Idle No More: About Those Indians (reblogging)

Why does Idle No More matter not only to Native Americans but also to non-Natives? Elyse Bruce gives a powerful answer.

This morning, I was shocked to see some of my Facebook friends posting racist comments about the Idle No More movement.   Yes, shocked, as in “a severe offense to one’s sense of propriety or decency; an outrage.”

What in the world could anyone have said that would evoke such an emotion?

The comment was that “those Indians need to shut up.”

My friend Solomon Cyr, Executive Assistant to Chief and Council at George Gordon First Nation, was told the other night that First Nations peoples and their supporters should all be put in jail for protesting and being part of such things as the Highway #1 Peaceful Slow Down Barricade happening today in Regina, Saskatchewan.  Oddly enough, the organizers involved the local RCMP as well as the Ministry of Highways to ensure that the demonstration is successful and within the confines of the law.  That’s certainly law-abiding and not worthy of incarceration.

So many have the mistaken belief that the ONLY thing that matters with the Idle No More movement are First Nation rights, and that Indigenous peoples are just whining and carrying on for no good reason.  The Idle No More movement is so much more than just First Nations rights, but it certainly begins with First Nation rights, and there are most certainly a number of good reasons as to why people around the world should involve themselves in this movement.

The Idle No More movement has two goals: Indigenous sovereignty (Nation to Nation relationship) and protection of the land and water (Social and Environmental Sustainability).

Canadians and First Nations people had no say in the changes the government made to the  Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and scrapping the Navigable Waters Protection Act.  The changes saw the elimination of the navigation protections for 90 cent of the waterways in Canada.  As of December 5, 2012 only 62 creek and rivers, and 97 lakes are protected (plus 3 oceans) instead of the 2.5 million protected rivers and lakes (and 3 oceans) it had the day before on December 4, 2012.

Interestingly enough, media reports have identified 87 of the still-protected 97 lakes as being within, or next to, ridings won by Conservatives in 2011. One of those still-protected lakes is Lake Rosseau, where Hollywood celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Goldie Hawn, business moguls and NHL stars such as former Detroit Red Wing Steve Yzerman, have cottages.  But as of today, I haven’t heard any of those people speak up in support of the Idle No More movement.

And to which  media reports am I referring?  For one, the Ottawa Citizen who published they had used ArcGIS  mapping software to determine which federal electoral districts the shorelines of each lake named in the budget bill overlapped.  The data was then combined with election results from 2011 to calculate breakdowns by MPs’ parties.

In other words, the Idle No More movement is important to so many more than just the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

Yes, my friends, the movement is also about the protections that have been removed on the environment. It’s about the relaxation of regulations that will now allow other countries to develop, purchase, and mine our resources, and to leave Canadian taxpayers with the cost of cleaning up after those countries when they pull up stakes and go back to their own countries.

A number of those mines are going to be run by companies from China operating under China’s pollution and environmental rules, not Canada’s pollution and environmental rules (which are far more strict).

The Idle No More movement is about everything that matters in this world and for that reason, it’s important to Canadians and people around the world to stand WITH the Idle No More movement and make their voices heard.

Elyse Bruce

UPDATE:  Additional information on 30 of the 47 longest rivers removed from the Navigable Waters Protection List available by clicking on this LINK.


Special Note to Readers and Visitors:  Be sure to read — and share on your social media — the next installment in this series of blog articles entitled, “Idle No More: I’ve Been Suspended.”  Thanks for all your support and comments!



United Nations Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Fact Sheet

Canadian Environmental Assessment Act

Navigable Waters Protection Act

Idle No More_About Those Indians_January 2013

But What Does the Earth Have to Say?


(A review of Joanna Macy’s Coming Back to Life)

There are wise, multicultural, insightful books…books that urge profound strategies of awakening to change our culture’s current course. And there are books among these that have – I believe – miss a vital piece of the picture.

Joanna Macy’s Coming Back to Life[1], I believe, is such a book. Detailing experiential workshop processes that Macy and others have been using since the 1980s, the book aims to awaken the ecologically unaware to a connection with nature, other species, and their fellow humans. Reading it as our world stands at the tipping point of global warming and climatic disaster, however, I simply felt frustration?… irritation?…annoyance? Call it what it is – anger – at what I saw as fruitless emotionalizing.

As I read the book while tending to my mother in her last weeks and days, Macy’s approach seemed tantamount to moaning and wailing over Mom’s impending death and the loss that our family would experience, blaming ourselves for all that was failing in her body…all the words ever spoken in anger, all the telephone calls never made…all the emotional blows that her heart had taken through the forty years she had spent fighting her genetic inheritance of coronary disease. To clarify: not standing at her bedside, engaging in the painful yet comforting interactions of mutual apology, forgiveness and blessing, but retreating to another room to stage cathartic psycho-performances focused on her worsening physical condition and our own self-blame.

What a horrible, futile way to spend the precious last days that were ticking remorselessly on.

Instead, our family chose to spend her last days in appreciation – after all the medical measures had been tried and had failed, simply to spend the time as lovingly and caringly as humanly possible, enjoying and appreciating our time together in the face of death. When we had our last deep conversation, she turned aside my apologies for actions not taken, and instead affirmed her love and blessing for my path…which was so vastly different from the spiritual tradition she had espoused all her life. I have felt her spirit reaffirm this blessing many times since her death.

Nearly two years before, I had taken another approach with my husband as he lay drugged and unconscious, fighting massive sepsis two months following heroic heart surgery: I refused point-blank to believe at any time that death was a possibility. When the drugs could do no more, the doctors’ urging to turn off life support was like reaching a sheer drop-off at the end of an elevated expressway …I was still racing ahead, but with nothing beneath me…falling, instead, through open air. There could be no conversation, no exchange of forgiveness and blessing – only my repeated “I’m sorry” between sobs as I watched his heart monitor slow, then flatline. It took months to come to terms with the reality of his passing. I still struggle to connect at a deep level, inwardly bracing myself for loss yet again.

But these were the deaths of single human beings…not the death of massive numbers of individual humans, plants and animals, entire species, ecosystems, even potentially life as we know it on Earth.

How do the two connect? As I see it, faced with death, we have four basic options:

  • To despair, blaming self and others, wallowing in the expectation of loss
  • To relentlessly and remorselessly oppose the inevitability of any ending
  • To value life more highly and live more intensely, resisting death as long as possible while seeing it as the wise advisor who gives meaning to life[2]
  • To connect with a larger picture in which nothing happens in isolation and everything is connected, in which death may be the gateway through which an individual’s influence and impact transcend the body…as I came to see it was for my mother and husband.

It is easiest, least risky, least painful, to choose the first two, focusing on the patient as subject or victim, focusing on the external body, disease process, and overwhelming physical needs, imagining and projecting the patient’s experience (or distancing oneself with the platitude “I can’t imagine what you must be going through”), or worse, speaking of the patient as if s/he were an empty, unaware thing in the bed, rather interacting directly with the whole person as a total mind/body/spirit entity.

It is terrifying to engage with another human being as they stand with their toes curled at the brink of the unknown…hanging ten at the drop edge of yonder …how much more terrifying to engage directly with a planet whose compromised ecosystems are in similar condition…especially when this whole culture is based on the belief that the Earth is an unaware, unconscious object?

This is the problem I saw with Macy’s book: while she briefly references the third option of living life more intensely with death as the constant companion[3], by far the bulk of the book, I believe, is focused on the first, which she calls “despair work.” And enlightened as Macy’s intent is, while she recognizes the awareness of other beings, she appears still to be limited by the beliefs of this culture. There is a great deal of discussion around connecting with other humans about the Earth, but no actual direct connection with the awarenesses of the Earth.

The book presupposes that workshop participants already experience a level of despair for the destruction…that as beings of the Earth we inevitably feel pain for the Earth, and that “the problem…lies not with our pain for the world, but in our repression of it. Our efforts to dodge or dull it surrender us to futility – or in systems terms, cut the feedback loop and block effective response.”[4] Macy lists the consequences of our repression: among them, fragmentation and alienation, avoidance of painful information, and sense of powerlessness[5].

She speaks of the Earth as a “presence in our consciousness, not unlike the presence of gods and goddesses in the lives of our early ancestors,” and writes with reverence of the “shamanic traditions of …indigenous peoples…(whose) voices find a hearing because they tell us – as the natives of the late Industrial Growth Society – what we want to know once again: that as kin to the animals and plants, rocks and airs of this sacred world, we can tap its powers, take part in its healing.”[6]

She presences this reverence by invoking the presence and wisdom of the ancestors and succeeding generations in one exercise[7]; invites participants to experience seeing themselves in natural objects in the Mirror Walk[8],  and in the Council of All Beings, invites participants to invoke the awareness of the being they portray[9]. But that is all she says about connection with the awarenesses of the Earth: the rest is focused on participants’ personal awareness, experience and projection.  The Earth, through most of the book, remains a subject to be defended, projected and acted upon, without consultation or invitation for input.

My experience: reading a hospice handbook on the dying process – even doing a guided visualization on death — is very different from standing at a loved one’s deathbed with eyes and heart open. Reading of a rainforest being slashed and burned is very different from sitting in sacred space and hearing a single tree being felled by loggers, or struggling through deep muddy tire tracks and crushed underbrush to touch the stumps and shreds of trees taken. Reading even the most heart-wrenchingly written fundraising letter on the death of our watersheds is very different from standing on the cracked earth of a dried-up streambed and bearing witness to its failing ecosystem.

The wisdom of the imagination is very different from the wisdom of the heart and spirit connecting to the wisdom of the Earth – in the moment, on the spot. Macy’s beautiful, profound, and poetic visualizations cannot – I say – replace the direct experience of the living Earth, the green, feathered, furred, finned, scaled, crawling, and two-legged beings, and the unseen energies and awarenesses of the Earth.  Offering a workshop of “practices to reconnect ourselves, our world” – that does not involve direct connection with the Earth – is like offering a kayaking practicum without the river.

What results from this distancing, I ask? Consciousness can be righteously raised in theory with no resulting actual action, personal cost or long-term outward effect.  How will these visualizations achieve real, lasting change in people who may never have personally experienced the wholeness of the Earth …or those who are only now beginning to awaken to the damage being done? What actions, if any, will result from use of these experiential exercises involving no direct experience – what kind of real change will ensue? What kind of change has ensued in participants of these workshops, six months, twelve months, five years down the road?

The phenomenon of workshop addiction is recognized in psychological circles; I have experienced it myself as both an observer and addict. From years of experience in personal growth communities, I have witnessed that only a fraction of those who spend weekends examining their souls in workshop settings actually emerge with anything more than a brief emotional high or passing insight, soon to be overwritten with the day-to-day concerns of home and work. Only a fraction of those attenders will actually achieve deep behavioral changes over the long term, or sacrifice routine and convenience to strategically pursue a new workshop-generated mission. Laden by my own experience of workshop highs followed by quick-fading resolutions, I had burned out from process work years before, choosing other paths toward personal change.

There are those who say that the brain does not know the difference between reality and ritual (or process)…while this may be true for some, I have not experienced this beyond a very limited degree. A guided visualization or process, like divination – I say – is necessarily limited by the inward filters of the person visualizing…unless support is given to weaken those filters and facilitate an opening to new insights.

I remember my husband sharing stories of inconspicuously using Lodge medicines and prayers to invoke spiritual protection and support during the transformational workshops associated with the Lodge he served…how the processes supported in this way went deeper and achieved greater change than those that were not. And from staffing experience in workshops that did not use – that actively discouraged – -such forms of support in its workshops, I can vouch for the difference made by this absence.

My experience: where only human energies are specifically invited, only human energies, in all their limitations, will contribute.

I say – for Pity’s sake – stop asking participants to visualize from their memories and limiting filters, go out to the woods and the water, and invite the awarenesses of the Earth to speak for themselves in sacred space! To invoke the words of Chief Seattle, without experiencing the context of direct, sacred Earth-connection and Earth-communion from which those words arose, is to empty them of their soul.

By the time I reached the last chapter of Coming Back to Life, I had set the book aside several times in anger. To offer experiential trainings that include no direct experience, I told myself, is simply to feed a cultural workshop addiction and the easy belief that “well, I’ve attended a workshop on XYZ, I’ve had my emotional display and catharsis, I’ve produced a personal vision, therefore I am officially enlightened on the topic.” The certificate goes on the wall, the reference in the resume, and that’s the end of the matter.

There is no time now for such easy outs…any more than there was time for engaging in self-recriminations at my mother’s bedside. There is only time for action.

To be fair, Macy does address the question of action, and in the last chapter[10] provides a format to inspire participants to bless one another and move forward in acting on their insights. Earlier in the book, there is even a suggestion of ways to continue the bonds forged in the workshop. [11] But here again, there is no recognition of direct connection with the awareness of the Earth: the patient remains an object to be discussed but not engaged in interaction.

While I have noted the prevalence of the first possible response to the inevitability of death in the book, I believe the fourth possible response believe is what is needed at this time: To connect with a larger picture in which nothing happens in isolation and everything is connected, in which death may be the gateway through which an individual’s influence and impact transcend the body. To seek direct, humble and loving partnership with Earth Mother and the non-human beings of the Earth, seeking their answers to the destruction. I believe that this approach offers a healthy and effective means of moving through emotional pain to achieve inspired action to protect life on Earth.

[1]        Unless otherwise noted, all references are drawn from Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers, 1998).

[2] Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (New York: Washington Square Press, 1972) 34

[3] Page 187

[4] Page 27

[5] Pages 35-37

[6] Page 50

[7] Page 136

[8] Page 80

[9] Page 136

[10] Page 171 and following


Welcome to the Real World

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I knew of a physicist at the University of Chicago who was rather crazy, like some scientists, and the idea of the insolidity, the instability of the physical world, impressed him so much that he used to go around in enormous padded slippers for fear he should fall through the floor.

— Alan Watts, Nothingness

Most people would laugh at such a scientist. But as new science steadily addresses realities far beyond the reach of our so-called “common” sense –  I find myself wondering about the craziness of those padded slippers.

After all, what would you do if the theoretical science that formed the framework for your world view suddenly turned out to be visibly, tangibly verified by your everyday sensory experience? If, for example, instead of seeing a floor,  you saw a million swirling points of energy?

I suspect you might be just a little….well, freaked out.

Indigenous cultures have taught such concepts for millennia – for example, that we are all energy beings, and that we are all connected – but despite popular movies like What the Bleep and corroborating data from institutes such asHeartMath Research Center, modern society has a great deal of difficulty accepting the empirical reality of such concepts.

We’re deeply conditioned by our secular-materialist culture to believe that we are isolated individuals, that the boundaries of our minds do not extend past our skulls, that a solid floor is a solid floor, that…well, you get the idea. Even if we  subscribe to the belief that we are all connected, and that we can communicate energetically, a core of skepticism  may linger: without direct personal experience, how can we be sure? And we file the quantum concepts away in an agnostic cubbyhole.

For example, I’ve always held the belief that all beings, from stones to trees, from viruses to gorillas, from crickets to skunks, from krill to whales – and oh yes, also including humans – are sentient, thinking and feeling in their own unique way. These beliefs are woven into indigenous faith and practice around the world, in shamanic cultures from the Amazonian rainforest to the Siberian steppes.  And they’re core beliefs that I’ve held, and tried to act upon, since long before the days of my husband’s deep involvement in Traditional Native American practices.

But it wasn’t till this past weekend, when I was out doing homework for the Land Healing apprenticeship*  I’m now pursuing, that I received a firsthand experience of exactly what these beliefs mean in real life, outside the heady realm of cherished certitude. And I’ll admit – I was mind-boggled.

I was walking a path on sacred land near my home, and intentionally stopped to connect sensorially and at heart level with two trees along the way, as I’d been taught in the first class.  Connecting with each tree individually, I received very different impressions of personalities and attitudes toward humankind (or rather, human(un)kind in one case…passing two-leggeds had not been kind to that Standing One).

I responded politely to the input those trees were giving, and then stepped a little further down the path…and had the mind-boggling sense that every tree in the park was aware of me and assessing me – my intent, my attitude, my reasons for connecting and communicating with their two siblings.

Have you ever stood at a podium in front of a thousand psychics, all of them “reading” you? That’s roughly how this felt. I’d read old folk tales of people wandering into a forest and experiencing the spirit of the wood, panicking and fleeing – I’d never been able to understand such a reaction; forests had always felt like sanctuaries for me.

Now, however, I could understand. While the gaze of these uncountable trees was in no way hostile, it was wary, cautious, penetrating, evaluative…and overwhelming. I responded to the unspoken questions – “Who are you and what are you doing here? What do you want with us?” by explaining that I was a beginner trying to learn the right way of being in relationship with nonhuman beings, and asked them to ease up a little – they were scaring me! And they did. The contact broke, the sense of intense attention faded;  I could breathe again, and continued on my way.

I have been sitting with the aftershocks of that experience for the past week. Even though I’d hugged and talked (privately) to trees for years, even though I’d experienced individual trees as sentient beings in class as well as in the two conversations before the encounter with the entire forest, even though I’d had every reason to expect such a response from the forest as a whole,  the experience of trees en masse, as a crowd of individual personalities, was beyond any of my imaginings.

I remembered the response my husband used to give to such experiences:“Welcome to the Real World”....that is,  however much I believed in interbeing, the interconnection and sentience of all things, I couldn’t know this as reality until I stepped past my conditioning to experience it directly.

And the implications were staggering….

Imagine living in a world where energetic communication not just with other humans, but with every other being was not only possible, but also acknowledged fact…not a fantastical delusion to be treated with antipsychotic drugs, but the foundation of uncountable indigenous cultures. We know this to be the truth…and yet this real-world daily communication has been dismissed by this “enlightened” culture as pagan superstition.

Imagine living in a world in which plants, animals and humans consciouslycoexist in a delicate dance of balance that leaves their environment largely intact for millennia. We know that this also is true – it shows up in one account after another of intact indigenous cultures, even today.

Just sit with those images for a moment. Imagine being a consciously participating element of a living, communicating, mutually supportive environment, gaining wisdom from every other element.

Now picture our world, with humans isolated from all other beings by an assumption of superiority and dominion, exploiting or eradicating those other beings while we debate their level of sentience and dismiss what knowledge cannot be gleaned by instrumentation and metrics.

Is it any wonder that this culture is crazed and soul-starved? And what is there to be done about it?

I have only just completed my second lesson of the apprenticeship, so I am hardly the one to advise wholesale solutions. However, the old childhood rule for crossing the street does come to mind:

Stop.  Stop assuming, stop numbing out, stop objectifying…

Look. Try looking at everything around  you as a sentient being. What would it be like to get the perspective of an oak…a deer grazing in your garden…a polluted river?

Listen.  Next time you’re about to prune a tree, for example, tell the tree politely what you’re planning to do and why, then ask permission. And wait to see what you hear or sense inwardly.

If nothing else, ask – what if? Even if you already believe that we are all related and all beings are sentient in their own unique way, what if these trees, for example, are not simply standing passively in the earth, waiting to serve the purposes of humans, but are observing and participating in their environment in ways we can’t even imagine – and quite capable of communicating their perspective?

You may be familiar with the Gaia theory of a conscious, self-regulating planet. For many of us it ties in with the Earth-centered values we have carried for many years. Now take it a step further: what if that theory describes not only a living system of interacting organic and inorganic elements, but also a living system of interacting individual consciousnesses – consciousnesses with which we can communicate and interact to heal the wounds this world has suffered?

What if?