Friday, December 11, 2009

Indigenous Encounters

The Parliament is over and I am taking the train to Adelaide to see a bit of the country and digest the events of the last few days. As the trip is eight hours I thought that this would be a good time to begin the somewhat arduous task of sorting out the impressions and conclusions with which I have come away.

I discovered that being pulled in so many directions has both its advantages and disadvantages. I did meet a lot more people than I probably would have had I focused on only one group of people and presentations. On the other hand I don't remember much of a distinct nature. There are two events that stand out in my mind however, both related to indigenous work.

As in much of the Parliament neither of these events were expected on my part. The first was a dinner into which I was scooped up after the URI reception. Charles, Yoland, Raul and a few other people had decided to go to dinner and brought Don and I along. As one of the folks was a Swami the dinner was vegetarian, Unfortunately it didn't occur to either Don or I to ask if it was Indian until we were already there, and Anna who would surely have thought to ask, was attending a Pagan event. As Don is literally deathly allergic to something that remains illusive but is apparently pervasive in Indian food, he was forced to take a taxi and return to the center of town.

I found myself seated between a young woman and Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison, an indigenous elder, for dinner. Raul had chosen to give me a break from translation by seating himself across from Yoland next to Charles, and the young woman, who seemed to know Uncle Max pretty well, spent most of her time in conversation with the Swami which left Max and myself at the end of the table to entertain each other.

Max is an elder of the Yuin people. He talks the way most indigenous elders here do, in stories. Most of the conversation involved a brief exchange, a question from me and a story from Uncle Max. One learns a great deal of patience when talking to these elders. Their stories are generally long in contrast to the shotgun style of most conversations today. I asked him whether he has gone away to boarding school at one point in the conversation and got this story.

When I was a young fella out in the Bush see, I musta been about 10 or 12, my elders came round and told me, "come on, its time you learned something." So I went along with them see, and they took me out and they took me to this tree and they said, sit yourself down ‘ere. So I sits my backside down against this tree and I kinda wiggles down into the roots and the dust and leans back against the tree trunk see, and I waits to see what it was I was supposed to learn. So these fellas goes off and starts talking men's business and leaves me there. Well pretty soon I'm looking around for something to do and I finds a twig from this old tree and I starts drawing in the sand like. Well one of the elder fellas looks over and he says, "'ey, who told you to do that?" and I looks up at him and I know I'm in trouble so I says real respectful, no one elder. An ‘e says "put that aside now." So I do an for say, maybe another two hours I just sits there. I sits there real quiet wondering what it is I'm supposed to be learnin and when. Then one of the fellas says "'ey I think you've learned about enough for one day, I guess you can go on now." See? So all this time what do you suppose it was I was supposed to be learnin'?

I smiled and said, "Patience." He grinned at me a moment, winked and said "exactly".

That was all the answer that I ever got from Max about his education.

Being a Parliament event the subject finally got round to rituals and celebrations and When I asked Max what it was he celebrated he said "oh ya know, all the usual holidays, Easter, Christmas and the like; don't ya"? Of course I told him no, that I celebrated the Solstices and Equinoxes, and that right now we were in the dark time of the year and I told him the story of the Wild Hunt and the time between Samhain and Beltaine, the two times of year when the veil is thinnest and we can talk to and reconnect with our beloved dead. I told it as Max had shared his stories; I told it as a story of my people, and Max listened with a quiet intensity that drew me into to story as well. When I was done with my story he just looked at me for a moment, really looked at me. He then took a deep breath and said quietly, "I really love that."

That was really the last conversation that I had with Max though we worked together in one workshop. I had wanted to interview him and he had said that he had a couple of students that he wanted to put forward also to give them responsibility but I only saw him once more when he appeared by my scooter out of nowhere for a moment, and said not to worry, that we would catch up with one another again. I didn't understand what that meant but the next day he was gone along with several other elders. I still don't know what that was about.

Despite the continued hype about this parliament being the first to honor the indigenous and its preparedness to listen to their concerns, it was clear in so many ways that they just did not get it. On the second or third day Raul and I went to a morning service by Francois Paulette, a Dene from the planes of Canada. We walked into this room and he sat down perplexed. I walked over and asked what was wrong. He said he couldn't do the service in this room. He sat for a moment more and then asked me what was the protocol.

"I don't quite understand the question, for this meeting I asked?"
"Yes, for this morning."
"The protocol is whatever you want it to be. Do you want a circle?"
He just looked at me then. He had been looking at his hands. He nodded.
"Ok then you will have a circle."

I told the two young men that were setting up the room to get rid of the rows and make a circle of the chairs, but they just stood there for a moment and looked at each other, then told me that they didn't have any instructions to do that.

"I'm giving you instructions." I said. "Mr. Paulette wants a circle. If you can't make on I will."
"You aren't allowed to move anything around. Its against the contract." They told me.
"You move them or I will."

They stood there about two ticks longer then I cared to wait so I turned to the people who had arrived during my conversation and said, "Folks, our Elder Brother Paulette wants a circle. Lets get these chairs moved." And of course we did. The two clowns in black hurried off to tell someone but never came back. Elder Franscois was much happier and settled into storytelling mode happily, after which he led a calling to the four directions asking their blessing for the day and of course, the Ancestors.

This in itself was not much as Pagans are used to moving into a space and making themselves at home, but I was really pleased when a few days later, at another gathering, Elder Francois, who was once again opening, stood up, hesitated, looked at me for a moment and then said, ‘Folks I am very uncomfortable here with these chairs, We work in a circle. Let's all create a big circle so that we can see each other."

There were a number of ways in which they continually proved their total blindness and insensitivity to the needs and energies of the indigenous people. In one instance Raul pointed out that a meeting for the indigenous was held in a convent, which is the primary symbol of colonial oppression. He reported that the energy was muddy and sluggish, that everyone was expected to sit in rows where they could not ‘see' each other and that while they covered the fireplace, a symbol of indigenous gathering they left the alter uncovered. He was highly incensed that an agenda had been laid out rather than allowing the group to choose its own and complained that there was little or no time to "make connections" which was the main reason why he had traveled so far to be at this event. (He plans to write a full report when he gets home, which he wants me to translate and post as well.) He did say that it was better when a circle was created and everyone was smudged.

In general Raul was very disappointed in this Parliament. He said that on a scale from one to ten, this was about a minus two. At one point later in the secessions there was a report from the indigenous gathering on what was determined at a special all day workshop, and during the report Raul leaned over and said that we needed to leave; that he couldn't take the hypocrisy or the bad energy anymore. So we left to get lunch. I am not certain to what he was referring but I do know that there were none of the indigenous leaders present that had been around earlier, and I know that when all the indigenous folks at the earlier meeting were coming in, all they knew was that they had been invited to attend this wrap-up. It wasn't until a couple of them were pulled from the audience that any of us knew who would be speaking. I know that Yoland spoke up against some of the same inequities that Raul had mentioned because she told us later that she had looked around the room for him to come up and support her words but we had left do something far more important, in Raul's opinion, lunch.

I am really sorry for this turn of events, because it really left a bad taste in Raul's mouth, as we say. He felt that the indigenous people should have been modeling the values that they had been talking about for the week, and he felt that they had sold out in the end, losing face and integrity. I tried to explain that they were working within the system and as such some compromise was necessary. I explained that, in fact they had achieved one of the goals that they had come with and that was to make the "World's Religions" aware of the fact that the United States, Canada, and Australia were the only nations to refuse to sign the United Nations Declaration of the Rights Indigenous Peoples , which was a very important strategic move, and that they had brought forward the Doctrine of Christian Discovery as well, but he failed to be impressed. He continues to feel that it is the roll of the indigenous player is to model the values of sharing, community, actively living in balance with nature, reciprocity, and the combined values of equality, equity, and justice all in balance with nature and her natural laws.

He has come away with a firm commitment to learn English throughout the coming two years and hopes to become proficient in time for the next Parliament. He also comes away with a better understanding of the necessity to begin now to raise funds and has asked me to explain budgets and their functions. We are in the process of assuring that Skype and high speed internet are available and paid for on a continuous basis for both Raul and Alejandrino in order that both will be up to speed by the time that they are called on to participate in an English Speaking environment again. This will be a huge challenge as both men are in their fifties and neither has had any real contact with English prior to this. Raul has never spoken any other language though Alejandrino speaks Quechua.

Wish us all well. We plan to bring each of them up to the states to visit late next year for an emersion experience.

In her service
R Watcher
National Interfaith Officer

No comments:

Post a Comment