Recently, I returned from the Southwest where I was introduced to the ceremonies of the Pueblo peoples, ceremonies that reflected my own spiritual practice reinforcing its authenticity. This interlude also allowed me to be part of a people who had never lost access to their roots. They had never given up their ceremonies or surrendered their way of life.
I returned to Maine with a much stronger sense of my Indigenous cultural identity than I had when I left. I hadn’t realized until I went to the Southwest how much this identity had been eroded by local people. Living in western Maine had brought me in contact with the frightening bias people have towards Indians; some are openly despised.
My first reality ‘hit’ occurred a few months after moving to the area after giving an elementary school program when fifty people from an irate religious group gathered one night at the school and attempted to indict me as a witch. “I was turning their children into trees,” one of my accusers said. Although the program I had given was an astounding success no one intervened on my behalf, including the superintendent of schools or the principal of the school that asked me to give the program in the first place.
Numerous other negative encounters followed over the years. Two neighbors bought property next to me and moved in. I didn’t understand why they disliked (hated?) me. It took me years to understand the reason – bias. Because I am “different”.
Just up the road from my home seven years ago some locals put up signs that stated “We don’t trust you, Sara Wright”, in an effort to humiliate and prevent me from walking up a mountain road.
I was discriminated against by the town of Bethel when I offered to become part of their annual Mollyockett Day – supposedly a celebration of Mollyockett and our local Abenaki Native heritage. In actuality this celebration had nothing to do with Native peoples (One of their most egregious practices is the frog jumping contest when hapless amphibians are forced to hop around steaming concrete for children’s pleasure. No Native person would ever agree to torturing animals in that way).
Just last spring, two months after my return from New Mexico, a red truck left a dead baby grouse in my driveway. Others leave screaming tire marks. These grim examples reveal that hatred of the ‘other’ and discrimination is a way of life here. Difference is not tolerated.
But to return to my present story… this fall I decided to do something different with my medicine wheel. I carefully cut out a photo of one of my bears sitting in the mother pine and placed the photo in the center of the wheel, replacing the thunderbird. Ah, now the wheel looked just right, and I placed the print above a little mantle in a dark corner of the living room. A solitary candle lights the wheel unless the sun is just right and then the entire space lights up eerily. An abalone shell reflects the blue green waters below.
With the Medicine Wheel in a place of honor I decided to do some more research on the image. I was astonished to learn that the ‘swans’ that encircled the wheel were cranes – Sand hill Cranes, my spirit bird of the east – birds whose haunting cries literally freeze me in wonder – birds that I lived with every winter in NM for four years, birds that I discovered to my great joy are now living/breeding here in western Maine. Cranes not swans. And Joe painted the cranes with their feet becoming roots seeking green earth ground. According to Joe “the two cranes that envelop the circle represent a spiritual relationship with the earth”. Exactly! Oh, it fit.
Then came the next surprise. I read that in the beginning (the creation story) the Ojibwa who were water people were led by the Sand hill cranes who were their leaders. The original holy people were cranes, loons, fish, deer, marten, bear and thunderbird but the thunderbird had to be returned to the sea because his powers were too strong. The Bird people replaced the thunderbird. Today the Crane clan is the most powerful followed by the Bear, as Healer.
I guessed that it was Joe’s spiritual experience with the Lakota Sioux that led him to place the thunderbird in the center of his medicine wheel paintings because the thunderbird is sacred to the Sioux.
Joe died in 2009 but what follows is what he wrote about his beautiful and deeply moving paintings.
I am motivated to paint by my desire to share this connection with others so that they may discover their own natural and spiritual relationship with the earth. I want people to feel and experience the wholeness and simplicity of life.”
He certainly helped me.
Today, our blue green planet is in crisis and I believe our only real hope comes from embracing the ways of a people we despise or dismiss, a people whose way of life could teach the rest of us how to embrace the values of respect, equality, community, a gift economy and most of all re- attach us to a deep love for this Earth we call home.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.