Finding Balance in Place

A personal musing.
When looking for understanding and self-guidance on something that is fraught with implications and possibilities (such as the thorny question of  identity), I try to back way up to a starting point for as much clarity and grounding as possible, before I move ahead into the present. It seems that when one jumps into the midst of a currently-transpiring moment, there are a lot of moving pieces: actors, past experiences, expectations, emotions, outcomes… all the elements of drama. It is nigh on impossible to see clearly, so gaining perspective as soon as is practical is important. With the challenge of the charged moment, it can be difficult to get one’s footing, or stay focused. The more that I can bring that groundedness to the matter-at-hand from the get-go, rather than try to develop it on the spot, the better my chances of coping adequately and mindfully. I have come to the realization that, as a human, the only thing I have any “power” over are my choices in the present. It is only the present which actually exists, with the past and the future existing as integral parts. So I try to make the best choices in the moment, by way of seeking balance in the place where I am.
So I think about things beforehand, when I am able, before diving in to the “question du jour.” I try to operate from an “ideal” perspective (to the best of my understanding), and then temper it with the realities of the situation and the others with whom I am involved. Note that “the others” are not limited to simply human. So, I try to handle identity in this manner as well. My basic understanding is that grappling with identity, as with everything else, is a seeking of balance. There is the way in which I see myself, and there is a way in which others see me. Ideally, I will conduct myself in an appropriate manner so these things are as clear as possible. I will be guided in these decisions by what I perceive as my responsibilities. I want to meet them as best as I can, to maintain the relationships with which I have been gifted in this state of being called “my life.” We are all a part of each other, in the totality called Creation, constantly changing and interacting. I am honored to do the best I can with what I have been given – this moment. It’s all I have. It’s all any of us have.
Then, all of the other “stuff” – the drama – gets added in, and I seek to navigate it as mindfully as possible, always keeping the basic understanding centered within. The balance acts as an anchor. The question arises: there are so many things to choose from (belief systems, religions, cosmologies, ideologies)… how do you decide what you will use for your anchor? what is your basic reference point? This is where I feel that place-based understanding, indigenous wisdom specific to the location where one finds oneself is the best choice (because those are the relationships within which you are a part, just then, whether you acknowledge them or not). And so, I seek to learn from the land, and from the people who know this land best, from intimate relationship with all of it for thousands of years. I look for those “original instructions.” This is how I will form my concept of identity…. I will identify with the place where I am. I am this place and this place is me. This is the essence of community, of being in relationship.
Bringing this around full circle, I will borrow a quote from Lisa Brook’s “Our Beloved Kin” which I just came across, reading the last chapter while on vacation in Maine (extracted from the discussion in pp. 339-342). This quote seems to embody the concept of seeking balance in the midst of tumult and influences pulling one way or another. During negotiations with the English during strife over land claims, with encroaching settlements and Native resistance, Wabanaki sagamores Moxus and Madoasquarbet express their desire (making their best choice) for stillness in the midst: “Our desire is to be quiet.” This speaks of balance. Finding the center. This, to me, is at the heart of me finding identity. If I can maintain that centeredness, to the best of my ability – making my choices to honor my relationships in place, in the present, to be quiet – I will best be myself.
And I must add, this is not about being as individualized as possible… far from it. The cult of the individual – the disease of separation which rules our modern Western society – is at the heart of our dysfunction and lack of relationship/community. It is estrangement and not at all life-affirming. When I recognize that I am a part of everything else, and start acting like it, I become who I was meant to be. And the corollary, I will then be best able to relate to all others around me. They will have to figure that balance out for themselves, of course, and bring it to the conversation. Some will be more coherent and collaborative, some will be agitated and discordant. That is the human story.
As a benchmark, I understand the gift of indigenous spiritual leaders, the medicine people, to be the highly developed ability to work with spirit to seek balance. They have great insight and understanding, and thus great responsibility to help their people. But, at the core, we all have those responsibilities, to all of our relations. It is not a religion, but a way of life. I am honored to do the best I can, always learning, always changing, because that is the way of Creation. Creation is a process, a totality, ongoing, not a point in time. There is no “time.”
Yesterday I realized a new way to understand the expression “We Are Still Here” – in Abenaki “Askwa n’daoldibna iodali”:  Be here. Be still. We are still, here.

Possession, a War That Never Ends.

A line from “Crazy Horse”, a song by John Trudell, from his 2001 album “Bone Days.”
Possession, the concept of holding control over something, as in the “ownership” of land, devolves from power structures. It is the exercise of strength through force (by various means, be they physical, financial, legal, psychological, spiritual) by one entity over another. It requires a constant application of those energies to maintain (defend) its dominant position. It is a slow, steady aggression – a war that never ends – because it does not come from a place of balance, but rather from imposition. Balance is the nature of peace, when things are at rest, maintaining equilibrium, in proper relationship. When relationship is honored, and we acknowledge our gratitude for the gifts (all of them) that enter our lives, the war subsides. They are gifts, not possessions gained by the exercising of power. The understanding of this is the great responsibility of our time – truly, of all time. We do not own anything – we are, all of us, in this together here and now.

How Do We Know What We (think we) Know?

Tim McSweeney posited this question on one of his Facebook Pages, prompted by the discussion posted by Lauret Savoy, professor of geology and environmental science at Mount Holyoke College. Lauren cited this at A Stone’s Throw on the Terrain.org site, in a post entitled Walking Thoughts on a Frozen Pond. Tim reposted this entry on his blog. It’s one inquiry in a list of several which Lauret says she asks her students “to pause and consider… as we explore the environmental history of this country.” I find this self-questioning foundational.

In line with his post, I offered my place-based comment to Tim:

“There is no need to question the land, the place where one finds oneself. The answers are all freely available – Creation is always speaking and being. Rather, aways question oneself. Am I listening? Can I see? Am I present? Who else is here? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities as a part of the Great Mystery or have I (again) separated myself ?”

Lauret offers: “In order to remember, one must also forget.” This is to be human and to be aware that we don’t know all the stories.

 

Tribe Seeks Voice in Nuclear Plant Cleanup, Land Restoration

lisa rathke elnu abenaki vermont yankee decommissioning

Two Native American tribes want a say in the cleanup of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and the future use of the land in an area that was once the site of settlements and fishing grounds for the groups’ ancestors.

Last month, the Elnu Abenaki tribe, based in southern Vermont, filed testimony with the Public Utilities Commission. The tribe said it wants any activities that disturb the earth in this area to be overseen by qualified people and it wants to be involved in helping to determine the standards for how the land on the Connecticut River is restored. “Our concern is for the earth, the soil of our homeland, that of our ancestors, and all of our relations,” the testimony said.

The Missisquoi Abenaki, based in Swanton, Vermont, is also taking part in the state’s review of the proposed sale, which must be approved by state and federal regulators.

Paleo-Indians first moved to what is now Vermont 12,900 years ago, and native communities have continued to live in the state since, according to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs.

After the land is restored, the tribe would like to see it “lie at rest and allow it to heal as much as possible,” said Rich Holschuh, a public liaison for the Elnu Abenaki. “It should be a place where everyone can remember, and listen and learn, and dream, and offer hope of a better way for the next generations to be in this place,” he said

The Vermont Yankee plant shut down in 2014. Its owner, Entergy Nuclear, is seeking to sell it to demolition company NorthStar Group Services, which has promised to demolish the reactor and restore the site by 2030.

NorthStar has agreed to meet with the Elnu Abenaki next week. “NorthStar is sensitive to the concerns expressed by the representatives of Elnu Abenaki … and would like to begin a dialogue,” said CEO Scott State.

“A lot of this is about establishing a voice,” said Holschuh. “The presence of the indigenous people has not been acknowledged in the past. It’s kind of a glaring omission if you look at Vermont’s history.”

Article and photography by Lisa Rathke for the Associated Press.

Who’s In Charge? A Fox in the Chicken Coop

trump-shortlist-interior-secretary

From the New York Times shortlist of President-elect Trump’s possibilities for Secretary of the Interior, who will oversee the BIA,  National Parks and Forests, public lands and waters, cultural and historic sites, and rule-making affecting all of the above and more.

Alton Gas: Elnu Abenaki Support for Sipekne’katik, Mi’kmaki

elnu-letter-sipeknekatik-mikmaki

Elnu Tribe of Abenaki has confirmed its support for the Mi’maki community at Sipekne’katik on the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia, as they stand in solidarity against the Alton Gas salt cavern storage project. A letter has been sent to the Grandmothers expressing unity and understanding, and upholding the shared responsibilities of the Wabanakiak in their homelands, N’dakinna.

See this post for more background.

Maine-Wabanaki Reach to Host Ally Workshop Nov. 19

Maine-Wabanaki REACH will present a free Ally Workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at 175 Park St., Augusta, ME. This workshop has been well received across the state with more than 400 Mainers participating, according to a news release from the organization.

The workshop is an opportunity for non-Native people to reflect on the shared history and future with Native people. The workshop will include a very brief history of U.S. government relationships with Native people, awareness of white privilege, and ally responsibilities. Space is limited and registration is required. To register, email Barbara@mainewabanakireach.org or call 951-4874.

Maine-Wabanaki REACH is a cross cultural collaborative organization of Wabanaki and Maine people working towards truth, healing and change to support Wabanaki self-determination.

Original posting at the Kennebec Journal here.

A New Year

Notably amongst the northeastern Algonquian tribal territorialities, the W8banakiak have been described as a riverine people. The various band’s homelands are centered on watersheds – a river and its dependent streams, lakes, marshes, and floodplains.  Whereas many other tribes would reckon their lands in terms of primarily terrestrial landmarks such as mountains, rivers, lakes, and perhaps a certain forest or clump of trees, denoting borders within which they circulated, the Abenaki centered themselves within the waters, ranging out through a branching, interconnected bowl [sources: Speck, Snow]. As an example, in this place I dwell, known today as Brattleboro – near where the states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts converge – the annual cycles of life revolve around the gathering of the Kwanitekw, Wantastekw, and Azewalad Sibo (Connecticut, West, and Ashuelot Rivers), with their respective tributary brooks, lakes, and ponds pitching down from the valleys and ranges .

A family’s hunting territories, above the plantings flourishing upon the floodplains and river terraces (the wolhanak), were bounded by these watery, connecting sinews, and stretched up into the hills and mountains to the next ridge top division. A person would describe their homeland as n’sibo, my river, allying with that flowing, veined world as a part of their own identity, a unity, all the same. Intimately familiar with the land, and its fellow dwellers – whether animate or inanimate – a person saw themselves as a continuous part of the spirits there, with roles to play and responsibilities to honor, inconceivably separable.

This merging may perhaps be seen in the phrase n’dai, which can mean “I am” – describing oneself – as well as “I live” – in a certain place. An understanding of this can help to inform the depth of the relationship between the homeland and its people, one so profound they merged into a single entity. The people are the land, and the land is the people. To separate them, as recent history has so graphically inscribed, is to assault the meaning of life itself, leaving it broken and futile. Healing can be found only in a restoration of relationship, a re-balancing through reciprocity among the community of beings. Note the prefix “re-” occurring in all of these words, meaning “again” and speaking of cycles, and the Great Hoop of Life.

This healing comes through an awareness of what is lacking, or what is interfering, with the flowing continuity of the river of life, and then addressing that lack, or obstruction. At the beginning of the New Year –  Alamikos – with the winter solstice and the return of the sun, the Abenaki have a custom of asking for forgiveness, and a fresh start in the new season. As elder Joseph Elie Joubert tells us: “The new year’s forgiveness time is called Anhaldamawadin = The act of forgiving. We would go to the house of the people we offended during the past year and say the following: “Anhaldamawi kassi plilawawlan”. It is basically saying “Forgive me for the many wrongs I did you.”

wantastegok n'dakinna my river

N’sibo, my river, is Wantastekw, where it meets Kwanitekw. N’dai Wantastegok, Sokwakik, known today as Brattleboro. And so I say, to all my relatives here:

N’didam n’dal8gom8mek Wantastegok: Anhaldamawi kasi palilawalian.

Please forgive any wrong I may have done to you in the past.

It is a new year. Alosada, mina ta mina. Let us walk together, again and again.