I noticed that the April 8 blog entry of the news report in New Zealand did not play. I happened to find the same news report on You Tube but in Maori!!! Check out April 8! It's twice as good! Subtitled in English.
Whew! Morphing a bit here. On a whim, while the techno guy is in the next room napping, still suffering from jet lag, I started messing with my Blog layout. I was playing with some pictures Ruth Koenig said I could use -- maybe a slide show above my blog logo. I dropped in the nice one of the Rakaia River where we just spent several days doing ceremony for the Nur with our Winnemem Family and our new Waitaha Mamoe Fisher and Ngai Tahu family. In doing that, much to my scary surprise the whole TBAsian and daruma image completely disappeared. "YIKES! Well, that's that, I guess," I muttered to myself. Will had done a lot of work customizing it for me when I began my blog. But there it goes.
Opportunity for another name, and get rid of the old. TBAsian is no more. I drummed my fingers in thought.
I've fancied the concept we picked up in Cuba, from philosopher and freedom fighter of the first revolution back in the 19th century, Jose Marti. He talked about living in the monster but where one can SEE its belly and not be IN it, digested in complacent acceptance of the runaway nightmare reality brought to us by over-consumption and waste of Earth's gifts. I had just blogged how I felt lucky to be a citizen of the Winnemem Tribe with their long hard struggle for justice. Not an easy life, but as Granny said, and my ancestors would have said, the best life we can live -- following the Earth, working for what is needed for Life to sustain itself rather than accept the nightmare. From where I sit, I think we have no other option.
Will has groggily wakened and opened up his laptop. I tested the big change and asked him to check out something I blogged. He did, and it wasn't too big of a shock for him when the Rakaia River replaced the Daruma dolls, so I hope it is not for you either. Same person. More stories.
I've made the best of my big techno-slip. And I personally like the new blog name. I meet a lot of people "outside the belly" -- many kindred spirits here and everywhere. Now I meet whole countries outside the belly, with my passport in hand, it's so grand to be traveling together with great people somewhere where it feels good and to meet new family, make new alliances -- whether 100 miles off the coast of Florida, but completely a different way of life, or clear across the Globe, and meet people "just like us" as the Maori and we said to one another.
Hope you like the new Blog Name, the new image of the Rakaia, dear to my heart, and now that my techno-slip was not such a disaster, I think I'll work on some fancy slide show or something as part of the blog. If it doesn't work, and I make another slip, who knows what I'll call the blog next! BTW, you all look so pretty against the mustard color!
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.
Today Ruth Koenig was kind enough to help us out. Winnemem Support Group will be presenting at the Human Rights Summit which is attracting people all over the state. We have just gotten back and don't have the video ready, we're all down with allergies, but we do want to tell the story and attract more supporters to the work. I asked photos from one person, but he's sick and concerned about where the photos should be shown so could give us only very few, not enough or even the kind of photos to tell a story -- New Zealand, salmon, ceremony. So Ruth came over with a CD full of all of her photos. The cool thing is we could take our time going through it, remembering New Zealand, our new friends, the bold landscape, the good memories but something else stood out. It was striking.
One was a picture of Caleen, and another of Mark their faces more relaxed than we've ever seen them. They probably didn't know they were being photographed. And for sure, someone else (our Maori hosts) was taking care of the business of transportation, cooking, scheduling, everything. They were surrounded by their favorite people -- their family, their kids -- and they were in a country where they were listened to and accepted for who they are -- tribal leaders. I remember saying at the Marae the night we all said our goodbyes, treated like we were normal.
This is something to consider since the Headman thinks it's his responsibility to take care of us all. And in New Zealand, it wasn't the load it could have been in a less safe place.
There was lots to be done, great responsibilities, but without the conflict, it was different.
The two photos told the story, what it must be to be just in a normal situation.
What can I say.
We got quiet for a moment.
I had just browsed the internet today. I do that when I'm homesick for Winnemem. Sally had made a film -- the mudball race -- something she shot at Coonrod last summer. Check it out. There they were -- Michael, Marine, little Aurora, and joined by others one by one, constructing ways in which a mudball could roll, zig zag, and stop short of Ash Creek, maybe even cross it? Thinking, imagining, completely intrigued,testing, engineering, re-doing, cooperating, all ages.
I had other choices of videos. There's a lot of video about the Winnemem. But today, just today, I decided not to be reminded through videos about the necessities -- lawsuit, fighting for the water. However, I did spend a moment to click on the invitation to Michelle Obama and her daughters to Puberty Ceremony for Nina, Jessica and Winona. Check it out. It's so beautiful -- clips of Marine's ceremony, clips of the three girls giggling, holding puppies, friendly. It's sad for me because of course the girls did not get any reply. They received no short note of "thank you for the invitation, we wish you well although we can't come." Not a peep from the White House. I guess non-recognized tribal youth don't get responses to their heartfelt invitations.
As it was, there was no puberty ceremony because the Forest Service does not have the will, the language, to honor the Winnemem's freedom to exist and practice their traditions and the tribe didn't want the girls swimming across the river, cut down by a jet boat exercising their freedom to have fun yet another weekend on the river. We will have puberty ceremony this summer no matter what -- no choice -- but one of the girls has opted out. That's a big deal. I'm saddened as I remember how excited she was, working on her regalia last summer.
Hmmmmm. Today is Thursday. I've been home from New Zealand only six days, and my bad attitude is creeping back. I think I need to watch the mudball race one more time.
It was on the second day of ceremony that the curtains parted for me. Raised as I was by my grandparents,and Nihonjin, as a tribal member, I would stand behind, follow. As a singer, I would stand in the second row to sing the best I could. Someone had to be in the second row, correct? If I happened to be in the "front row" someone would remind me by standing in front of me. Everyone was used to it.
But on the second day of ceremony I got it. There wasn't a first row, a second row, a third row in Winnemem. This wasn't a choir. There was a frontline. A frontline of battle is a comfortable place for me to be. I finally got it that there was a frontline, a line as long as the number of people who wanted to stand in it. No one had to stand behind in work as important as this. It was revealed to me, on the frontlines, that that's where you felt the dancer you were supporting, felt all that was happening and could play your part in it. I wasn't the only one. Let's not forget our Maori friends. At first they held back unless told, "we're having sunrise ceremony. Want to come?"
That night, the Maori supporters who had, like me, respectfully come down the first day, stood to the side, held back until they were told by the Head Man to come to the other side, extending that frontline, "to get a better view." But one thing I learned about our Maori friends, they're not there for the view. They're there to "stand with." So there we were all on the frontlines, singing and jumping to the beat, all around the circle where the Sacred Fire blazed and the dancers danced their hearts out. I looked across at Tia, Pauline, on the last day also at Mareke too, dancing hard for the warriors.
I say often to Headman Mark Franco and Chief Caleen Sisk Franco, from my 30 plus years of experience teaching middle and high schoolers, I have never met young people as those in the Winnemem tribe. Mostly homeschooled, the youth are very comfortable around parents, uncles, aunties, adult guests. No generation gap. Lots of playfulness in the adults view. No embarrassment between them. When Caleen and Mark bring their daughter Marine and visit, I've seen Marine hug her mom in the stores. I've even seen her drop to her knees to tie her mother's shoes on her own, not being asked to but just because it felt right to her. On the New Zealand trip, often I would see Marine rubbing her dad's tired stiff shoulders, and braiding his hair. I told her brother Michael who represents his tribe with such dignity with his natural ability to speak publicly -- like his mom -- that I wanted to thank him. I always pray for my Chief and Headman, that their burden will be lightened, that there will be significant help, and I realize on the two week trip, that Michael and Marine are an answer to my prayer in themselves. They are such a comfort to their parents.
I see the Winnemem young men and women, without being told, carry the big things, give up their chairs, play with the little ones. I've seen them take care of the ongoing Sacred Fire at the ranch. I've seen them jump off the first waterfalls on the McCloud over and over and make sure others feel safe and can jump themselves, clamber up Dekkas Rock (a mountain) to put up the flag and pray for their people.
In New Zealand, Jessie and Nina never ever let me stand behind them in the dinner line, or stand while they sat. They always gave up their chair. They may be shy, but there's nothing shy about their resolve. And always with a smile.
I was so proud of Nina. She has really stepped up to being what we've referred to as "our little Chief," the next one in line after her Aunt Caleen. She will be going through her coming of age with her sister this summer. She should have been able to do it last year, but the Forest Service leader stubbornly holds to her racist position and will not allow the four day ceremony to go on by guaranteeing safety of the young women who will be swimming across the river on the fourth day from speeding jet boats -- the Freedom to have Every Bit of Leisure Time Whenever the Individual Wants To takes precedence over a whole tribe's Freedom of Religion.
Caleen called Nina to the circle and asked her to sprinkle river water from the Winnemem on the ground all around the circle which she did while we sang. She did so, with no remnant of girlhood shyness. It's as if she had grown up overnight. Caleen had Nina do this so that the Rakaia and the Winnemem River will know each other, the people will know each other, they will know Nina, and she will come back again as an adult and as the Chief and bring her people again to keep the relationship going the next generation with the Ngai Tahu, Waitaha Mamoe Fisher People.
It was day two of Salmon Ceremony for the young dancers, the second day of fasting, of keeping the Fire going all through the night, the second day of dancing hard, taking turns sleeping through a frigid New Zealand night on the river. It could have been a hard day for a teenager to keep up a great attitude. But there they danced, harder than they danced the day before. Marine, her cousins Marissa, and Jesse, little ten year old Aurora, still uncomplaining, in outfit, singing the songs.
I know why I am on the frontlines. It is for my Chief and Headman, always. It is for the sacred work in front of us. But those who know me well, my heart just bursts with joy to see these young Winnemem men and women growing up strong following their Winnemem Path of Life with all their heart, growing up without the all too typical embarrassment of having parents, but instead having affection, pride and TRUST, for heavens sake, for their parents, uncles and aunts, growing up forging strong bonds with their cousins, growing up to be warriors, tribal advocates, guardians of the Earth and Salmon, growing up to be good Dads, Moms, Uncles and Aunts themselves, growing up Winnemem so that this goodness carries on.
I do want to take this moment to say that among the youth dancers was David Martinez, about my age, white hair, also fasting, also dancing all four days with all his heart, representing. I hope he knows when I refer to our young dancers, he is included in my heart -- his heart always young.
No words can fully describe the dancers, the dances, the songs, the singers, the prayers. Video might convey the spirit of what happened there but Will will never put together a video with songs, prayers intact out of respect for the Winnemem. So many who have lost their way or for whom this is a hobby capture the songs, and the tribe hears their sacred songs playing in the most unlikely places. Will and I know that what we are lucky to be part of is not a performance of a memory, but the real thing. And there are no words which can express the real thing. Imagine all the realness which is no longer practiced. Imagine all the prayer fires which no longer burn. Imagine those ancient connections between nature and human, from elder to grandchildren which have gone dormant and cannot be replaced by word or by film. That is how precious those four days of ceremony were, everything connected -- generation to generation, fish, river, mountain to the tribes, that moment of ceremony to the future with the past, the connection to ancestor spirits forged by those who still carry it on with such heart that they bring the Head Man to tears, Maori and Winnemem, Nur and Tu-Nah.
Dedicated to: Michael, Chris, Jesse, Arron, Jamie, Ben, James, Jared, Robbie, Nick, Kayla, Marine, Nina, Jessie, Aurora and the ever youthful Dance Captain Rick, and David and those young ones who kept the home fires going.
The last night at Rehua Maraem, as we all stood to speak individually, I remember Tia's words. She said that she got emotional at the airport when we first arrived. She admitted that for some reason she thought we would be 29 "old people." We all had a big laugh. But then she went on to say, that as she saw the young people filing into the airport lobby and she realized this was a tribe which would go into the future and this was a relationship which would go on another generation and another, it made her heart fill. Exactly. I know exactly what she means. It is, as she said, beautiful.
Check out this site. You'll see how wonderful being in New Zealand was, how we were treated, and you'll see why it was so important for the tribe to go across the Pacific to do ceremony for the Nur. The video I had placed here ran out, but look what I found! The same story but in Maori!!! Twice as good!!
The day had finally come -- the day we would go to the Rakaia and set up the area for the Nur Win yu pus and Hee chala Olelbis Ceremony. We all rode in four wheels, vans and trucks to the Glenthorne region past the dam on a gravel road to the Rakaia River. The Ngai Tahu elder, Rick Tau was there to greet us and through the Maori Whakanoa ceremony to turn the authority of the area to the Winnemem.
We walked down toward a river to a wooded and shrubby grass knoll, a small cozy little place surrounded by green. This was to be the place. After the "turning over" ceremony, then Caleen was able to do whatever she wanted. When the Maori say she could do whatever she wanted, they meant it. The young dancers and Maori friends including Tall Joe, a favorite of everyone with tousled red hair and a warm smile, began to chop away the bushes opening the space to the river beyond. Then Caleen noticed glass in the grass, so the grass was removed by hand. As the young men crawled on their hands and knees pulling grass, one of them was heard to say, "Where are the fighting women when we need them, the ones who pull hair." In place of grass, the boys climbed down to the river's beach and brought sand to make the dancing circle.
Willow branches were cleared and we all stopped to breathe in the view of the river, the beach and the bold mountain behind it. The scene reminded me of Eastern Oregon or the Columbia Gorge -- just wilder, not developed, free. No wires or wind towers, no dam, a barely perceptible road across the broad river cutting out of the mountain. It was a perfect place. Up above was the parking lot where the kitchen would be set up -- but not for the dancers who would be fasting. Gloria, Al, Tia had already thought about that. All the food cooked on site would be wrapped so the scent did not overpower the area and waft down to the ceremonial grounds. Gloria made us promise that if we smelled food at all, to let them know. She did not want to make the fasting harder. Our hosts set up some tents both on the parking level, and on the level of the ceremony, one big easy up with sides for the dancers to rest in.
Caleen, Sarah and I started working on a willow lean-to-wall to put against the easy up, but the willow bark was not very strong, and did not come off in the nice strips as expected. I looked up from tying one to see Pauline, Tina's husband, and a couple other of the Maori in a line stripping away flax leaves without saying a word industriously. Wonderful! The flax strips were strong and easy to tie. Tina's husband and Caleen finished off the other ties -- cross cultural sharing coming very naturally. "No workshop needed!" we observed. Leaning up against the easy up with full view of the fire, it made a perfect place for the Fire Tender through the night.
We couldn't help but take a look backward at the changed space, no longer a nice little deer bed of a place surrounded by thicket, but a ceremony circle, in the center, a Sacred Circle of stones for the Fire, the Winnemem box drum in place, the River and Mountain in clear sight. It felt good.
We got into the vehicles to spend another night at a luxurious Sheep Camp turned retreat which the Maori hosts had leased for us, an extravagantly luxurious evening with individual bathrooms, showers, a bed, and the very generous meals which Gloria, Tia,Pauline and the hosts at Glenthorne provided -- Carole and Makere.
That night we opened the packages sent from customs which held the feather bustles and head gear, the bows, arrows, spears, and ankle bracelets of deer feet. It's a good thing Richard Tinkersley from the New Zealand Human Rights Commission suggested we eat a good meal before the Winnemem sat down for this task. In opening the boxes, Caleen found much damage done by the poor repacking and the toxins used to fumigate the articles by the customs staff. From where I sat on a couch, watching my Winnemem family -- Chief, headman, dancers, mothers of the dancers, the Dance Captain -- I could see their faces fall, and their shoulders sag. It became very quiet.
One by one, each dancer opened their case and took out their bustles, ankle bracelets, and other regalia pieces to be examined and to be taken care of. Feathers were broken having been re-packed with the heavy ankle bracelets on top of them, which, in moving back and forth as each suitcase was moved, damaged the feathers underneath. The sheen of life had disappeared from the feathers. It felt like the dancer-warrior spirit of the regalia was present, but worn and battered. The night was solemn as our Maori friends and we sat in silent witness. The bows, arrows and spears were examined. Sad to say the custom officers did not bother to rewrap the points, instead tossing the extra foam back into the package. Both points were damaged. One of the points were actually loosened from the spear.
The Chief made a good point. Customs is very familiar with handling "museum pieces" very much like the regalia which are actively used by the Winnemem tribe. The regalia was no less valuable, no less old than those exhibition pieces. Certainly a tribe's sacred regalia should receive the same treatment as museum pieces or the Pope's vestments, for that matter.
The Chief talked to us about next steps, toxins would have to be washed off of things which could be laundered, the feathers washed. The spear would need to be attended to. Nothing could be done about the points. Nor could anything be done, we learned later during ceremony, about the deer hooves which became rubbery and broke apart as the dancers danced, we assume, due to the toxins used on them.
At some point after that Makere came up with a package in her hand and said there was something she would like to give if this would be an appropriate time. I remembered Makere and I had a conversation earlier regarding difficulties with regalia. I told her at the last minute customs would not allow migratory bird feathers so we had to leave the flicker feather pieces at home. She brought the package to the table which Caleen opened. Caleen's face brightened as she held up a single flicker feather, and said how good it was their relative would be present at the ceremony after all, explaining that all the flicker feathers were left at home but this one would represent. Then she reached in and brought out a hawk wing. The hawk was very important to the Maori also. Each dancer would dance with one of the hawk feathers tied onto his regalia. Finally Caleen brought out the eagle feathers from the package. Somehow, every bent feather could be replaced because of this gift of eagle feathers, as well as smaller eagle feathers and fluff. There was even one white feather to replace the injured white feather in our Chief's headpiece. The spirit of the ceremony and the sacred infused the evening with the gift of feathers -- it seemed like a circle was completed. The damage and hurt was temporary because what was meant to be would be.
There isn't a doubt that these valuable pieces filled with spirit were more ragged, more spent than they were --- just as we are with the uphill challenges of dealing with non-recognition and abuse of sacred lands and water -- and at the same time, there is no doubt that all will carry on.
The hardest thing was to know that the little doctoring basket which Granny used, and her mother before that which Caleen might need to use had had all the feathers taken off of it by customs. Why would customs feel they needed to desecrate it? What damage could the feathers have caused the health and safety of anyone? During the ceremony, there was need to use the little basket, and, as it was, things were fine, after all. I was relieved. I could not help comparing -- the people of the tribe -- their feathers and baskets -- the salmon -- the river -- the quality of air and Ocean -- the security of the Mountain -- the earth itself. What is of value now in this time? what is respected?
It was of some comfort that this all happened with people who cared, who respected, stood beside and of course, that the "one who had something to give" also had the kind of heart that understood that feathers were meant to dance and not to be kept in boxes OR museums. It was comfort and it was enough. Thank you, Great Olelbis.
Babers was feeling emotional, head buried in her mother's shoulders. Her mother, Chief Caleen Sisk Franco comforted her 19 year old daughter, speaking softly. Babers and her cousins, the Winnemem youth, had just released the small salmon into the stream to swim on the way down the river on their long journey to the ocean. Each of the youth had touched the small fish as they released a bucket full into the stream. No one said, "let's touch the salmon." It's just the way they do it. The Dance Captain also released the fish, the Chief, the Head Man, all of us took a turn. It was a beautiful sight to see after seventy some years of separation, Winnemem and their Nur together in one place. It was a unplanned ritual moment.
One could call this a miracle since for decades the Winnemem grieved for days gone by, believing their salmon were gone forever, victims of the Shasta Lake Dam. Now today, the tribe was in New Zealand at a hatchery releasing a seventh generation of salmon into the river.
I looked over. Caleen was still comforting Babers but I suddenly got this flash of insight. Babers was expressing her mother's heart. Caleen was both feeling the very emotions her daughter expressed while, at the same time, comforting her. She probably would like to weep right now, but Babers did it for her.
I had heard the report of the long trip Caleen made to the recognized tribes asking for support for the New Zealand trip. After all, bringing the McCloud salmon back would help all the tribes. I heard the sad story that for some of the tribes the taste for fish had all but disappeared as did their will to help the Winnemem make this historic journey to bring the salmon home. So it made an impression on me -- this tribe, separated from their salmon for two generations still having such a strong connection that they had such strong emotions reuniting with their fish, touching the fish and watching them begin their difficult journey to the ocean, perhaps anticipating leaving them in a few days when returning home to California. Where are such teenagers anywhere else. How were the Winnemem able to keep their strong connection to the Nur inits absence over the generations when other tribes had lost their taste for fish, and without the need as a food, so went their will to help the fish survive.
I will leave it this way for the time -- a question not answered, a snapshot moment of a mother and a daughter -- a daughter who loves her cell phone like anyone else her age but who also has ancient deep emotions for the salmon -- so deep that at 19, she needs to be held and comforted by her mother.
I leave you with the ramifications. Whom can we most likely count on to continue the guardianship of salmon, of river and ocean the next generation? And who is the fish expert? The PhD or the Winnemem mother. Caleen Sisk Franco, WM.
Arron and I sat at the dinner table after the wonderful meal hosted by the Waihao Murae friends was finished. We all tended to do that, hang around. People sat in groups here and there talking. I listened to the raucous laughter around the room and confessed, "You know, I've never met people who were so strong spiritually like the Winnemem and also, goofballs like us too."
Arron laughed and agreed, "I know! I was thinking that too! They're like us."
Behind us, Pauline and Wendy, two of our hosts overhearing us joined in, "You're just like us!"
When we first arrived, greeted in the traditional manner, Tia chanting as she walked with us, entering into the beautifully simple room, the light streaming in on polished wood, the spiritual leader,a kind faced young man, spoke and translated a message which touched our hearts. It was wonderful to hear about the sacred mountains, the salmon, to be understood so completely.
Following that, as we all gathered for the customary Tea, the thunder rolled and we were surprised by an incredible hailstorm coming from the mountains and the sacred Aoraki. The young spiritual leader assured us, "This is a good thing" but before he could get the words out, our dancers had already run outside to greet the hail and thunder. Maybe they knew we were being greeted by the mountains and the great New Zealand sky.
Everyone enjoyed the sight, their young people joining.
I don't know when the joking began, but only the heartfelt and serious conversation of Nur and Tu Nah gave it pause. That conversation showed several things. First, both our tribes were actively and spiritually involved in Guardianship of their fish relative -- the Tu Nah and the Nur. Both (peoples and fish) had endured and survived extermination policies. Both had a special connection with Fish, Mountain, River, Ocean. These conversations were deep, heart felt and real enough to forge a connection as warrior guardians. Then the hilarity would start again. "We'll trade for the Head Man!" Pauline joked at one point. Mark sat with mouth-opened surprise. Then the Winnemem, not to be outdone, would make smart comments back of whom the trade would involve. It's not often that our Head Man is left speechless.
That line of hilarity began again after dinner the next day after a day long bus trip with the Ngai Tahu and Waitahu Mamoe Fisher People where we visited the Sacred Aoraki hiding behind his cloak. We'll have to come back again to see the Mountain. We had gone to the sacred lakes. We stopped and saw the dam which stopped the Longfin Eel from continuing the journey to the ocean to spawn. John Wilkie had shown a video the day before of a project he was part of to gather up the eel and drive them past the dam to a point the eel could successfully reach the ocean, even going part of the way across the sand, to reach the waterline. We were moved by the Eel's courage. Looking at the dam, we thought of the Shasta Lake Dam at home which stopped the salmon runs completely and I said a quiet prayer for John and others to continue their work for the Eel. On the way back to the Marae on the bus, at our "comfort stop" we saw oak trees with acorns mature enough to drop and picked up hatfuls wondering if they could be used for "acorn water" which the fasting dancers would need. Several Winnemem women were shelling sitting around the table that evening after dinner. Henny Rongi who stayed with us for most of the trip, 75, sincere, and full of conversation also sat with us with her knife, scraping off the shells.
The young spiritual leader picked up the comedic theme of giving one of their men to the Winnemem to bring us close together, who would pay the fee? Karl, one of their men, was offered and Jill, Winnemem, always game for fun held up $20. When someone else joked about an alternative to Karl, I joked, "I say yes to Karl! We have use for his knowledge of ancient things." Karl had talked to us earlier about the Maori way of skirmishes and war. At one point Karl had described in detail with some of us what was done to the dead enemy in a matter of fact voice ending with, "and then afterward they packaged him neatly up and presented him to his Chief," then pretended to just notice our Chief was listening and said, "Oh, sorry."
So after Jill waved the $20 to everyone's entertainment and laughter, and the offer was accepted by the spiritual leader, Karl with blase expression pulled a chair up to the table, picked up a small knife, and joined the Winnemem women scratching the shells off of acorns to screams of laughter. Jill shouted out, "You'll like it. We all live together, one big family" and gestured with both arms toward the 29 Winnemem in the room. Then she waved to her son James who swept over to hug Karl, "Daddy!" Jill gestured again, and her second son Jared flew into the air and landed in Karl's lap. Jared was quite a few inches taller than Karl.
Meanwhile Karl's son ran over to give Jill a big hug as I referred to Jill's daughter Audrey at home, expecting a baby, "You're going to be a grandfather too." By now the laughter and tears filled the room to the rafters. That's how it was with us. As was said over and over "We're just alike!" This is a match commemorated by strong prayer, good work and from the gut laughter. Unstoppable.
I have often said that Chief Caleen Sisk Franco stands out from other modern day leaders. She states what should be the obvious, but is not for her time. These are times when layers of artificial "needs and wants," and manufactured news pile one on top the other and truth is literally buried. The USA represents a particular kind of human mindset which has topped out, creating the false world, the false reality which so many seem to have bought into. The facade is crumbling. A worldwide hysteria over numbers and percentages manipulated by stock market saboteurs exposes the downslide. Fighting over a health plan which has more to do with insurance companies and business executives guarding profit margins than taking care of the people exposes what are the bankrupt priorities running this country. It is exposed. Just a few countries in the world have crowned themselves the god Baal, their leaders' eyes filled with a world made of paper and oil. Five hundred years ago this same continent was conquered for the disappearing gold craved by bankrupt European nation states who had created environmental disaster in their own countries and bankrolled voyages to other lands to seek a way out of poverty to claim lands through war, to enslave, cut off the hands and massacre the great civilizations they met -- civilizations under whose care the Earth retained balance for tens of thousands of years. And now, within 200 years, these lands face environmental disaster again, the gold almost gone, the oil, the water next.
So when Chief Caleen Sisk Franco states the simple truth -- what Waitaha Mamoe Fisher tribal member Alister Wilke calls "common sense" -- that truth being that the key to solving the global crisis is to make things inhabitable for the two endangered species who live in both ocean and river streams (the Nur and the Tu Nah) -- the clear simplicity of the message carries a revolutionary wallop! Here's another truth. The indigenous leaders of this globe, under whose care the earth sustained itself for tens and thousands of years have the smarts necessary to build a true policy for world wide sustainability. The world's leaders should be bringing the indigenous leaders of the world together to plan our response to global crisis. Instead, the nonsense they call Indian Policy in this country wastes valuable time and resources of indigenous leaders who must instead assert their existence and the right to continue to even get into the door. When our Chief, Caleen Sisk Franco answered President Obama’s call for tribal leaders to assemble for a summit in Washington DC, she received a snub: You are not invited. You are not a recognized tribe. That doesn't make sense! Very few tribes in California are recognized. A whopping 90 percent are unrecognized since the 1980’s. Doesn’t that signal discrimination to the President? Important words regarding the health of waterways, the Sacramento delta, the salmon, critical information about the impending Katrina-sized disaster the further raising of Shasta Lake Dam may cause -- things the President should know -- does not reach his ears because he upholds bad policy regarding Native peoples by surrounding himself with BIA bureaucrats keeping an eye on the little bit of money set aside for federally reognized tribes.
Our Chief is a sovereign leader, so it is not a surprise she did not just give up. Protecting the McCloud from a water power plant from being built which would forever shut the door on reintroducing the salmon to the river, advocating for saving the Sacramento Delta, impeding the further raising of Shasta Lake Dam, these and other important issues are important to her. That’s why she inspired her tribal members as best she could to finance themselves or raise donations to travel halfway around the world to New Zealand to speak with the Maori people and do ceremony for the Nur, Salmon. We traveled around the world to say to our fish relatives, “We are still here.” Shasta Lake Dam may have caused the breaking of a promise made a long time ago when the eggs were sent around the world, a promise that they would come back someday. But the Chief intended to mend the break.
The sad truth is some of our brightest, most insightful, experienced leaders are becoming just as endangered as the Nur and other endangered life of this beautiful planet Earth. It is the attention of others to this dire situation which will prevent invisibility and loss of these leaders. These leaders are the ones who carry on the Lifeways of their ancestors, and the long ancient relationship they have kept with the Earth. It is they, in fact, who continue the ceremonial ways which let the Earth spirits know “We’re still here” and we will continue the human being’s part in building a strong relationship and keeping the earth's cycle going of birth and death, and sustaining life.
Chief Caleen Sisk Franco pointed out that now someone can go to school for five to ten years and be called an expert on the environment; another twenty years and some people are called Energy Czars making policies which have worldwide impact. But what about the people who have the knowledge from the beginning of time, who have known the living things of a region personally and have acted as Guardians over eons. Half in jest she said, “Do we have to come up with letters and degrees at the end of our names?”
Over these two weeks in New Zealand indigenous leaders of the Maori and Winnemem, Guardians of the earth, came together. We must double our commitment to the John Wilkies and Caleen Sisk Francos of the world -- as well as their people, relatives, allies -- and continue to honor the Great Nur and Great Tu-nah who still continue despite all which stands in their way in their noble endeavor to continue Life (not destroy it). We cannot afford to rely upon experts paid to watch the bottom line for corporations and who shore up crumbling mega-armed nations. We can't waste anymore time on those unable to say “The Empire has no clothes.” It’s not working anymore.
I am listening to the “Magic Fish,” who live in both fresh water and the ocean. My attention goes to the tribal leaders who pay particular attention to what their life cycles show us and who have never forsaken Guardianship for the earth. The times call for that kind of leadership, leaders who know and follow the Earth, who still remember what their job as human beings are, what they were put on Earth to do.
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.
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.