For all that I spent three years as the NW editor for the national Native American newspaper, Indian Country Today … and despite the fact that I discovered during my tenure that I’m an eighth blood Potawatomi and could apply for tribal membership, I haven’t been much inclined towards Native American rituals and ceremonies. It’s not that I don’t think they’re wonderful or effective. I do and they are. It just hasn’t been something I’ve been drawn to.
And then last weekend I attended a presentation on the big Pacific Northwest medicine wheel being performed over the weekend of the Vernal Equinox this year—March 20, 2011. Headed up by Shoshone Elder Bennie LeBeau, better known as Blue Thunder, the wheel is centered in the Washington State Capital of Olympia. It has eight spokes radiating out to specific points where individual ceremonies are to be held. The circle itself comprises an area of almost 29,000 square miles. The intent? To bring healing to the fractured energy ley lines of the earth and to all creatures, big and small, living in this area of the world.
The presentation was two days after the Japan earthquake and tsunamis. Images of onrushing waves choked with thousands of cars and buses, houses and flaming wreckage still reverberated through my mind as I sat in the audience and listened to Blue Thunder. He quietly spoke about the damage that has been inflicted on the Earth in the last few hundred years through greed and unregulated industrial development. He spoke of the predicted earth changes that were arriving in response to this abuse. And then he showed a film documenting several medicine wheels he had conducted in the U.S. in the past decade and how they shifted energies of imbalance and destruction into life-filled positive manifestations. ( see http://www.earthwisdomfoundation.net/ )
A Grand Teton medicine wheel ceremony took place in 2004. Within weeks an enormously dangerous lava dome building at a potential super volcano site in Yellowstone National Park subsided. Drought in southern California and Georgia was miraculously ended. Wherever the ceremonies were held, the earth and her wildlife responded positively and swiftly. I sat there in the darkened theater and thought, why wouldn’t I get involved in working with our Great Earth Mother in this way?
Yet out of the 28 federally recognized Washington tribes contacted to join the ceremony, only a bare handful of members responded. Of the nine sites in the upcoming ceremonies, one point on the wheel was unrepresented. No volunteers were available to build and tend a sacred fire at the Quinault Nation on the coast and keep it burning day and night over the three days. No one would be there to sing songs and say prayers from the human heart to our mother. Members of that nation were apparently not interested.
A small and polite group of local Native college students from Evergreen State College gathered outside the theater where we were meeting, quietly handing out protest information. People co-opting the Native medicine wheel for healing the Earth was not appreciated. We should leave well enough alone and go home.
No one did.
We are all natives of the Earth, no matter our skin color or history. And if the dunces in the classroom of life want to catch up on their ecological homework, realize we are all one and act to preserve and protect our mother rather than exploit her, isn’t that cause to celebrate? Can’t we let the memory of old abuses, anger and blame go? Can’t we set a new day into motion? Isn’t it time?
It is time … and then some. So I followed an internal whispered prompting and walked up to Blue Thunder’s wife after the presentation was over—a white woman named Kristine—and volunteered to be the ambassador of the wheel at Quinault and keep a fire burning over the three-day ceremony. I don’t know any native songs. But there’s one in my heart that beats to the same rhythm as the Earth’s. I don’t know any of the rituals. But what does it matter? Caring enough to show up with pure intent for blessing is enough to make all the difference in this beautiful and weary world.