Sitting in the shade arbor, listening to the brightly colored prayer flags flapping in the breeze. Looking around on the far side of the camp, I see elders talking with their families and children laughing near the camp kitchen. Close by a circle of young men, sit with their drumsticks around a large ceremony drum. On the other side, I see several men standing close to a small ceremonial fire. The men in camp will take turns watching and tending the fire during the four days and three nights of ceremony.
In our Native Nations, our languages, songs and ceremonies can be very different and unique to each nation and purpose. In general there are several things that make them similar; song sung with single heart, a single prayerful intent and and a central fire that serves as a central focus throughout the ceremony and within a community.
The fire is usually lit at the beginning of the our ceremonies, each nation does it in their own way and a little different from one another. However, there are some teachings around the fire that are pretty universal to all Native peoples. Here are just a few of them.
Fire is an alive being. It demands our respect and focus. If we take it for granted, and forget to tend to it, to feed it wood it will die. If we turn our backs on it, the wind can catch it and carry embers far away and start fires a long distance away. It can also flare up and get out of control very quickly.
Fire mirrors our attitudes and behavior. It is constantly moving and changing. It is dynamic and responsive to it's environment and to the influence and movement of those around it. If we are bitter and angry, it will come back at us in a similar way. If we are closed off, the fire will smoke and die. The fire teaches us about keeping an open mind to everything in order to get doctoring and healing. When we start closing our mind, we close off our healing. We need to be open and receptive to new ideas, in the same way that the fire needs to be able to "breathe" and allow the air to flow through it so that it can grow.
Fire purifies and heals. Native peoples used to low fuel, controlled fires as a way of managing plant growth and creating mineral rich soils that sustained complex ecosystems. Fire does not burn twice. Once the land has been swept clean with fire, new growth emerges, animals return and feed on the new growth and the land is safe from burning out of control for a period of time.
Fire creates resiliency. Fire brings our communities together. Whether tending to a fire, cleaning up around the fire or circling around the fire exchanging stories and wisdom, fire brings our communities together and provides us opportunities for digesting life's cycles and challenges.
This last summer our California skies were overcast with smoke and ash from the wild fires, I wonder about these teachings and how much we can benefit from these ancient
teachings. All things are interrelated; everything in the Universe is connected in some to everything else. In the 1930's our religion and traditional practices were outlawed. Our way of managing wild lands with fire was outlawed; it's importance as a wild land management practice deemed primitive and even dangerous. Eventually Native elders stopped talking and traditional wild land fire practices fell out of practice and were forgotten. Today, ecological restoration experts are in conversation with those few remaining tribal elders who remember their traditional land management practices and are restoring traditional ceremonies as part of their habitat restoration plans; bringing back the fire as a way of healing and being in relationship with the land.
It seems to me that is part of my role as a spiritual person, restoring an environment where there can be healing. When we use the four elements, air, fire, water, everything we are connecting all of the natural elements to bring us to that healing we are looking for. We are physical and spiritual beings, living on this earth. W are remembering our relationship with Creator and Creation.
With humble prayers and in service, I wish you and yours many blessed memories and a safe journey,
Oyondusuk Nia Nanewe nuk " All My Relations"
Ted "Bear" Jackson
Native American Spiritual Leader Mule Creek State Prison
Folsom State Prison