Wednesday, January 7, 2009

First Prayers for a New Day

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.

Monday, January 5, 2009

WW/ On Leaders

I read the headline for Raw Story -- from Cheney: "Bush Actions Legal if Not Impreached." Such a slimey, sleazy way to look at legality. What kind of people has this country been stuck with for eight years. What does this say about America.

Deep breath.

My leader is Caleen Sisk Franco. Today, she is juggling her responsibilities as Chief, and each responsibility has nothing to do with walking a fine line of legality, slipping and sliding along trying to get away with bad decisions that killed hundreds of thousands of people, and put his country into harms way economically, especially the elders and the children. She is taking care of the sacred lands, praying for her people, assisted by her husband, Mark, Head Man, making statements and decisions in the political arena (advocating for her people and the land in front of the kind of people who share Cheney's world view), and setting the tone and organization for burying a precious warrior who died January 2, early in the morning. Her people are extremely busy today. And Will and I will miss being there. It's too soon to ask my sister back to take care of mom to go to participate in the wake and funeral right now. Her people are busy. Some are making the nourishing feast to take care of the guests and travelers. One has made the casket to take care of our loved one. The young warriors are digging into the hard clay at the cemetery. There is so much to be done to take care of Life.

Our Winnemem elder, Emerson Miles, told me decades ago when asked what was the Human Being's job in this life: "The Human Being is supposed to take care of Life." As simple as that, to Take Care of Life.

My heart has been heavy. Will built the Sacred Fire January 1, very soon after we were called that our Brother was in ICU, life support. We had been Back East and learned very late. We heard about his passing later the next day. And on the fourth day, before 5 in the morning, I was awakened and compelled to check on the Fire. Much to my surprise its flames were dancing ready for prayer. It should have been asleep. So I did go out and prayed for my Brother, for his safe trip Home, for his wife, children, family and tribe. And there at the Fire, I felt answered, that he will always be there at Ceremony, at the Big Fire at the ranch, anytime our ancestor spirit came to be with us, he would be there with her. He was so excited he couldn't wait to fulfill that responsibility. That helps me today to settle my heart.

The Winnemem are a very tenacious tribe. They've got their priorities in order. Our leaders measure wealth quite differently than acquisition, influence and the amount of destructive power. They measure it by the load of responsibility they carry for the Earth, for the beautiful Sacred Places for whom they are still responsible to keep from destruction or dormancy, for the many ceremonies. To advocate, to stand beside, to TAKE CARE OF. That is what leadership is about. Our Chief will take care of the sick, the homeless, the troubled even if her plate is full, even if her back hurts, even if she is worn out. Even if she is busy, she will take time to mentor the next generation of leaders. Our Chief will take care of the people's grief even if she is grieving herself.

Acquiring, influencing, threatening, warring, playing politics, all of that anyone can do. Anyone can horde. Anyone can lie, and cover up deception. Anyone can blame others for one's mistakes. Anyone can make excuses. Anyone can bend the truth to slip and slide and get away from temporary consequences. Any naughty, immature bully can do that. Would you give fire power to a bully? (What's happening in Gaza, for example. Who is being pushed into the sea?) But only leaders born and trained and accepting the burden to lead will TAKE CARE OF LIFE.

When I share with people that the Winnemem leadership is not "a democracy" of popular vote and terms, but one of lineage, there is a pause. Is it a "free state?" Only when leaders personally profit from the status of leadership, I suppose, voting and term limitations are important. But for nations where the leaders must carry the heavy burden of taking care of their people and their lands and responsibility to the lands, and must also advocate in the arena of "weird politics," where leaders must sacrifice personal enjoyment and rest to heal the sick and take care of the weary, raise all the children, in such a case, the only one who will step up is the one designated by Spirit to lead, and they must carry that burden for their Life until the next one is ready. While I think about this, I also think of the Native man who married into this responsibility and took on the full load as Mark Franco does when he married Caleen knowing that she would be Chief one day. Tribal leadership is about sacrifice, deep commitment, more courage than one knows is possible, and the faith to step off the edge that one's path of life will still be right under one's feet. Did this young man know when he married what he was about to take on? Despite the answer, it is clear that Mark Franco took it on willingly and at great sacrifice.

I was close to Granny, who was leader before Caleen. She was in her 90's when she was sharing with me she wanted to live the rest of her life for herself. From the age of 8, she had to be there for her people and for the lands. But she was not able to let go of the burden, despite Caleen's willingness to lead until her body simply would not let her get up and stay up to do the work. I am blessed to have seen such leadership. And today, Cheney's pathetic, disgusting view of legality as Vice President of the land is so distant from my reality, I can just push it away and focus on Caleen -- how from this distance can I help my Chief and her husband, Head Man, to send this good Warrior onto the flowery path, and begin to get things together for Will and me to go down there in a couple of weekends to be with my people and Leaders.

To our Good Winnemem Warrior and Brother, thank you for standing with your people for your whole life at Kerekmet Village and for standing now along the Ancestor Spirits. Taking Care of Life does not end with the body's death if Leaders and Warriors choose.
"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.