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Becoming Indigenous

By: Chris Smith
Past participant, Becoming Indigenous

Here, in this hall-like space, I sense that I am at an important moment in my life. I know this because of an alert presence that is with me; the kind that only arrives when a part of you senses that something big is on its way through time towards you. In this room there are over 100 women gathered in chairs, and on mats, cushions and furs on the floor. 13 men are standing in a small arc, situated on the opposite side of the participant women to a seated parallel arc of indigenous Elders – all women – from around the world. One of the indigenous women - and organiser of this ceremonial healing - Pat 'Woman Stands Shining' McCabe, stands now, delivering powerful words through an embodied presence; it's palpable that Pat is channelling energies living beyond the sphere of our usual human awareness, and mustering all her skill and understanding to make them 'visible' to our hearts and minds.

The energy builds, women begin to weep, men become overwhelmed and gesture to each other to have their hands held and shoulders gently gripped. What is speaking here today, through Pat and others, is a wounding so thoroughly rooted in the sub-terrain of our collective pshyche, that she believes it to have been foundational in the dysfunction we see in our world today; the fragmented inter-personal (self), intra-personal (other) and trans-personal (spiritual and ancestral) relationships that have allowed Human beings to ignite catastrophic environmental changes and manifest violence towards other Humans in both subtle relational nuance, and systematic, unrelenting oppression and de-humanisation. The stuff of war and conquest.

Is one of the men in this physically and symbolically protective arc, I am, with my whole heart, engaged in receiving Pat's words. I do this intentionally on behalf of all Men, and in recognition of the masculine principle contained in all things. Soon, the 100+ women look on at myself and the other Men standing together and on an emotional crescendo are moved to weep, wail, cry and radiate and direct love and forgiveness towards us as representatives of all the lost and intentionally or unintentionally destructive misuses of the masculine energy – in their own personal lives and in the lives of their collective historic ancestors, present in-spirit. Almost as quickly as it reached it's energetic climax, it relents, and Pat guides us back into a more grounded state. It closes with a roaring, cacophonous, harmonic outbreak of song - initiated by the Men. 

Once the congregation disperses for a break, I am left with the almost perplexing humility I feel to be an involved and valued member at such a monumental event. In part, I am humbled by the sense of 'how far I have come' since I began my journey into what it means to 'become indigenous', as a participant on Schumacher College's radical 9-month programme “Becoming Indigenous: Finding our Way Home”.

If I were to try and communicate how this course has been for me so far, then I would begin by stating my hope that below the surface of the above story much of that 'answer' might be found. I noticed that during the residential component of the course, teachers and elders would often say relatively little and yet transmit so much. In essence; I see that I have come to a point at which I now feel connected to a whole new enquiry and a whole new tribe. 

I truly feel that Gaia or Spirit has brought me to this encounter with Schumacher College – what I mean by this is that the magnetism I felt when I first read the course description, I now know existed because the sense of it drew me close to my authentic path as a unique human soul on the Earth. The energy unlocked by drawing close to that is what propelled me through practical barriers and complexities to the doors of the college in Devon, in September last year. Looking back - whatever I may have believed at the time - the journey truly had it's own plans for me; I was just along for the ride, picking up glimmers of insight along the way.

That was at least my experience of the first four months of the course; it seemed to take different folks on different paths - we were following different trails as individuals. And then, alongside that accommodated uniqueness, we would come together to re-member the most crucial of protagonist phenomena in our 'becoming indigenous' – the sense of belonging to a collective. This, the deepest of Re-Unions, occurred in the moments when we participated in ceremony, ritual, dance, song and deep, honest sharing together. Here, time seemed to smudge and fade, and our ever-present and yet often elusive 'indigeneity' surfaced in the light of our shared awareness.

In other moments together, in joyfully honouring our more familiar cultural modes, we gathered and mingled – often around the aroma, taste and social ritual of coffee - to chatter enthusiastically around the themes, motives and intentions of what it meant to us, and what it feels like, to 'become indigenous' - as a group of modern people living into a shared enquiry. It was exciting and empowering to live in this way, held by the structure of the days and the assurance of basic needs being met and supported by the college infrastructure.

Through these practises we built a tribe within the Schumacher community that  brought a new energy into the interactions and conversations around the dinner table, and in the community work groups, and within the bonds and friendships between ourselves, and the students, teachers, facilitators, staff and transient short course participants. What we carried with us invited new perspectives from previously unseen angles, insights from newly discovered ways of knowing and engaging, and interactional tempos that offered balance and benefit with our usual ways. In the same way that we received most from the teachers through osmosis of their way of being; as bridges for others into indigenous relationship with the world, that which we were curiously and often unknowingly afflicted with, was deeply contagious.

We have moved out into the world in different ways since January; some have gone the way of study in the areas that were most alive for them; others have embarked on expansive and/or entrepreneurial adventures; some have manifested new projects integrating their previous work with bright, new shimmers of a daring magic; and others – namely me – have stayed on as a volunteer at the college continuing to live and learn and to give something back in support of this quite special place.

I am, however, writing this from an attic room in a new friend's house, in Dartington; adventure was prickling in my bones and I decided to create a crowdfunding campaign so that I could spend the last month of this period as a 'pilgrim'. At current I don't even know exactly what that will look like, but I already have faith in the unfolding path of the pilgrim. It might even be an appropriate moment that I now realise that I have felt so fully myself during the last five days in simply experiencing the sacred and wonderful in the mundane; in the deep meaning I find in the real stories shared by and with the people around me; in the possibility of vibrant, loving and mature relationships; in the being fully, courageously and authentically alive and responsive in the present moment; and in the generous, willing hearts of all the people who have already opened their hearts, lives and homes to help me on my way as a 'modern indigenous pilgrim'.

I certainly have known, lost and occasionally accidentally stumbled upon my truest and most joyful 'indigenous' self throughout my life so far, and I will surely continue to do so, either tragically or with comic ineptitude. It's just that now I have a better set of guidemaps and companions with me on my journey; now my compass points to 'home'. Finding my way is a daily process; it's living.

Outside the window birds are voicing their prayers to the setting sun - as they have been doing so every day, for longer than Humans have existed. They never hesitate for a moment in 'becoming Bird'...! Isn't that amazing; it means they're always in the right place at the right time doing exactly the right thing. I wonder what they think of their two-legged cousins on the ground trying to make sense of it all? I think they would know their kinship with the ones simply prayerfully witnessing the sun this evening, as it makes its journey into the landscape; I think they would say to those ones if they could: “welcome home”.