditions this group was marching for the Earth. This walk was known as Sunbow 5.
She followed Sunbow’s progress through their online presence, exchanged emails with the walkers, arranging for them to visit Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Baha’i Center for food and fellowship.
Grandfather said: No one ever said this walk was going to be easy; we have simply understood that it needed to be done, and so we are doing it.”
An inclusive visionary, was Grandfather Commanda. His Earth marchers included Native people, a Japanese monk, a writer (or two) and several unquenchable brawlers.
During the Albuquerque dinner Grandfather collapsed, and went by ambulance to a local hospital… Though he quickly returned to Sunbow 5, he was obviously drawing much from his great strength. He was 81 at the time. He offered the world his good energy for another sixteen years.
This woman remembers how quietly, even humbly, Grandfather Commanda became ill at the dinner, not disturbing the many who had not noticed his distress.
During the Sunbow 5 walk Grandfather’s activities were continuous. He also joined with other Native leaders, in support of harmony between the different peoples. Here’s an excerpt from the Sunbow journals, for October 6, 1995:
In Washington, DC Grandfather Commanda was up well before the Sun, as is his habit, and made a short journey to the Washington Monument for Sunrise ceremonies at the “One Mind, One Voice, One Heart, One Prayer” vigil in the heart of the city.
With cane in hand, Grandfather walked across the mall to the sacred fire in the center of the circle of tipis set just to the north of the Washington monument. There he joined a ceremony being led by Corbin Harney of the Western Shoshone Nation. Mr. Harney and his helper sang five songs, and asked the people—over 200 of them at sunrise—to dance a simple round dance and thereby help to anchor the energy of the songs more strongly to the earth with the sacred intent of their steps.
Later in the morning Leon Shenandoah, Tadadaho (Chief of Chiefs), Iroquois Six Nations, led a half-mile walk to a site near the Lincoln Monument where three Trees of Peace have been planted in recent years—one in the South, one in the West and one in the North. On this day Chief Shenandoah presided over the ceremonial planting of a fourth tree in the East direction—signifying the beginning of a new day for the Seventh Generation of children to be born since people of different colors began to move onto this Turtle Island continent. As the Washington walkers drummed, chanted, and stepped toward the young white pine at the planting site, a tangible wave of energy preceded them by a good 40 feet.
Over the course of the weekend Grandfather Commanda spoke both privately and publicly about the Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth.
The Question Mark flits off and onto toes belonging to the descendant of British settlers to the USA, punctuating her musings with its indestructible continuance over the centuries. These small orange and brown butterflies with their black spots are found, long term, all over the country. So are the descendants of early British settlers, right alongside members of 560 federally recognized sovereign Indian Nations (plus a fair number of tribes seeking federal recognition) and descendants of immigrants from countless other countries.
How to work towards making things right, just and equitable for the People who were here first?
Shut up and listen, she thinks.
Just listen, pause, for a change. Stop assuming that you know so much. Maybe there’s more to wisdom than you picked up with your fine education, your good jobs, your great successes in business and government. Other ways of knowing than through division, political wrangling, coups, scheming.
Listen to the sounds of wind ruffling through prairie grasses, the grunts of buffalo, chittering of sandpipers and swallows, the spout of salt water drops and air from a breeching whale, the nearly soundless wingbeats of a Hawaiian pueo crossing the brilliant glow of a full moon during a special man’s memorial service. Listen to ocean water rippling over the sunken USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, to the hoofbeats of nomads on their small horses in Mongolia. Hear the wind roar through urban canyons, walls of granite and glass.
Listen to the Native voices. Earth’s heartbeat in those drums.
Listen and hear the voices of forces so much greater than any of us, for the force of love that keeps all of it, and us, going. All of us, the rich and stingy, the rich with helping hands held out, the homeless, the workers, the peasants, the scientists and teachers, the subsistence farmers, the GMO developers — the grumps, grouches, the curmudgeons, the atheist and the devout, the writers and the lovers. The Morris, kabuki, ballet, the fancy dancers, alongside the square dancing set and flamenco performers — the sea of humanity is filled with sparkling jewels when it comes to ability to express and relate to one another.
The Earth, our shared home, is a symbol of humility:
”They… should conduct themselves in such manner that the earth upon which they tread may never be allowed to address to them such words as these: ‘I am to be preferred above you. For witness, how patient I am in bearing the burden which the husbandman layeth upon me. I am the instrument that continually imparteth unto all beings the blessings with which He Who is the Source of all grace hath entrusted me. Notwithstanding the honor conferred upon me, and the unnumbered evidences of my wealth – a wealth that supplieth the needs of all creation – behold the measure of my humility, witness with what absolute submissiveness I allow myself to be trodden beneath the feet of men….'”
Love holds the universe together — we need to learn to draw from it, thinks Woman-with-Butterfly-on-Her-Toes. Use it to be free of hatred, prejudice towards one another — what a remarkable feeling! To love, without condition.
Rumi, who lived during the Golden Age of Islam, was writing at the same time when the Anasazi were at the center of a vast trading center in what is now the American southwest:
Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this love to anyone?
Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim in the huge fluid freedom.