For the past three decades I've been following the tribal way, and have learned how strong sincere prayers can be. Praying with great intention in a circle whether at a pow wow or ceremony, I've witnessed healing. I accompanied my friend Alicia and her husband Don who is a Sundancer to a Sundance. Men and women suffered four days and nights, without food, very little water, pierced and their sacrifice made strong prayers for Everybody, not just themselves or Native people, all the Earth.
Klamath elder Edison Chiloquin and his first wife Lietha decided to start a Sacred Fire to carry their prayers for the return of their land and they kept it going on ancestral land, sacred land. When she died, Edison carried on by himself with a little help from friends. Refusing to touch the quarter million dollars the US government gave as an afterthought after seizing rich and beautiful Klamath Modoc land (the Winema Forest) Edison just kept the fire going morning, night, rain, snow, all the seasons. That's where I met Will and we'd go once a month to help him get big pitch stumps for the Fire so he could have a day's rest. SIX AND A HALF years later of keeping the Fire alive, those strong prayers were answered and his land returned to him. You can read about it. Jimmy Carter signed the Chiloquin Act into law as his last act as President.
And following the Winnemem way I have seen many strong things prayers can accomplish -- unbeatable odds. For the Winnemem and other native peoples, that first prayer each morning, or that first prayer at ceremony are strong prayers and very important. Prayers are important because we are not in this Alone. Nowadays when I pray for something which seems so far from possibility, I pray that "everyone know where that help came from." For me, my faith has grown by witnessing the incredible changes in human transformation, healing, in protection of the Earth, in the few seizing the attention of the many because of strong prayers.
So that is the perspective I come from. Those experiences have created this huge context for me for what follows.
I've said that I've been praying a long time for our President Elect and his family. Everytime someone dared to say a word about safety, or what happened to MLK or Malcolm, I would say, "don't put words to your fear. Just pray for him" and I would pray. As I said before, I prayed at the Sacred Places for Barack Obama and our country. I prayed that all of us would see the Truth of what was happening to this country so clearly that the hate which divides us would become meaningless to every American and they will see the truth and vote without fear. I prayed that at the Spring. When Wall Street thieves could no longer cover up the crime, worry was not on my mind because I was too awed by Spirit. On the day after the historic election when we saw the tribal dancers halfway around the world in his father's country who danced for hours on end through the night for this American President, my Hoopa friend and I recognized that powerful prayers were at work for secure this moment. People all around the world, all around this country prayed ferverently not so much, I believe, for victory, but for victory for what was right, for quality, peace, Mother Earth, to help the elderly, the children, end poverty, all of this in the most hopeless of times dominated by treachery, war, disdain for the Constitution, and disinterest the state of the people and the earth.
In that context, you can understand why his choice for the person to say the first prayer of his administration, to set the way, was an insurmountable disappointment for me. I'm not sad because of my politics -- but because the inaugaral prayer for the Obama Presidency is about just that, politics, to make a political point that even those we disagree with is part of the circle. Prayer is too important for such a thing, especially in these times, especially following what the US has wrought, especially because of the miracle of this new Presidency. The first prayer of a New Day is the most significant part of the ceremony rather than a throw away opportunity to make a political gesture. One might say, even the taking of the oath and the New President's speech take secondary position to a humble prayer to the Creator Spirit.
I consider Maya Angelou's poem on Bill Clinton's inaugaration, the First Prayer, a poem which says Good Morning to a bright new day when all people could lift themselves up from the swamp of hording and killing, of slavery, genocide and war, and lift themselves up no matter who we are to do what we Humans are meant to do -- those closest to the angels -- taking our future and our children's future into our good hands.
For this President, I had expected something at least like Maya Angelou's poem. It never occurred to me someone would be picked who was so identified with white privilege, a middle aged white male Christian evangelical minister who preached hate and intolerance from his pulpit against gay and lesbian couples being able to be married in California supporting the passage of Prop 8. That is political. The new President says this is not to be construed as a big deal, that he's about differences being respected. ok. But this is the first prayer of his Presidency, setting the tone, asking for the Help, gathering all the blessings together. Please pick someone other than a California Christian minister who preaches against the equality of gays, lesbians, and nonChristians.
I know exactly the moment I realized that the human being -- no matter how strong, independent, charismatic, no matter if part of an exciting movement, no matter how strong the family and friendship -- the human being could not do anything without the Great Creator. That moment came to me when I became a parent. I could not walk a single step without falling without help. I was hoping Barack Obama saw prayer in that light, something to lift up his people, to strengthen his heart, clarify his vision and to think of all of us -- protect our hearts and spirit, to do good, and to take care of our responsibilities to all of Life, prayer more likely to come from an elder who has witnessed and survived many travails. I would have hoped that first prayer would have been said by someone whose life lessons had taught him or her that we ALL are precious, a person who had lived long and hard enough to have no judgment as the plants do not. A Potowatami Indian Doctor I know from Michigan said something I've never forgotten -- that the human being must learn the language of "unconditional love." That is the language of plants, he said. A plant will give its goodness -- food, medicine, beauty -- to anyone who comes and picks from it, even if it is the most evil person in the world. That plant will help everyone. This doctor said, I am sad to say that at my age I have learned all I can from the human being and for the rest of my life, I will learn from the plant. That's the kind of powerful love and wisdom I would have wished the person to have who prayed that first prayer of the first day of Barack Obama's Presidency -- because so many around the world have prayed so hard for him to be where he and his family are today and have put so much hope into him.
I'm not throwing hope away, but I feel we're going out into the fray quite naked with a leader who thinks we can do all of it all together-but-by-ourselves. I find myself often having to sigh and focus, "I'm Winnemem and my leader is Caleen." That morning, as with all mornings, my leader will be praying for our country, all its people, the Earth and President Obama even if.
I guess I'll just do the same and also pray for the man who preached hate from the pulpit that he will be humbled by the opportunity to make that first prayer for America on inaugaration day and unconditional love and humility will flood into his heart and only goodness will pour from his mouth for all people even those beyond his personal experience -- especially those who are not exactly as he -- so that everyone will know where the healing came from.
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