In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
On the trial market with pollen may I walk…
With beauty before me, may I walk.
From the Nightway Chant in Native American Wisdom: A Spiritual Tradition at One with Nature edited by Alan Jacobs
My first encounter with North American spirituality was at a sweat lodge a ways south of Toronto. Sweat lodges and many other First-Nations spiritual practices had been banned once, 120 years ago by The Indian Act of 1867. The amendments that followed included prohibition of potlatches and sun-dances, moving First Nation people from reserves if nearby town had more than 8000 people, expropriating portions or entire reserves for railways and roads, and prohibiting anyone to solicit funds for Aboriginal legal claims without special Superintendent General License that marked an end of the signing of numbered Treaties. Canada has an insatiable appetite for land, but its’ interest in managing spiritual aspects, however, waned after the WWII when the sweat lodge ban was lifted.
The lodge I was invited to was built and run according to Ojibwey practices. Glaring “Grandfathers” stones were heated in the open fire and placed in the shallow pit of the lodge until keeper closed the entrance for the start of the ceremony. The spirit guides call upon the Four Directions. water is poured over the stones alongside prayers, songs and chants honoring our “all my relations”. The lodge was kept by a woman who was not an Ojibwey by lineage or training, though she resonated deeply with the philosophy and practices of honoring the earth and generations of our ancestors. She was persistently reluctant to charge for her services, never advertised fearing possible backlash, never identified herself as a member of a tribe and was very clear about her place and motives. We would congregate at this beautiful lodge around the full moon for a few years – a group of women who met through a friend of a friend and extended our cycle in time. We occasionally had visitors, from Germany and Italy, South America and Australia, and performed the ceremony, shared a meal, then returned home blanketed in a deep, meditative silence.
In an interview with Lama Tsultrim about her views on incorporating Native American practices into the Tara Mandala’s core curriculum Lama indicated that she always “felt it’s crucial for American Buddhists to relate to the spirits of this new homeland of Dharma…. for us the Native Americans are the people that hold this relationship with the spirits of the land and the elementals.” Physically, Tara Mandala connects to Ute land where Lakota and Ute elders have continued to perform ceremonies. The world’s star Native American flute performer, R. Carlos Nakai of Navajo-Ute heritage, played at Tara Mandala in July of 2015 and spoke about one spirit that penetrates all of our connections to the land and is shared equally by both Tibetan and Native Americans alike.
Coincidental connections between two communities are many; their believes are land based and relationships with the land are mystical and unbroken. Unlike Judeo-Christian mythology, Tibetan and Native American spirituality has no concept of original sin. The Earth is the place where our strength is tested. Seeking harmony within and with the land constitutes a way of worship. In terms of artistic affinities both Hopi and Tibetans share strikingly similar attraction for ornaments made exclusively of silver, coral and turquoise, and for geometric patterns that might indicate shared ancestry. Further, the themes of historical displacement seem to penetrate both communities equally. In 1979 during the Dalai Lama’s first visit to North America he met with three Hopi Elders who greeted him with “Welcome home.” Since then many Tibetan Lamas have engaged in conversation with Native communities in the USA creating a number of special Tibetan resettlement programs. (Otto Kerner, Tibet Talk)
And this also leads to another line of thinking – if Native Americans are akin to Tibetans in the sense of forceful displacement from the land, has Canada in some way taken on the role of China in how it treats its citizens?
In 2010 Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine compared China to Canada finding the similarities between behaviour of two countries “compelling”. Some believe There is a shared objective “to absorb a culturally “backward” people, and gain exclusive control of their lands and resources. Neither government has thought twice about dispossessing or displacing them to secure their first priority: unimpeded resource-extraction and industrial development. Human rights seem negligible when the spoils – oil, natural gas, and mineral deposits in Tibet, and a lucrative forestry industry and hydroelectric power on Algonquin land – are so precious.” (Martin Lukacs, Canada’s Tibet).
The Truth and reconciliation report released in June, 2015 explicitly marked that “the period from Confederation until the decision to close residential schools was taken in this country in 1969, Canada clearly participated in a period of cultural genocide.” (Justice Murray Sinclair’s statement). Since 1840 when the first Indian Schools were established over 150,000 children were absorbed into the system. Although the total number is not recounted it is widely believed that 60% of them died in custody. In Tibet, the CTA census (1998) indicated the rate of 63.7 % of temporary migration in South Asia. “Majority of migrants were children and youth attending boarding schools and universities, and monks and nuns attending religious teachings or events. “ (Global Nomads: The Emergence of the Tibetan Diaspora). According to Human Rights Watch China Report (2013) 2 million of Tibetan children are displaced on a scale “unprecedented in the post-Mao era as Chinese authorities attempted to further clamp down on the region’s separatist movement and tighten control over rural communities” (Telegraph, June, 2013).
This reminds me of the talk given recently by Bridget Perrier, an activist for murdered Canadian Aboriginal women and panelist at one of our events (Docs for Change). Bridget stated that the genocide (to be effective) requires a two levels of displacement: first is to divorce people from their land by moving them to unfamiliar places not populated by their ancestral spirits; the other is to take children away from their mothers, languages and families. If both are executed promptly they will create trauma enough to destroy the nation.
Here at Tara Mandala, we are getting ready for our Daylong tomorrow. Daylong is Native American in its essence (connecting to the land, spending day in the forest on a personal spirit journey) but we will not have a Native American guide and the sweat lodge is still awaiting to be completed. Being neither Tibetan nor Native American, I have doubts about how relevant this experience is to me. However, being an immigrant with an experience of civil war in ex-Yugoslavia I am more than familiar with themes of displacement and seeking refuge in powers and offerings of the land. Hence, the paths we need to travel when searching for a truth could be many but they need take us to the same point – back to our homes:
“I planned for incarnation
I planned for the distinguishing marks
I planned a good place to endure
I planned for the transformation.”