IN DEFENSE OF THE SACRED
Many years ago I was preparing to embark on what for me was a sacred journey. I would be following a trail walked by my ancestors in 1838. I would feel the derision of others. I would feel the sorrow of few. I would know the heat and the cold, the wooded hillsides and the barren plains. I would be cared-for as they weren’t. It took me awhile to prepare for what I knew I would encounter.
But then I encountered something I didn’t expect. Shortly before we were due to leave I was called into the office of a friend and entrusted with a special gift, a gift from him and from a group of people who didn’t know me but gave me their trust that I would do as they requested. It was a small leather pouch carrying medicine to be shared at each site we visited, in prayer and memory of what took place there.
I received it with humility and tucked it away. And on the journey it came out and was used as requested but whereas others on the journey allowed photos, I asked that while I was doing the ceremony all cameras should be put down. What I was doing was between me, those who gave me the gift, the ancestors and the creator. And so it was.
Since then the pouch has traveled with me and been used in the same way. At tribal gatherings, family rites of passage, wherever it felt appropriate, it has made an appearance.
And then it disappeared. Just before a long trip I couldn’t find it. I searched everywhere, drawers, bags, closets. It wasn’t to be found. So for the first time in so many years I had to travel without it. The trip went well, I enjoyed the time with my daughter, but I felt strange somehow.
When we returned home I again began my search. I hurt inside, I grieved. I looked again in drawers, bags, closets but it was nowhere. And finally I did the only thing I could do. I let it go. I sent it out into the universe with a prayer that whoever found it could feel its power and be blessed. I prayed for it. And I released it.
And then in plain sight I discovered it. Lying safely in my office, it welcomed me. For me this small pouch is sacred. It represents so much: trust, friendship, honor, peace, responsibility. Self.
We all have sacred places, sacred things. For some the act of planting food is sacred. It’s a signal to the universe of life, of renewed life and hope. Of promise for the future. The act of giving birth is sacred. We will do everything in our power to protect and nurture that life. Death is sacred. It’s a passage from one reality to another unknowable one.
For many the family home is sacred. The place where the bodies of our ancestors, such as the cemetery in Kansas where my Potawatomi 3rd great grandparents lie, is sacred. The places where we worship: churches for some are sacred—temples, synagogues, mosques. The calm of a stream, the roar of a river, the music of trees, the vastness of the plains, the tallest of mountains. All these are sacred and to be respected.
On the Island of Hawai’i a sacred space is being threatened and people are rising up to protect it. Mauna Kea is being threatened by the building of a huge telescope. Yes, there are other smaller ones already there but this one promises to overpower them. The mountain was once used to create weapons of war against King Kamehameha’s forces; that too is sacred. Now the disrespectful want to bring people to the mountain who may not respect its sacredness. To stand in the way of those who just want to go up to the sanctuary of its space and give offerings to the Creator. Who want and need to feel the strength and peace of becoming one with the universe.
There have been protectors before, when the other telescopes were placed. But this time the cry of the people is being heard around the world. Japan, Samoa, Mexico, states such as Alaska, Maine, Nevada. People from Tonga, the Pacific Rim. And people from the other islands in our state, leaving homes, jobs, spending money they can ill afford to fly for support. Some Hollywood names are joining. The crowds went from a few hundred to over 2000. And they’re not backing down.
Even when the Kupuna were arrested and removed, they returned to the mountain. Protocols of welcome greet visitors who come in peace. Those in opposition are greeted. The police and the National Guard receive the same welcome. Now policemen speak with the elders with tears in their eyes, asking them to leave, letting them know they don’t want to be doing what they’ve been told they must.
But the Protectors stand firm. It is believed this is their last stand. If it’s not stopped, the top of the mountain will be scraped to form a site as large as four football fields. On this site a telescope will be constructed that is 80 stories tall.
My own ancestors were forced from their sacred places at gunpoint, after being gathered together and held prisoner in their church. Their burial mounds were destroyed, plundered. In later years what mounds were left were plowed over so the colonists could plant their fields. Many of their stories were lost, forgotten, because they didn’t have their sacred places, which to them told their stories.
These sacred places are needed and must be protected. Without them, a culture is lost, a people scattered such as happened to my ancestors.
I strongly support the Protectors and even though health keeps me from marching I can write and write I will. It’s my gift to them. My Aloha.