It was perfect that my last event at the Institute this past June as the Gandhi Institute’s director was the closing celebration for the fourth round of our Youth Healing Hate grants. Extra additional beauty that afternoon was the presence of three people from Ganondagan Seneca Art and Cultural Center (Peter and Jeannette Jemison, and Meg Joseph) who were there to celebrate an Earth Altar made by Gandhi colleagues, volunteers and students at School 19.
Of the hundreds of efforts I was privileged to work on during my years as director, none meant more than the Youth Healing Hate projects (36 so far). This effort were inspired by Howard Thurmans book Jesus and the Disinherited and his warning of what happens in a society where hatred becomes respectable. They were equally inspired by learning the founding story of the Haudenosaunee people containing the transformation of hatred, part of the beating heart of that story and culture.
And so, how beautiful to stand outside with the youth and the adults, to hear Peter Jemison speak the Thanksgiving address, in the Seneca language. When I hear that language I feel my heart and soul attuned with curiosity imagining that the black walnut trees over our heads, the plants growing around us, would be nourished by the language that they were accustomed for centuries to hear from this region’s two legged inhabitants, who were taught to be aware of right relationship with creation and with one another.
One of the most significant events of my break this summer was a solo trip to Ireland for 11 days. This pilgrimage was also inspired by indigenous wisdom particularly the classic text God is Red by relgious scholar Vine Deloria. In the book Deloria shares the words of an elder who acknowledges that here in N America the land will never love the feet of white peoples’ children as it loves the feet of their children. Of course… and like the internal lightning bolt reading Thurman on hate, that sentence squeezed my heart with the mystery and the pain of being born into this white body, and the legacy of harm received and given, consciously and unconsciously.
I decided to go to the closest concentration of ancestral energy I could find where my feet would be welcomed. When I travel I try to learn about and pay respect to the indigenous people whose land I am on. It felt healing in Ireland to be one of those people, to experience the ground in County Clare welcome my feet. That experience deserves its own blog….
I don’t know if it’s right for me to want to know the words in the Seneca language that might make the trees and sunflowers and grasses and birds and squirrels recognize our kinship. However it occurs me this morning that I know two words in Seneca and those can be enough: Nya:weh – thank you. Ska:nonh – peace.