Whether colonizer or colonized, oppressor or oppressed, we all are wounded from the illusion of separation between Mother Earth, ourselves and each other. Indigenous peoples who live in tribes connected with their roots are perhaps closer than the rest of us to our Mother.
Woody Morrison, a Haida elder who passed away in 2021, wrote that, like schools of fish and flocks of birds can change direction instantaneously without orders, indigenous peoples learn to become alike, as one common mind to benefit the whole. Some tribes speak of the Great Hoop or Sacred Hoop containing all of creation.
Me? I feel all kinds of split and brokenness everyday from raising my sons without a village — I’m indigenous-Peruvian, Castilian, Basque, born and raised in Taos, New Mexico, and recently moved to Carbondale. I don’t know where home is; I don’t know how to come home. So I go to the fire to remember…
“We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send greetings and thanks.
Now our [heart-]minds are one.” -Thanksgiving Address, The Tracking Project (The original phrase, “Now our minds are one,” was changed to “heart-minds” as suggested by Rita Marsh who we will meet shortly.)
Nine of us gathered, our bulky coats shuffling as we passed around a much-revered booklet and flashlight to help us speak these prayers of thanks-giving to the darkness. Moonlight seeps through the spaces between logs and I’m shivering, despite being bundled.
Ross Douglass’ simple, handmade hogan pulses with primal energy. A peaceful synergy arises around our feet as Mother Earth receives our prayers. Finally, the fire is lit. We pass around sticks of palo santo and braids of sweetgrass to smudge ourselves; I’m aware of my bond to the others in the circle deepening.
Warming up, I awaken to the purpose for this ceremony. It has something to do with a promise made 13 years ago, at a gathering of indigenous leaders. Little by little, I learn that my new friends in the hogan and others not present at this near-Solstice full moon ceremony return to the fire monthly, in homage to these valleys, Mother Earth and the Ute people. One participant observes this is the 13th moon in the 13th year of the tradition. Beth White acknowledges the divine timing and says someone should write about it. I volunteer.
Later, I learn these ceremonies began in 2009, when a Taíno man from Puerto Rico, Ramón Nenadich, called together indigenous leaders from all parts of the Western Hemisphere to arrive in Carbondale for the XI Indigenous Gathering of the Americas.
A circle of local fire keepers continues to meet, honoring the XI Indigenous Gathering of the Americas with ceremony on every full moon for over 13 years. Photo by Beth White
My inquiries lead me to Will Evans, a key participant, who remembers the reason for the gathering. The question on the hearts and minds of Nenadich and others was whether they could forgive Columbus. On the phone together, we feel the heaviness. We feel the deep need for respectful remembrance.
The late Clifford Duncan, a Northern Ute elder, opened the gathering on the behalf of the Ute Nation with a welcoming prayer and explanation of the Doctrine of Discovery. These papal bulls issued by the Vatican deemed indigenous peoples to be inferior because of their non-Christian beliefs and thus encouraged monarchies to take away their lands and sovereignty. Nenadich “called for forgiveness and all good people to get on the train of salvation,” while Duncan signaled he was not ready to forgive “because no apology has been made.” The council was divided.
Deanna Jeanne wrote of the gathering in a 2009 issue of Sacred Fire Magazine, “this time is a pivotal moment in our history, and our lives have the chance to change forever. It is said that ghosts of the past will be released and the spirit of Columbus will be free, which brings the indigenous and non-indigenous to peace.”
Some wounds were as raw then as they are today. Rita Marsh, a local advocate for indigenous rights, spoke to me from her place of connection to Duncan’s spirit about the importance of keeping a ceremonial fire burning. For Marsh, coming to the fire is a celebration of indigenous peoples’ sacred connection to the land which has inspired her own relationships. She hopes the Ute can come home to the Roaring Fork Valley soon.
While writing this article, I returned to my old home. Grief for the genocide that occurred in northern New Mexico is familiar to me, but I am not at ease with it. In Carbondale, I feel like an outsider and an imposter, learning about the forced removal of indigenous peoples to make way for white settlements that are not my roots.
When I arrived at my mother’s house and unexpectedly found an envelope of my brother’s at the computer written out to “William&Marjorie Nennadich,” I knew my ancestors guided me here. They tell me to take the ceremonial Peruvian cacao of my father’s lineage and sprinkle some on each tree that my brother has planted. I ponder who belonged to this land my family home is on before it became San Cristobal, New Mexico. I wonder what my place is as part-indigenous, part-colonizer. How can I help heal the wounds between peoples of the world and Mother Earth when my own are still bleeding?
Later, while drinking tea from our alfalfa fields at my mother’s kitchen table, I’m reminded of the power of story. My dear friend, visiting on a curanderismo quest with my brother, tells me about the Ute people. With sparkles in her eyes and strength in her voice, she tells of how they honor the feminine with their annual Bear Dance. A matriarchal moment, each woman chooses the man with whom they wish to partner.
My blood cleansed by the alfalfa, my heart pouring love for these people and their part in the Hoop; I feel somewhat less troubled. The words of White, Evans and Marsh return to me and I understand why they circle around the sacred fire each month: to acknowledge the pain that hums deep in our Mother Earth, to celebrate indigenous peoples’ wisdom, and to light the way for us to do our part respectfully mending the Hoop.