Elders and Youth Honour Mother Earth in Yelm, Washington

By Danny Beaton (Turtle Clan Mohawk)

Sappa Dawn was created by Janet and Don McCloud over thirty years ago, a healing place for our old elders to take shelter at and a ceremonial camp for healing and having sacred ceremonies for Creation.

It was Janet McCloud’s vision to create a bigger camp for our elders and to buy a track of land close to Sappa Dawn, but in a heavily forested area that felt like a healing place too.

The Nisqually Nation bought this track of land for the Nisqually People of The River five years ago and Janet’s wish came true for this land because it was so powerful.

This year The American Indian Insitiute and Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth announced that this year’s gathering would be at Janet McCloud’s greatest vision and ceremonial grounds, hosted by her family and Nisqually Cultural Services Department  at Brighten Creek Camp Grounds at Yelm, Washington, Nisqually Territory, from July 6th to July 11th

Plant life first to greet.....

The plant life was first to greet us as we entered the sacred ceremonial grounds: spieces of Hemlock, Douglas-fir, Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Pine and Jimbo.

At the front gate a veteran from The American Indian Movement and one of my oldest friends on the Pacific Coast was on guard, making sure only traditional ceremonial people were entering the sacred grounds where our forty-third year of Traditional Elders and Youth Gathering was now taking place in Janet’s vision in Yelm, Washington, for the second time.

As we were greeted, one after the other by the Nisqually people, we began to gather around in a sacred circle and drummers were beating and singing traditional west coast songs.

After a time an old Mohawk elder started to speak in English about when we had gathered in California about twenty years ago. A medicine man of the community there told a story of how the tribe had lost most of their traditional land and territory years ago. They had even lost most of their traditional songs. When the tribe found out there was land for sale, the government tried to stop them but they won and bought twenty acres. Then more land came up for sale and they bought another hundred acres. So now we were all standing on their traditional territory that they got back.

The elder then went on to say he told his wife he wanted a song to sing to Mother Earth and his wife said: “Be patient”.

Then one day while walking home, he heard grandmothers singing the most beautiful song and this was the song for Mother Earth he wanted to sing, but he could find the grandmothers nowhere, wherever he looked.

Mac McCloud and Danny Beaton enjoying the ceremonial grounds.

He went home and cried to his wife that he heard the grandmothers but could not find them. His wife said: “Go to our old elders and ask for advice”. After meeting with his elders, one of them was Jay Johnson, we all listened to this man tell us the elders instructed him he must make a sacrifice and give up all caffeine, coffee, tea and soda pop, all sugars, cake, pie, candy and all dairy, milk, butter, cheese and all meats and fish, deer, rabbit, elk and every fish for one year.

Within six months he had become twenty years younger, he had lost fifty pounds and he gained enormus energy for chopping wood or chores. His village all saw the changes and began asking for his advice concerning healing and health; now he became the local medicine man.

This man learned all about nuts, fruits and vegetable drinks and soups. Soon people were hearing about his new-found gifts and were traveling as far as New Mexico for his healing ways.

One day after sitting in the sweat lodge, he heard the grandmothers singing that Mother Earth song he loved so much and he stayed all night in that sweat lodge and sang it with the grandmothers. In the morning he came out of the lodge, ran all the way home and sang that Mother Earth song to his wife.

Now he was going to sing it for us as a healing song and a welcome song for us all who had travelled to help restore his culture with traditional ceremonies and council.

Everything this Mohawk elder was trying to repeat was really a story about healing because the real elder who was telling the story received his healing song for Mother Earth and became a medicine man.

But another aspect of the story was the tribe/nation bought back some land after hiring lawyers to fight for them. Not only did the tribe get some land back for restoring their culture but they began to build from scratch after losing so much land and culture from first contact/colonization/stolen land, they were still trying to heal.

Looking back at everything Native Americans have lost, our Indians/Indigenous people, it is devastating for us to maintain the role as custodians of Mother Earth or land owners.

How could we ever call ourselves caretakers of Mother Earth? We have lost almost all ownership of our own territory, millions and millions of acres, even each tribe/nation in the USA or Canada has lost traditional territories.

We are fighting for broken treaties, we are fighting for our children’s future; that would give us some freedom to protect the last old growth forests or wetlands or meadows or rivers or streams that might be unpolluted.

We are living in a world that is not real anymore and we are living in a world that is losing natural laws and natural ways.Society and cities are losing sacred thinking and good minds, which I am sad to tell our grandchildren. All this was said over and over, during all these the years and by our elders and ancestors, by our most sacred elders, chiefs, clan mothers and teachers.

When we gathered on Janet McCloud’s Vision, it was a place free of drugs and alcohol and disrespect; we were in a Sacred Forest with all natural life listening to our prayers and offerings and our sacred way of life of oneness with Creation.

We were fullfilling the dreams of our ancestors that we would keep a sacred fire burning to the very end and we could feel Creation every morning as we all gathered in the arbor.

But our camp was full of many children and many many new faces who had come to give thanksgiving and honour Mother Earth. As indigenous people we must keep our minds and hearts open to our children and maintain the humor that our ancestos carried always.

The love and caring that Mac, Hanford, Joyce, Binah, Barbra, Sally and Nisqually Nation people gave us for five days will never be forgotten by all those who attended this healing place.

We all had been to A Healing Place, we were all treated like we were family coming home and at home in the place of their ancestors with Janet and Don McCloud.

We cannot say enough thank yous to Mac and his family and Nisqually Nation for having us fullfill their mother’s dream and vision.

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska and Bob Staffanson

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