”Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation,
a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind.
Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility."
- Gary Snyder
Day 14 - Thursday, July 6, 1995 - Today while making their steps the walkers came to a basic realization. Our walk has been on the road for two weeks, and we have covered a goodly stretch of land: across Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and then west along the Connecticut shore to New York City.
This day the walkers stayed together and covered ten miles across New Rochelle and the Bronx, ending at the Willis Bridge on the margin of Manhattan. Though the walking distance was short, it took over five hours to make all the steps. The way was congested and the road was hot to the point of torment. Rank, oily fumes hung in the air.
As the walk approached New York, VaLaine Lighty and Erika Haga looked about, and discussed what they saw. Reaching for descriptors, VaLaine asked: "Have you ever seen the film Koyaanisqatsi? That's what it was like."
Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi word and concept. It means chaos, or "world out of balance." Godfrey Reggio produced a film with this title in 1982. The film depicted traffic, pollution, hatred, the desecration of the earth, air, and water -- all set to a musical score by Philip Glass that intensifies the experience to a level both enthralling and excruciating.
Just as in the film, throughout the day VaLaine, Erika, and the other walkers, heard horns honk and various machines ratchet, throb and grind. They saw jagged stretches of pavement, burned out buildings, graffiti, trash, people engaged in drug dealing and furious argument. They saw unattended children bawling on the street, beggars, and not a few people just sitting and blankly staring.
They saw a woman try to cross the street and almost get run over by a car. They heard her cry out: "What? Do I not exist?" For the walkers the woman's cry of frustration and despair seemed to epitomize the voices of many souls in the modern world.
The walkers prayed as they went. They contemplated their vision, and their mission. They put down tobacco in places where they saw trash, decay, or suffering.
Grandfather Commanda and Ned Paschene arrived in New York today via Air Canada, to guide the walkers to their meeting with officials at the United Nations tomorrow. At that meeting they plan to reiterate the messages presented during the historic "Cry of the Earth" conference in 1993.
After Grandfather and Ned got off the plane and greeted the walkers, they told everyone the story of their difficulties in crossing the international boundary from Canada to the USA. William and Ned were detained and hassled at the border by immigration officials -- as they always are -- because they are not citizens of the US or Canada, but rather First Nations people.
In this incident there is bitter irony, they pointed out. In addition to the other sacred artifacts he keeps, Grandfather is the keeper of the Jay Treaty Wampum Belt. Rather than using black marks of ink upon sheets of paper as the invaders did, the Native people of North America used a beaded belt as a device for recording the solemn and binding agreement they entered into as the newly formed government of the United States was striving to define its corporate existence upon Turtle Island.
Native peoples considered the idea of drawing lines on a map, and then designating them as "real boundaries," to be artificial and arbitrary. Many of their traditional homelands and hunting lands follow natural boundaries, and overlap the US-Canada border.
Consequently, as agreed upon at the time by all parties, the 1794 Jay Treaty explicitly states that Native American people may travel freely back and forth across the U.S./Canadian border, and that this is a permanent understanding.
The way the Algonquin people recorded this permanent agreement, as with all important matters, was to fashion a belt of beads in a pattern that would plainly symbolize the understanding. While Grandfather is the contemporary keeper of the Jay Treaty Belt, that is of no consequence to US or Canadian officials when he crosses the border. Grandfather gets hassled anyway, routinely.
The Jay Treaty Belt has fallen apart several times, and then had to be mended. The Seven Fires Wampum Belt, crafted much earlier, has never fallen apart.
Unlike the other belts that Grandfather Commanda keeps, the beads on the Jay Treaty belt are made not from natural shells but from Hudson Bay glass beads. The Algonquins, who beaded the belts long ago at the time the border was being negotiated, understood that they were crafting the belt to serve as their record of the agreement. They also understood, as they were informed by treaty negotiators and as recorded in the wampum belt, that the boundary between the newly formed nations of Canada and the United States was only temporary. It would someday dissolve. That's why the Jay Treaty Belt –- which to Natives symbolizes the spiritual concept of borderlessness -- was made of glass beads and not wampum.
In the 1990s Grandfather Commanda had a conirming vision. The vision showed him that the artificial line drawn on the paper map that separates the corporate nation states of Canada and the US will one day be gone -- and that Turtle Island (North America) will again be whole, one land. "Someday,” Grandfather said, “there will be no border between the US and Canada."
After a long delay and intensive questioning by border officials, Grandfather and Ned were finally admitted to the United States. They flew on to New York City, another ancestral territory of the Algonquin peoples.
After marking off their steps for the day, the Sunbow 5 walkers carried the eagle staff down the avenues and on to the subways of Manhattan. They boarded a train and rumbled off to the lower East Side, where they will be sheltered for the night in several different apartments. Wayquay and Beth Sampson have made arrangements for everyone.