Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summary Report on Global Indigenous Initiative meeting – Part 1

June, July, and August were busy months for interfaith meetings; some of which have been described in this blog.  The meeting of the Global Indigenous Initiative got only a short report because I only had a short window between meetings and was then at a retreat center without an internet connection.

The quick report is further down this blog, here:

The Global Indigenous Initiative was created in 2002 as an “Initiative” – sort of a “special project” – of the early United Religions Initiative.  It met irregularly over the span of many years, with representatives from roughly 14 tribes involved at different times.  Yoland Trevino – Chiair of the URI’s Global Council and indigenous Maya was the only member of the GII’s coordinating group who both Spanish and English and so served as its liaison with the URI’s “Hub” office in San Francisco.  I have always thought that the GII is special in that it is an example of indigenous people organizing within the context of broader, global interfaith work, whereas most other such organizing efforts have been in opposition to the "mainstream" religions.

Rachael Watcher and I attended the GII meeting held in Ayacucho in 2004, at which the Spirituality & the Earth CC (the URI Cooperation Circle I founded in 2000 with Rowan Fairgrove, Deborah Ann Light, and others) became the first members of the GII outside Latin America.  With the S&ECC, the GII now included members in Asia, Europe, and North America.

The four indigenous representatives at this 2014 meeting of the GII had each served on the Coordinating Committee of the older GII at various times.  Three of the four had served on the URI’s Global Council as a Trustee:
            * Raul Mamani – Kolla / Argentina  (GC term 2005 – 2008)
            * Fany Avila – Kuna / Panama  (GC term 2008 – 2012)
            * Alejandrino Quispe Mejia – Quechua / Peru  (GC term 2012 – 2016)
            * Sofia Painiqueo – Mapuche / Chile

The S&ECC provided English lessons for GII representatives, provided laptop computers and internet access, helped with web education and support (through Rachael), and arranged for Raul to attend the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne to participate in indigenous networking efforts.

As part of the transition to “URI 2.0” – with new Executive Director, many new staff, significant restructuring, etc. – there was a new commitment to the GII and a desire to make it truly “global”.  Two URI Trustees – Audri Scott Williams & Alendrino Mejia – were asked to help convene a meeting if practitioners of indigenous spirituality from around the world to discuss how the GII could move forward.

Things didn’t really work out this way.

Everything started VERY late due to travel complications beyond the organizers’ control.  (Rachael assisted with the organizing and will have more to say about this.)  The one thing that DID go right was a welcoming ceremony held at a nearby museum by representatives of the local Pomo tribe, making sure it was okay for us to meet on their land.  There is a great YouTube video on this at: 

“… Essie Parrish (the Mother of the Grandmother who spoke during our gathering with the Kashaya Pomo Indians…); … was very happy. She was very happy that we came, bringing new life to her tribe and getting her daughter to sing a song, something her daughter has not done in a long time, and never before in public. That signifies the beginning to the healing of her people. She is very grateful for that.” – Luz Navarette (see below)

The first of many wonderful moments, but the end result of the complications of getting folks there was that the GII conference started a full day late. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I arrived at Four Springs retreat center early on the second day (  Four Springs is a great place, with a modern lodge and rustic cabins, but its “rusticity” was tested by the 100+ degree weather.  Even in this heat, the setting was beautiful, in the woods, in the mountains, above the Napa Valley.  I bunked with good friend Greg Stafford, with whom I traveled to Guatemala a couple of years ago.  (  I have known Greg for about 35 years and we have shared many spiritual adventures together.  He was part of the group that published Shaman’s Drum magazine and has spent considerable time studying with Latin American shamans.  At the GII event, he was volunteering as a general “gofer”, but his knowledge of Spanish was a plus.  Luz Navarette, who was Tata Apollinario’s translator at the People of the Earth event last year (, and a charming young local college student named Erika Hernandez Ramirez were our official translators.

I got unpacked just in time to join the opening ceremony.  Evereyone was wearing their traditional ceremonial clothing.  Since my tradition of Wicca works skyclad, I opted just to wear my red cord (cingulum) and athame over ordinary clothes.  I also had the travel altar I always bring to interfaith events.  It includes a red cloth, symbols of the Elements, images of the Goddess & God, a stone from Coventina's Well.  I also had a nice vial of the Waters of the World. (

We met in a rectangular space under a huge grape arbor.  We all sat around the edges of the space, while a long line of altars from the many traditions present were arrayed on the earth down the center line, in the order in which we would each do ceremony.

[Opening Ceremony, Altars down the center, Alejandrino & Erika on left, Raul & Sofia on right. -- Photo from Audri's report.]

Chief Phil Layne was the “master of ceremony”, so to speak, and started us off by unwrapping the chanupa bundle and presenting the ceremonial pipe of Chief Crazy Horse!  He was followed by Grandmother Mona Polacca, of the Havasupai Hopi, and Diane Longboat, of the Turtle Clan Mohawk.  Each person had their own time for ceremony… WAY too much to reproduce here.  I’ll just share some comments and quotes from the Final Report prepared by organizer Audri Scott Williams
(, followed by some observations of my own.

“This is a fulfillment of a prophecy that the indigenous people would usher in. Welcome Brothers and Sisters. The Native and Indigenous people of the world are present here, from 6 continents. All the people are included in this process, because we are all one!! We are part of our Spirits and our Ancestors!!” – Chief Phil Lane, Jr.

“In my opinion you all are warriors maintaining the traditions of our Ancestors. Our Ancestors had to sacrifice a lot; you are still preserving our traditions and teaching the children, which is the most important thing, I feel, you all can do. I thank each and every one of you for being here. I hope we all receive many more blessings from this gathering.” – Erika Hernandez Ramirez, Translator & Aztec Dancer

“Ever since I was a little boy I was taught that the Earth is our mother. So, as we all live on the Earth that makes us all brothers and sisters. That is my message: we are all brothers and sisters. It is most important that I share this great joy with this circle, this gathering. I must take the joy that I receive from this circle, this gathering back to my people, in our little town.” – Raul Mamani, Kolla people of Argentina

“I am so touched in my heart. Last night tears came from my eyes as I thought about how special and important this gathering is. I feel so blessed that the gathering is the remembrance of who we are and why we are here. We are all so blessed to call each other RELATIVES at this time.” – Wisdom Keeper, Tom Blue Wolf, Creek Nation, USA

“The old people say, if you do not believe in your own prayer nothing will ever happen. So, here's my prayer for healing and I know that my grandmother, Annacusai, is all around me, my father is right here, and my mother is looking at me and all the ancestors that I have. I truly, within myself, pray that here at this gathering of elders from around the world, that I can become balanced, walk my spiritual path, and material path with practical feet with no pain within me, with the joy knowing that I am amongst the family.” (A beautiful chant followed in Angaangaq’s native language.) – Elder Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Kalaallit Shaman, Greenland

“We have an opportunity like this to work on something together and make a real transformation in the world. So, I am very grateful to all of you who are here because you are carrying your Ancestors. You have spoken it, my grandmothers say this, my grandfathers say this, aye, my aunties say this, you are carrying all of them. And therefore, we can change anything that comes out of this. And we will do it, but it is together that we do it!!” – Nana Akomfohene Korantemaa Ayeboafo, Ghana, West Africa

“We found a family from all parts of the world that is passionate about strengthening Indigenous values and improving the lives of Indigenous People. Prophecy has called us to the center stage of humanity as Indigenous Nations to bring ancient knowledge systems and spiritual practices from our respective civilizations to the resolution of modern issues and reconciliation of relationships for the Great Peace. We realized we are not alone and must do this work together - being a global Indigenous family is needed now. A great wave of change for peace has begun to roll over the face of Mother Earth. All the Ancestors of all the people gathered here – Come and join us! Come and join us! Come and join us as we celebrate together a new era for humanity, a time when a great balance is going to be achieved and when the Indigenous knowledge systems of all the people are coming together now. And we are being called to the forefront for the building of that new society.” – Diane Longboat, a Mohawk and Turtle Clan representative from Six Nations Grand River Territory in Canada

“It is an honor to be here in this circle, in a gathering like this. We (Australians) are an ancient people. Our culture had been taken away abruptly and severely (tears) through the colonization era that forced all of us to grow up in missions. In some parts of Australia, Indigenous people maintained their culture and stories. There are over 600 language groups in Australia. So it's like many nations are in one country. We all have our stories of the areas which we came from. One of the main things we have to deal with in Australia are the social issues. And we are constantly looking at ways to make a change, to create a country of hope for our people. There is mining in Australia that is devastating. This is weird, last night we felt connected to this land, my sister Sheryl heard drums playing last night, Coralie has the feelings that she has been her before, we got...So thank you for letting us be here.” – Glenis Grogen, Western Kuku Yalangi, Tagalaka, Djabugay and Djurri Tribal People, Australia

“I encourage my peers at every chance I get by telling them that we are the future and that we must be involved with what's happening in our communities and our environment. That we must challenge the authorities and that we must envision a world that we want to live in. I wrote a letter to myself called ‘Seven Generations.’ It's about a world that I would like to see – a world with all people living together peacefully, as one. I will live for what I believe in. Why should we die for what we believe in? We should live for what we believe in! When I wrote this letter, I highlighted the injustices of our planet to make a point of our struggles. To heal we must look to healing. I read a statement that said, what good is a revolution, if we can't dance? I really look to change, and the face of that change is the grassroots movements. It is important to encourage the youth to hold onto their culture and to work toward peace and the healing of the planet. Thank you.” 14 year-old Ta'Kaiya Blaney, Sliammon First Nation of B.C.. Canada

These are just a few of the statements that are in Audri’s Final Report, with photos from Mikuak Rai (Worldbridge Media) and Greg Harder.

My comments and observations…

1) This took a LOT of time.  We started the opening ceremony on Tuesday morning, took a break for lunch, continued with ceremony until dinner time, stopped for dinner and sharing of stories, dance, and song, and picked up the ceremony again on Wednesday morning, finally finishing the opening ceremony late on Wednesday morning.  With people’s departure times starting Thursday morning, this didn’t leave us with much time for business meetings.

2) It was necessary for us to be in ceremony together to establish trust and that we are one big family.  This was especially true for us Witches.  I have stressed that it is essential that the GII focus on indigenous spirituality rather than on being indigenous people for the simple reasons that a) the URI is an organization of spiritual people and that is a source of our strength, and b) the vast majority of indigenous people are Christian or Muslim and it would destroy the GII if these demographics were replicated over time.  Even so, almost all of the 41 people present were indigenous and it was all too easy to slip into thinking that this was a meeting of indigenous people.  Some folks clearly weren’t sure what Rachael and I were doing there.  The unwavering support of Phil Lane and others helped a lot.

3) I thought I saw signs of a creeping “pan-indigeneity”, assuming that aspects of current North American indigenous practice (especially those developed in “powwow culture”) are normative for indigenous people around the world. 
            a) The North American norms of red / black / white / yellow quarter colors were used as being “indigenous”.  Folks whose colors were different didn’t speak up.  The Australians told me later that the constant equation of the 4 directions with these 4 colors with “the 4 original couples who became the 4 peoples” left them feeling left out.  Australians aren’t Africans.  (Rachael and her coven made nice necklace gifts for everyone that had an acorn suspended from things with beaded sections in red, black, yellow, and white… and blue and green, so it got our colors in there, too.
            b) There was a constant asking of permission… of the first peoples of that place, of the ancestors, of the spirits of the natural world, of the ritual leaders, etc.  I think we would be more inclined to do this once, at the beginning of a ritual, and move on.  Perhaps each person felt that their piece was its own ritual, rather than part of a single opening ceremony, but I am not sure.
            c) The primary ritual practice was heart-felt, emotional prayer, directed towards the Creator (which was usually addressed in masculine terms).  The Mother seemed to be a more immanent, but next-step-down deity.  The prayers always emphasized how powerless we are to do anything without the help of the Creator.  I couldn’t help but think that this was the result of Christian influence creeping in to native practice, especially since most of the folks there had been raised Christian and only returned to indigenous practice later in life.
            d) Everyone who spoke, spoke about “the prophecies”, and how this is the time of their fulfillment.  In general, the prophecies refer to a time of falling away from veneration of the Earth, of confusion, of natural disasters, and of the coming together of the indigenous peoples and their wisdom to lead the way towards a harmonious future.  (I believe that “the Asclepius prophecy” from the Corpus Hermeticum might be our version of this.
            e) There was a general assumption that indigenous = marginalized = poor.  I think that this comes from North American natives being the paradigm for indigenous people around the world.  There were two Hindus at the meeting and we kept talking about how there are MANY practitioners of “indigenous, tribal, polytheistic, Earth-centered, Nature-based, and/or Pagan traditions” (the words we use in the URI) that are NOT marginal and from wealthier countries.  Shinto in Japan.  Chinese folk religions & Taoism in the Chinese influenced world.  Most of the Hindu paths in India.  The many Neopagan paths in Europe, North America, and other parts of the world.  We need to broaden our idea of “indigenous spirituality” to include these, so that we can establish a network mutual support and economic exchange based in the roughly 25% of the world’s people who follow one of these paths.  (This will possibly be the topic for this year’s People of the Earth conference this Fall.)

At the end of the first day, we shared songs, dances, and stories.

 [That's me at the very back.]

When it was my turn, I sang Charlie Murphy’s “Burning Times”, partly to help folks who didn’t already know us to understand the comparison between us as an indigenous tradition and them.

More to come...

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
CoG National Interfaith Representative

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