On March 20th, 2018, a circle of people stood in the rain, celebrating the day the genocide ended. The Ohlone had called us together with faith leaders from many communities to celebrate the vernal equinox on a parking lot that covers the last remnant of a shellmound complex that stretched for miles. At the ceremony, the Ohlone asked for our help to demand that the City of Berkeley follow their own rules, and those of the state in protecting this site. The developers are trying to circumvent the process and begin developing the site now: The facts about the shellmound and the developers are here.
The Ohlone want a city park built here to protect the site. They want to be able to come here to be with their ancestors. Such a small bit of land–already protected–about to be dug up and destroyed so someone can make a profit. Sacred sites belong to all of us. They are our memory of the peoples who came before. For the Ohlone, they are places where the bones of their ancestors lie. Such a small request. A city park for everyone to enjoy, and a place where we can all meet each Vernal Equinox. To commemorate the day the genocide ended.
Come, if you can, to the Berkeley Transportation Committee meeting tonight, Thursday May 17, 7 PM, North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave., Berkeley.
I’ve been thinking lately about studying Druidry in California, a land where it is not indigenous. I’m beginning to think that what I thought of as a predicament might just as well be an advantage. Instead of the marked wells and obvious stone circles of Albion and Ireland, my landscape is covered with markers that I have never been taught to recognize, wrested from the people who should have been our friends and teachers but were mostly murdered and driven into the Missions. I know that someday I will have to seek them out, the ones who survived, and learn the proper names for the places, the names and needs of the spirits of this place, and of the First Peoples.
We *have* to learn to share this land, to return, if not the land itself, all the rights and recognition that we of the dominant culture have, and have respect for what is left of their culture. They should be able to choose a fitting and comfortable place to live, rather than a bit of land that we don’t want, where life is marginal, and further breaks the bonds of culture. We have to become one people here, of many colors, traditions and cultures, who live together in peace and harmony. That is a process already begun, but it will take many generations at the rate we are moving because everyone needs to be a part of this and most of us don’t seem to realize that it needs to happen at all.
I can of course honor my ancestral deities–we all can–but if I am to live in this land, I must also honor the spirits who live here, who are indigenous. I think that that is part of what is meant by re-indigenization. That’s part of it, but it’s more than that. We all need to remember that we are part of this world, we are not the owners of it. I have altered my rituals to reflect this. I ask permission and guidance from the ancestors. I ask to honor them and make an offering. It really is the least I can do and I recognize that it’s only a start.
We have to learn to recognize the true strength in diversity, the inherent fragility of monoculture. We need to remember what true wealth is: clean soil, clean water, clean air. We cannot live without these things. If we put toxics in the ground, we eat them. If we put toxics in the water, we drink them. If we put them in the air, we breathe them. We are doing this right now, and we wonder why so many of us are getting sick. We wonder why so many of us are getting fat and why we can’t lose weight, why cancers, once rare, are now becoming ever more common. Meanwhile, we use our drinking water to flush our toilets, and the traces of the drugs we take in order to heal ourselves from the conditions the toxins we have put in the land, water and air cycle back to be taken into our bodies again. We can’t get away from them, who can refuse to breathe, drink, and eat? All we can do is stop the cycle and clean up the mess.
So how did I get from holy wells and stone circles to the sicknesses of modern civilization? John Muir said it a century and more ago: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Our world is a largely closed system. What we do to one part of it affects the whole. If we want to be well, we have to heal the world around us. We need to recognize that we are part of this world, and that we have to care about the other living things around us. Every being in this world has a right to live well. The Kichwa people in Ecuador have a term; sumak kawsay. It means to live well, but it’s more than that. It’s a way of describing coexistence. An ocean has the right to live well, as does a plant, or a people. This right is now written into the Ecuadorean constitution. The country has yet to catch up with the words on the page, but at least they are there at last.
Where I live, there are so many people of Northern European descent. Many of our stories were lost as our ancestors fled their homes and we have struggled to find an anchor, a place to belong, and in the process have too often recreated the oppressive systems that were strangling our ancestors. Many of us follow other paths, from Atheism to Buddhism to Christianity. What was rootlessness has become a great mixing and could be a source of creativity and strength. It is a great blessing to have all these different ways to the center. None need be privileged over any other, and anyone of any ancestry should be free to choose that which calls to them.
I grew up Unitarian, and played in a chapel where banners stitched with the symbols of many faiths hung in the tall windows that ringed the space. I was never formally taught any faith, but many different ways surrounded me. I was an Atheist in my teens, but eventually found Paganism, and now Druidry. My path through the forest and to the land of my ancestors is a source of great beauty and meaning to me, and while I am happy to share it, I know that it is one among many, and that the world is a more interesting and beautiful place because we don’t all try to use the same one. A road trod by all can easily become rutted and strewn with garbage as people are driven along it by force. Better we spread ourselves out and discover places that have meaning to each of us. The path to my grove in the hills beside the Shores of the Western Sea is still full of mystery precisely because no one comes there unless they choose to.
Few of us can return to where we came from. Such a place doesn’t really exist for many of us as generations pass. All we can do is share the places where we are, and treat each other with respect. None of us get to choose where we were born, and few of us get to choose who we live among. We do get to choose how we look on the world and the people around us, and how we pass the land and culture on to the next generations. I hope those who come after live in a world that is healthier, stronger, and happier than the one I inhabit. I hope that they know a peace that I will never experience. I live in wonderful, terrible, pivotal times. I will never be indigenous, but I can work for a world where future generations can be one with the land, true citizens of Earth.