Today I spent the day with our brothers and sisters of the Wabanaki Confederacy on the land known to we white folk as St. Mary’s First Nation near Fredericton. The day began at 6AM with a first light ceremony and a water ceremony and continued with sharing of the position and challenges facing all of us in terms of Mother Earth, and for the Wabanaki Peoples in particularly.
For the most part the meetings were as one might expect. One person had the ‘floor” and we listened. Unlike other meetings, however, was the depth of emotional investment and personal sharing that was involved. Sure, people told us facts, thoughts and ideas but what you would never get at a non-indigenous meeting (though perhaps at a spiritual retreat) is words from the heart. People will introduce themselves and in the next sentence may be sharing the deepest beliefs and personal details of their lives.
I have to say, this would never work at my Presbyterian church! Sharing of this type, which is likely to lead to the speaker being in tears and needing to take time to regroup before going on. Far too messy for the average ‘frozen chosen.’
The community is why it can work. There is nobody who will be snickering, finger pointing, or sharing the gory details the next day. There are women and men in the group who have the gift of empathy who quietly get up as soon as they sense someone struggling and move to their support. This may take the form of offering ceremonial water, a hand on the shoulder, standing silently with them in solidarity or offering a smudge. It is a silent and powerful show of love and support and an acknowledgment of the value of the person and of what they have to say.
Imagine that! When was the last time someone asked you to share and made it so clear that what you had to share really mattered?