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Restoring Brigid, Restoring Justice

Shannon Michaela Doree Smith.  Updated March 8th. 
This piece is re-published on International Women’s Day 2021 with gratitude to President Joseph R. Biden for his Proclamation on Irish-American Heritage Month, 2021 and a call for “all Americans to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Irish Americans to our Nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs. The story of the Irish the world over is one of people who have weathered their fair share of hard times, but have always come out strong on the other side.”

“We sing a song to Brigid

Brigid brings the spring

Awakens all the fields and flowers 

And calls the birds to sing…”

In the rekindling of the sacred fires of early Christianity, a Celtic Christianity that was not afraid of earth based traditions, we pause at the cross quarter days of Imbolc to welcome Brigid – Goddess or Saint – as she brings spring back to the land.

Brigid (Brigit, Bhride, Brighid, Bríd) as Saint is Patroness of Ireland, she is also a triple Goddess figure of a pre-Christian time. She represents the aspects of Irish traditions and culture encompassing blacksmithing, animal husbandry, hospitality and justice. She holds the teachings of the elementals and of alchemy from the forging of iron and shaping of tools to the forging of words, philosophy and spirit into the prophetic bardic tradition of poetry.

It is worthy to note the perspective of the Brigidine Sisters, Catholic Sisters who to this day celebrate the qualities of Brigid as a woman ‘for our time’. She is emblematic of the call to care for the earth and a beacon in the work of justice and a guide for chaplaincy. From the Sisters: “A Life of Brigid” (Vita Brigitae), composed by Cogitosus about 650 AD, places great emphasis on Brigid’s faith, her healing powers, her hospitality, her generosity, her great skill with animals, and her compassion for the poor and the oppressed. Twenty three of the thirty two chapters tell of her extraordinary concern for the poor. Today that call for justice is strong. 

The story of the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes sits as a stain for the Irish people. Irish Central reported in 2019, “The Magdalene Laundries, named after Mary Magdalene who was in earlier centuries characterized as a converted prostitute, existed from the early 1760s through the late 1990’s in Ireland, the UK, Australia, and the US. An estimated 30,000 women were confined.” The last laundry closed in 1996, just 25 years ago. The numbers of women and babies held was largely speculated but ultimately unknown as records of forced labor and imprisonment as well as records of pregnancies and forced, sometimes illegal, adoptions were not always kept. It has long been a sore reality of children now grown into adulthood not knowing their histories having been separated from their shamed mothers, some not even knowing their own birthdate.

The grievousness of this buried trauma came into painful focus when 796 children, most of them infants, were found in a mass grave on the grounds of the Mother and Baby home in Tuam that had been operated by an order of the Roman Catholic Church between 1925 and 1961. The bodies of the children were found conspicuously in the area of a sewage tank with no shrouds, no coffins. This horrible discovery begged the question, what else was hidden, what else was unknown about this terrible time in Irish history? 

In 2015, a federal commission was formed to collect survivor testimony with the intention to produce a report of what happened principally between 1925 and 1998. When the report was to be completed and released in the fall of 2020 in the midst of Covid, a series of missteps began to occur. Survivor testimony was reported lost, portions of the report were leaked, motions were passed in government at a moment’s notice seemingly without regard for the survivors themselves. These events compounded other issues. In January of 2021 the Mother and Baby Homes Commission reported 57,000 children being moved through these homes and over 9,000 infant deaths, however, only 18 out of over 150 homes were included in the report and the recommendation by the Irish Human Rights Commission to apply a human rights framework to the Mother and Baby Homes investigation had been rejected.

The image given to the public was one of a desire to rush through to the completion of the investigation without response to areas of concern and without consultation from survivors, those whose stories of abuse would be summarized, assessed and filed away. While the government leader, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, offered an apology, for some it has not been enough to bring justice to the wounds of the past. In his remarks, Martin said, “One of the clearest messages of the testimonies in this report is how this treatment of women and children is something which was the direct result of how the State, and how we as a society acted.” 

This statement inspired the daughter of a Mother and Baby Homes survivor, Laura Murphy, to write an extraordinary history as to what created the conditions that led to the mistreatment, humiliation and oppression of women and their children at the hands of both the church and state when from their collusion, ‘A terrible beauty was born’. In her declaration, “The Irish people were coercively controlled – indoctrinated  – through instruments of shame and fear to behave in ways that were contrary to our nature. Muintir na hÉireann did not give informed consent.” “Mná na hÉireann (the women of Ireland) did not give informed consent”, “the people of Ireland did not give informed consent”, separating the actions of the church and state from the will of the people (‘we as a society’).

In this clarion call for justice, her words speak volumes to the loss of Brigid for the Irish and descendants worldwide and to the potential watershed of healing as we acknowledge and repair the trauma of colonization and the ‘perverse’ religious narrative that was adopted and continues to perpetuate harm. 

Murphy writes, “Our society was the remnants of one invasion after another from the beginning of our history, the vestiges of a perpetual battle for the reclamation of sovereignty and the preservation of the spirit of our people and land. It was a miracle that we – a small, pillaged, broken nation – had any remaining energy or means to fight for and win our freedom. But we did. Irish women were pivotal in the winning of Irish independence. When Pádraic Pearse declared Irish independence, he addressed ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen’. The promise of our proclamation was ‘equality, happiness and prosperity for all men, women and children’. We were a war-weary, exhausted, divided and vulnerable society. Women and children were written out and the Roman Catholic Church was written in. This truth needs to be understood, acknowledged and acted upon. Survivors need real respect, redress and support, not just lip service. As part of this I am calling for a new national holiday to mark Brigid’s Day. It is time to honour Ireland’s women, past, present. and future.”

In these days when the call to justice, not just recapitulation, is bold and strong we must heed the wisdom of those who keep their hearts and minds close to what is truly being called for. Black Lives Matter and Land Back movements are among those pointing the way. Justice does not come from tolerance, but from equity. Justice comes when we tell the truth about our history. Reconciliation only comes after the Truth.

There is much to learn from the history of the Irish and Irish American people’s experience having been colonized on their own soil by the British; then emigrating, persecuted and punished; then assimilated into ‘American’ and other westernized cultures. Similar to other colonized peoples such as those indigenous to “the Americas” and “Australia”, the Irish, despite being white bodied, were also subject to beatings and humiliation in their post-colonial schools if caught speaking their native language. Their skulls were measured, some on their heads and some stolen from graves, by British researchers in an attempt to prove the Irish as the ‘missing link’ in evolution between monkeys and black bodied people. 

When the British came to Ireland they burned the trees to enforce their domination. It destroyed the shelter in which the Irish could hide from their colonizers and simultaneously destroyed a cultural connection to the land, terrorizing a free people away from their language and traditions which were rooted in the forests. For the Irish, their first laws and language emerged from the trees. Brehon Laws were passed to wisdom keepers by oral tradition until the monastic scribes wrote down what they could to preserve them. The Irish language formed from the Proto-Celtic Ogham alphabet where each letter was representative of a species of tree. This system of law and language for many is interwoven with their living indigenous forms of timekeeping which align seasonal, agricultural and archetypal calendars.

 

Image by Yuri Leitch, author, The Ogham Grove

When the Irish came to the shores of Turtle Island they were leaving under duress fleeing famine and persecution at home. As descendants of Irish immigrants in the Americas many of us learned a skeletal version of the story of the potato famine. As has been done with other genocides and actions against marginalized peoples, much was erased from our school books. Most of us were not taught how the English sent food that was growing in the nearly barren soil back to England, starving the poor and the hungry people native to the land all while burning their houses and their forests. Some report the most sacred Oaks were cut and used to build the stately homes of the oppressors.

We know that this was not the only instance of colonization enforced through the desacralization of trees as the British had also applied a similar tactic at home. Hawthorne trees, for example, are sacred to the Celts and pre-Celtic nations of many European lands. You will find them commonly beside sacred sites, especially holy wells, as one of the designated ‘guardians’ of these sacred openings into the womb of the Mother. The English co-opted use of the Hawthornes from their place in indigenous culture and turned them into shrubbery used to demarcate property – another design of the dominator culture to enforce ‘ownership’ of the land – a concept both foreign to original peoples. What we understand from this is that for colonization to take root and to thrive it is necessary to cut the relationship between the land and the people. And it is only by the enforcement of this disembodiment can the dominator maintain control. 

During the time of the Great Famine many Irish departed for foreign lands from a place called the Bridge of Tears in the north of the republic near Donegal so named because it was the place where families said goodbye to loved ones making far-away journeys. Those leaving did not know if they would ever be returning home – those staying behind not knowing if they would ever see their loved ones again. Some left for the likes of Australia or South Africa, others to Nova Scotia where Irish communities still exist, some co-mingled with Native American populations like the Mic Maq on Cape Breton. Some came through the gates of the ‘New World’. Into the twentieth century they may have faced the signs of racism “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”, or in London ‘to let’ signs reading “No Coloured, No Irish, No Children.”

Photo Credit: Hamil Clarke, ‘Two generations. One fight’: Black men talk about their experiences of racism in Ipswich’, ITV

Patrick became the Saint they carried with them – a Roma-British missionary from a wealthy family credited with the arrival of Christianity to Ireland and driving out the snakes. Patrick himself was brought to Ireland initially as a child under capture and ‘found God’. When he returned to Ireland as an adult he challenged the Druids – and drove the earth based traditions into the ground – a story told in the allegory of driving out the ‘snakes’. Brigid herself – Irish patroness, symbol of justice, love for the stranger, care for the earth and all her creatures was largely forgotten. While some describe Patrick as a figure who embraced the old world and the new, one can read the Catholic encyclopedia’s full story on Patrick’s battle against the Druids online here. The success of replacing Bhride with Patrick is evidenced easily by the popular parades each March 17th in the US, Ireland and all around the world. It is also noted by oral tradition keepers like John Willmont of Carrowcrory Gardens, stories of more subtle but enduring maneuvers, such as the renaming of holy wells to shift their dedications from Brigid to Patrick changing the course of local traditions and veneration. 

Why is this important especially in these times? 

In a time of great upheaval, and in the US, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and a wholly unacceptable number of black brothers and sisters in the United States, white descendants of immigrants (and sometimes of the original colonizers themselves) have been asked or rather tasked with a sometimes uncomfortable demand – to go back and wrestle with the truth of our own heritage and the sins committed both by and against our ancestors. We are tasked with undoing the inculturation of white supremacy – of all forms of supremacy – to relieve our black, brown, yellow and red brothers and sisters of the burden white supremacy has placed on them. To relieve the burden the doctrine of domination has wrought upon the earth. There is no question that in addition to the burdens placed upon our colonized ancestors, there was a moment when the old world’s stories were put to the side to rise within the new society where one’s ability to conform and willingness to compete, paved the way for acceptance and material success. But now what? 

White bodied people in the US are instructed not to culturally appropriate from the traditions of others in our ‘melting pot’ of diversity but what, if anything, does that leave? With churches seeing record numbers of losses in membership and systems of privilege, capitalism, and patriarchy under fire for abuse, where does that leave so many people? On defense? With shame? An unending apology? Reparations? – yes. But if we can look at the shame that is exposed and make that sincere apology we can begin to make equitable amends and to retrieve our own cultural and spiritual identities. 

So this year, we can begin. Begin by honoring the ways of your ancestors. Begin making relations with the land you are on and the waters where you reside, but also, begin to research, to study, to understand, and even to practice what it was that your ancestors did to offer their gratitude, to pray, to connect to the earth. To honor the cycles and the seasons – just begin.

As social justice innovator Sonya Renee Taylor offers, there are some questions to ask, and a quest to fulfill:

“White people cannot escape the violences of whiteness without reckoning with their history. Without reckoning with their ancestors…The history of whiteness is a trauma on the whole world, and every day people of color have to deal with the trauma of whiteness. The problem is white people have been trying not to deal with the trauma of whiteness in their own lives.

And the only way to do that is to actually go back and heal –

  • To heal the relationship with your ancestors
  • To grieve the loss of their humanity through their violent acts
  • To learn what it was that it made them
  • To seek who they were before they became white 
  • To see what can be salvaged from that place that is within your own culture 
  • and to account for that which was done in harm to gain power.

That’s the only way to move from whiteness…

It is in the cultural mindset of whiteness to figure out how to not have to sit in the discomfort of that history. Be clear I’m talking about an indoctrination in whiteness (not the color of your skin). You actually have to become really clear about how whiteness operates as a system and where it operates as a system. And then the work is to not only remove it from yourself, but to remove it from the systems and structures in the world where it continues to wreak harm.”

Sonya Renee Taylor – Being Assigned White at Birth – Complete Video

 

This is our call to the Both / And. 

Not the both / and that asks us to give equal airtime to the oppressors and the oppressed. This is the both / and of both dismantling the broken system of white supremacy – and beginning to sow new roots in the culture and traditions we have been uprooted from.

Just for today, just for now, remember and recognize that your people, wherever your ancestors are from, were connected to the earth. No matter how far back you have to go to find it. They prayed with the fire and the water. The forests were sacred. They still are: a realization and a revelation of our time on Earth “When we come to it,” as Maya Angelou says again and again as a mantra of awakening in ‘A Brave and Startling Truth’.

As President Biden writes in his address for this month of Irish-American History, ”Everything between us runs deep: literature, poetry, sadness, joy, and, most of all, resilience. Through every trial and tempest, we never stop dreaming.” In beautiful confluence with International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, let us join in a chorus for Brigid to raise her into our consciousness again with the goal to bring forth justice.

Lady, from winters dark,

Star of Imbolc, rise

Dance around our threshold,

Scattering warm laughter,

Seeds of hospitality, forgiveness!

Return again to the folk;

You the spring we yearn for!

Walk to a well, a river, a stream and tend to the waters in reverence. Return among the trees. Be a Brigid of hospitality to a friend, a family member, or a stranger who needs it. Do the work of justice on the inside. Let that guide you in the work of justice without. Be in community. Take care of one another. Alchemize – metal into fire, words into inspirations, poetry into action.

Support the establishment of Brigid’s Day as a National Holiday in Ireland beginning in 2022 and for Irish Americans to stand in solidarity with our kin.  #BrigidsDay2022.


*Author’s Notes: the Irish daughter of a Mother and Baby Homes survivor Laura Murphy penned an Open Letter to the Taoiseach in response to the recent controversial 3,000 page report. In her letter she addresses themes and issues brought forth here, and suggests the designation of Brigid’s Day, February 1st as a National Holiday in Ireland. Please read her letter linked above and support #BrigidsDay2022.

You can learn more by watching Ms. Murphy’s Feb 26, 2021 interview with Carrie Ford on One Boat International Chaplaincy for Covid Times. “The Friday Conversation with activist Laura Murphy discloses a terrible history of shame, cover – ups, lost lives, workhouse conditions, silencing, traumatised lives, and over 9000 documented infant deaths in the recent revelations of the twentieth century experiment of social control exercised by the Catholic Church and State in the first century of the Republic of Ireland. And opens up a pathway for healing and hope.”

**This piece was researched and compiled in cooperation with Karen Minchin, Bean Feasa.

Resources:

The Irish Famine: Complicity in Murder, The Washington Post

Saint Patrick in the DIB, Royal Irish Academy

When America Despised the Irish: The 19th Century’s Refugee Crisis, History Stories, Christopher Klein

St. Brigid, Irish Chaplaincy

Mother and Baby Homes report: 9,000 children died amid high infant mortality rate, The Irish Times

Mother and Baby Homes Commission Report, Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation

‘Two generations. One fight’: Black men talk about their experiences of racism in Ipswich’, ITV

2021 Online offerings for Brigid this Imbolc – Solas Bhride Centre & Hermitages

Sonya Renee Taylor: Videos including Bodies of Resistance

John Willmont of Carrowcrory Gardens

Old Cork Waterworks, Cork City

Our Patroness, Brigidine Sisters of Australia

St. Brigid of Ireland, Catholic Ireland

Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, Wikipedia

Bigotry against Irish alive and well in the Uk in 2020, The Irish Times

The last Magdalene Laundry in Ireland closed its doors in 1996, Irish Central

Tlazocamati: Fuego de amar / Fire of Loving

Tlazocamati: Fuego de amar

(al modo nahua)

Traer las cuatro banderas
(la roja, la amarilla, la negra, la blanca)
y las cinco cuentas (de piedra verde, de oro,
de pedernal, de obsidiana, de barro)
a esta altura no es fácil.
Se marchitan la flores,
se desgarran las plumas,
se gasta el oro, se astilla el jade.
Se ponen las banderas
al este, al sur, al oeste, al norte;
en el centro se arreglan las cinco cuentas.
Se celebra la ceremonia,
se hace la penitencia,
se abre, se valora el corazón.
Se alza la flor y el canto,
se dan gracias a la vida.
La Tierra escucha.

© Rafael Jesús González 2020

10 octubre 2020


 

 Tlazocamati: Fire of Loving

 (in the Nahua mode)

To bring the four flags
(the red, the yellow, the black, the white)
& the five beads (of green stone, of gold,
of quartz, of obsidian, of clay)
to this height is not easy.
The flowers wilt,
the feathers are tattered,
the gold is worn, the jade chipped.
The flags are placed
to the east, the south, the west, the north;
in the center are arranged the five beads.
The ceremony is celebrated,
penance is made,
the heart is opened, appraised.
Flower & song are raised,
thanks is given to life.
The Earth listens.

~ Rafael Jesús González

October 10, 2020

 

Rafael Jesús González

Born in the bicultural/bilingual setting of El Paso, Texas/Juárez, Chihuahua, attended the University of Texas El Paso, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, & the University of Oregon. Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing & Literature, taught at the University of Oregon, Western State College of Colorado, Central Washington State University, the University of Texas El Paso, and Laney College, Oakland where he founded the Mexican and Latin American Studies Dept.  The first Poet Laureate of Berkeley, CA.

Contributing poet for Earth Stanzas, Earth Day collaboration between the Center for Earth Ethics and Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University and election cycle project, “Where I am From.”

Visit Raphael’s Blog Spot

Summer News – A Call to Peace, Justice and Prayers for the Earth

Honoring Sacred Sites Day, June 21st

A Call to Peace, Justice and Prayers for the Earth
June 18th -21st, 2020

Chief Arvol Looking Horse has a vision. “One day I would like to see ‘Honoring Sacred Sites Day, June 21st’ recognized all over the world, when people will finally understand their importance. 2020 is the 25th year of ‘World Peace and Prayer Day’ at the Summer Solstice to bring attention to the importance of Sacred Sites.  In addition to daily live streaming events beginning June 18th, we are invited to visit sacred places in nature or in our houses of faith to join in solidarity: All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer to mend the Sacred Hoop of Life.  Learn more…

In that same spirit, the Center for Earth Ethics asks all of our allies to join the 150+ Mobilizing Partners and organizations of the June 20th Poor People’s Campaign Mass Assembly. Visit June202020.org where you can register and instantly send letters to your elected representatives in support of a Moral Agenda to address the interlocking injustices we must face, and that we must heal. And don’t forget to download the social media tool kit to share with your networks. We are stronger together. 

See below for links to today’s convening of Laudato Si’ at 5: Ecological Citizenship and Climate Justice live from 12 -1:15 pm and Friday’s conversation between Kelly Brown Douglas and Michelle Alexander on Covid-19 & Prison Reform.

Celebrate the Solstice and the Earth with Earth Stanzas Join CEE, our partners at the Wick Poetry Center and special guests sharing music and poems for the Earth on the  SustainWhat? webcast hosted by Andrew Revkin of the Initiative on Communication & Sustainability at Columbia University’s Earth InstituteFind links to all of this week’s events below, along with and recommended readings and resources for these times.

Lastly, we share an important message from General Coordinator of the Otomi-Toltec Regional Council, Mindahi Bastida in response to the murder of Domingo Choc, Maya Q’echi, Traditional Maya Healer on June 6th in Guatemala – The Spirit is Action: A Call for Justice.

In Solidarity,
The Center for Earth Ethics Team


Take the Pledge! June2020.org


June 21st – Earth Stanzas & Sustain What?


Resources and Reads For These Times:

Black Climate Scientists & Scholars Changing the World

Catherine Coleman Flowers & more by Sophie Hirsh for Green Matters

______________________
Racism is Killing the Planet

by Hop Hopkins for SIERRA

______________________

A Conversation with Kelly Brown Douglas and Karenna Gore:

COVID-19 and the Environment


_____________________
My Grandmother’s Hands

Racialized Trauma & the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts & Bodies

by Resmaa Menaken


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Contribute

 

The Spirit is Action: A Call for Justice

Mindahi Bastida, General Coordinator of the Otomi-Toltec Regional Council in Mexico, issued a statement in response to the murder of Maya Traditional Leader, Domingo Choc, in Guatemala. A video of Mindahi reading his response was recorded and can be viewed here. Read the statement below.

The Indigenous Peoples of the world are the ones who care for life and the Earth, our Mother, since time immemorial. It is time to recognize our work and that others recognize it fully. We are the main guardians of Diversity and Biocultural Heritage in the world. The greatest biocultural diversity is found in our territories, and this is thanks to our material and spiritual practices, which are based on the ancient wisdom of caring for life and relating with the sacred.

Our territories and the collective life of our peoples, both material and spiritual, are seriously threatened by the increasing deterioration of ecosystems and territories resulting from neoliberal economic development. It is urgent to halt ecocide and ethnocide not only to protect nature but to protect its guardians. If we want to protect the biological diversity of the world, it is necessary that national and international entities give absolute guarantees of protection to indigenous peoples, and especially to their spiritual and material leaders.

The historical and recent events of assassinations of indigenous leaders throughout the world have being taking place since the invasion of our territories. The Doctrine of Discovery has been in effect for at least 520 years and the colonial process of domination has been, and still is, devastating. Among other acts against life that we witness and suffer daily, we see with horror that those exercising ancestral spirituality in their own right are being victims of practices from the times of the Inquisition.

On June 6, Domingo Choc, Maya-Q’echi, a Spiritual Leader and Traditional Maya Healer, was burned alive in the Chimay Village, San Luis, Petén, Guatemala. A number of Pentecostal evangelicals set him on fire accusing him of being ‘a witch’. They killed him for practicing Mayan spirituality and, as inquisitors, they did it in proclamation of their Christian faith.

This aberrant and horrendous event is not an isolated case, for it happens often in many countries of the world. In Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and in other countries and continents such as Africa, indigenous spiritual and material leaders are assassinated or arrested for who they are and what they do—which is only in benefit of a good life for the community.

Taking into consideration the circumstances that led to this act, we demand Justice in the following terms:
1. Criminal and spiritual punishment to the material authors of the murder of Domingo Choc, basing the criminal punishment on articles 36 and 66 of the Political Constitution of Guatemala which refer to freedom of religion and that recognize the ethnic origin of the nation.
2. Granting of protection to the spiritual and material guardians and traditional authorities of Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala, Central and South America and the World.
3. Establishment of an inter-religious and spiritual dialogue to raise awareness and application of spiritual justice based on religious norms.
4. Investigation of cases related to bioprospection and access to traditional knowledge of medicinal plants in the territories of Indigenous Peoples.

It is time to promote the unification process with dignity, recognizing diversity. We all have rights, and we all have the responsibility, individually and collectively, to promote intercultural and inter-spiritual dialogue.

With respect and self-determination, on day 10 Reed, Zanbatha, Valley of the Moon, México. Mindahi Crescencio Bastida Muñoz
Otomi-Toltec
Member of the Alliance of Guardians of Mother Earth
With the support of the Center for Earth Ethics

Mindahi Bastida and Tiokasin Ghosthorse join other indigenous voices contributing to National Geographic Corona Virus Coverage

Traditional indigenous beliefs are a powerful tool for understanding the pandemic

Native American spiritual leaders say this is a time to recalibrate for a better future.

Read the complete article at National Geographic online – May 12, 2020

***

‘Blood memory’

For indigenous people, history plays an unavoidable role in interpreting the pandemic. One elder from Michigan called Joseph to talk about how difficult it’s been for her to care for herself and her family. After some reflection, the woman realized why: She was weighed down by thoughts of the smallpox epidemic that had killed so many Native Americans. She felt she needed to forgive the U.S. government for intentionally giving her people the illness.

While documentary evidence that Europeans or Americans purposely spread smallpox is scarce, there’s little doubt that colonizers brought infectious diseases that killed an estimated 90 percent—some 20 million people or more—of the indigenous population in the Americas. “Even though we may not have been alive in the time of the smallpox epidemic, that’s in our blood memory,” says Joseph, “just as historical resiliency is also in our blood memory.”

Those deeply rooted experiences can lead to acceptance, especially among elders. “They have been through so much and experienced so much that there’s no need to fear or even panic,” says Tiokasin Ghosthorse, the Stoneridge, New York-based host of First Voices Radio and a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation from South Dakota. “It’s almost like this [pandemic] is familiar.”

As such, indigenous communities aren’t dwelling on the pandemic’s backstory. “Indigenous peoples don’t always need to go and explain what happened, why it happened,” says the Reverend David Wilson, a Methodist minister in Oklahoma City and member of the Choctaw Nation. “We just know it’s there.”

“We’re taught not to think of nature as separate,” explains Ghosthorse, and that includes COVID-19. “The coronavirus is a being,” he says. “And we have to respect that being in an ‘awe state’ and a ‘wonder state’ because it has come to us as a medicine” to treat spiritual ills.

Lessons for the future

While this pandemic is presenting an opportunity to find meaningful ways to connect, it’s also a wake-up call with important lessons for the future. “If we don’t learn from now,” warns Mindahi Bastida Muñoz, general coordinator of the Otomi-Toltec Regional Council in Mexico, “then another thing, more powerful, is going to come.”

Bastida, who is also the director of the Original Caretakers program at the Center for Earth Ethics in New York City, says the world is out of balance and that anthropocentrism—our human-centric outlook—is the cause. “We think that we are the ones who can decide everything,” he says, “but we are killing ourselves.”

It doesn’t matter where the coronavirus came from, says Mindahi Bastida Muñoz, a member of the Otomi and Tolteca people in Mexico who is sheltering with friends in Granville

… Read More PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSUÉ RIVAS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

“Mother Earth is saying, ‘please listen,’” adds Joyce Bryant, known as Grandmother Sasa, the Abenaki founder of a healing center in New Hampshire. “We have to care about others. You know, the grass, the trees, the plants, the air, the water—all are extensions of ourselves. And they teach us.”

“Living in harmony with Mother Earth is a lot of work,” says Bastida, but it can be done by reviving the indigenous idea that humans serve as caregivers of nature. He’s working with spiritual leaders across the world to return to the old ways—producing food by hand, finding medicine in plants, animals, and minerals, and performing rituals and ceremonies that send prayers to Mother Earth.

Perhaps the biggest lesson that indigenous spiritual leaders hope people will take from the pandemic is that it’s a time to be still, to reflect, and to listen to elders. Both Joseph and Wilson likened this period of stay-at-home orders to a long winter, when people would traditionally stay inside and listen to stories. According to Joseph, it’s like Earth is saying “not today, humans, you need some more reflection.”

Irish help raise 1.7 million and growing for Navajo and Hopi Nations impacted by Covid-19

In a time when many are struggling, and challenged to summon the will to care for those most suffering, a centuries old bond between nations shines a light on human kindness and solidarity. 

Over 1.7 million has been raised so far for the Navajo and Hopi families COVID-19 Relief Fund with thousands of donations over the first few days of May. During the night of May 4th and into the wee hours of the morning hundreds of donations raising hundreds of thousands of dollars poured in with multiple donations per minute. Along with the financial support came hundreds of messages of solidarity remembering the kindness shown to the Irish people by the Choctaw who sent $170 during the Irish Famine in 1847, the equivalent of thousands of dollars, soon after they had gone through their own Trail of Tears. 

**UPDATE: as of 2 pm EST May 6th, the total raised is over 2.6 million dollars.  And the relief fund has expanded it’s goal to 3 million dollars.

**UPDATE: as of 1 pm EST May 11th, the total raised is over 3.5 million dollars.  And the relief fund has expanded it’s goal to 5 million dollars.

This story is being tracked by Naomi O’Leary, Europe Correspondent with the @IrishTimes.

The exchange between the Choctaw and Irish during the Great Famine is memorialized by the ‘Kindred Spirits’ memorial in Cork and in the etchings on the NYC Hunger Memorial.

Link to the thread on twitter: https://twitter.com/mariafarrell/status/1257381654873673731?s=20

Visit the Go Fund Me page to donate and to read the responses from the Irish offering up their thanks for the kindness of Native American ancestors.

Lighting the Sacred Fire – May Fire Festivals and Prayers in Solidarity

Today we light our sacred fires across the country and indeed across many sacred lands, to stand with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe for peace and right action. During this time of the Coronavirus the Mashpee have received notice of dissolution of their lands from the US Department of the Interior and have filed a court injunction. Arguments will be heard by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by phone Thursday, May 7, 2020.

“The Mashpee Wampanoag tribal people have called this land home for over 12,000 years. Their history predates the United States and they were the tribe who welcomed the Pilgrims in the 17th Century. The Tribe fought the U.S. government for recognition for nearly 40 years before finally becoming a federally recognized tribe in 2007. However, they have remained landless.” – From Massachusetts Congressman, Joe Kennedy’s statement of support.

Tonight, May 3rd, we light our candles and sacred fires sending our prayers and support as they prepare for a court hearing on Thursday, May 7th.

This call to action coincides with other significant events rooted in the traditions associated with lighting fires.

It’s no surprise International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day in some countries and often referred to as May Day (May 1st), was chosen for a celebration of labourers and workers. The beginning of May is a traditional time for the lighting of sacred fires across the world and truly a time of festivities for the people.

In the Celtic Wheel of the year, May 1 is the common observance day of Beltane, one of the High Holy Days of the Celtic calendar. Notably celebrated in the British Isles, Beltane is marked by a many days long festival culminating in the dance around the Maypole weaving brightly colored ribbons. The weaving is in honor of the marriage of the May King and Queen, or the God and Goddess of the Land and the fertility that expresses itself at the on-set of summer in flowers and trees, in birdsong and the dance of the sacred masculine and feminine. In present day Ireland, the festival is celebrated with the lighting of a sacred fire at the center of the Emerald Isle in the place where the ancient kings would have gone to be ‘married’ to the Goddess of the Land, Eiru. The early peoples of these lands believed the king could not rule well unless he was in service to the land and to the life-giving Mother Goddess. Fires are lit at each of the 8 major seasonal holidays of the calendar – the four Solar Festivals of Solstices and Equinoxes and the Cross-Quarter days that fall directly between them, also known as Lunar Sabbats. Beltane heralds the entrance to the Light Half of the Year, completing the first or Dark Half that began with the Feast of the Ancestors or Samhain, celebrated on October 31st, and is considered one of the most sacred festivals of the year.

May 3rd, is also a sacred day in Mesoamerican Cosmovision that can be celebrated with the lighting of a fire.  CEE’s Scholar in Residence Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina explains:

May 3, 2013 (and not December 21, 2012, as miscalculated) was conceived by ancient Olmecs some three thousand years ago as the ideal date for the culmination of the great cycle of 13 Baktuns. This cycle—5,128 years and 280 days long—would be ruled by evening Venus heralding the waters over the western horizon of the Yucatan Peninsula on that May 3, 2013, or 4 Ajaw 3 Kank’in in the calendar system inherited by the Maya. Such event would provide most favorable omens for the Corn People to thrive in the 13 Baktun cycle unfolding. Evening Venus, the great wind deity, marks its agency as a bringer of rain clouds by appearing at its northernmost position around May 3. This appearance is so important that multiple temples and pyramids, built over thousands of years, were carefully aligned to May 3, including the Feathered Serpent Pyramid at the Citadel of Teotihuacan.

The great cycle of 13 Baktuns offered omens of abundance and fertility to the Corn People, that is, to both the Corn-Corn Deity and the Corn keepers who care for the seeds, observe the arrival of the rains and fulfill calendar-based ceremonies in harmony with entities of the natural world.

At the completion of the great cycle of 13 Baktuns one of the five Bacabs—deities as giant as the sacred Ceiba and upholders of the Sky and the Earth— lets go of its burden. For thirteen years, every May 3, the Corn People have the responsibility to present to Grandfather Fire what they no longer need for the new cycle. They will thus be prepared to accompany the Bacab in its standing ceremony on May 3, 2026, entering together a new cycle of abundance and harmony with Mother Earth, Grandmother Moon, Father Sun and Venus.

At noon of May 3, the Primordial Couple in the Pleiades fuse their beam of light with the Sun’s rays directly activating the baby corn stalks that have been helped by its caregivers to stand upright a few days earlier. This is a happy encounter between the heart of the sky, the heart of Earth and the heart of the Corn People. When sunset falls later that May 3, the favorite son of the Primordial Couple, born on day 9 Wind, brings the rains with his breath of life, ensuring abundant corn offspring six months later, on November 3.


Contributing authors:

Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina, Scholar in Residence

Shannon M.D. Smith, Communications Manager

What is Ethnoecology?

Ethnoecology is an interdisciplinary field of study that enables a human group with a land-based culture to share how they conceive the ecosystem they inhabit. The root ‘ethno’ points to the native character of the human group; however, ethnoecology is also pertinent to those who are indigenous to a place, meaning those who have been interacting in harmonious and reciprocal ways for decades or generations, such as forest or desert dwellers, or small farmers, herders or fishermen. In all instances, what characterizes the human groups is the way in which they perceive the web of life and conceive their participation in it. They have come to understand, from accumulated experience, that dynamic processes are constantly shaping the way they see and interact with the natural world. The resulting outcome of such interaction is a bioculture, and, even if it retains identifiable and distinguishable features over time, the bioculture is always susceptible to acquiring, modifying or losing some identity traits.

Ethnoecology encourages people from a common bioregion to come together and integrate a descriptive picture’ of how they have been living with the natural world that they call home. There is both a theoretical and a methodological framework that facilitates the integration of such picture. It is a description that includes detailed mappings of skyscapes, landscapes and underworlds—or subsurface territories— where both tangible and intangible aspects are equally relevant. The full picture is achieved by integrating three main dimensions which we call: kosmos, corpus and praxis.

 

 

Figure 1. An example of integration of the kosmos-corpus-praxis of a community presented by Pauli et al. on a worldview review of farmer’s knowledge systems.

Kosmos refers to the belief and value systems that give sense to the mysterious aspects of the world. Belief systems produce societal cohesion, and the human groups that are immersed in the natural world and are connected to its unfolding get to experience biocultural cohesion. Among indigenous peoples who have intentionally remained in the margins of colonizing paradigms, the natural world enables the development of a spiritual reverence to, and respect for, the seen and the unseen. This is easily ascertained by those who, when collaboratively integrating this kind of information, do so from a neutral place in terms of religious dogma. All in all, the kosmos dimension highlights the symbolic and spiritual world of these peoples.

Corpus refers to the knowledge acquired about the natural world by minds that periodically come together and integrate information perceived through the senses and apprehended and assimilated in different ways. In general, indigenous minds have been culturally induced/educated/motivated to discern what information from the natural world is relevant in order to maintain or recover collective harmony—and never to secure immediate individual satisfaction. In favorable conditions, indigenous people become skilled in paying attention to how healthy ecosystemsand all withinact and interact. Whilst keeping track of predictable and cyclic unfoldings, they are also mindful that nature is always experimenting; thus, surprising emergences, creative responses and innovation of complex living systems are carefully observed. Wisdom goes beyond the capacity of the mind to rationally process information at different scales of time and space. It requires a prayerful and meditative way of being in the world and the capacity to connect to dreams and to the realm of the intangible world. The corpus of knowledge and wisdom enables human groups to contribute in a creative way to the overall purpose set by their anteceding generations: one of building endurance and resilience with the ecosystem they inhabit, so to become a single entity which we call a socioecosystem.

Praxis refers to the practical and technological systems that enable the physical, hands-on interaction with both the tangible and intangible aspects of the natural world. There are many skills that people develop in order to grow crops, farm animals, cultivate bees, forage edible plants, fruits, mushrooms and medicinal plants, fish or hunt. These skills go hand in hand with knowledge that has been accumulated, affirmed and complemented for generations. Complementary to skills are the ritual acts that are performed to ensure good communication with the spirit world. Asking for permission to sow seeds, to set up a beehive or to fish, and asking the spirits when and how much can be grown or fished, or when and how much it will rain, is all achieved through rituals; and it is only after listening to the spirits, that the tangible aspect of praxis may be carried out. Technological systems developed in these socioecosystems avoid being invasive or disruptive to natural cyclessmall or largebecause there is an understanding that their thresholds cannot be surpassed. There are all kinds of creation stories, songs, traditional dances, elder-youth dialogues, initiation rites, planting and harvesting feasts and healing practices that keep community members in a harmonious connection with the complex and mysterious living systems. Such is the way in which, in ideal conditions, these societies have put in place an observance system so to prevent human interference with natural processes.

Ethnoecology is based on a post normal science approach. Conventional science requires a subject-object approach to indigenous and small farming communities, whereas post normal science, as proposed by Functowitz and Ravez, dissolves those categories and recognizes expertise in every member of a society, especially in times of crisis. Ethnoecology uses tools from disciplines as varied as cultural geography, new ecology and environmental humanities. All of these share in common a postmodern perspective, challenging to deconstruct conceptsstarting with the human conceptand questioning long-standing statements about the ‘human condition. In the past few decades humanities have thus been addressing the ontological exceptionality of the human, and more particularly, of the Westernized and colonized person. In this regard, the sense of superiority of the Western scientist over nature and over communities linked to nature, is also dissolved, eliminating—or, at least, minimizing—the possibility of reductionism, misinterpretations and the detrimental outcomes.

It is comforting to see the emergence of indigenous thinkers and scientists like Vine Deloria, Leroy Littlebear or Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Oren Lyons, for they offer the foundational basis of native thought to begin dialogue with those who are ready to go beyond the boundaries of anthropocentrism and its paradigms. In these times of civilizational crisis in tandem with planetary crisis, we are offering the ethnoecological framework to enrich such a needed dialogue. This framework has been mainly cultivated by my Mexican mentors Victor Toledo and Narciso Barrera-Bassols, founders of the Thematic Network of Biocultural Heritage, and it has shaped participatory research in land-based communities in many continents in empowering ways. Hopefully it will become adopted by indigenous communities and their younger members. Regardless of whether they are attending or not formal education, they might find benefit in Ethnoecology to communicate, in a holistic way, their way of thinking and living in community with all their relations.

The Center for Earth Ethics Stands with Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

The Center for Earth Ethics Stands with the Masphee Wampanoag Tribe for the protection of their homelands and all lands, waters and sacred sites of tribal nations and indigenous peoples around the world.  During this time of the Coronavirus the Mashpee have received notice of dissolution of their lands (statement on Mashpee Wampanoag Website) and have since filed a court injunction.

“The Mashpee Wampanoag tribal people have called this land home for over 12,000 years. Their history predates the United States and they were the tribe who welcomed the Pilgrims in the 17th Century. The Tribe fought the U.S. government for recognition for nearly 40 years before finally becoming a federally recognized tribe in 2007. However, they have remained landless.” – From Massachusetts Congressman, Joe Kennedy’s statement of support.

 

***Please watch this important message from Mashpee Chairman, Cedric Cromwell.***

 

The Unitarian Universalist Association has compiled a list of resources for faith communities to learn about the case and take action in solidarity at this critical time.

You can also sign the MOVE ON petition here.

 

Letters can be sent to:

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

CHAIRMAN Sen. John Hoeven – Senator for North Dakota and 

VICE CHAIRMAN Sen. Tom Udall – Senator for New Mexico

838 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

Phone: (202) 224-2251

 

U.S. Department of the Interior, the Secretary David Bernhardt and our bureaus:

Mailing Address:
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240

Phone (with employee directory): (202) 208-3100

 

#StandWithMashpee