Last weekend four of us friends and organizers of Transition Town Jericho attended Healing Turtle Island at Nibezum Farm, on tribal lands in Passadumkeag, Maine. The event drew over 300 people, including indigenous from around the world.
Brainchild of Penobscot Sherri Mitchell, this was the third annual gathering in a twenty year cycle; future meetings will ultimately take place in the south, west and north. As many indigenous believe we’re now living in a time of prophecy, the east symbolizes birth and creation. The hope is humans will make the choice to return to a more sustainable path of being on the planet.
Indigenous peoples were the leading speakers and the rest of us witnesses; the days were filled with ceremony, ritual and storytelling. A common thread was the struggle to reclaim lost heritage; language and ways of life that contrast profoundly with the modern world.
The learning was as much in the how as the what; we camped out, brought along our own eating utensils and for a few days, tread lightly on the earth. As a free event, the gathering relied on produce and food donations which seemed to be delivered nonstop. Volunteer cooks put together tasty meals and volunteer labor on all levels kept things running smoothly.
Opening night, native peoples were invited to introduce themselves by presenting songs and stories from their culture. Starting with the resident tribal drumming group and progressing to the eye popping Maori troupe to the plaintive song of an Abenaki woman, presenters and attendees alike shed the first of many tears.
The days were filled with sharing knowledge, everything from personal loss to exaltation of earth's riches. Whether standing in line for food, or sitting at the lodge in between ceremonies, attendees were friendly and also swapped life stories and learning. Evening activities included social dancing (fun!), a sweat lodge, a women’s teaching tent and drumming. With hardly any technology apparent, a kind of utopian village was created.
On Sunday morning, as a Mohawk leader and educator was relating a particularly vivid story, there was a crowd murmur as an eagle was sighted, circling overhead; a turkey vulture was soon spotted, even higher in the bright sky. As the eagle and condor together signify unity within native tradition, it seemed a meaningful omen for the gathering.
Back home now, the gathering’s effects are surely unfolding with each participant: how do we tread the earth differently after such an experience?