Odyssey of the 8th Fire is the true tale
of an epic pilgrimage for the Earth
across North America

by people of all colors and faiths.

  - A creative non-fiction book in online evolution - ◊
© - 2007 by Steven McFadden

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"Women do not want to be mainstreamed into a polluted stream. We want to clean the stream and transform it into a fresh and flowing body, one that moves in a new directiona world at peace, that respects human rights for all, renders economic justice, and provides a sound and healthy environment.”

- Bella S. Abzug

Day 204 - Friday, January 12, 1996 – Our Sunbow camp awoke with excitement, all of us knowing this is the day we will be received formally and warmly into California.

After we devoured a feast of eggs and toast, we sent a group of about twenty pilgrims shuttling back to the east, to walk the remaining nine miles westward to the city limits of Twentynine Palms, where our public prayer walk is set to begin about 10 AM.

Our public procession got started about half an hour later. As we came on into the city—our eagle staffs and prayer flags waving—we had also the blessing of an escort from a California Highway Patrolman. He drove along beside us all the way in his cruiser, lights flashing, then he sincerely wished us good luck on our journey.

Walking into town - The Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth stretched out on the road, walking into Twentynine Palms, California. (Author photo)


About halfway into town, a teacher and fifteen school children—the kindergarten class from the Blessed Sacrament School—stood on a sandy knoll and watched us walk. They honored us with their witnessing and their waving. This was a poignant and powerful moment for us all, to see the children, and to appreciate in real time that they ultimately are the reason we are walking. Our pilgrimage is so all children might have clean air to breath, clean water to drink, and a clean earth to live out their destinies.

While our sacrifice may seem peculiar to some adults, the children automatically understood what we are doing. We could feel it.


We walked onward to the site prepared for us, in a vacant lot between the Circle K convenience store and the Cowboys & Indians gift shop. By the time we reached the vacant lot, nearly 130 people had assembled.

The Cahuilla Bird Singers performed—their soft rattles and voices carrying the rhythm and the words of their migration chants—songs that were created and then passed down from ancient times when they walked across the land to find their home on Turtle Island. There were six singers, an elder and five young men. They were strong. Very beautiful, the power of their soft songs palpable in a way beyond words.

Bird Singers - Standing outside the Cowboys & Indians shop just before the ceremony, the Cahuilla Bird Singers lift their voices in sacred song. Elder Art Jurado wears the white shirt. (Author photo)

Art Jurado, of the nearby Morongo Indian Reservation, conducted the pipe ceremony. Two crows watched from the roof of the Circle K.

We walkers formed the inner circle for the ceremony, and the townspeople formed a second circle around us. On the advice of two native people, two of the women from our Sunbow group who were on their monthly Moon cycle, sat wrapped in blankets between the walkers circle and townspeople’s circle. In doing this they were seeking to honor the native protocol around women's participation in sacred activities during their Moon time.

Sunbow Dancers - While the Cahuilla Bird Singers set the rhythm with their rattles, four Sunbow walkers danced in a sacred manner. From the left, Jun San, Pat Three Rivers Nicholson, Yvette Michel, Rita Sebastian.  (Author photo)


There is lots of talk about the women in the walk having an equal voice, but in reality they do not, and they are well aware of it. That was clear in the circle outside Cowboys & Indians today at noon. When we walked in only the men, the native men in particular, were carrying the staffs and the flags. The women were instructed to follow.

Even after all these months with all of their efforts to be heard and to have influence on the big decisions, the women still do not have a strong voice or influence on the walk. Since the vacuum created by the dissolution of Tom's leadership, Joe and Ned are pretty much in control. Though we do have circles, and there is occasional consensus, Joe and Ned make most of the decisions. We find out about the decisions after the fact.

Witnessing the secondary positions accorded to the sisters in the walk and in the circle, I recalled a phone conversation I had with Kay Deschenes in early August, on Day 47 of our long pilgrimage. At the time our prayer walk was on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia near the Peaks of Otter.

Kay, a traditional woman from the same Kitigan Zibi Reserve in Quebec where Grandfather Commanda lives, told me that, in her view, the group continues to work on clearer communication between the women and the men, striving to balance this relationship—which she feels is a microcosm of the need for this kind of balance in the larger world.

As we talked, Kay voiced a prophecy with certainty: "This walk will not fulfill its vision if it is solely driven by male determination, or if pathways of communication between the women and the men are not open and clear. Likewise, no one ethnic or racial group can dominate the walk for it to succeed."

"That's the last thing Grandfather Commanda said to me before I left Maniwaki to join the walk," Kay remembered. "The walk is to be guided by native people, for the vision arises from Native understandings, he told me, but the walk cannot be led or dominated by natives, there must be free room for all."

“No one should try to convert anyone to native ways or beliefs. We must walk side by side as brothers and sisters who have differences but who respect those differences."


Twentynine Palms Mural - one of the many murals painted on the sides of buildings in Twentynine Palms, California.

The vacant lot became consecrated ground, with a rock placed in the center of the circle where our pipe ceremony had been held. Meanwhile, a metal sculpture of fire by local artist Simi Dabah was placed near the rock.

Fashioned of scrap metal, the sculpture is five tall spires that resemble the eagle staff carried by the walkers. The sculpture was blessed and installed to forever mark the spot. There was some talk of a mural being painted on the wall of the Cowboys & Indians shop, a mural that would show the Sunbow and us—the pilgrims who walked under that sign.

At noon, under a hot sun, we walked on through downtown with our drums and chants. We stopped at one point at the ancient Chemehuevi burial ground nearby to offer prayers for all the ancestors.


Bigfoot Camp - We set up our tents in a circle at the Bigfoot Lake campground in Twentynine Palms. The weather remained warm and sunny. (Author photo).

That night, many local people came out to our campsite to talk, sing, dance, and restock our kitchen with fresh produce, including several dozen oranges

Sam Dunkley’s eyes sparkled when he saw the oranges, and near the campfire he organized us all—walkers and visitors—into the Orange Game. In the game, teams line up then have to pass an orange from one end of the line to the other, without using their hands. Most players instead use their jaw and neck to cradle the orange, and then pass it to the neck and jaw of a team member. The main point of the game, apparently, is to induce a laugh riot. That’s just how it went.

It is a magical feeling for us to be so welcomed. We really needed it -- for it had been a long way across the deserts of the West from Oklahoma City (our last big public gathering), to this. And as a group we had been through so many internal and external dramas and traumas. We needed a boost. The people of Twentynine Palms gave it to us -- and gave us hope for the little bit of time and the few miles left to go.

The owner of the campground at Bigfoot Lake baked three huge pineapple upside down cakes for us, and we gave him a standing ovation for his effort and his generosity.


Copyright 2007 by Steven McFadden

Read Day 205 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire

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Odyssey of the 8th Fire Copyright © 2006-2008 by Steven McFadden