I am focusing in this week’s Newsletter on the ways two Branching Streams sanghas are recognizing indigenous people in the U. S. and Canada.
Yesterday was Indigenous Peoples Day in the U.S. – a public holiday in some states. Although California is not one of them, members of Everyday Zen sangha, based in Marin County, gathered with several Native community leaders for an online ceremony.
I was invited to attend yesterday’s Everyday Zen ceremony, which was organized by Jaune Evans, a Senior Priest and Teacher with Everyday Zen and Guiding Teacher of the Heart of Compassion Zen in Point Reyes. Jaune works for a foundation that supports indigenous peoples internationally. In introducing the ceremony, Jaune stated that Indigenous Peoples Day gives those of us who are not Native an opportunity to learn about and recognize Native people and how they have cared for the lands we live on. She said that ritual is a way of connecting with all beings, a way of healing the passing of people, a way of honoring sacred places. She noted that both Native spirituality and Zen Buddhism are traditions of gratitude. Expressing gratitude brings us together across language.
Three Native guests introduced themselves in their native languages as well as in English. Melissa Nelson, Turtle Mountain Chippewa from North Dakota, said Indigenous Peoples Day reminds us that indigenous people are still here today. “We are modern people with deep roots.” Kaimana Barcarse, participating from the Big Island island of Hawai’i, said the bones of his ancestors are in Hawai’i; “our ancestors discovered Hawai’i.” Kaylena Bray, a member of the Turtle Clanfrom the Seneca Nation, introduced the ceremony they later shared, “The Words Before All Else,” a Thanksgiving address which begins every Native gathering. They offered thanks to many aspects of nature, honored their elders and the land.
Members of Everyday Zen followed with a service. Founding and guiding teacher Norman Fisher was doshi, and sangha members were kokyo, doan, and Zoom host. They chanted the Heart Sutra and the Metta Sutta and ended with an Eko written by Jaune. Here are a few lines of the Eko:
Reaffirming our respect and care for each other
Not turning away from our community or global bonds and responsibilities
Acknowledging and bowing to all our aw-inspiring knowledge systems,
Our diverse cultural lifeways and practices of well-being, our languages and cosmo-visions, our ways of praying, of kneeling our compassionate Earth…
We return the gifts we are given, offering this ceremonial exchange of gratitude for the awakening and freedom of all beings.
Our minds are now One…
Canada has recognized a National Indigenous Peoples’ Day on June 21 since 1996, and the country honored the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30 of this year — the Canadian government has apologized at various points for the suppression and forced assimilation of Indigenous communities. Vancouver’s Mountain Rain Zen Community is midway through their class on “Exploring Right Relationship with Indigenous Peoples,” a series for those of settler/immigrant background, whether recent or generations past, who would like to deepen their understanding of history, culture, spirituality and lived experience of the indigenous peoples of Canada.
The Everyday Zen ceremony and the Mountain Rain class point to ways those of us who are not Native can learn about history we weren’t taught in school, change some of our misconceptions of Native people, and find ways to engage with Native people in our localities that honor their culture and their lives.