"A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
- John Steinbeck
Day 85 - Friday, September 15, 1995 - The Sunbow walkers have overrun Kelly Noser's house in the suburbs. There’s just too many of them for such a small place. One bathroom cannot possibly accomodate so many people.
Having no site that can continue to host all of them, the walkers packed up and moved to four separate locations within the city of Nashville. They will reunite on Sunday morning when the walk resumes again in Pulaski, Tennessee.
Later during the day, the walkers followed a 10 mile-long circular path around downtown Nashville: from Centennial Park through the honky-tonk district to the Cumberland River, then around the state Capitol building and back to Centennial Park.
It was a memorable walk, a moving circle of prayer following the meander of the Cumberland River in the heart of Nashville.
Whenever local people join the walk they are asked to lead. So it was in Nashville, as the walk was guided by relatives from the Chickamauga, Cherokee, and Choctaw Nations.
But even the local people were shocked when the walk stopped to pray at a site along the highly polluted Cumberland River. There they discovered statues and plaques commemorating the "defeat of the savages" by invading explorers and colonial settlers, including mention of how packs of war dogs had been set upon, and had killed the native men, women and children who had lived in villages along the river.
Along with their swords, armor, muskets and smallpox, the invaders brought along an ancient weapon of war: war dogs. Those packs of dogs, armored and trained to kill, were set loose upon the native people of the lower Mississippi Valley.
The dogs the conquistadors brought with them were Alaunts, progenitors of our era's Molossus type of dogs. The Alaunts were specifically bred for their large size, strength, ferocity, and tenacity— their ability to stay with whatever target they had been assigned: deer, boar, bear, or human being.
No one with the Sunbow pilgrimage had known about the statues or the plaques. No one had heard very much at all about the war dogs and the deaths of the women, children, and the men of the villages. Now the walkers will never forget.
"When we were there at that monument we wept," Tom said. "We wept and we prayed for the souls of all the people. We have to remember every one. They all need our prayers. It was so very sad."
After the walk was complete for the day, a local man, Jerry Bogan (Cherokee/Blackfoot), made a grand giveaway of a hot meal for all of the pilgrims. He took everyone to a Native American restaurant, The Wooden Knife. Then the evening several walkers spoke before a full house at the Bongo Java Coffee House.
When Rita Sebastian took a turn at the microphone, she spoke first about sacrifice. "I told them what I had learned from Grandfather Commanda, and the Hopi and Dineh elders I have worked with. We can't ask for anything without sacrifice. That's one thing I've learned. This walk is a sacrifice: to leave family, comfort, familiarity. We fast for four days and four nights, and we walk. It's a sacrifice. We make it because we are asking the Creator to hear our prayers. We are praying for the continuation of this land and life."
|Rita Sebastian and Grandfather Commanda - discuss the Seven Fires teachings as they sit by a campfire. Author photo.
"When we find a feather," Rita said, "we put down tobacco. We make a sacrifice and show our appreciation. What I have come to see is that people have lost that idea, and they've lost their connection to the Earth Mother. People got greedy, and now many just take, take, take.
“When I was at the Sundance out at Big Mountain (Arizona) two years ago I came to realize that the government sees the Earth as mineral resources: coal, uranium, gold, and that's all. Traditional people see these as spiritual resources.
"Native people were told in the beginning to leave these things in the Earth, that they are needed where they are. But now those resources are being ripped out by huge machines. That's an important part of why there is so much craziness and so many problems now."
About 18 driving hours to the South, in Kissimmee, Florida, Joe Soto and compatriots Ned, Scott, and Running Fawn arrived at the hospital on Friday morning. Joe’s dad had just emerged from the operating room, where surgeons had removed a cancer from his stomach.
Joe was relieved to find his father, Ishmael, smiling and looking strong. After visiting, Joe and his companions (Ned, Scott, and Running Fawn) went to Ishmael’s house to rest.
Just about 11:30 that morning Running Fawn had a feeling. She asked Joe to step outdoors. Joe went out with her under the steamy mid-day Sun, looked up and saw on the wing 13 eagles, and one falcon. "I knew right away that was a big sign," Joe said.
"To me, the first thing I felt and that came to my mind was that the 13 eagles were for the 13 tribes of the Arawak Nation." Joe and his dad Ishmael are Taino, one of the 13 tribes of the Arawak, whose ancestral territory extends from Brazil into the Caribbean Sea, including the islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), where Christopher Columbus first made landfall in 1492.
The human beings known as Taino—the term means "people of the good"—originally lived in the Greater Antilles, the large islands in the Caribbean, including what they called Bohio, the same place that Christopher Columbus called 'la Ysla Espanola' - the island of Hispaniola. We know it today as the island land mass divided into the states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This is one of the first places where Columbus set foot in 1492 to "claim possession."
The island of Bohio was populated by the Taino peoples, and they had built beautiful farms and villages there from dirt and rock. They were safe, secure, and happy.
After arriving in the new world just over 500 years ago Columbus noted in his journal that the natives were "well fed and well housed, without poverty or serious disease...They live in harmony and... without greed or covetousness or theft."
Columbus’s journal entries for December 24 and 25, 1492 state: "Your Highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better or gentler people...All the people show the most singular loving behavior and they speak pleasantly...They love their neighbors as themselves...and are gentle and always laughing."
However, within two years of the arrival of Columbus, because he and his men enslaved the natives to force them to dig gold, over half the Taino people of Bohio were dead from mistreatment, attack, and sickness. Before long, almost all the Taino were dead.
Even today, many people on Hispaniola and Puerto Rico—traditional and contemporary Taino homelands—mistakenly believe all the Indians are dead and gone. However, small communities survive quietly.
"The condor and falcon are very special birds to our Taino people," Joe explained to me when we spoke by phone ."So when I saw the falcon with 13 eagles I understood it as a sign that a leader was being born among our people."
At the very hour when Joe was looking up at the eagles and the falcon, not far to the East of Kissimmee, a vast 100-mph spiral of wind named Hurricane Marilyn was driving across the ancestral Arawak and Caribe islands, heading West toward Puerto Rico and perhaps on to Turtle Island (North America).
Considering all this, Joe felt the day was of special spiritual significance, perhaps indicating a more full reawakening of the Arawak peoples.
Joe, Ned, Scott, and Running Fawn talked it over and decided to drive further South on Saturday to visit a respected Seminole elder in the Everglades. They want to sit in council with the elder to talk about the eagles, the falcon, and the hurricane. When they have finished their council, and visited a final time with Joe's dad, Ishmael, they will drive through the night, planning to rejoin the Sunbow walk on Sunday.
"I love my dad," Joe told me. "I'm so glad I was able to be at his side. He is alive and getting strong. Everyone helped with that. I thank everyone for all of his or her prayers. It was so clear how strong they were and how they were helping him. Very powerful. The help of the people was very important. But now it is time for us to be with the walk. This is really what it's about at this time. My dad knows that, too. Now it’s time to get on with it. We are going back to walk."