A Spiritual Gathering in Maniwaki
When we set off to Maniwaki, Quebec for a Spiritual Gathering hosted by Grandfather William Commanda, supreme chief of the Algonquin tribe, we were responding to an invitation extended last fall after the Harvest Gathering.
You might remember that when we coordinated Harvest Gathering in September ’97, we met Frank and Sandra Decontie, traditional teachers and healers who came to HG to represent Grandfather Commanda. A few weeks later, Jimi traveled up to their home in Maniwaki (along with Gene Hall, James Walkowiak, and Wounded Bear and his dad) to help Frank with a Lodge that he was building for his community, in exchange for the time Frank and Sandra took to join us at Harvest Gathering. During that visit, many long evening hours were spent around the kitchen table talking about culture, spiritual teaching, and life in general. Upon returning home, Jimi took to heart Frank and Sandra’s invitation to bring his family to their Gathering in early August. And so at the end of July we headed north with Kaylin, accompanied by Gene and Sylvia Brallier.
This was the third time the Spiritual Gathering had been held on the family compound that is the home of Grandfather William, his children and grandchildren. The purpose of the Gathering, as described in the written invitation we received, was "To join together in prayer, to honor one another and Mother Earth, to learn from one another as human beings in joy, celebration, and ceremonies." Specific objectives for the Gathering included: "To strive for reconciliation, to seek understanding so we can forgive, to learn acceptance of one another, to honor one another as human beings... to learn how to work with one another equally." Frank and Sandra explained to us that the fundamental vision of the Gathering is to bring together the four colors of humanity – a vision close to our hearts! The Gathering included both traditional and non-traditional Native people, as well as people of other colors, though we were a bit surprised to find white people in the majority. All together there were several hundred people gathered on the land to celebrate and pray together.
We arrived early to work, as is our way. We brought one of our big tents, which became the elders’ dining area, and we also brought an abundance of tarps and tools which got put to good use. In the days leading up to the Gathering, we helped to prepare the space to receive the hundreds to come. Morwen worked on the Moon Lodge, a space for women to gather for teaching and healing work. Jimi helped set up the Longhouse, a space for listening to the elders speak, and worked on the security team, while Gene cut spruce and cedar branches for the Arbor where the drumming was to take place. On Sandra’s suggestion we situated our camp across from Grandfather William’s house at the front of the tenting field, and it turned out to be the crossroads for the entire Gathering as everyone walked by on their way to the Longhouse and sweat lodge area on the peninsula, by the side of the beautiful lake. This location enabled us to connect with many people, and to offer hospitality to elders and security team workers, many of whom came by for a cup of coffee or an encounter with Sylvia’s healing hands.
There were many lessons for us at this Gathering. Jimi says: "It was especially powerful for me to witness an intact tribe in its home setting, being pretty functional. These folks had some internal problems, but they also have a history of working things out. Being new, we had limited interaction with internal politics; we saw enough to realize that there are some, but we could also see how these were overcome to work together. It was also good for me to make connections with elders, and to get a healthy perspective on the role of elders and the respect they were given, which is something missing in our culture. More than anything, though, it was the spirit of love that touched me. I’ve gone to other reservations with a giving heart and not been welcomed the way we were here. In my experience I’ve been mistrusted, mistreated, and hassled, even when I was bringing real material assistance. Here we were accepted for who we were, based on our actions. This was a powerful piece of healing for me personally."
The gathering itself was relaxed and had an intuitive, spontaneous flow. There was a schedule of events, but it shifted to meet the needs of the moment. Each morning there were sunrise ceremonies. Each day there were sweat lodge ceremonies going in four or five lodges, beginning in early afternoon and continuing through the night. We each participated in a sweat lodge, and spent the days listening to the elders and others speak, watching Kaylin play and make friends, supporting the behind-the-scenes functioning of the Gathering, meeting and talking with people from all walks of life, living in our little clan with Gene and Sylvia, and taking in the breathtaking scenery of the mountains of Quebec.
We had been asked to bring our drums, but felt a bit self-conscious about pulling them out since there was a big focus throughout the gathering on Native drumming and dancing. Each evening rhythmic pulsing and chanting emanated from the Arbor, and the people swept around and around in a great whirlpool dancing their prayers, some in full regalia. Each afternoon the drummers rehearsed. Finally, after being repeatedly asked, we brought out our drums one afternoon. We played a couple of African-style rhythms as people gathered, and we were joined by a beautiful South African woman who danced her traditional dances and pulled other members of the crowd to join her. Then we handed out drums and percussion toys and involved the group in a full-scale rhythm jam, accompanied by more dancers. The energy was high, and after about 20 minutes we were approached by one of the elders, who pulled Jimi aside and whispered, "This is wonderful, but we must ask you to stop now, because they’re dancing in the sweat lodge!" So we brought the jam to a graceful close.
An important theme at the Gathering was the Earth Changes. Both the Algonquin and the Hopi people (as well as others) have prophecies pertaining to Earth Changes, and the imminence of these changes was a frequent topic of discussion, both in formal teachings and informal conversation. The Hopi prophecies have been the subject of a great deal of study, and one of the featured events of the gathering was to be a live Internet hookup between Grandfather Commanda and the Hopi elders on this topic. Unfortunately, insufficient technology made the hookup unsuccessful (a problem which Jimi and EDC computer wizard Dave Anderson will be helping to solve), but this did not prevent people from sharing information. A thick booklet of information on the Hopi prophecies and Earth changes was given to us at the gathering, and it included a list of resources. One of the most comprehensive collections of information on the Hopi prophecies is available on the Internet at "The Hopi Information Network,". Another Internet source is Morgana’s Observatory.
"Earth Changes" refers to both the geological changes happening now as part of the Earth’s 10 — 12,000 year cycle of climatic changes and magnetic pole shifts, and changes to climate and ecology due to human/social activity. Spiritually, many have made a connection to the millennium, and to the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012. Although there are many scenarios out there (including all the various "Y2K" scenarios), one does not have to believe in any particular potential reality in order to recognize that change is happening, and rapidly, too. We have begun talking among our community about how to respond to the changes, how to prepare, if you will. We recognize that a strong web of community, with solid values in harmony with the Earth and all life, is essential for survival. We encourage everyone reading this to start a conversation in your community about what your safety net would be if any part of the "system" as we’ve come to depend on it were to break down.
We returned home from this Spiritual Gathering with renewed spirit. It was both the climax and the close of a powerful summer’s travels for us. As we move into autumn, we give thanks for the harvest, the many blessings that have manifested from the seeds we have planted over the years. We are grateful for the web of community whose roots are slowly deepening and whose strands are expanding to encompass all those we have met on the Path. We deeply appreciate each person on the planet, those we know personally and those we know in spirit, who has given from their heart in service to the vision of healing our global family through rhythm. We give thanks to Spirit, Creator, God/dess, S/He of many names and no name, for bringing us here to this time and place to do this work. Ho, and Blessed be.