“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
~ Chief Seattle
Day 48 - Wednesday, August 9, 1995 - For the main body of walkers in Virginia, the day began at 6:00 AM. The walk moved onward, up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway, taking the steps necessary to bring our Eagle Staff as far along the trail as Tuttle Gap, close by the new base camp at the home of Dennis and Willow in Floyd, Virginia.
Dennis and Willow shared freely with the pilgrims. They opened the door to their home and to their cupboards, wanting to be of support in whatever way. Their homestead seems a small paradise. On the land the walkers were shielded from the hot sun by great arching trees, including a majestic old oak. A lovely pond cooled by the shade of these trees gave the walkers a place to soak muscles, and feet.
The sisters sat together in circle through the afternoon. They had much to talk about.
The men offered tobacco to Chris Deerheart, an adopted Lakota man who lives nearby. Deerheart poured water for them in a purification lodge. "Everything was well done," according to Ned. "This ceremony really helped us out. I was too tired to pour water, and everyone said I should rest and save my energy to make medicine for the walk."
Ned and Joe tended the sacred fire, burned tobacco, and made prayers for the small band of Sunbow 5 walkers and supporters who have journeyed north by vehicle to United Nations headquarters in New York City to participate in a ceremony marking the first annual day honoring indigenous peoples worldwide.
Starting out well before 6 AM, I drove from my home in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire to rendezvous with Grandmother Johnie Leverett at her home in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Together we drove to New York City to meet the band of the Sunbow walkers backtracking from Virginia to the House of Mica (United Nations headquarters).
Grandmother Johnie – Standing Woman – is of Cherokee-Choctaw heritage. But she was raised with the Plains Indians, and has much of their characteristic warrior spirit when it comes to the welfare of the Earth.
Johnie has long been active in the American Indian Movement (AIM). Alhough our Sunbow walk is non-political she has been a tireless champion for it from the beginning. She insisted on going to New York not just for the international ceremony to honor native peoples, but also to check up on the walkers in person – to see with her own eyes how they are doing.
When we got to New York and parked, Johnie and I readily found the walkers on the plaza in front of the UN. They were all in good health and happy, as we could immediately see. All through the afternoon our small band of pilgrims clustered close to each other at the edge of the paved plaza, watching, listening, whispering, praying.
As the ceremony began, high above the gleaming glass facade of the House of Mica, the murky Manhattan sky brought forth a Sunbow. The circular rainbow whirled in the sky for over 90 minutes, the entire duration of the ceremony. Sometimes whole, sometimes partial, sometimes clear, sometimes muted by pollution, the Sunbow marked indelibly the afternoon and the city. The sign was plain for anyone who chose to look up.
Altogether, about 250 people – All Nations – gathered on the UN’s plaza that afternoon. But not one politician from any of the world's incorporated, industrialized nation states showed up to acknowledge, to listen, to engage.
Across First Avenue, bearing silent witness to the proceedings, loomed a jagged wall of corporate structures that makes up part Manhattan’s skyline. A soft summer light played upon all.
Chief Oren Lyons, Onondaga Faithkeeper and a professor at the State University of New York-Buffalo, served as master of ceremonies that day. His remarks were brief.
"For many hundreds of years," Chief Lyons began, "it has been a daily struggle for the indigenous peoples of the Earth to survive. So we are happy to be here. We are happy to have survived.
"Where we are standing today there once were huge pine trees. This island of Manhattan was one of the finest hunting grounds on the continent – great fishing, great hunting.
"Even today, sometimes when we listen closely we can hear the geese as they come by on their ancient flyway," Mr. Lyons said. "They are still here. They are struggling against the pollution, but they are still here. Our ancestors' spirits are also still here. And indigenous peoples are still here."
This first-ever observance of an international honoring day for native peoples included traditional dancers, and a World Sacred Pipe Ceremony. When the drum finally started for the pipe ceremony and voices rose in song, dozens of tourists walking about the plaza heard the sound and drew near, swelling the crowd gathered before the House of Mica and under the unmistakeable Whirling Rainbow.
Delphine Red Shirt, Lakota, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, our friend and also a welcoming host for our Sunbow walk as we passed through Connecticut, led the pipe ceremony at the UN. She lifted her pipe high, toward the rainbow-ringed sun.
"As I make this ceremony," she said, "I am mindful that White Buffalo Calf Woman, a young maiden, brought the pipe to our people long ago. As a woman, I am honored to be here, and to be asked to do this ceremony."
Alberto Taxzo, a Quechua medicine man from the Andes Mountains in Ecuador, sang in Spanish a lilting, enchanting song to Creator. Then he spoke of the condor of the south and the eagle of the north, a reference to an ancient Inkan prophecy that one day the great sacred birds of South America and North America would fly together and embrace a new, healthier future: merging intelligence with full, open heart.
The Eagle and the Condor would do so, the prophecy avers, with the agency of the Central American Quetzal in honor of the Sacred Hoop of all life, and in respectful service to the next seven generations of all of our children.
It is said that when the eagle flies with the condor a lasting peace will reign in the Americas. It will spread throughout the world to unite humanity. Some indigenous teachers say that by their reckoning this Pachacuti or “world transformation” commenced in 1992.
Standing before the House of Mica Mr. Taxzo said we must work with sacred understandings and powers today, and into the future, to heal ourselves and our world. The condor and the eagle have met, he said. Now is the time for them to awaken and begin their flight together.
The eagles of the north cannot be fully realized without the condors of the south, nor can the condors ascend without the eagles.
Mr. Taxzo commented on the relationship between the technology-based cultures of the world (yang, or masculine in character), and the earth-based, or native, cultures (yin, or feminine in character).
In his view, many profound social, political, and spiritual currents are at work in indigenous nations all around the globe, paralleling currents in the technology-based cultures. Mass, corporate media shuns this knowledge and these parallels. Consequently, the public remains deprived of information about these crucial parallel developments, and the two sacred cultural currents of North and South America (Eagle and Condor) have difficulty finding each other to fly together.
There is an oft-spoken understanding among the Sunbow walkers that they themselves are a microcosm, epitomizing and dramatizing the issues that the speakers articulated at the UN.
The walkers see their task as helping to awaken people to the urgency of our times, and thereby inspiring people to put the brilliance of technology to work in service of life, ever remembering the next seven generations or more to come.
Toward the sacred Western Gate far away at the Pacific Ocean, the walkers are also carrying and caretaking a medicine bundle holding sacred ceremonial prayers for the Sacred Hoop and for the 8th Fire.
As the UN ceremony concluded, the Sunbow evaporated from the sky. The crowd rapidly dispersed. A cooling breeze blew off the river, over the people, toward the heart of the city.
A few hours later, after a long afternoon visit with Grandmother Johnie and me, the Sunbow 5 Walk delegates climbed into Bess the pickup truck and Jacki’s Jeep Cherokee. They slipped into the rush hour stream of traffic. They departed from the House of Mica and the grand metropolis of New York City to return to their companions on the trail in rural Virginia.
All the walkers must journey south a bit further in the weeks ahead before turning to follow the sun due west across the wide back of Turtle Island to the Pacific.
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 49 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire