“Our ancestors buried their prayers within us.”
These words of vast wisdom were spoken by Adrienne Brown, one of three facilitators that led the Center for Whole Communities (CWC): Next Generation Retreat. The retreat was set up to build us up; physically, spiritually, emotionally and communally. I had the blessed opportunity to attend the retreat this past September 2012 at Knoll Farm, Vermont.
Upon arrival my immediate attention was brought to the surrounding Green Mountains and beautiful cultural diversity represented from our group of young leaders. I was pretty excited.
We all settled mid knoll and an introduction was given to the piece of earth that we would be calling home for our week long stay. We were told of the lands physical history, the peoples indigenous to the area, the Abenaki, th
e Green Mountains, the local farms that provide all the food for us, and more.
As a group we introduced ourselves; ‘where I’m from’ (my peoples, my communities) and ‘what I do’ (my passions, my life) talk. I learned of people’s families, languages, preferences, professions, culture, talents, and arts. We became familiar to one another.
During our stay we were supported through three major practices:
We walked up and down the dewy green knoll many times a day to and from meals, our tents/yurts, dialogue sessions, campfires, or to go grab our swim suit for a dip in the pond. Also a yoga teacher came each morning to lead any interested participant in a thirty minute exercise.
We held a silence each evening beginning at 10 PM until we concluded our daily guided morning mediations. We were asked to free and calm our minds; I was able to reach a surreal level of peace each day before I even used my voice. This is how we preceded all of our morning dialogues.
We established group agreements as a foundation for our dialogues to set up a respectful environment.
We had agreements such as:
‘Be as present as you can’
‘Accept and expect non-closure,’
‘Stories stay, learning goes,’ and
‘Be willing to engage in tension.’
There was an understanding that we all come from different families, communities, lifestyles, and beliefs and it is quite possible to reach disagreements/tension, and most we can learn and grow from one another. The agreements also gave us tools to help when we felt ‘triggered’ or offended by someone else’s words.
With this foundation in place, as an individual, and as an emerging community we created a supportive space for all of us. I felt supported to be open, honest, inexperienced, natural, emotional, serious, and playful; free.
I began to envision the benefits/freedoms this form o
f retreat would offer for Native peoples, in all Native communities. I have attended a variety of Native American conferences and retreats, and often times felt beliefs, personal truths, and stories were not shared due to the possibility of harsh judgment, tension, or debate it can create. I believe the CWC model can help Native peoples evolve and heal to face challenging issues.
In our world today, Native peoples are pressed with so many urgent matters; blood quantum/tribal membership, food sovereignty, language/culture, just to name a few. Implementing the CWC model for Native communities could serve as a vehicle to truly open up the dialogue and create more openness about contentious concerns confronting Native peoples.
In the words of one of my fellow participants, “I heard more than I could ever say.” I want to leave you with hopeful quotes (communal wisdom) I jotted down from participants at the retreat:
“Allow myself to be gentle with myself, for not knowing”
“Our story is we can and we do.”
“I need to use ‘center’ as a verb instead of a noun”
“I am not scared of my questions”
“Cooperation above competition; strength above power”
“Pass on stories of self-love and self-worth”
“Where our future is revered as much as our history is celebrated”
“All being sacred, is normal”
“A world where people lived what they believe is possible”
“I am the one who can change this.”