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                          Eighth Fire

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Eighth Fire Gathering 2008

For information on the 2009 Eighth Fire Northeast gathering please visit the new website.

Click to see a short film on the Gathering by Jaya Wallack

The 8th fire is a prophecy that has been handed down to us by the Native people ... A time would come when the Earth would enter into a change. And our people refer to this as the rebirth of the Earth because a rebirth would have to take place if we are going to prevent the destruction of our planet. The 8th fire, according to our people, says that there would be individuals that would come from all different cultures and they would gather in some way to seek greater advice and direction or to collectively seek out a vision that would lead what is referred to as the new people.

- David Courchene Jr., Anishinabe

  Thoughts On the Gathering, from SEN Director Bill Pfeiffer:
This autumn, from September 12-14, Sacred Earth Network sponsored and organized a very unique and well-received event, the Eighth Fire Gathering. The idea was to bring Native American elders from the region to meet with local sustainability enthusiasts to discuss how to go forward, together, in a good way for the Earth and for the children. The “Eighth Fire” is a term that arose from the teachings of the Seven Fires prophecy. The prophecy originated among the Algonquin speaking First Nations - collectively known as the Anishinabe - the largest tribe in North America. It includes “sub-tribes” such as the Maliceet, Cree, Nipmuc, Ojibway, Penobscot, Lenape, Shawnee, and Wampanoag. This teaching suggests that if enough people - of all colors and faiths - reject materialism and choose a path of respect, wisdom and spirituality, then environmental and social catastrophe can be avoided and an era of spiritual illumination will unfold.
On Friday evening the 12th, I greeted the Native elders (defined as wise and respected leaders who take the traditional, time-tested, view in human affairs) and asked them what they wanted to do for the following 2 days. I realized, even though the event was billed as a dialogue, that for this first Gathering it was time for non-Natives to simply listen to what the Natives had to say. In listening to the elders on Friday, I understood that my desire for a clear and defined schedule of activities would need to be revised. Their only advice was that we eat our meals at certain times (for the cooks’ sake) and have a sunrise fire ceremony on Saturday morning. All else would be “decided by Spirit.” I knew that this would take a great deal of trust on my part but would be crucial for success.

At 6 a.m. Saturday morning we gathered in the lower fields at “Earthlands,” an exceptionally beautiful 60-acre woodlands tract and retreat center in central Massachusetts. David “Tall Pine” White, a direct descendant of the Nipmuc people who lived on this land for thousands of years, along with two Anishinabe medicine people, Elizabeth Babin and Brian Matrious, led us in a remarkable greeting to the Sun, known in Ojibway as Mishomis, or Grandfather. This was accompanied by honoring a small piece of the sun’s fire on Earth, a special and brilliant campfire.  The sky was overcast but as the ceremony continued, and the many offerings to the fire were made, the day became brighter and brighter, and not only in the sky, but also in the faces of the people as well.

We were instructed to keep the fire burning throughout the gathering. Breakfast was prepared by the cooks Siedeh and Zane, who were in complete generous service to the event. I watched how people started to interact, at first tentatively, but with more gusto as the meal proceeded. I sensed that this is where the cross-cultural dialogue was to take place… informally…and it would start by Natives and non-Natives checking to make sure the atmosphere was safe. I was relieved as I noticed how the comfort level seemed to increase.

After breakfast, two facilitators emerged, Brian Matrious (referenced above), and Louise McDonald, who is a Mohawk elder living on the 6 Nations Reservation on the Canadian/US border in upstate New York. After a few announcements, I introduced to the group one of the main reasons for the gathering: that Native peoples of Turtle Island lived sustainably and in balance for thousands of years. Might we “moderns” not learn something from the wisdom they passed down to their descendants, the very elders that were present with us? I asked the elders to speak and one by one they introduced themselves. I appreciated the dignity in which they wrapped their words. In this short report it is impossible to share all the wisdom and passion that they expressed but one refrain that was repeated often was: “We must come together as One People. It is time for us let go of everything that does not serve us.”

Anishinabe elder David Courchene (more info at http://the8thfire.org/), from Winnipeg, Manitoba, had a very special way of articulating the deeper meaning of the Gathering. He is at the forefront of promoting the 8th Fire prophecy bringing thousands of people together. These are a few of his compelling words: "Long ago our people always followed a vision. That was why they were so connected to the Spirit and the land. Whenever the Spirit gives a vision to an individual it always becomes a vision for the collective. It always leads to a vision of peace for humankind. You must remain firm in your belief in your vision. You must never give it up."

On Saturday afternoon the elders continued to share from the heart. Often they spoke very personally, not shying away from painful history. Beautiful words were spoken by Larry Matrious (Brian’s Dad), Cammetah and Tall Oak (Wampanoag), David Kahn (Siberian heritage), Aaron Gooday (Apache), Joyce Odawa (Anishinabe), and Ed “Blue Jay” Perley (Maliceet). When they finished, Louise and two of her fellow Mohawks, Curtis and Liz Nelson led the entire group in an impromptu healing ceremony. This was an unusual and touching contribution. The Haudenosaunee (the French-named "Iroquois confederacy" of which the Mohawks are a part) had historic enmity with the Anishinabe. And although the mistrust has lessened considerably in the last century, some still lingers.

The ceremony involved hugging and it really opened a lot of people's hearts. When I looked around, with the sun shining in all its glory (the weather forecast had predicted rain all weekend), it seemed like some miracle had occurred. Most of the people had never met each other before yet they were treating each other like family. A rainbow showed itself like icing on a cake.

When we formed a circle again, Jim Farnham, who has been working with prisoners on Indian culture and spirituality as a method of healing, read a blessing for the Gathering by William Commanda, the Keeper of the Sacred Wampum Belts of the Algonquin Nation. Elizabeth Babin then rounded off an incredible first day by sharing about the destruction of the forests near her reservation (Wahgoshig First Nation) and the training she received from an older medicine woman and how that woman had incorporated Star Knowledge into her teachings.

When the sun went down and we finished dinner, the group divided into two circles by gender. This ancient tradition acknowledges that there are certain qualities about being a man or a woman that can be expressed and highlighted when one is "alone" with one's gender. In so doing,  a deeper understanding of our individual and collective roles can be revealed. With this understanding we can "come back to the people" stronger and clearer. I like to think that this strength and clarity--drawn from cultural traditions that really honor and support each individual-- is where the roots of sustainability are located. One man said that he felt that this kind of time spent together (with just men) "decreased competitive tendencies because we are better able to see our common ground."

It rained continuously Saturday night and into Sunday morning. I was touched by how various people had made sure the sacred fire would not go out, even when that meant losing sleep or in this case, leaving the whole group to be with the fire. Jim Farnham, was one such person. During our morning session inside the main lodge at Earthlands, he was outside with the fire. Jim missed listening to Ken White (Nipmuc), Dave Tall Pine's father, introduce himself as well as other elders sum up how the gathering had affected them thus far. I will never forget when the Mohawk chief Curtis Nelson spoke to the group. He had tears in his eyes as he explained that he had "only come down as the driver" for Louise McDonald and his wife, Elizabeth. Instead, he said: "I saw and felt things I never expected" and "every one of you needs to tell 10 people to tell 10 people that a great gathering has taken place here for Mother Earth."

After Curtis spoke a lot of energy was unleashed. Many people were moved and excited  and wanted to speak at the same time. It also appeared that the strong love in his sharing paradoxically pushed some collective pain to the surface. There were some tensions expressed between a few people and some impatience by others. I know I felt some anxiety that it would get out of hand. Thanks to Louise's fine facilitation it did not. She managed to close the morning with a lot of finesse. Just before leaving she told me something powerful about the underlying purpose of the gathering. I could only remember snippets so asked her to repeat it by email. Here is what she said:

"The great storm is coming and we cannot stop it, it will lift everyone away. Do not fear, just move inside the eye of the storm where it is quiet. People who surrender to its vast power will be safe because their spirit can be one with its infinite source of energy."

After lunch, approximately three-quarters of the group stayed for the closing circle. Like Louise, some of the elders had long trips back to their homes and left early. Those who remained were able to finish the day outside with the sacred fire under dry but overcast skies. Brian Matrious asked just the non-Natives to share from the heart. An eagle feather and turkey feather were passed around sun circle to each person. When it was my turn I was so moved I was shaking. I felt the power of each feather and the enormity of what they each represent. It was like holding wisdom and generosity in my hands. I remember saying that the crystal "rose quartz" heart Mother Earth below and the protective cover of Father Sky above were always sending us - located in the middle - their nurturing energy.  And that where we were sitting, or anywhere on the surface of the Earth, was a lot of love… and this love could get us through anything. I noticed a lot of nods as I passed the feathers. Dozens of other people had similarly passionate things to say. Hours went by yet I was transfixed. Time had slowed to the still point of the Now. When it was their turn, several people simply stood up and silently walked over to the fire to offer tobacco. What a huge statement!  My only regret was that the people who had left early did not get a chance to be part of this final time together.

After Brian and "Grandfather" Larry's remarks put finishing touches on the sharing circle they asked Jim Beard, lead consultant for Northeast American Cultural Resource, to tell an Ojibway story. Jim told his story with his characteristic amazing eloquence.

While hugging people goodbye, a few of the remaining Native elders commented that our collective efforts helped "open the Eastern Door" by unblocking stagnant energy caused by the oppression of the aboriginal peoples along the Eastern seaboard of Turtle Island (North American continent).

Elizabeth Babin, one of the elders who had to leave early, emailed me as soon as she got home and said:  "…We made a positive effort in fulfilling the 8th fire prophecy. These gatherings must continue throughout the land so that a greater level of consciousness is awakened in order to create sustainability.  After all, we are responsible for the next seven generations."

For additional coverage of the gathering, click here.

 

 



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