Indigenous Peoples Exchange - 2001
Native Siberians Travel to USA to Meet Native Americans
Back Row Left to Right: Lyubov, Jani, Gulvaira, Paul, Lyudmila, Front: Milan, Erjen
The Sacred Earth Network's Indigenous Peoples Project (IPP) brought five very talented and committed indigenous leaders from Siberia to the U.S. this fall to meet with their Native American counterparts in New England and the Southwest. The participants were Lyudmila Ignatenko (Yupik), Lyubov Krivileva (Evenki), Milan Kynyraa (Tuvan), Gulvaira Shermatova (Kumandin), and Erjen Khamaganova (Buryat). Their fields of expertise include cultural restoration, environmental protection, native rights and tribal government. They are all part of a newly-formed NGO called "Light of The Ancient Lands" a network devoted to the rebirth of indigenous culture in Siberia and the Russian Far east.
This first-of-a-kind exchange was made possible through the generosity of the Trust for Mutual Understanding and the devoted membership of SEN. It was coordinated by Cathy Pedevillano and Bill Pfeiffer and videotaped by documentary filmmaker Jonathan Skurnik. This was an extraordinary trip for all concerned. There was excitement and magic as each side shared their experiences and traditions, as well as sadness and tears as they shared their histories.
Why host an exchange such as this? The immediate answer is that it is the right thing to do. Siberian languages, culture, and sacred sites are fast disappearing. Tribes face starvation, joblessness, alcoholism and despair. Their lands are being destroyed. Native Siberians and Native Americans are two very proud but subjugated cultures at varying stages of a revitalization process. In general, Native Americans appear to be further along in their re-emergence, and it is of great value to share what has assisted them. Both sides felt that this kind of exchange made them part of a relatively new global indigenous movement for self-determination . . . and they want more.
The Northeast USA:
On their first day in the Northeast, the Siberian delegation was greeted by Jani Leverett (Cherokee) and her son Rob. They gave us an archaeological, geological, and native historical tour of the Connecticut River Valley from the vantage point of Mt. Tom near Northampton, MA. Looking down on the snaking, broad Connecticut River (meaning "pure, clear river"), we were reminded that an entire non-European civilization inhabited this region along with the rest of the tribes of the Eastern seaboard who were known as "The People of the Dawn". We were also reminded that Indians still inhabit this region and are not a relic of the past.
The group was joined on Mt. Tom by Paul Tohlakai (Navajo) who had just recently dropped by the SEN office seeking organizational support for his non-profit "Sacred Mountain Foundation" based in Pinon Arizona. Paul did a powerful opening ceremony on Mt. Tom, and he continued to travel with us for the remainder of the time in New England. The Siberians visited Cultural Survival, a nonprofit based in Cambridge dedicated to the cultural restoration of native peoples around the world. They also travelled to Vermont Law School and met with professors Bruce Duthu and Gail Osherenko who provided some essential legal "nuts and bolts", comparing a range of different issues, most notably land rights. Dr. Duthu, of the Houma tribe, teaches law with a concentration on Native American issues and Dr. Osherenko, who teaches at Dartmouth, is one of the world's foremost authorities on Siberia's indigenous peoples.
Other events included an evening presentation of cultural sharing by the Siberians in Amherst where they received a warm welcome from over fifty people, and a dinner gathering at SEN supporter Beth Nicholson's home in Newton, MA.
The Southwest USA:
Lisa Gover After four days in the Northeast, the group flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico where we began our southwest adventure. On this warm Halloween afternoon, we were greeted by Chairmen Ron Soliman and Rick Vigil of the All Indian Pueblo Council. Standing in the courtyard of the Pueblo Cultural Center as night fell and a full moon rose we had a chance meeting with the famous Lakota singer Bonnie Jo Hunt who proceded to speak a little Russian and sing for and with our Siberian group. There was a feeling of magic and warmth and acceptance as we felt the spirits of the land and native people welcome us to the Southwest.
"We are one people. All that separates us is miles."
--Lisa Gover (Comanche/Pawnee)
The next morning we had an incredible meeting with Jerry Pardilla (Penobscot) and Lisa Gover (Pawnee/Comanche) of the National Tribal Environmental Council. Jerry gave a powerful and moving overview of the history and current status of Native Americans focusing on land and resource rights. A lively discussion ensued where stories of oppression were shared from both sides of the world. Although 95 percent of the land has been taken from Native Americans, the Siberians felt that in practice they have far less control on their lands. There was a strong feeling of mutuality between the Native Siberians and Native Americans in this meeting which ended with a call for a global initiative to unite indigenous people around the world. As Lisa Gover said, "We are one people. All that separates us is miles."
Jerry Pardilla meeting with the group.
The Siberians at Taos Pueblo:
The group went on to meet with William Whatley, Cultural Preservation Officer for Jemez Pueblo who gave them practical tips for mapping their lands and sacred sites and for drafting legislation to preserve them. Santa Fe was our next destination where we toured and met with the President and faculty of the Institute of American Indian Arts, the only all-Indian college of its kind in the U.S. We then headed to Taos Pueblo for a tour of this ancient site which is the longest-inhabited Indian village in the country. In Taos we also met with John Kimmey who has spent 30 years studying with Hopi elders who have passed on their knowledge of the Hopi Prophecy to him which he recorded in his book "Light on the Return Path." John welcomed us warmly with drumming and singing and a purification ceremony and spent the afternoon explaining the prophecy and sharing stories with the group.
The Siberians at Taos Pueblo.
John Kimmey shares his knowledge with the group.
From Taos we headed across the mountains of northern New Mexico to Chinle, Arizona. There, two Navaho guides, Daniel Staley and Benjamin Anagal, showed us the lands in and around Canyon de Chelley and explained some of the traditions and life ways of the Navaho. Benjamin guided us as we hiked into the Canyon on the land where he grew up. The group got a taste of the bright blue skies and red rock canyons so characteristic of the southwest and felt the spirit and aliveness of these lands.
We continued westward to the Hopi reservation and were met by a double rainbow and blessed by much-needed rainshowers on these arid lands. Sandra Cosentino of Crossing Worlds Journeys arranged for us to meet her Hopi friends and spend the day immersed in their culture.
Roanna, a vibrant Hopi woman who is a potter, wood carver, jewelry maker and the leader of a woman's society, explained about the roles of men and women, the structure of the different clans and the lifestyle of the Hopi now and in the past. We also met with several elders at Old Oraibi and with Augustine a medicine man at Second Mesa. The next day we met with Ferrell Secakuku, a former Hopi Tribal Chairman who has started a nonprofit to fight the Peabody Coal Mine that is threatening the very existence of the Hopis and Navahos in the region by depleting their water source.
Roanna (Hopi) sharing with the group in her home.
The Siberians were very moved by the openness and strength of the Hopi people, their world view, and the power of their ancient traditions that have held their culture together. In the words of the Siberians, "We were highly touched and spiritually re-charged by the visit to the ancient Navaho and Hopi lands and Native American sacred sites".
The Siberians returned to the Northeast with many new insights and perspectives and feeling renewed and inspired. They had a productive meeting of setting goals to further their work with the indigenous people's network "Light of the Ancient Lands". Final events of their trip to America included meeting with Tom Dostou (Abenaki/Quichichan) a peace and anti-nuclear activist and participating in a sweat lodge led by Arvol Looking Horse, the well-known Lakota Pipekeeper.
We hope that this extraordinary exchange is just the beginning of more global exchanges between indigenous peoples. This is part of the great work of "Restoring the Hoop of All Nations" as prophesied by the late Lakota holyman Black Elk. The revitalization of these ancient earth-based cultures and empowerment of native peoples is essential to restoring harmony and balance on this planet. Instead of suppressing these native voices it is time that we heed their words.
Ferrell Secakuku (kneeling front center)
(L to R) Bill Pfeiffer, Milan, Lyuba, Gulya, Lyudmila, Cathy Pedevillano, Erjen