Saturday, January 9, 2010

NATIVE SPIRIT

When I feel a shiver down my back I know spirits are among us, with me.   
Pay attention now, this is real.  
Native dancers from the San Gabrielino Tongva Tribe had gathered to be with us for an open house ceremony.  
I met them in the foyer earlier and the boys were joking about who was more 'cut'.  They wore native dress with no shirts, and the women were small and draped in animal fur and leather buckskin skirts.  Andrew Morales, the captain, wore a black straw hat and black leather vest.  They were friendly and ready to perform.
They entered the big room and formed a circle, with a ceremonial artifact on the floor in the middle and when Andrew gave a brief introduction to the ceremony he let out a call to the spirit in the heavens and the room was quiet.  I thought I was going to start to cry when I felt my eyes get wet, always a moment of joy and inspiration, my call to quiet myself and listen.  Andrew introduced the dances and the songs, each one a signal to the trees, the water, the smoke burning from the center of the dancers from the ceremonial embers of sage. 
'Water to drink and to cook with our food, the fire to burn and keep us warm, to prepare our meals,' he said.

Another man who wore a red t-shirt that said 'One Mind One Spirit' and had tattoos on the backs of his arms and brushed them with a large eagle feather more than a foot long, his forehead and along the backs of his thighs, he motioned me to join the dancers as they moved forward and back, 'like the waves of the ocean'.  
I stepped forward and moved with him and with Anthony as they took steps forward with the dancers, and stepped back together.  I found a rhythm with them, holding my microphone and my notes but I didn't feel awkward.  They were welcoming me to their native lands. Now in our office, in this native ceremony, they blessed our building and our function to include all peoples in the process of counting the people in our great nation.  
The man in the red shirt, his hair long and braided in a tight pony tail hanging down to his waist, holding the big eagle feather, I thanked him later for being with us and told him how beautiful the ceremony was and he looked at me with straight dark eyes and our heads were just a foot or so apart and I know he heard me.  He didn't smile but he nodded and shook my hand with his big hand, the hand that had held the large eagle feather.  
He helped an older member of his tribe, pulling up a chair that she could sit in.
After our event was over, people told me that the wind had blown outside for a few minutes, so strong that it knocked down trees that we had borrowed, trees that were in big wooden planters, arranged outside the entrance to our building.  Twelve foot high palm trees had been knocked down by the wind.  They said the wind only lasted for a few minutes and now I could see it was calm outside. The wind had come from the west, they said, from the direction of the Pacific Ocean.  
'We have much to thank for the trees,' Chairman Andrew Morales had said in the ceremony.  'The trees clean the air of pollutants and scrub the oxygen for us to breathe.  So often we forget to honor them,' he said.
We honored the trees and the Native Americans welcomed us to their ancestral land.

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