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ListeningToNativeVoices

The old people came literally to love the soil, and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. The birds that flew in the air came to rest upon the earth, and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing. This is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life-giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.

—Chief Luther Standing Bear

PHOTOS

St. Francis House

Francis House and Agape Pond

AGAPE COMMUNITY & ST. FRANCIS

Agape Community’s annual St. Francis Day celebration, this year with the theme, “Listening to Native Voices, Standing Rock is Everywhere,” seeded by Brayton Shanley’s trip last winter to deliver straw bales to Standing Rock—what I believed then was clearly a fool’s errand—drew more than our usual maximum of 200. Suzanne Shanley (his wife and co-founder and co-director) thought maybe 400-500 attended. Clearly the line of parked cars on the road extended further than I’d ever seen it. I was in a good position to gauge because I’ve been on parking duty for years.

After parking and walking and lugging, a person approaches Agape and hears the drum, smells the sweet grass and is smudged, spots the tipi placed strategically at the entrance of the main gathering area, sees many people in brightly colored regalia, watches the dancers, notices the tent holding some 300 chairs (which would be a good index for crowd size estimate), and then spies all the food and beverages arrayed on many tables. Ah, I am here!

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Photo: David Legg © 2017

MY NATIVE HISTORY

I am here, thought I, because of my Native heritage, not in my genes but in my history. This panoply of native elements at Agape reawakened my experiences with Lakota Sioux people, dating back to my direct introduction in 1982, extending to my month-long visit to the Rosebud Reservation the following year, stretching to the crucial stop Louise, my former partner, and I made in the summer of 1990 at Rosebud and Pine Ridge during our cross-country journey. We learned about the upcoming Bigfoot centennial ride, which led to our participation in the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee that winter. That had been preceded and was followed by other personal Indian connections, like the National Day of Mourning, Boston American Indian Center, Slow Turtle, Wampanoag powwows in Mashpee on Cape Cod, visits to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Reservations in Maine, American Friends Service Committee Indian program in Maine, etc. Names from Rosebud and Pine Ridge came back to me: Birgil Kills Straight, Ron McNeil, Mr. Kills in Water, Shirley Crazy Bull, Amy Respects Nothing, Mr. Tall Bear, Mrs. White Lightning, as names have also fled my memory such as Louise’s MIT student and her son who was so honored after the ride, and the first Lakota’s I met in 1982 when I picked them up as they hitchhiked across the rez. Fortunately, as a steering committee (AKA Mission Council) member I was able to weave some of my experience into planning the event, but Brayton’s trip was truly the major trigger.

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Big Foot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, December 1990. Photo: Skip Schiel © 1990

Growing up and slowly realizing what Whites had done to Indians in the past created a longing in me to return to that past and as a White person counter history. (With Louise, I made an effort during the Big Foot Ride.) Impossible but now I can struggle for Palestinian rights, one of my major current photographic projects.

MY PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITS

Fitting with the theme of sacred water, I exhibited photographs about water justice in Palestine and Michigan, demonstrating parallels. When I entered the chapel/exhibit room during lunch and a little after I’d been scheduled to speak, around 12:30, no one was there. Then a few people dribbled in and then—thanks to Sam, a fellow Mission Council member who’d help promote the exhibit—suddenly others popped in, filling the room. I announced myself as the photographer, leading to small conversations, speaking in a loud voice to be heard by others, but without interrupting their viewing.

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A photo exhibit by Skip Schiel, “From Palestine to Detroit and Flint: Water Justice”

Despite the small size of the space I was able to show most of what I’d brought, some 12 photos from the 2 sets, Palestine and Michigan, along with some descriptive panels outlining water politics. Without being explicit, I suspect the viewers could make their own connections between the Stand Rock Water Protectors and the struggles in Palestine, Flint, and Detroit. I also exhibited my photos from the Wounded Knee Memorial Ride, placing them in Francis House near the wood stove, centrally located.

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Site of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Photo: Skip Schiel © 1990

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Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, at St Francis Day

CHIEF ARVOL LOOKING HORSE

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, was the anchor and perhaps major draw of the event. Luckily, because El, my fellow Mission Council member, and I arrived the day before to help set up, we were with Arvol and other Indian participants like Beatrice, informally during lunch and dinner. He seemed shy, not prepared to be such a major figure, tall and thin, weak and perhaps ailing, tired—and, I reluctantly claim, not skilled in public speaking. Rather, he appears, unintentionally, to play the role of the proverbial Holy Person. A bit cryptic, uniformly serious with slight breaks in this publicly and many breaks in smaller company, definitely rambling and repetitive; in short, for me, a disappointment as a speaker. Listening to him I often wondered what would be my experience with other Holy Persons, Gandhi, Thoreau, Dorothy Day, Rachel Corrie, Thomas Merton, Jesus, Mohammed. I know Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X would impress as speakers, but what of these others whose words have resonated thru the centuries? How well did they speak in person?

A “disease of the mind” has set in world leaders and many members of our global community, with their belief that a solution of retaliation and destruction of peoples will bring peace. In our prophecies it is told that we are now at the crossroads: Either unite spiritually as a global nation, or be faced with chaos, disasters, diseases, and tears from our relatives’ eyes. We are the only species that is destroying the source of life, meaning Mother Earth, in the name of power, mineral resources, and ownership of land. Using chemicals and methods of warfare that are doing irreversible damage, as Mother Earth is becoming tired and cannot sustain any more impacts of war. I ask you to join me on this endeavor. Our vision is for the peoples of all continents, regardless of their beliefs in the Creator, to come together as one at their Sacred Sites to pray and meditate and commune with one another, thus promoting an energy shift to heal our Mother Earth and achieve a universal consciousness toward attaining Peace.

—Chief Arvol Looking Horse

Perhaps because of the theme I remet many folks from various movements and decades who I’d not seen in years: Paula G. and Jim, Suzanne C., Nelia who I belated realized had been with Brayton and Tim delivering the straw bales (she is blind and I know her from Quaker gatherings, an indomitable spirit), John S. who brought 3 young people in his van, Ricky and Deb from the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage in 1995; along with many Agape stalwarts like Eileen E, Kathleen and Dave Legg (Dave my photographic colleague at most Francis Days, this time we collaborated especially importantly because of the conflicting photographic policies—not during prayer, OK during most ceremonies, not Arvol too much because he gets distracted, etc; Pat W. who is another photographic colleague, and Pat F.); the largest contingent of Friends Meeting Cambridge Quakers in memory including David A., Minga C-B, Suzanne C., Maeve, Diana L., Dinah S., Patti and Bill M., but no one from my peace and social concerns committee except Suzanne C; and others whose names I’ve forgotten now and yet others whose faces were familiar but I didn’t know names. Such community strengthening was a major part of the event, not only for me I’m sure.

Who was missing? Louise most vitally, the only human being on the planet I share these issues so deeply with; my fellow Quakers and activists, Jews especially from the Palestinian rights movement; S. which pains me; M., surprisingly not there; Rob, Chuck, Lynn, and other close friends and family members. But this is contemporary life, contemporary community: wide-spread and fragmented.

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Children’s view of the event, photo by Emily

WATER

As expected, water was a major theme—water is life, Mni Wiconi (pronounced mnee wi-choh-nee), Water is Life. Quabbin Reservoir was in the background, Agape Pond in the foreground where we held the water ceremony. I was able to do the ceremony twice, once early Saturday morning led by Beatrice Menase Kwe Jackson, known as Bea, and Peggy, not photographing then; and at the conclusion of the program, photographing it from across the pond. As with Indians, water is a crucial ingredient in my life but I’ll not recount all the elements which began with nearly drowning when I was about 3 years old, rescued (as the family tells it, I have no conscious memory) by Fran, my dad. As the major ceremony began, rain very lightly fell, more speckles than drops, signaling sky presence of water. And thru the day clouds came and parted, at one point in the late afternoon singeing the treetops behind the garden, which stunned and awakened me once again to the power of light. I photographed it.

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Water Ceremony at Agape Pond

Women and men lined up separately by the pond. After being smudged with sage and sweetgrass, two men assisted one woman as she threw tobacco into the water, tenderly hooking arms, for the moment intimate, followed by water from a copper cup. Once the women had done this, at least during the morning when we had fewer people, women helped the men. In the afternoon musicians played guitar and violin and sang, which added greatly to the otherwise long and repetitive ceremony. I doubt this was official Lakota, or even Indian, maybe an amalgam of various traditions. I noticed Arvol and most Indians did not participate.

STORIES

Then there were all the stories from Indians, mainly of current suffering and struggle. The genocide continues, but now with a velvet glove. One group in particular, the Lenape from New Jersey, who own land, but because of insanely difficult conditions required for permits are effectively barred from their land. In the crowd I watched for Two Clouds, a Ramapough person from Mahwah, New Jersey; Chief Dwaine Perry, Ramapough, also from Mahwah; Chief Iron Bear; Strong Oak Lefebvre of the Visioning Bear Circle; Gentle Hawk from the Worcester Intertribal Indian Center; and others unannounced. Apparently missing were official reps from Wampanoag, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people, plus folks from Plymouth Massachusetts, Boston Indian Center, etc. The absences were as indicative as the presences. Competing local Indian events, given the weekend’s name, Indigenous People’s Day, may explain some lacunae.

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A member of the Ramapough people of Mahwah, N.J., who have long sought federal recognition as a Native American nation.

Counterbalancing stories of on going oppression, Arvol spoke about Standing Rock, the power of prayer, of story, of presence, saying he and colleagues never expected such wide publicity. During the informal session the day before I asked about the White Buffalo Calf Woman story and he, as I’d hoped, confirmed that the first elder and teacher of the Lakota people was a woman—or at least half woman, but certainly fully female. He began each of his two speeches with Mitakuye Oyasin (All My Relations), without translating it. His first language is Lakota and Suzanne whispered to me that he often has trouble translating his thoughts into English, which might be a factor in his speech making.

BURNING THE DOCTRINE OF DISCOVERY

From a Christian perspective, one outstanding element for me was when we symbolically repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, that absurd and highly revealing papal bull (declaration from the pope) issued shortly before Columbus began his journeys of “discovery”—which were in fact journeys of exploitation. (That and priestly sexual transgression should effectively end the belief that Catholic clerics, from subaltern priests and brothers and nuns to highest rated popes, have direct communication with the so-called god. Is any more evidence needed?)

We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens [Muslim Arabs] and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property […] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.

—Pope Nicholas, 1452

How did we perform this repudiation (a goal without a clear plan long fostered in some Quaker circles)? A woman cleric led a recitative prayer about repudiating the Doctrine; another cleric handed a facsimile of the Doctrine to Brayton who burned it in our sacred fire (so-called sacred, what does all this religious language truly mean other than to establish an emotional tone?), and carried its ashes on a fiery torch to the pit dug for the white pine burial. All very Catholic in its pageantry (pageantry I sometimes yearn for while Quakering).

burying doctrine of discovery

Brayton buries the ashes of the Doctrine of Discovery in the pit in which the white pine tree will be planted, supported by members of various Christian communities.

I managed to miss photographing most of this, trying hard for position but wishing to maintain some modicum of politeness, not bump people aside who were in my way. The symbolism of this act may be important, but educating people might surpass the symbolism in importance: more people are now aware of the Doctrine and the imperative to ban it, an incentive to reverse its legacy. I suspect even the current pope himself, Francis—true also of our honored St. Francis—would choose to repudiate what one of his misguided predecessors did.

Brayton Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Brayton Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Suzanne Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Suzanne Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL AMERICAN INDIAN-LED, NONVIOLENT MOVEMENT AGAINST COLONIZATION?

Brayton had given a rousing introduction to Stand Rock—as did Suzanne to Agape—speaking personally about his experience last winter delivering straw bales, claiming that this is the first American Indian-led, global, nonviolent movement against colonization. Arvol has been speaking across the country, at Wellesley College the day before, and flew the next day to Cairo Egypt. This connection, Standing Rock and Egypt, suggests Standing Rock is an outgrowth of the Arab Spring. Being so-called Columbus Day, now transformed into Indigenous People’s Day, I wore my pin, “Discover Columbus’ Legacy: 500 years of racism, oppression, and stolen land,” which I acquired in 1992 during the resistance to the Columbian Quincentennial.

Columbus pin

Many have forgotten this moment exposing and opposing the Columbian Conquest but I suspect it was a key step toward Standing Rock. So if we devise a timeline of activism we may uncover the interconnectedness of the movement—its intersectionality, to use a now-current term for blended movements.

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“They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.” (“Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies” by Bartoleme de Las Casas, who was an eyewitness to the Columbian Invasion)

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T-shirt by Jared Yazzie (Navajo) available from Beyond Buckskin Boutique

MOVEMENT HISTORY

To recount from 1945:

  • Freedom struggle in the USA-1945-1968
  • Anti-war movement during the Vietnam era-1962-1975
  • First contemporary resistance at Wounded Knee-the occupation in 1973
  • American Indian and Black Power Movements weaving thru this period
  • Big Foot Ride Memorial Ride—Wiping the Tears, Mending the Sacred Hoop-1990
  • Columbian Quincentenary-1992
  • Arab Spring-2011-2014
  • Occupy-2011-2012
  • Black Lives Matter-2013-present
  • Standing Rock-2016-present

I’d like to think more about these interconnections, and consider all this against an article I’ve read in a recent New Yorker magazine about the failure of movements, or better, how movements can succeed (with better long-range strategy as in the Freedom Movement vs. hasty organization as in the Occupy Movement).

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Planting the white pine tree

THE WHITE PINE

Finally we planted a white pine, which is a key element in the Peace Maker story of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. As a final act of remembrance and anticipation most of us made tobacco offerings to the tree, how it can symbolize overcoming the Doctrine of Discovery and all that erupted from it in the past more than 500 years, Standing Rock a recent example. This planting is an act of confession, contrition, repentance, as well as resistance, renewal, and forward march into a more just present and future. Mni Wiconi, Water is Life.

I left reservation life and my native people, the Oglala Sioux, because I was no longer willing to endure existence under the control of an overseer. For about the same number of years I had tried to live a peaceful and happy life; tried to adapt myself and make re-adjustments to fit the white man’s mode of existence. But I was unsuccessful. I developed into a chronic disturber. I was a bad Indian, and the agent and I never got along. I remained a hostile, even a savage, if you please. And I still am. I am incurable.

— Luther Standing Bear (1921)

Luther Standing Bear

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St. Francis with Sultan Malek al-Kamil, Egypt, 1219. Artist: Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

In 1219 St. Francis and Brother Illuminato accompanied the armies of western Europe to Damietta, Egypt, during the Fifth Crusade. His desire was to speak peacefully with Muslim people about Christianity, even if it mean dying as a martyr. He tried to stop the Crusaders from attacking the Muslims at the Battle of Damietta, but failed. After the defeat of the western armies, he crossed the battle line with Brother Illuminato, was arrested and beaten by Arab soldiers, and eventually was taken to the sultan, Malek al-Kamil. 

—www.trinitystores.com/store/art-image/st-francis-and-sultan

st francis

Holy humility confounds pride and all the men of this world and all things that are in the world. —Francis of Assisi

LINKS

“Marking the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi with the spirit of Standing Rock,” by Eileen Markey

White Buffalo Calf Teachings with Chief Arvol Looking Horse

What is the White Buffalo Calf story and why is it important to Lakota people?

“Ramapoughs Trial Continues As Tribe Claims Town Is Trying To Outlaw Prayer At Tepee Site,” by Daniel Hubbard (Patch Staff)

What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

Doctrine of Discovery is Burned (video made during the day)

Why the white pine tree?

What is the Peace Maker story of the Haudenosaunee?

“Is There Any Point to Protesting?” by Nathan Heller

“On Turtle Island (North America), February—April, 1995,” an account of a Buddhist-led pilgrimage by Skip Schiel

“A Winter Count,” by Skip Schiel

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