|The Gathering for EcoCulture:
The Sharing of Native Wisdom
Susan Hamilton Mitchell
The Gathering for EcoCulture germinated from a conversation between
Carla Tavares Berman (founder) and Woody Morrison (Haida) almost ten
years ago. The idea was simple – bring together native elders and
tribal members with public and private school teachers to interact and
share environmental and indigenous wisdom that would then be given life
in California classrooms. In late summer, at the retreat center of the
Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in Petaluma, the inaugural
gathering convened with a traditional welcome under the oak trees from
Lanny Pinola (Coast Miwok / Kashaya Pomo). What wasn’t traditional
about it was that Lanny was in a wheelchair straight from the hospital
after checking himself out against doctor’s orders.
Lanny first shared the story of his great-great-great- grandfather.
When the soldiers came to execute the males of the Miwok tribe, his
great-great-great grandfather asked to sing a song that the tribal
members used to join the grandfathers and grandmothers on the spirit
trail. The captain let him sing the song, who had taken their hats off
and said, “We have no business here” and let the Indians go. Lanny then
sang that very “Savior Song” honoring his ancestors. Hearing it
emotionally sung in the native language was deeply touching.
The weekend unfolded with circle talks, discussions, and sharing. As
Woody Morrison (Haida) told his Raven stories, he reminded us to always
give something back and to remember the sacredness of all things. David
Risling (Hoopa- Karuk-Yurok), who helped found the California Indian
Education Association and the California Indian Legal Services, was
supposed to be at a Brush Dance but came to support the Gathering. He
talked about some of the ceremonies and dances that are still performed
by his tribal members…the Brush Dance, when someone gets sick; the Deer
Skin Dance, ten days of renewing the earth; and the Jump Dance, ten
days of thanking the Creator.
Kathy Wallace, David’s daughter, and a Hoopa basket weaver, is
preserving the traditions of her tribe. She said that when gathering
grasses for basket making you are “forming a relationship with a plant”
and are making a “connection to the earth.” She said that she ”talks to
the plants, treats the materials with respect and always thanks them.”
Unfortunately, as Kathy explained, with pesticide and herbicide use in
the forest and wetlands, some basket weavers are at a risk for exposure
while practicing their traditional culture.
Deborah Brown (Haida) shared about the Haida way of teaching circles
and building relationships by creating a classroom community. Jaime
Sterritt (Haida), Melissa Nelson (Chippewa), and David Fore also talked
about ways of including Native American wisdom into the educational
Perhaps Lanny-s words best sum up the focus of the Gathering- “We are
all part of all that is – not above it- it is not ours to manage. The
environmental is not something apart from us. We’re trying to create
balance with the animal and plant kingdom to live in harmony with it.
We respect one another, the animals, and the little crawly things
because they have something to do. I am honored to be in their
As one of the teachers at the Gathering, listening to the wisdom of the
elders and the tribal members, I felt so privileged and honored just to
be present. And my students, the next generation of stewards of the
Earth, are grateful too.
A project of The Tides Center, a non-profit incubator dedicated to the development
of innovative programs working in environmental, social justice and multicultural issues.