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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Odyssey of the 8th Fire,
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"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

  - Mark Twain

Day 205 - Saturday, January 13, 1996 – I went to sleep early last night. Along with Jun San I'd been asked to take my turn getting up at 4 AM to make the breakfast oatmeal and coffee, and also to prepare and pack the peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Apparently while I was sleeping there was a lot of activity in camp.

I talked with Three Rivers later. She told me some of what happened through the night.

Desert Moon

“When we did the pipe ceremony next to the Cowboys & Indians shop,” Three Rivers said, “the walkers made the inner circle, and the townspeople formed the outer circle. Two women who were on their Moon time sat wrapped in blankets between the circles. No one said anything about this at the time, not to the women or to anyone else.

“But in camp that night, after I crawled into my sleeping bag, Joe came to my tent. He said he had just had a couple of phone calls, although he didn’t say who he had spoken with. Joe said that the callers told him that because two white women had 'defiled' the sacred circle during the pipe ceremony, no white people at all would be allowed to go to the Western Gate at Point Conception.”

The Western Gate (Humquaq) is the place that Hopi grandfather Thomas Banyacya pointed to for our pilgrimage. He said our walk needed to end there in a sacred manner.

“I tossed and turned all night thinking about that,” Three Rivers said. “There had to be some deeper explanation for what had happened. I was feeling aggravated. I wanted to know the whole story, because I just knew deep in my gut that if we weren’t all allowed to go to the Western Gate together, none of us would get there.”


Bigfoot Lake - is an artificial oasis, created for a campground just outside Twentynine Palms, California. (Author photo)

Well before daylight, Three Rivers awoke and gathered all the women. They walked away from camp and went over by Bigfoot Lake to form a circle and to talk among themselves.

“I’m just not someone who is content to let problems sit,” she said. “I wanted to find out what happened, and what we could do about it.”

The two women involved in the situation during the pipe ceremony told the circle what had happened. They said that before the ceremony began they went to two different full-blood native people, a man and a woman, and told them something personal: that they were having their monthly Moon cycle.

In some native communities, it is the protocol for women who are on their Moon to sit apart from the ceremonial circle, for they are considered to be in the dreamtime, already purifying their body and womb for new fertility, new life.

The two Sunbow women said they were told explicitly by both of the native people that they asked, that they should wrap themselves in blankets and sit between the inner and the outer circles. Without complaint, they did as they were instructed.

Now, after the fact, some of the local native men were saying that this was wrong, that it somehow constituted a defilement of their pipes, and that because of this none of the white people who have walked all the way across the continent will be allowed to complete the pilgrimage.

Sitting by the shore of Bigfoot Lake this morning, all of the Sunbow women—white, red, yellow, and black—agreed that this was unjust and outrageous.

At just that moment of agreement among the women, Three Rivers told me, Joe and Ned barged into the women’s circle uninvited to break up the discussion. They wanted to get everyone mobilized to walk for the day.

“Joe looked awful scared to me,” Three Rivers said, “because he could see that the women were finally connecting and beginning to claim their power. But in that instant we all knew deep inside that this matter was not finished. No way.”


In contiguous relays, we walked westward from Twentynine Palms toward the Morongo Indian Reservation, home to the Morongo Band of Mission Indians (Malki). Their reservation will be the site of our next base camp when we move tomorrow.

We now number about 45 people, and all is going well. Some walkers are apprehensive about approaching 'The Big City' of Los Angeles, but at the same time we all realize that one of our responsibilities is to take our prayers to the places most in need.

After the day’s walking, many of us caravanned ahead about 70 miles to a powwow being held in the Civic Center for Hawaiian Gardens, a suburban city in Los Angeles County. The town's unusual name derived not from any actual garden, but from a 1920s-era refreshment stand that was decorated with palm fronds and bamboo. It was the main landmark for many years, and its name stuck as all of Los Angeles County sprawled, and the town became a city.

Joe and I hopped into Bess, our little blue Toyota pickup truck, and drove down to Los Angeles and back together. When the people of Twentynine Palms speak of trips to Los Angeles, they say they are "Going Under," or "going down." They think of the metropolis in a scornful, regretful way.

Smog in Los Angeles County, California.

It was a bright, sunny afternoon as we drove out of Twentynine Palms, but further along as we came out of the mountains and approached the metropolis driving on I-10, all that was visible was the tops of the mountains. The rest was submerged in smog.

Many walkers—including Joe and me—felt lung constriction, chest pains, and otherwise inexplicable pains in the legs. We had definitely entered the Valley of Filthy Air, and not a one of us was ready for it.


Pow wow dancers - begin to fill the dance floor. (Photo by Cheryl Dudley, courtesy of flckr.com)

The crowd at the powwow was immense, with many handsome dancers, hordes of strong-voiced singers and drummers.

The eldest of the elders at the powwow, Grandpa John White Cloud, came to the microphone. He mentioned that his family origins are at the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, a village we visited in late November (Day 160). Grandfather White Cloud formally welcomed our Sunbow 5 Walk to Los Angeles. He spoke of us endearingly as his children and grandchildren, and then he said a prayer for our safety and success.

All of us were called onto stage with our flags and eagle staffs. Tom was already there, and he and Joe each took a turn at the microphone to say a few words about who we are and what we are doing.

Drummers - Honor the heartbeat of Mother Earth for all the people.

Then we all filed off stage and onto the civic center floor to form a circle in the heart of the huge powwow circle. We stood in silence with our heads bowed as the drummers sang both a traditional honoring song, and the official American Indian Movement (AIM) song.

It was extraordinarily moving. The Harmony Warrior Society, a subgroup of AIM, stood with us, for they, it was announced, had been entrusted with guiding and protecting us the rest of the miles to the Western Gateway.

In all of this there was tremendous emotional lift and support. The honoring concluded when the powwow threw a blanket for us. They literally spread a blanket on the floor in the center of the circle, and as the drums took up a medicine beat, they asked people to come forward and drop money onto the blanket to help us out.


Late in the powwow, there was a meeting in a back room to discuss our walk. As I walked into the room I felt a distinct wave of hostility. I was immediately taken by the arms and escorted back out by two warriors. I was told I was unwelcome, and could not be part of the meeting because I was a white man.

Joe stayed in the backroom without me and met for hours behind a closed door with a large group of people that included Fern Mathias, the controversial director of Southern California AIM, and also Monique Sol Sonoquie and Ho Washtay of the Chumash Nation. Before being ejected, I observed that Tom Dostou—who claims to be part Irish, part native—was also in the room.

I sat outside the door and waited. The meeting went for hours, till well past 11 PM. I was told that they were negotiating a thicket of native politics, and that I was unwelcome.

When Joe finally emerged from the room he told me that it had been a trying and tense meeting, but that it ended alright. “Our walk is going forward,” he said.

Before we climbed into Bess to drive back to camp, we were gifted a trunk load of beautiful food by Cahuilla Margaret Red Elk, director of the Colorado Springs chapter of the American Indian Movement (AIM). She told us to breathe deeply, that everything would work out alright.

Joe and I stocked up on doughnuts and coffee, then set out on the long drive back to Twentynine Palms. He would not tell me much of what happened behind the closed doors. We arrived in camp about 2 AM, and immediately collapsed into our sleeping bags.


Copyright 2007 by Steven McFadden

Read Day 206 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire

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