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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"A great prophecy had foretold the arrival of relatives of the many colors…Our sacred, unfulfilled destiny today rises to fulfillment in native and pilgrim descendants and all peoples. The great prophesy lives powerfully in the tapestry of America's diverse natives and diverse peoples, religions, cultures, and languages...

"...Now we inherit the sacred responsibility to renew and complete the spiritual-political culture on this land, and around this world. We do so by reconciling the past, and healing the present."

- Sonne Reyna

Day 221 - Monday, January 29, 1996 – We sat a long time over coffee this morning at the Circle V Ranch, waiting and talking. People are wondering whether our pilgrimage is over. It’s not yet clear, but we know something happened yesterday.

The rumor this morning is that Tom closed the walk out at Point Conception yesterday with Grandfather Commanda, even though not one of the people who actually walked was invited to the ceremony. But no one knows for sure. We will have to wait to find out.


Pacific view - Looking out to sea and Santa Cruz Island over the fog, from the mountains east of Santa Barbara. (Photo by c monster, courtesy of flckr.com)

Later in the morning Polly, Barbie, and Jacki set out for Santa Barbara to do some sightseeing, and to haul a massive load of dirty clothes to a laundromat. 

The three Sunbow sisters were driving along Route 154 and had pulled over at the vista point to take photographs. Then as they drove on, just a little further, there was another outlook. Jacki asked if they could pull over again so she could take more pictures. Barbie and Polly resisted for a moment, saying, “We just stopped a minute ago.” But Jacki said, “Oh, stop anyway.” So they stopped. They looked around and saw someone they recognized. Polly started screaming "It’s Rella, it’s Rella!"

It was Regula Vellacott (Rella), who had been with our walk all through Virginia. She had just flown all the way from Switzerland to find the walk and to participate in the ending. But she was in despair, unable to find us, parked at the lookout to lament her missed connection. That’s the moment when Polly, Barbie and Jacki drove up.  


Grandfather Commanda - sits by the fire while daughter Evelyn Dewache stands by. (Author photo)

We sat around the campfire much of the afternoon, with no walking to be done, and no indication yet of how our pilgrimage will end.

Eventually Grandfather Commanda arrived, and made himself comfortable close to the fire. He sat with his daughter Evelyn to his left side, and a blanket wrapped over his shoulders, wearing his silver-tone cowboy hat. He was quiet and seemed sad.


Dennis Gonsalves arrived from Massachusetts, and took a seat at the fire. Dennis, a member of the Aquinnah Band of the Wampanoag Nation, led our walk across Cape Cod last June over the first four days of the pilgrimage.

Dennis was the only person who saw what happened to the Red Tail Hawk which had given a clear signal of blessing at the start of our walk on Day 1. The Hawk had signaled us unmistakably, but then was tracked and harried by a murder of crows. Most of the walkers on that first day saw the hawk omen, and the battle with the crows. But only Dennis had witnessed the outcome.

Sitting by the fire, eight months later at the end of our journey, he said he saw the hawk go down behind a row of trees as it was harried by the crows. But after a while he saw the hawk begin to climb up through the air in a spiraling manner, catch an updraft from the hot pavement, and then rise high into the sky where it was reunited with its mate. That, he told us, is how that omen came to completion.

Aquinnah - The sacred clay cliffs of Noepe (Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts), home to Dennis and Phil Gonsalves and the Aquinnah Band of Wampanoag people, a pole apart from the Chumash sacred site of Humqaq, Point Conception, California.

Then Dennis told the tale of what happened when he arrived at the Circle V Ranch yesterday. He learned that most of us were gone, having driven to Los Angeles to greet Grandfather Commanda. He said that he looked up at the hill behind the Ranch, and had a powerful feeling that he should go up there to pray, and that he might find some sage to pick. 

He got his staff, and also an eagle feather that Tom had given to him at the start of our walk. He also got a sprig of the sage that his brother Phil had picked last spring so that our walk would have a supply of the sacred plant to burn for purification.

Sage covered hills - around Lake Cachuma, California. (Photo by megpi, courtesy of flckr.com)

Dennis climbed the hill. When he got to the top he took out some of the old sage that Phil had sent and tried to light it. But his cigarette lighter would not work. He could not burn the sage.

He reached for the eagle feather to hold it in his hand while he prayed. But the eagle feather was gone. Then he looked around at the sage plants on the hill, and had a strong feeling that he should not pick any of the plants. So he settled down and began to pray: for the Chumash people, for the Wampanoag people, for our walk, for people all over the world, for all our relations in the sacred hoop of life.

When Dennis came back down to the bottom of the hill he found the eagle feather. It had fallen out of his pocket and lay on the ground. Later he spoke with his brother Phil and discovered that this hill is the same hill that Phil climbed to pick sage back in the springtime before our walk began. Somehow the feather that Tom Dostou gave Dennis would not make it to the top. Somehow the sage wanted not to be burned, but to be returned to the place where it was picked long ago.


Ned Paschene - (Author photo)

After hearing these stories by the campfire at the Circle V Ranch, Ned took up a drum and began to sing songs, including the Sunbow song, and a dance song from the Naskapi Cree. That got our feet moving. Before long we were dancing in a circle around the fire, warming up, and feeling good.

Joe started to tell stories to Evelyn and Grandfather Commanda, letting them know in detail about many of the adventures we’d had since Albuquerque and the Laguna Pueblo. He told about the Hopi deer, and the elders there on that sacred land, our visit to Spirit Mountain in Nevada, our time in Twenty-Nine Palms, all about the pipe ceremony there, and on and on. Grandfather wanted to hear it all.


Humquaq - The Western Gate as seen from the deck of a boat at sea rounding Point Conception, California. Humqaq (where the raven comes) is where Hopi interpreter Thomas Banyaca said our Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth should end.

As the afternoon grew long, and the moment felt right, I asked Grandfather to tell us what had happened yesterday, and I posed a question. I said, “You know, we really were humbled in Albuquerque and we learned to forgive. Tom was forgiven. He really was, by all of us. We forgave him, and asked him to walk with us, not in front of us, but with us. Yet he never came with us again. He never walked, he never joined the circle. Do you know why?”

Grandfather said he did not know why. He said, “I was with Tom yesterday. I slept in the same room with him last night and I had breakfast with him this morning. He had no explanation. He did not want to talk. He said he’s feeling down. He said he wasn’t accepted because he has light skin and doesn’t look like an Indian. That was his explanation.”

Grandfather said that when he arrived yesterday there were three groups of pilgrims: Tom's group, our main group, and Jim Duncan's family (still on the road somewhere in California). He said he tried hard to get the groups together, but heard only: they did this to us, and they did that. He said he didn't want to hear that.

Grandfather shook his head, and said he was very saddened by Tom and the way things had worked out.

Grandfather said that yesterday he and Evelyn had indeed gone with some of the Chumash people up to Point Conception, the sacred site that juts far west out into the Pacific Ocean.

Chumash cave painting - (Photo by Gyrus, coutresy of flckr.com)

As the Chumash teach of the Western Gate at this point, it is the place where, after dying, human souls depart on their journey to the afterworld. The souls migrate in the west direction to the beautiful, isolated, stormy coastal bluff now known as Point Conception, which is the sacred Western Gate for Turtle Island (North America), a wild place the Chumash peoples speak of as Humqaq, which means “the raven comes.”

Grandfather and Evelyn were taken there Sunday afternoon, but it all became confusing. They went to a house, there was a meeting, and then they went out to the point.

One man was so confused and enraged about the walk wanting to come to this sacred site that he pointed a loaded .38 revolver at Grandfather Commanda and threatened to shoot him if he stepped on Chumash land. Apparently the man also pointed his gun at Ho Washtay, but eventually all the confusion was cleared up, and the man put his gun away.

Grandfather said that after things settled down, and some of the Chumash people made ceremony with them, he asked his daughter Evelyn and Chumash Grandmother Liz Dominguez to take the Seven Fires Wampum belt and dip it into the Pacific in a sacred manner. That was a moment of completion for him, a happy moment.

However, as Tom's daughter Dierdre later told me, Tom and Naoko did not make it to the Western Gate either, at least not to the ceremony that was held there Sunday. Ho Washtay and the young Chumash warriors insisted that only pure blood native people be allowed to participate.

Consequently, not one Sunbow 5 walker—not one person who had made the long walk from the Eastern Door across Turtle Island, including the full blood native people who were part of our circle—made it to Humquaq-the Western Gate for that closing ceremony.


Maybe an hour after our circle with Grandfather broke up today, Joe raced around our camp and called the circle together again. When we had assembled, Joe said, “I just have some quick news to tell you. It’s important. For the first time in maybe 20 years all bands of the Chumash have had a meeting and come to an agreement.”

Joe said the Chumash clans had not talked among themselves for 20 years or more, an inter-clan dispute. But our walk forced them to communicate with each other. We represented such a conundrum and such a potential threat, that they were forced to connect and communicate.

“They agreed on a number of things yesterday,” Joe said. “Number one, no harm will come to our walk and all hostilities will cease. There will be no angry thoughts or angry actions directed at any of us. Further–we are free to remain here for as long as it takes us to complete our business and get underway. There is no danger to us. We don’t need to have a night watch anymore.

“As a result of our hearing them and understanding them, the Chumash are coming together. In a week or two they’re going to have unity meetings for all members of all clans to begin resolving their differences and forgiving one another.

“So this is joyous news,” Joe said. “Grandfather is very happy that this has happened. He feels this is a good thing, and so do I.”


Copyright 2007 by Steven McFadden

Read Day 222 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire

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