While sitting in the Sydney airport all day into the night, I had a lot of time to think. Will and I tried to retrieve what we thought in the beginning, long before we boarded the plane to New Zealand, what we expected. Why is the memory so hard to grasp? Because we have spent fourteen days in New Zealand not as strangers or visitors but as family, our leaders respected, our young people embraced. We have heard over and over daily, as a greeting, “We are the same.” We have had our deepest longing anticipated and matched with an even deeper generosity. It’s hard to remember our simple thoughts in the beginning having been welcomed with such depth. It’s hard to remember what we thought before we boarded the plane for New Zealand, before touching foreheads with our hosts at the airport, being greeted with open arms by Coral and Lindsay, or welcomed at the Rehua Marae and certainly long before reaching the Waitaha Mamoe Fisher People, our new family.
As best as we can remember, I think this was our greatest hope: that someone would meet us at the airport. We thought we would be directed in some way, perhaps introduced to someone who could take us to the Rakaia River and have the authority to give us permission to dance for the Nur. Because the Ngai Tahu are tribal people I knew we would be welcomed. I imagined two or three representatives might welcome us. I was so excited to be met by the Maori. That is exactly the way I would want to go to New Zealand.
We thought we’d take a couple of days we would stay in hotels before finding an area and asking permission to go alongside the river, maybe hit a grocery store along the way so we could stock up. We wondered if we could borrow tents but knew we should bring our sleeping bags. We wondered if we could rent a van so Will could go into town to charge his video batteries.
If I thought about the ceremony, I think I imagined we would just be doing it as the Winnemem. If asked, I may have also thought two or three of the Ngai Tahu, being tribal, would be kind enough to be there too. My eyes, my mind was filled with fish -- seeing the salmon, imagining the meeting of the Winnemem and the salmon.
Then, we would be on the plane and back home. Like at H’up Chonas, I knew great things would happen with the ceremony and with salmon knowing we were still here. That is as far as my imagination took me.
What we Winnemem really experienced in New Zealand, compared to our initial expectations goes way beyond our imagination and was infused with so much of the spiritual way of life that it leaves us quite speechless and emotionally moved that there are not enough days for us to completely explain where it brings us today.
Everywhere we went we were met by the tribe -- many people of all ages, greeted with ceremony, welcomed with prayer and song and embraced individually. From that, we were always led to a table beautifully presented with bounty and generosity, and then part of conversations as familiar as Home -- sharing family, checking on health and comfort, uproarious laughter, tears, hugs, calling one another family.
At each stop, the elders would then say it’s time to talk. The elders and our leaders would share what was important to share, and while sharing all of us, from older adults, parents and to the youngest child would listen. The talk was about Creation, where do we fit in the circle of life; what is our duty; what do we believe; why are we on this journey; the sacred mountain, the rivers, the salmon, the eel, and current issues. What is happening to our Mother Earth and what are we going to do about it.
And then there was Tea. Our young dancers began to respond to the word “tea” like Pavlov’s dog. They would jump up out of their seats in unison saying “It’s Tea!” Tea in New Zealand is a wonderful thing. It’s not a hot beverage old people sip. It’s the yummiest concoction of tastiness any teen aged young man or woman or child could dream of.
The elders would gather again and those who wished would gather around them to listen to more discussion of important things, the state of the salmon in California, the state of the Longfin Eel in New Zealand. Of greed and profit based thinking. Of our Mother Earth and what our job as Guardians must be.
And then it was Supper.
We meet in the evening for sharing -- cultural sharing, prayerful sharing, songs, dances, stories -- and then it is time to retire to sleep.
But first, we must have Tea. You get the picture.
There was also time for the young people to get together and have uproarious fun, for us Winnemem to be taken around to see things, for hacky sack, for our war dancers to learn the Haka, and there was plenty of time to laugh.
There was no time for us to help cook or wash a dish, however. We tried. But that is not the Maori way. “No, we will take care of you” we were told each time. Only once when our hosts had to meet hurriedly for a meeting were Will and I able to creep into the kitchen and finish the dishes and slip out before we could be found out!
We stayed only one night in a hotel. Our guests correctly guessed we would need that one night to get ourselves together after a grueling flight. But from that time we spent nights in the Marae, the Maori Spiritual House, in their main room in which spiritual things happened. Each Marae has many mattresses and pillows for overnight guests and we line them up against the walls together and sleep side by side like family. Always there would be up to a dozen Maori friends who spent the night on mattresses with us to help us.
When we reached Waihao Marae, we met our hosts, the Waitaha Mamoe Fisher People. They are the people who organized our spiritual journey -- to meet the Sacred Mountain Aoraki, the Sacred Lake Pukaki, and who took us to the fishery to finally see our relatives, the Salmon from the Winnemem River. It is they who shared that moment with us -- they and the Great Tu-nah - the Long Fin Eel. It is the Waitahu Mamoe Fisher People who did not let us stay out at the ceremonial site by ourselves but helped secure it and who set up a kitchen, who spent nights, got up to greet the sun with us, and very soon joined us in the dances and the songs, the prayers. It is the Waitahu Mamoe Fisher people stood with us throughout the four days, shoulder to shoulder, step by step, in this ceremony for the Nur, the Tu-na, and the sacred lands, for Water.
This story is much longer than this. There is so much to tell. And I will. But this is just a beginning piece to give you a sense of the enormity of feeling with which we return. As you who read my blog know, being Winnemem often means standing alone -- standing alone facing the federal government’s genocidal Indian policies, standing alone facing corporate greed which would devastate life on the waterways, standing alone to get the most simple necessity done. We traveled around to the other side of the world to learn we are not alone. And we never have been. But today, to know the faces, the hearts, the names of the families, the future generations, the mountain, lakes, streams, rivers, the “Magic Fish,” to hear the sound of the Maori sacred prayers, the songs, to have danced together, two warrior societies, all of this changes everything. To have made our commitments to each other, Maori and Winnemem, we are “not alone” in such a transformational way. Everything has changed.
I remember in my last blog written a few days before flying to New Zealand, filled with bitterness and cynicism, I wondered aloud, if going to New Zealand will change things. It has. The facts have not changed. The wrongs are still wrongs. US leaders still do not look with justice or respect our way. But, bitterness and cynicism is replaced by hope and a great alliance of goodness. I see us as joined across the world now -- not just two peoples, but a whole region which circles the globe as Guardians of the Earth, Water and Life. We live on either side of the Pacific, the Salmon and Eel’s World, and we see things exactly the same way.
To me the fact that no one in Washington DC cares about the important collaboration made at the spiritual, ceremonial summit of the Ngai Tahu and the Winnemem, the Waitaha Mamoe Fisher People is not so important anymore. The fact that Obama and his BIA advisors are busy with other priorities than the earth, water and climate, that Feinstein and Boxer join Herger in shortsighted, failed leadership have become a small squeak. My attention has turned to what the Earth requires and the new leaders who have stepped up to answer that call. As our leaders in Maori and Winnemem say -- follow the Salmon; follow the Eel. If we make policy good for them, we will fix the global and climate problems we face. Rather than following failed leadership of human beings who have lost their connection with the Circle of Life in pursuit of a “profit based policy” -- policies which have run our rivers dry, polluted our great oceans and air and turned our precious time on Earth away from Guardianship to wage wars, shouldn’t we follow those ones that still follow the Creator, and still do the job they were put here to do -- who no matter how hard life has become for them -- still follow their spiritual work, returning to the Ocean or the Rivers to “give life.” Shouldn't we follow the leaders who recognize and respect them and listen to what they are telling us? It has become as simple as that. Yes! A resounding yes on both sides of the Pacific! We have together made a WHOLE prayer, a WHOLE commitment. May the winds carry that message around the world!
I want to give a big welcome and shout out to my Maori sister Pauline who has become one of this blog's readers. And with this adventure and meeting of Family in New Zealand, I am inspired to change my Blog's name from TBA to something else more complete. It's perc'ing in my head right now.
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