Indigenous Wisdom: Healing the Rift (10/8 Vital Conversation)

Join us for a heart-based inquiry into the teachings and the history of indigenous peoples.  Share in  the beauty of ritual, the power of deep wisdom and the dignity of struggle against oppression.


We have three very special conversation starters lined up for our Monday Cafe Call (bios available here):

  • Ernestine Saankalaxt' Hayes
  • Phil Lane Jr.
  • Stephanie Nestlerode

This Cafe Conversation continues our Occupy a New Story collaboration with Jeff Vander Clute and Duane Elgin of New Stories and Great Transition Stories, where this page, offers an introduction to the topic and a number of powerful videos for your exploration.

We are beginning our inquiry here on the Occupy Cafe forum, and then continuing with our regular Monday Cafe Call on 10/8:

Register for our Monday Vital Conversation Cafe Calls
8-10a PDT | 11a-1p EDT | 3-5p GMT

Note: this theme will also inform our Tuesday "Connect2012" and Thursday "Occupy Heart" calls.

We start with the following question:

  • How are indigenous wisdom and history alive for you today?

South Brisbane street art photo courtesy of Leonard John Matthews

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Here's one of the nine short videos on the Indigenous Wisdom page of The Great Transition Stories wiki, featuring Aboriginal elder Bob Randall:

More food for thought, and meditation, from Heid E. Erdrich's blog, a sudden line of poetry (h/t Susan Power):

‘The Theft Outright’ 

after Frost

We were the land’s before we were.
Or the land was ours before you were a land.
Or this land was our land, it was not your land.
We were the land before we were people,
loamy roamers rising, so the stories go,
or formed of clay, spit into with breath reeking soul—
What’s America, but the legend of Rock ‘n’ Roll?
Red rocks, blood clots bearing boys, blood sands
swimming being from women’s hands, we originate,
originally, spontaneous as hemorrhage.
Un-possessing of what we still are possessed by,
possessed by what we now no more possess.
We were the land before we were people,
dreamy sunbeams where sun don’t shine, so the stories go,
or pulled up a hole, clawing past ants and roots—
Dineh in documentaries scoff DNA evidence off.
They landed late, but canyons spoke them home.
Nomadic Turkish horse tribes they don’t know.
What’s America, but the legend of Stop ‘n’ Go?
Could be cousins, left on the land bridge,
contrary to popular belief, that was a two-way toll.
In any case we’d claim them, give them some place to stay.

Such as we were we gave most things outright
(the deed of the theft was many deeds and leases and claim stakes
and tenure disputes and moved plat markers stolen still today…)
We were the land before we were a people,
earthdivers, her darling mudpuppies, so the stories go,
or emerging, fully forming from flesh of earth—
The land, not the least vaguely, realizing in all four directions,
still storied, art-filled, fully enhanced.
Such as she is, such as she wills us to become.

Heid E. Erdrich (1963—) is a Native American poet of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Ojibwe tribe, living in Minnesota. She is the sister of fellow poet Louise Erdrich. 

There is a compelling convergence of our conversations here in the Cafe about gifts, Sacred Economics and Indigenous Wisdom.  I'm still working my way through Charles Eisenstein's book (which we have been discussing here), and just read this:

Gift societies combine obligation and gratitude inseparably. In the potlatches of Melanesia and the Pacific Northwest, giving could be an act of social dominance, nearly of aggression. But even outside this extreme, it is generally true that, as anthropologist Mary Douglas says, “right across the globe and as far back as we can go in the history of human civilization, the major transfer of goods has been by cycles of obligatory returns of gifts” (emphasis mine). So when we opine as to what does and does not constitute a true gift, let us keep in mind the function that gifts have played in the psychology and society of countless gift cultures up through the present day. Who are we, who live almost wholly in a commodity culture, to presume to know what a gift is?   

Sacred Economics,  Ch. 18, Note 7

"Who are we" indeed?!  "Modern" society has taught us to value separation and independence, as epitomized by the reduction of as much of life as possible to financial exchanges that leave no obligation in their wake. Now, however, I see that we are reawakening to the core consciousness of connectedness that is embodied in the obligations we choose as members of a community.  

I just reread Gary Horvitz comments on the Sacred Economics thread.  This part echoes the theme above:

The root of it is that all that we have as a species, as partners with all life on the planet, belongs to all of us. We will not be able to reverse the commodification of relationships unless we can at least entertain the possibility that our future depends on a return to something like an indigenous consciousness that finds us nested within successive ecologies.

While Charles' analysis is profound, and I have learned immensely from it, the issue he and we all struggle with is how, in the midst of all the new economy structures we imagine and build, we understand this inner process of transition to the Gift. This is a process of learning how to "be there" while "getting there," how to put attention on the inner process while we build the outer structures, being both the chicken and the egg.

This Humanity 4.0 Slideshare created by Michelle Holliday is one way in which indigenous wisdom is alive for me.  Each phase corresponds to both a stage in human history and to an aspect of what is necessary for a living system to exist and thrive.  It's really much better (and only takes a few minutes) to watch it, but here's a quick summary...

Michelle suggests that the 1.0 phase, when we were hunter-gatherers, was a time when we saw the universe as "an unbroken whole"--an essential component of indigenous teachings. The 2.0 phase, coinciding with the rise of agrarian civilization, saw the universe as a "web of relationship." This too, is part of the indigenous wisdom we have largely forgotten. The 3.0 phase, characterized by the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, has been a time of honoring our individuality.  It has brought forth science and technology that have greatly expanded our physical powers, and it is now culminating in the separateness and unsustainable exponential growth we to be a pervasive and destructive force.  

The New Story--Humanity 4.0-- is about integrating the wisdom of all the previous three, so it is very much a process of remembering and relearning and restoring (re-storying) what has been lost for most us us, but kept alive like a precious flame by an amazingly resilient few.

What's alive for me in this admittedly heady and intellectual construct is the experience, over and over, of seeing this pattern Michelle identifies all around me.  It has helped me to understand, and to empathize, with the world and with our current struggle, hospicing the old paradigm and midwifing the new. 

A propos the Humanity 1.0 idea of indigenous consciousness from above, here is a beautiful video from Great Transition Stories of Aleut Larry Merculieff telling a story from his childhood about learning through observation of Aleut hunters and seabirds how one profoundly connects with the earth:

Ben and Jitendra,

I am intrigued by this topic and the general intention of this conversation. It is something I've been thinking about recently.

We all have some knowledge of the Pachamama Alliance and its mission. It has been all about "changing the dream of the North" and acknowledging indigenous wisdom and recovering the sacred in everyday life. But the fact is, I don't know of a single actual principle or practice that embodies this intention of recovering our indigenous "self" that Pachamama has introduced into the symposium or any other venue. Is there anything about the Achuar that would root a cross cultural practice that would illuminate or hasten our awakening from the "dream?" I sure don't know.

Moreover, when we speak of indigenous wisdom, most of us only have a generic understanding --or assumptions-- about an indigenous perspective of the universe and our place in it. Few of us are familiar with any specific practices.

I am currently entertaining the idea that we must go beyond reconstituting generic relationships with indigenous people. What if we began to establish specific relationships with indigenous groups for the purpose of rooting a cross-cultural perspective into our daily activities and community relations here in North? Might this be a way to shake us out of our "dream" a little more deliberately, even assisting our transition to a deep ecology, however gently, and deepening our embodiment of a true earth consciousness?

My question here is about identifying community beliefs or practices, simple rituals, introducing economies of a tribal community, deliberately rooting the character of generosity and sharing in a functional relationship with a partner community, maturing our definitions of the common good, the relationship between tribal status and wealth. And of course, more. 

Can we move beyond lip service to our "relationship" with indigenous "wisdom" into some true form of material or at least functional exchange?     

I am searching for the two-way street here, the magic meme that crystallizes autrhentic connection, stimulates global consciousness, functional partnerships, something vibrant and viral with real outcomes.

From this point of view, perhaps the opening questions might be something like "How are you integrating an indigenous view into your life now? What obstacles do you see to doing so more deliberately?"


We are very excited to welcome Chief Phil Lane Jr. as a conversation starter for our Monday call.  You can see a bio here, and below is a video of Phil at a gathering in Vancouver in solidarity with OWS on its one year anniversary:

I'm going to take this excellent opportunity to take notes. We seem to be wondering, 'what are the cultural myths of Canada'? I think this is a fantastic question. From someone like myself, who is from India, it seems alarming that we are here in this culture which has really forgotten deeply about 'what are we responsible for having inflicted'. Deep trauma. It seems very harsh. It seems like a deeply tricky power situation, especially when we are the unaware oppressors, which seems pervasive. I appreciate this conversation very much.

I just wanted to share an article by indigenous activist in Alaska who wrote an essay that really speaks to something that came up on our last round of conversation about how the culture of indigenous people cannot be healed in North America until the culture of the dominators of U.S Americans and Canadians is also healed. This piece, "An Indigenous Vision to Heal America" is available on Evon Peter's website here:

Also was very inspired to remember this great quote from Aboriginal educator Lilla Watson: "If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."


Thank you, Aerin.  Great having you back with us today, by the way!

Hi Aerin, just wondering how (and where) you are over the past couple days...and then you show up here.

Noting your attached doc here and took a quick look. This opening sentence--

There is only one path that I see for America to truly become a land of life, liberty, and justice for all. That path is to heal itself through an uncompromisingly honest acknowledgement and thorough addressing of its atrocities and lies.

--struck me immediately as a Step 9 mission on the standard 12-step program--something about making amends....which reminded me that America is like a drunk on a binge, doubling down this very day in the form of a jingo Mitt Romney blathering something about An American Century on behalf of his neo-con pals. America will never make amends....which kinda makes all of us the co-dependent battered children of this government on a sustained bender, oscillating between determined action to heal ourselves and our broken hearts, building something new and yet also carrying guilt and residual dependency on the larger political structure about which we deceive ourselves just long enough to imagine there's a real choice in this election.

What is it the 12-step program says? Nothing will change until we hit bottom. Unfortunately, we're not there yet.



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Regular Calls are no longer being held.  Below is the schedule that was maintained from the Fall of 2011 through Jan 10, 2013.

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