The first night of Ceremony was bitterly cold on the Rakaia River. Down bag, tent, thermals, thick hoodie, but still very cold. The next morning after Sunrise Ceremony, the Chief put down a prayer at the Fire for us, and as it is during ceremony, the other nights were almost balmy. People could sleep with their tents open.
That was not the only prayer made on sacred ground. There were many. The dance itself, the fasting, the songs were prayers too.
The second day, a salmon leaped out of the water right in front of Caleen's eyes. They knew we were there, that the next generation of Winnemem were dancing hard for them to return home to the Winnemem River. There is no question that everyone in the circle, Maori and Winnemem, felt strong. There is no question that we understand how important this relationship is. And there is no option to quit.
On the fourth day of ceremony, although we did not know it at that time, the federal court dealing with a lawsuit regarding what was happening to the Sacramento Delta declared that there was negative effect on the culture and spiritual beliefs of the Winnemem Tribe and that this was just as serious as the negative effect on the economy. That is quite amazing news, for the judge to mention the tribe, acknowledge the importance of culture and spiritual beliefs.
I was napping in the Rehua Marae the last day we were in New Zealand, pooped from ceremony, and woke up to interesting conversation. I peeked over my sleeping bag, and saw a circle of people including the Chief and Head Man. The upshot that this was an important conversation between the Winnemem and parties interested in working with the tribe, seeking them out with some very interesting ideas.
I won't go into it anymore but just to say, things have changed a lot. The Fish and Game of New Zealand uses language like "we were helped in the past by these people; and it's our turn to return the favor" quite willing and ready to send the salmon eggs back to the McCloud or Winnemem River. The Maori people have said, "you are like us. We will stand with you." They have shown that. They have scolded the press for printing insulting racist articles before the Winnemem arrived. They have promised to talk to customs about the damage to the outfits. And some of them have said, you'll have the eggs even if we have to bring them ourselves.
Admittedly, after waking up at 4 am, and being taken to the airport by our intrepid Maori family at 5 am (yes, they had time to send us off the Maori way, with prayer, song, and greeting), we flew to Sydney and were STUCK in the airport until 10 pm, five hours longer than planned -- but that's the only inconvenience we faced. We spent the time sleeping. I remember Dance Captain Rick telling Will and me of a nicer lounge with soft chairs, quieter, we could sleep in and we started to go to check it out, but I'd been sleeping with 29 people every night, and thought I'd rather sleep where I could hear soothing voices. So I returned to my little seat, shut my eyes and listening to Weegie and Helene put me right to sleep again. It reminded me of my growing up days. I always fell asleep hearing the familiar murmur in the frontroom -- Grandma, Mom, Uncle Bill.
We came home to Pauline's email. Then Barry's. Then Wendy's. Then Tia's. And Coral's. Still connected!!!
I went to the naturopath for my coughing. Just a mild case of non-contagious bronchitis. What a relief and then she said, "your eczema has cleared up. The remedy must have worked." I told her "no, it didn't work at all. It was bad for the whole time I was in New Zealand. I felt badly for the Maori friends who had to greet me with eczema on my eyebrows. It was embarrassing." I told her I finally prayed hard at ceremony for it to go away. She looked at me harder. I said, "anyway, it cleared up just the last day we were there. Maybe the New Zealand sun burned it off." She said with finality, "It was probably the prayers."
I am expecting good things. I am expecting the salmon will return. I know that life will start being more normal for the Chief and Headman. They will be getting good news and good help. I know that the salmon and the eel have Guardians on both sides of the Great Pacific Ocean who are now connected with one another in a way distance doesn't matter and each of us are twice as strong. I know that the Pacific Ocean and the Rivers are now connected in the way the Maori and the Winnemem are. My belief that the Winnemem will be recognized has been strengthened by Rick Tau's response when he heard about the "unrecognized tribe designation", a snort and "Where do they think you came from" as well as with ceremony. I know Mt. Shasta and Mt. Aoraki are communicating.
I know there will be Maori and New Zealanders at ceremony at Coonrod. I know that good things will come from the visits back and forth.
I have enough hope that the little cloud which passed over me just an hour ago has dissipated. I'd delete the gloomy blog, but the feelings were real, although fleeting. I needed to give myself a kick and remember, the Chief took us half way around the world to get something done, and it got done.
The last night we were at Rehue Marae, several of the Maori stood up and said some words to us. They talked about first learning about the Winnemem, hearing that Caleen had contacted her UN connection, Karan, and asked to be able to come, and that the Ngai Tahu response was, "we knew this was something we must do." Originally, it was John and Al's brother who answered the call. It made us sad to know that he died between the year Caleen first contacted them and this year when she said we would be coming (in three months). John and Al and their wives Gloria and Tia picked up the responsibility. "We knew this was something we must do."
We all joined in the laughter when Gloria said each time she emailed Caleen, Caleen would respond and say a few more people will be coming. At fist they thought, maybe twelve people, but the numbers rose. Gloria said, "I began to think, I believe she intends to bring the whole tribe." and then Gloria added, "And then you got here and we thought everything was quite settled, and then, of course, there was one more."
New Zealander humor is so fun! We all laughed remembering Gloria leaving early in the morning to pick up Chris at Christ Church airport, our drummer, who was not able to leave work until the first weekend. He came just in time for ceremony. Bless Gloria!!
The Maori friends used words like honored, and family, and stand together. I know from our side we felt so grateful -- but they would say, "no we thank YOU." I know we felt honored, and we felt they were like family and we would stand always with them. There is nothing which feels more complete than two peoples who feel this way about one another.
At the very end on top of all that the Maori people did for us, there was still one thing more. We learned during our vist what the Greenstone meant to our Maori friends. We knew that Maori gave Greenstone as gifts and never purchased it for themselves. We knew that Ngai Tahu region was known for Greenstone. And along the Rakaia where we had held ceremony, when the sacred fire was out and the authority transferred back to our hosts, they performed a ceremony where trees indicating the time it was ok to gather Greenstone were planted on two corners of the four directions of the sacred circle. A third tree which symbolized our friendship was planted on the third. And the fourth was left open to the river and the mountain, and buried there was a hawk which had died, commemorating the ceremony for the salmon. We knew that Greenstone was part of the story of our meeting, and the story of the ceremony for the salmon and eel.
The richness of what we were taught about Greenstone meant even more as each of us travelers were given a Greenstone pendant to wear on which was embossed a Maori symbol. Lindsay, our friend who welcomed us straight off the plane in Christ Church when we first arrived, and stayed with us throughout ceremony said that symbol was very special, usually only for Maori.
I wear my Greenstone pendant with my outfit, and will wear it in ceremony, praying for the Longfin Eel and our Maori family, for the Rakaia, the Nur, and Mt. Aoraki. I will wear it with the anticipation of Good things. And when I feel cynical, I will take the Greenstone in my hand again and refocus.
I'm quite lucky, really. Raised as I was, my upbringing would have been wasted if not for the circumstances which led to being offered the opportunity to be tribal. To be tribal with a tribe which stayed real through extermination policies of all kinds and continues to do so no matter what barriers, like dams, are put before them is a great fortune and not to be met with cynicism. To have the good fortune to follow good leaders during critical times, and to be with good people is to be celebrated and appreciated. From inside the Monster, there's no better view of its belly than to be Winnemem. The tribe is not one to be "digested," in the belly of the beast, but to be free and outside of it, no matter how hard life might be. Thank you, Great Olelbis. Thank you, my ancestors. Thank you, my Granny. Life is good.
I hope someday our Maori family, and our New Zealand family will come to ceremony so we can welcome them and so they can meet all the Winnemem Sacred Places and be known by the spirits of those places. That's when the circle will be complete and even more Goodness will happen.
I wish I could capture how Richard would end his prayers, all the other Maori joining in, and by the last week, I distinctly heard some of the Winnemem dancers joining in too. I'll have to ask some of the young men I heard chanting to teach me to say it. I think the words express that we are together. I can hear it in my head but it won't come out of my mouth. I miss it.
If you want to read the other New Zealand blogs it begins April 4, and with the older posts. I will be returning from time to time to New Zealand memories. I will try to learn how to post Ruth Koenig's beautiful photos and let her tell her story. And I will will post Will's videos and he will tell his. Thank you for reading. These were my impressions, and others may find the flaws. And those are all mine.
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