"You call this a conference?!?" exclaimed Vladimir Lyubochko as he and the three other participants in SEN's most recent exchange approached the annual Communities Conference.
Vladimir had reason to be surprised. This particular conference, hosted by Twin Oaks community and attended by hundreds of residents of intentional communities and ecovillages across the country and the world, takes place in the middle of a forest near Louisa, Virginia, and workshops are held around picnic tables and in special clearings along the trail. It is an informal, self-organized event, an excellent place for networking and skill sharing.
Our guests dove in headfirst, participating in discussions on energy issues and sustainable development, and before they had been in the US three days, they were even hosting their own workshops.
These exceptional individuals had come to the US for two weeks in September as part of SEN's growing Sustainable Energy and Ecological Design project (SEED). Vladimir, from Krasnoyarsk, an engineer and contractor, is working with the Russian NGO Ecodom to establish an ecosettlement near his home; Yuri Azhichakov, of Novosibirsk, is also an engineer and has helped design several innovative energy-efficient solar homes; Irina Sukhi of Minsk, Belarus, a permaculture designer with the organization Ecohome, is now the coordinator of SEN's SEED project; and Evgeny Shirokov, president of the Belarussian branch of the International Academy of Ecology, recently spearheaded the establishment of an entire village of straw-bale and straw-clay homes-powered by the wind and the sun-for Chernobyl refugees.
The group visited Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, gathering information on strategies for sustainability, and making connections with potential future partners and colleagues. One such person was Jeff Clearwater, an ecovillage designer at Sirius Community, who led a two-day practical workshop on appropriate technology for our group. Yuri said this workshop answered many questions for the sake of which he had come to the US. Irina satisfied her dream of driving in America-in Jeff's personally rebuilt electric car!
At Doug Clayton's home in New Hampshire, our guests explored the only mature permaculture site in the northeast, featuring a multi-tiered orchard and garden, a super efficient solar house, a seasonal refrigeration system, and a composting toilet which has become a model for the region.
The group also toured two cohousing settlements, several straw-bale homes, including the impressive Earth Sweet Home in Dummerston, Vermont, and other solar and wind-powered homes and appropriate technology demonstration sites. One of these was the Apeiron Foundation in Rhode Island, a nearly-complete demonstration building incorporating many aspects of sustainable design. Vladimir especially appreciated learning from their experience of constructing a wetlands for waste water treatment, and their success with involving young volunteers on the project.
The trip clearly had a great impact on our guests, who returned home with their heads and notebooks full of new ideas. Irina hopes to try out a micro-hydroelectric installation at her young permaculture site in Belarus, which is surrounded by lakes and streams. Vladimir says, "Thanks to what I've seen, I'm going to completely change the architectural concept of the house I'm designing." He has detailed a number of joint projects he hopes to implement with his new acquaintances, including Yuri, whom he had never met before this trip-although they work in the same region of central Siberia.
Yuri, a specialist in seasonal heating and water systems, picked up some tips about the weaknesses of warm-air heating installations. He commented later that "exchanging opinions with such specialists as Jeff and Dave contributed a great deal to my future work." And Evgeny, who is involved in the UN's Habitat program and Sustainable Development Commission, was so enthusiastic about SEN's SEED project that he volunteered to "do everything possible to promote it in the media in Belarus and on the level of the UN and other international organizations."
Brad Hyson of the Aperion Foundation discusses ecodesign with SEED participants.
Our new Indigenous Peoples Project is gathering momentum. Recent trips to Tuva, Siberia in July and the Southwestern part of the US in June (see next two articles) have yielded a plethora of new contacts and possibilities. Building bridges between these native peoples, long marginalized by the dominant materialist culture-be it capitalist or communist-has increasing relevance and power in today's world. As more people recognize that we humans are on a collision course with planetary limits, it has become imperative we take a closer look at indigenous spirituality and culture, which is historically based upon living with the land, not off of it. In short, the time to really listen to ancient wisdom has become essential.
On the Siberian side, SEN has received an enthusiastic go ahead from 9 different tribes that live in regions where we have previously been active (or have been active nearby): the Shor, Altai, Tuva, Buryat , Ulchi, Inuit/Eskimo, Itelman, Koryak, and Evenki. The Russian Association for Indigenous Peoples of the North, based in Moscow, has also sent a strong letter of endorsement. Erjen Khamangova, a Buryat actively involved in the defense of Lake Baikal (holding 1/5 of Earth's fresh water) had the following to say as a prelude to her specific suggestions for involvement:
"For three centuries, the indigenous peoples of Russian Siberia and North America have been living under the dominance of a culture that is alien to their nature. The development of indigenous ethnic groups is strictly regulated, whereby a way of life that is totally contrary to their way of thinking is imposed upon them. The cornerstone of their world outlook, "unity-with-nature"is being destroyed...
In our opinion, there are similar trends in the history of Siberian and American indigenous peoples and there is much in common, in particular, between Buryat culture and many indigenous communities in America. The 17th century was the beginning of colonization of both Buryats and Indians. The 19th century was marked by the intensive development of gold deposits in Siberia and the USA. In the 20th century: the need for protection of Lake Baikal stimulated an interest in Buryat environmental traditions; and in the USA the environmental crisis provoked an interest in the environmental outlook of Indians.
During these three centuries, in which indigenous peoples made contact with "strangers", the entire period was marked by strife, hostility, and aggression. This time revealed a most important thing: indigenous peoples do not want to understand "strangers" who do not want to value and respect the culture of indigenous peoples. In the final quarter of the 20th century, the stage of tentative cooperation began. And the new millennium must be the beginning of the stage of mutual understanding..."
One of the things we have quickly learned is that traditional peoples do not see environment, language, and culture as separate entities but three parts of one whole. Working on only one of them while excluding the others is incomplete, and will not bear the healthy fruit we are seeking. This is an important concept as SEN seeks funding from institutions who have historically seen these areas as separate domains. A working group meeting is planned for May of 2001 in central Siberia with hopes of hosting a delegation of native Siberians here on "Turtle Island" in the autumn. If you would like to know more details about this project please let us know.
Tuvan shamanism is at the center of a culture that has been holding itself together against all odds. In the past 150 years, the Manchurian and Soviet yokes killed most of the shamans. Aychurek (Moonheart, on the left in the photo below) is one of the proud survivors and is considered to be one of the most powerful descendants of this ancient lineage. For the past 10 years, she has taken responsibility for returning her culture to it's earth-honoring, spiritual origins, while being sought after by Europeans for her healing abilities.
In July of 2000, Lyn Roberts-Herrick of Dream Change Coalition and Bill Pfeiffer traveled to this extraordinary land to arrange a trip for Westerners next year to meet with Moonheart and her countrymen. During our 5 days in Tuva, we were astounded at the power of the land, the power of Moonheart, and the sheer amount of unexplored wilderness and archeological treasures that remain relatively undisturbed (Tuva contains one of the largest Biosphere Reserves in the world).
Why visit Siberian shamans?
To quote John Perkins, founder of Dream Change Coalition, successful businessman and longtime defender of the South American tropical rainforests: "We have entered a period of massive change - cultural, emotional, social, spiritual, economic and ecological. Throughout time it has been the shamans - the shapeshifters - who have guided us through such periods of transition." It is simply not enough to pass new laws or stop destructive projects. We humans need to go beyond business-as-usual and to tap into the powers of the Universe in order to find our way. We need to re-discover and re-connect with the laws of nature. Genuine shamans and indigenous peoples can show us how to do that. Please join us on this once in a lifetime trip. For more info see <www.dreamchange.org/programs/russia2.html>
In June of 2000 Cathy Pedevillano and Bill Pfeiffer traveled to the Southwest to see which native Americans might be interested in meeting ,and then possibly collaborating, with Native Siberians. Cathy wrote reams in her journal. Here is one excerpt that stands out:
Baho, Cedar Creek, Ernesto Luhan are the names this wonderful man is called by. He speaks of his father who was a traditionalist and fought to keep the old ways. He showed us a picture of his father out on the land with a horse and a proud visage, and his mother in traditional dress flanked by smiling Catholic nuns who succeeded in converting her. Baho had to hold the balance between his father and mother, toe the line between both worlds. The tribe had to "adjust" to the wave of Catholicism and began to hold their festivals and dances on church holidays. They waited to hold their foot races until after church on Sunday, so the whole tribe could attend. The elders were in denial about the influence of Catholicism, they wanted to ignore it. Baho said that some of the younger people today are starting to question all that, some are starting to learn the old ways again.
Baho's "store" was really a museum, with signed treaties, pictures, letters of apology to the tribe. He is a wisdomkeeper. Baho told us the tale of the Battle for Blue Lake, which is the Taos Pueblo Indians sacred ceremonial place. It was a 60 year battle that the tribe fought with the U.S. government, particularly the U.S. Forest Service to regain access to their sacred land. "The Lake is my church," Baho said calmly, "we go there for ceremonies." The Forest Service made up stories that the Indians brought young "virgins" there to de-virginize them. It took them 60 years to get their sacred lake back, but they did it, they won. They had some staunch white supporters which helped them. Baho's dad went to Blue Lake as his church. The Spanish came and tried to find out what it was about them that they could somehow use against them. Baho had a copy of the law passed to give Blue Lake back to them framed and hung near a beautiful photo of the Lake. He also had a framed copy of a letter of apology from a whole list of churches (including Catholic) for trying to take away their culture and their land. Baho, like many Indian children of his time, went to parochial school. His uncle, his father's brother, was Tony Luhan, the famous Indian who married Mabel Dodge, a wealthy white woman who went on to fight for native rights in the early 1900's. Their marriage had forged an alliance between white and red that was in stark contrast to all the oppression of native peoples that was rampant at that time (and, unfortunately, still continues today albeit less blatantly).
Baho was physically beautiful, a warm energy emanated from him, he had kind eyes, brown skin and was in good physical shape. He seemed ageless but could have been a man in his fifties. A huge upwelling of tears came over me as he spoke of the litany of sins brought against his people, "they took our land, brought strife into our tribe by converting some of us ..etc." I could feel the atrocities so deeply in my heart and soul, the injustice of it all, I could have cracked open then and there and cried for days. "The language keeps us together as a tribe," Baho said. Amazingly, he had so little bitterness after all he and his people had been through, just sheer dignity and solid strength. The Taos peoples have won some battles and lost others but they still have land, language and spirituality. This is no small accomplishment in the 21st century.
Taos Pueblo, Taos, New Mexico
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