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Viva Mexico! Viva Oaxaca! Tapestries of geographies, histories and politics

Viva Mexico!  Viva Oaxaca!  Tapestries of geographies, histories and politics

Posted by on Dec 12, 2012 in all posts, Mexico, Universidad de la Tierra | 2 comments

Photo taken by Udi at the Museo Nacional Antropologia (National Anthropology Museum) in Mexico City of a map of Mexico Profundo (continuing existence of deep, original Mexico that continues to shape Mexican national culture and identity)

We arrive at one of the bus stations in the megacity of Mexico City to purchase a ticket bound for Oaxaca.  It is mid-day and we have chosen to travel during the afternoon on the 6-hour journey to Oaxaca to enable a good viewing of the changing landscape.  The bus system in Mexico is impressive.

Photo taken by Kelly – our bus to Oaxaca from the Mexico City bus station

The bus stations are clean and it is enjoyable to sit in the waiting area until the bus leaves.  We climb onto the bus at 1pm and find our seats which are comfortable and roomy.  We sit back, waiting for the bus to leave, excited about the long journey and our impending arrival to Oaxaca city.

We’ve been in Mexico 5 days already.  The first couple of days we explored different museums in Mexico City – the Frida Kahlo Museum, the Trotsky Museum, the Anthropological Museum (see Udi’s post on ‘Politics and Art’). We also spent time with Carlos Flores and Rachel Sieder, the lovely couple we stayed with in the city, in the fabulous Coyoacan region of the city.  Udi has known Carlos for a decade, meeting him at Goldsmiths College where Udi was studying and Carlos was teaching.  Carlos is a visual anthropologist and filmmaker from Guatemala who has focused on a broad range of issues pertaining to Guatemala and beyond.  Rachel is a scholar in Latin American studies and has focused on issues pertaining to human rights and law.  Currently, Carlos and Rachel, are working on indigenous justice systems in the highlands of Guatemala (the region that was most affected by the war in the 1980s).  They have written books and have made films about how particular issues are engaged with and resolved within these Mayan regions – and how this relates to the Guatemalan state.  Rachel also focuses on domestic violence, being a woman she has better access to the women in these communities.  This coming January they will be spending time again in the Guatemalan highlands to show their film and receive feedback from the people within these communities.  We both had a wonderful time with them, seeing some of Mexico City and learning quite a lot about indigenous histories in Mexico and Guatemala.

It takes nearly an hour to leave the boundaries of Mexico City.  Although Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world, it feels smaller than it is.  Similar to London, the layout of Mexico City is like a series of smaller towns.  Mexico City currently boasts a population of over 8 million in the city, although the larger metropolitan area is believed to be at least 22 million with estimations closer to 30 million. This makes the city the biggest in the world, a title it has held since before the time of the Conquistadores.

Photo taken by Udi at the Museo Nacional Antropologia of a drawing of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan as it was built in Lake Texcoco

The geography of Mexico City is a valley that was once the massive Lake Texcoco within which the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was constructed (founded in 1325), sustaining the life of anywhere between 200,000 – 350,000 people, the biggest city in the Americas at that time.  The layout of Tenochtitlan and its beauty provided an initial sense of awe for the Spanish when they first arrived.  However, after the city was conquered by 1521, the Spanish drained the water from Lake Texcoco and began to build what has become current day Mexico City.  Udi and I decided to visit the ruins of the Templo Mayor (the Aztec ‘main temple’) in el Zocalo, the center square of the city.  The Templo Mayor was the most important temple to the Aztecs. According to Aztec religiosity, the god Huitzilopochtli provided a sign of an eagle on a nopal cactus with a snake in its mouth, symbolizing the importance of this particular site as the place for the main temple. This symbol appears on the current Mexican flag.

Photo taken by Udi on the grounds of the Templo Mayor – the sacred serpent adorning the front of the main stairs

Excavations on the area of Templo Mayor began in the late 1700s and continue today.  A large portion of the Templo is still to be unearthed as it now lies under several blocks of city buildings.  Excavations were quiet for at least a century before 1978 when electrical workers, digging for the Metro, accidentally discovered monolith of Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess.  This prompted the Templo Mayor project and the area has been slowly excavated ever since.  The entire area is a graveyard of people and objects of cultural and spiritual significance.

Photo taken by Udi at the Templo Mayor Museo on the grounds of the Templo Mayor – the goddess

Templo Mayor, or what you can visit of Templo Mayor, is just next to the enormous Spanish church that quite aggressively declares its spiritual significance over that of the conquered Aztecs.  The location of the visitor area of Templo Mayor is about 200 meters from the church.

Photo taken by Udi from the grounds of Templo Mayor

Photo taken by Udi from the ground of Templo Mayor – the Mexico City Cathedral just in the background

Within this area were hundreds of tourists and locals witnessing and interacting with three different groups of Aztec dancers and healers.  There were also heavily armed police as well as an abundance of food, clothing and souvenir vendors.  A colourful mural with Aztec symbolism lined the long wall between the Templo Mayor and the Mexico City Cathedral.

Photo taken by Udi of the space between the Templo Mayor and the Mexico City Cathederal

The Aztec dancers were all wearing different headdresses adorned with colourful feathers and leg bands of shells that made soft, hypnotic sounds as they moved.  There were queues of people waiting to be cleansed by healers using smoke and branches, murmuring songs and covering each body with smoke and a gentle touch of the branches.

Photo taken by Udi of Aztec dancers in front of the Mexico City Cathedral

Photo taken by Kelly (from film we shot) of Aztec dancers between the Mexico City Cathedral and the Templo Mayor

Photo taken by Udi of Aztec healers in front of the Templo Mayor

I could not help but recall primary school memories of learning about the Aztecs.  The practice of human sacrifice is unsurprisingly what I remember the most, horrifying and gruesome as it was, particularly through my eyes as a young child.  There are continual debates of stories and narratives about the frequency and justification behind process of human sacrifice that occurred to please the Sun God that, according to the Aztec cosmovision (view of and way being in the Universe) allowed for the continuance of life on Earth.  These murals below were painted by Diego Rivera (they can be seen in the Modern Art Museum in Mexico City), representing the oppression of each major religion historically in Mexico.

The site of Templo Mayor is a juxtaposition of periods of time, histories, narratives, religious and spiritual practices.  Similar to the complex and violent history of Mexico, the history of the destruction of the Aztec empire is equally violent and complex, with a range of competing stories and accounts.  The different accounts by the Spanish and the Aztecs of a massacre on this particular site of Templo Mayor in 1520 are a key example.  Whilst not denying the slaying of many Aztecs, the Spanish account holds a rationale for the event whilst the Aztec account of the event is far more descriptive and graphic of the extreme violence their people experienced at the hands of the Spanish.  The church being built directly on the ruins of the Templo Mayor is typical of Christian conquest.  The same practice can be found across the UK – many churches were built on former pagan spiritual place.

The air quality of Mexico City is a soup of smog.  With the multitude of people using some sort of auto transport and the factories that have sprung up on different sides of the city it is hardly surprising that smog is constantly trapped in the valley bowl.  After being on the bus for an hour or so, we notice bluer sky, clear white clouds and a particular snow-capped mountain with puffs of gray smoke emerging from its peak.  This is Popcatepetl mountain, affectionately called ‘Popo’.  Popo is the second highest mountain in Mexico, nearly 18,000 feet (5,426 meters).   Earthquakes occur continuously in Mexico, particularly within the regions of Mexico City, Cuernavaca and Oaxaca.  We have already felt several, the biggest one being nearly 5.0 on the richter scale.  People have told us that if they do not feel earthquakes once a week, once every other week, that a much bigger earthquake is coming.  A film has started playing on the 6 different video screens that hang down on different parts of the bus.  It is X-Men:  First Class 2’ and dubbed in Spanish.

We notice field after field of hay that has been thrashed into cone-like shapes along the road.  There are maize fields here and there, but far less than we had assumed.  Udi dozes off while I do some reading.

After another 2.5 hours, the road becomes more tortuous and there are sharp and step hills and canyons as far as we can see covered with cactus forests.  These cacti stand over two metres straight up.  It is a completely different type of fxorest than I have ever seen.  We try to capture it on film but it is difficult with the incredible bends in the road that seem to appear every 100 or so meters.

Photo taken by Udi of cacti along the road between Mexico City to Oaxaca

Photo taken by Udi of cacti and canyons along the road between Mexico City to Oaxaca

The video screens on the bus come to life again and I see Britney Spears entering onto a stage with thousands of screaming fans surrounding her.  The video of Britney goes on for over an hour and as the sun is starting to set and the road becomes ever more tortuous within the hills of cacti forests, I find it more and more difficult to avoid watching her.  That the scene is surreal is an understatement. Udi and I discuss the geographic, demographic and political distinctions that we know about Oaxaca which are in sharp contrast to the video of Britney grinding her way through song after song in shiny and increasingly small outfits.

Oaxaca is one of the most biologically diverse states (after Chiapas and Veracruz) with a diverse number of reptiles, amphibians, mammals and plants.

Oaxaca is also the most culturally diverse state in Mexico.   There are 16 officially recognized indigenous communities, with at least 17 languages and 37 dialects.  Many of these dialects are more like different languages, as different as Spanish and Italian.  These different indigenous groups have survived and thrived to varying extents within an overall environment of waves of oppression and colonialism.   Surviving (and thriving to any extent) has been through incredible struggle that has occurred in various ways (many of which we will be posting about).  It is estimated that during the first 100 years of Spanish colonization, nearly 90% of indigenous people were killed or died due to disease across all of Mexico.  It is said that at the time of independence, two-thirds of the Mexican population was of indigenous peoples.  Now, they make up around 10% of the population (although this is contentious as many people identify themselves as non-indigenous to elude discrimination that often comes with indigenous identification) and are divided amongst more than 55 languages through out the country.  That Oaxaca state holds such a large number of these different languages can be attributed to the rugged and isolating geographical terrain of Oaxaca state, making it impossible for the Spanish to fully conquer.

Photo taken by Udi of a map of Oaxacan linguistic and ethnic groups. The photo was taken in the Museo Nacional Antropologia.

Oaxaca is currently the second poorest state in Mexico with more than half of its population living in extreme poverty, earning less than Mexico’s minimum wage of $4.50 (US dollars) per day. Indigenous peoples account for the majority of Oaxaca’s poor.  In addition to the oppressive legacy of colonialism, the ramifications of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) have been particularly harsh with corporate-led development targeting lands rich with natural resources for their own profit-making benefit, rather than for that of the indigenous peoples on these lands.  What I had not realized before coming to Mexico was that the majority of Mexican migrants into the US are indigenous peoples from Oaxaca who are seeking some stable source of income and freedom from oppression. An important reason for this flight from rural areas has revolved around the struggle for land access, the struggle to resist corporate takeover that is ever-present.  What has resulted for many of these immigrants to the USA is the encounter of a new and different type of oppression once they reach the USA (as illegal alien status) which is continually and hotly debated within all civil and political arenas in the USA.

My first real engagement with Oaxacan history was after I encountered a wonderful book at a Solidarity Economic conference (2009 – Hampshire, Massachusetts)  called Teaching Rebellion:  Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca written in 2007 just after the uprising occurred.  The book provides a tapestry of voices participating within the uprising – teachers, musicians, schoolchildren, elderly, religions leaders, indigenous community activists, radio journalists, union leaders, etc.  Hearing such a diversity of voices provides an excellent introduction into the profoundly complex political history of Oaxaca state.

Photo of the cover of the book ‘Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca’ (2007) by Diana Durham and C. A. S. A. Collective

The uprising began in May 2006 when around 20,000 teachers decided to strike (for the 25th consecutive year), occupying the Zocalo (city center), calling for a living wage, resources for infrastructure repair, free schoolbooks and social services. By June 14th, three weeks later, 3,000 police were sent to break up the occupation with tear gas, clubs, guns and helicopters.  This violence was typical governmental response, the purpose of which is to silence social movements.  This time, however, the people fought back.  The public outcry formed the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (the APPO) that called for the resignation of the Oaxacan governor, Ulises Ruiz, who was believed to gain political entitlement illegally.  APPO organized marches of over 800,000 people in Oaxaca and over 50 city blocks were occupied.  Waves of violence ensued and over 20 people were killed, hundreds were tortured, incarcerated and declared as disappeared.  There was peaceful occupation by Oaxacans of city buildings, setting up barricades throughout the city, painting public art (see Udi’s post on Art and Politics for more information on this) and also hunger strikes by striking teachers.  The uprising culminated with a particularly violent encounter between the APPO and Oaxacan occupiers and the police at the end of November, 2006, over 6 months after the original teachers’ strike.

Photo from http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2006/11/19/18331008.php by Barucha Calamity Peller taken Sunday Nov 19th, 2006

As darkness ensued and the bus entered the city limits of Oaxaca city, Udi and I both felt a sense of anticipated excitement about what we were to learn and experience over the coming weeks.

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Knowing Blackfoot Sacred Places – through Visiting

Knowing Blackfoot Sacred Places  – through Visiting

Posted by on Nov 15, 2012 in all posts, Canada, Red Crow Community College | 0 comments

I think it is probably safe to say that most of us, if not all of us, have visited sacred, spiritual or religious sites of some sort or another – either as part of our own belief system or that of others.  Our reasoning for visiting sacred places varies as does our interest and openness to how we connect with them and how these connections might or might not affect our lives.

For students, teachers, Elders and community members involved either directly or indirectly in the Kainai Studies program at Red Crow, learning and engaging with sacred places is about reconnection, reclamation and repatriation.  What we learned through reading literature by Cynthia and Narcisse (and also Betty Bastien), and also through different conversations with each of them and Ramona, Ryan, Adrienne, Alvine and Duane was that learning about sacred places was not just learning about them, but rather to learn from them.  To learn from a place mean that participants within the program needed to not just tour them, but rather to visit them (Cynthia and Narcisse write beautifully about this process in their article, ‘Love thy Neighbor:  Repatriating Precarious Blackfoot Sites’ which we will be adding to the links/resources section of this blog).  But what then does it mean to visit?  And how, can we as learners from the outside also learn about the significance of visiting sacred sites, especially as a core component of the Kainai Studies program?

Map of traditional Blackfoot territory – borrowed from Chambers and Narcisse (2008) – original map from Glenbow Museum website, “Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life” http://www.glenbow.org/blackfoot/teacher_toolkit/english/culture/territory.html (Accessed November 2012)

The original Blackfoot territory, or Nitáówahsinnoon covered most of Alberta and Montana and parts of Saskatchewan.  Within Nitáówahsinnoon the Blackfoot developed intimate knowledge and close relationships with all dimensions of the environment.  These relationships were renewed through ceremonies and ritual as well as reciprocal practices of visiting and providing nourishment (see Cynthia and Narcisse’s article and Ryan Heavy Head’s writing for much more detailed information). Ceremonies took place at different times, at sacred sites for different purposes for thousands of years and were nearly erased due to the heavy layers of oppressive actions felt by the Blackfoot peoples over the last 150 years. Because of the power of stories and secretive practice of ceremonies, knowledge surrounding sacred places endured.  Yet, currently, much of this knowledge is fragmented and weak (as some has been lost as a result of the Indian Act and residential schooling, amongst other reasons) and is currently being re-built through efforts such as the Kainai Studies program.

The landscape of Nitáówahsinnoon is itself storied as Cynthia and Narcisse explain.  Each sacred place has a story about its emergence and many sacred places have stories that were written on them through pictographs or petroglyphs.  For Siksikáítapiiksi, these places are not simply piles of rocks, cliffs, or glacial erratics; they are places imbued with meaning and history. These places are the equivalent of books, encyclopedias, libraries, archives, crypts, monuments, historical markers and grottos; they are destinations for pilgrims; places of sacrifice, revelation and apparition; and sources of knowledge and wisdom. For Siksikáítapiiksi, these places are repositories for the knowledge left by the ancestors.

Prior to the onslaught of colonialism and settlers, there were thousands of sacred places throughout the Blackfoot territory.  The majority of these places have been demolished, precisely because they are seldom seen as anything but rocks, stones or cliffs.  While we were staying in Fort MacLeod there was front page news that the Glenwood ‘glacial erratic’ (this is the term used by the Canadian government for giant seemingly out-of-place glacial stones) was desecrated – petroglyphs on top of the stone were literally drilled apart and acid was poured on pictographs to distort and erase the fading colors barely present.  The stone is so large that to carry out this type of desecration, more than one person would have needed ladders, lights and heavy equipment.  The destruction was discovered by a Blackfoot historian who had just received approval from the community to begin archaeological investigation into the petroglyphs and pictographs at the place.  Worst of all, the site was not listed in the Alberta historical places and has only become more widely known because of the violence induced at the site.  News of the desecration of the Glenwood place was felt strongly by the people we met and by both of us. We had been there for just over a week, but had already begun to learn with the landscape, visiting several sacred places amidst reading and conversing about them.  In addition to the desecration of Glenwood, many other sacred places are in danger of being destroyed due to the constant pressure of oil and gas drilling.

At the end of our stay in Alberta, as we drove North to Calgary, we stopped at the ‘Okotoks’ or ‘Big Rocks’ as they are known in Blackfoot.  These massive rocks are also known as the Okotok ‘glacial erratics’ although they have been visited by the Blackfoot through ceremonies over thousands of years.  The story of how the rocks got there is that the Creator Napi was being chased by the rocks because he had offered his robe to the rocks when it was hot but had asked for it back when it was cold.  The rocks said that the robes had been given to them, but Napi took them anyway which made the rocks start chasing him.  This chase created the hills and the landscape.  These particular ‘Big Rocks’ chased Napi further than any others.  They stopped and cracked where they did because some birds farted on them.

Photo taken by Udi of the signage before the walk to the ‘Big Rocks’. There is information from a scientific perspective and from a Blackfoot perspective. This sign shows the story of Napi and the landing of the rocks in this particular location.

 

Photo taken by Kelly of one of the Okotok ‘Big Rocks’, south of Calgary, Alberta

Udi and I located the ‘Big Rocks’ about 10km west of the town of Okotoks which is about 50km south of Calgary.  The rocks appear as huge anomalies in the landscape.  The Blackfoot story of the Okotoks makes them come alive and we felt a closer connection to them reflecting on this story, rather than the only through a scientific explanation.  Here is a youtube video I found that helps to experience the ‘Big Rocks’.

Photo by Udi of the ‘Big Rocks’ from the path. Notice the two signs explaining the ‘Big Rocks’.

Our first visit as mentioned in the Land, Buffalo and Blackfoot post, was to the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Museum.  Although this site is indeed a sacred place to the Blackfoot, it is now acknowledged more widely (well beyond the Blackfoot people) as a place to learn from and about the incredible history of the Blackfoot people, including the profound relationship the Blackfoot had with the buffalo and the tragic decimation of the buffalo, due almost entirely to the lack of reverence and respect of European settlers.

Our second visit was to Crowsnest Mountain and Crowsnest Pass, about one hour directly west of Fort MacLeod, within the Rocky Mountain range.  The drive to Crowsnest was itself stunning as we had not seen the Rocky Mountains since our drive through Glacier National Park.  We were unable to locate the precise place of Crowsnest Pass, but we did locate a sign that identified the region as a place of heritage importance for Canadians, with a brief mention of ‘Indian’ usage of the place as well.  This historical positioning of the Blackfoot as ‘hearsay’ or ‘pre-historic’ is common discourse, relegating the history of the Blackfoot as something before White man history began.

Photo taken by Kelly – Sign describing Crowsnest Pass by the Province of British Columbia

We drove up a road about 10 miles to be closer to Crowsnest Mountain.  Similar to Chief Mountain which is 50 miles south, Crowsnest stands out strikingly in isolation from the other mountains.  We stopped the car next to a natural gas pipeline tank with warning signs of ‘extreme danger’ on the fence surrounding it.  This picture demonstrates the prominence of the mountain and the ever-encroaching development that endangers the longevity of all sacred places.

Photo taken by Udi – view of Crowsnest Mountain from natural gas well pipeline

Our third visit was to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, an archaeological and natural preserve near the Milk River, just above the United States border.  We had dinner with Cynthia and Ramona the night before we visited Writing-On-Stone at a popular restaurant in Fort MacLeod, called Jonny’s.  They both urged us to visit Writing-On-Stone.  The next day, after a 2.5 hour drive, we arrived just in time for a 3-hour guided tour from a younger Blackfoot woman.

Photo taken by Udi – Hoo Doo Table from within the Writing-On-Stone coulee area

Writing-On-Stone is a wondrous landscape within prairie where you also see sagebrush and wildflowers, especially at the edge of the Milk River that winds its way through the coulees.  There are marvelous hoo-doos that have been eroded from the sandstone and writings and pictures carved continuously for the past 4,000 years.  In this picture is a famous hoo-doo that was also used as a place for Vision Quests for thousands of years.  Today, this site generally and more specifically this hoo-doo is a sacred site where blessings are offered.  Ancient petroglyphs are still noticeable in many areas, although newer, graffiti is also present.  The forms of petroglyphs and pictographs being the Blackfoots form of literacy is still being debated.  Narcisse explains very descriptively in a blog-posting that whilst ochre pictographs were drawn onto the Okotoks because of the hardness of granite, at Writing-On-Stone, stories were carved into the rock as petroglyphs as the sandstone rock is much softer.  Here is a good experiential short video of Writing-on-Stone on youtube and another one showing different petroglyphs with brief explanations (just be patient for the first 20 second advertisement!).

Photo taken by Udi – Petroglyphs inside Writing-On-Stone

Our guide told many stories represented through the different petroglyphs and was also very open about her own life and Blackfoot learning.  The three hours passed by very quickly.  The storied landscape spoke deeply to us, we were absorbed in the colors, the formations and the stories told.

Photo taken by Kelly – Writing-On-Stone landscape – Milk River, sandstone hoo-doos and prairie

Woven through these moments of different visits to places and to meals with different people (such as Cynthia, Ramona and Erika), I was reading various articles and books.  Two days after our visit to Writing-On-Stone, I had just read through Cynthia and Narcisse’s article for the first time and I was completely taken by the style of the writing and the stories conveyed within.  In particular, I was very moved by the section discussion ‘visiting as repatriation’ and felt a strong desire to better understand visiting as a process rather than a single event.  In the article, Cynthia and Narcisse mention Carolla Calf Robe and her annual visits to Sundial Butte to make offerings and ask for blessings for her family.  After an accident when Carolla was confined to a wheelchair, she was carried up to the top of Sundial in a wheelchair.  She was resigned to the fact that she might never visit the site again.  This resignation and effort to make that visit helped her to find a renewed strength and continue living in a new way.  This story spoke to me of the importance of these places being about renewal and connection.

With our afternoon suddenly free, Udi and I both agreed that finding and learning from Sun Dial Butte (or Sun Dial Medicine Wheel as it is most commonly called) was a great idea.  Locating Sun Dial is no simple task.  There are gravel roads criss-crossing the plains, which at this point are mostly farm lands.  We stopped to ask for directions and were given a simple list of where to go.  I also had written out directions from the Internet.  These did not match… we were better informed by a rancher along the way who directed us perfectly.  There is a beautiful conversation filmed at Sun Dial with Narcisse Blood talking about Sun Dial and the significance of sacred places and the necessity for altering our relationships with the land that is based on reciprocity rather than extraction for our use.

Photo taken by Kelly – Sign depicting Sundial Medicine Wheel just below the site

Udi and I stayed on top of Sun Dial for more than 2 hours, sitting, meditating, walking around, slowly, intentionally.  We were there on our own.  The sun was warm, a gentle breeze blowing strongly and then softly.  We agreed that there was a profoundly strong, yet gentle strength.  The experience of being there is difficult to articulate.

Photo taken by Udi – Top of Sun Dial Butte

After we returned to the Fort Motel in Fort MacLeod, I spent an hour or so trying to write about the time spent there.  This is some of what I wrote ——

… those moments under the sun’s rays at Sun Dial, I felt a sense of completion. It was a gentle peacefulness, but strong like the beating of my heart.  This peace was something about … being … connected — to time – all those beings past and present who had been here at this place called Sun Dial, all those who were there.  I felt that all-is-well – regardless of… it just is.  Pain and suffering drift into the wind, the voices of ancestors whispering and beckoning within the stones. I felt as if I was somehow a deeper sense of myself – a self inseparable.  This is the moment I really began to develop a deeper understanding about what ‘indigenous knowledge’ is.  I felt a sense of power – not a power to control or master, nor a power to be heard and seen – but rather, a power to be a part of… love or fear, it did not matter.  I look around and see how so much is based on fear and power – a need to be in control and to manipulate.  Sun Dial is the opposite of this.  Thousands of years have witnessed beings gathering here at this site – to connect to one’s inner-outer being – to connect to stories of the ages that are told as if they happened yesterday.  Thousands of years. Power has been manifested here through the mode of giving – of self to self, of self to land and of self to other selves through transfers of stories, song and ceremony, through offerings and gestures. We left four sage cuttings amidst the stones, resting them gently symbolising the importance of the number four, as Ramona taught us.  Through such a profoundly simple gesture of gratitude and appreciation, I felt, I learned something of the Blackfoot way of knowing – I felt that I began to connect deeply to the past – all pasts, presents and to future connections.  It made me curious, more curious than I have been in a very long time.  But, mostly it made me feel alive.

Photo taken by Kelly – Prairie views from Sun Dial Butte

This visit to Sun Dial and the other visits to Head-Smashed-In, Writing-On-Stone and Crowsnest Pass and Crowsnest Mountain provided deep learning experiences for us.  Yet, these experiences were the tip of the iceberg of what we could learn through a much longer stay and much deeper engagement.  However, making ourselves open to being present within these places helped us to feel their sacredness, beyond a more rational way of knowing.

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