Alanda Greene, a longtime student, teacher and friend of Yasodhara Ashram recently participated in the Kainai Ecosystems Protection Agency’s Summit “Blackfoot Science” in Southern Alberta. She reflects on the experience of weaving ancient lineage through shifting times.
There is a line in the Buddhist Sutra on Loving Kindness, often read at satsang, that expresses the wish, “May everyone be fortunate enough to encounter the dharma.” Each time I hear that line, I am moved to ponder: What if I hadn’t encountered these teachings? What would my life have been? How many people in the world never get an opportunity to learn that their life has meaning and potential?
In early June, I attended a conference on the Blood – or Kainai – Reserve. The conference was hosted by KEPA, the Kainai Ecosystem Protection Association, a group working to restore health and vitality to the land, in response to the impacts of climate change in particular and to other disruptive influences that have compromised ecosystem resilience.
The Kainai, as is common with First Nations communities, see no separation between the people and the land. Their KEPA flag, presented in an honour ceremony at this year’s conference, carries the meaning, “Gathering together for protection of all our relatives.” All our relatives means the plant world, the water, the air and all the creatures that inhabit these domains. As one elder addressing the conference participants said, “Humans are just one part of all this. We’re not more important than any other part. Each of us has our work to do.”
I was inspired by the presentations, by the commitment of those involved in this work to revitalize the land. This work carries the recognition that as the land is revitalized, so are the people. They are not separate. I was further inspired to discover, in conversations with KEPA members over the three days of the gathering, the same kinds of questions and explorations that I have encountered for so many years at the Ashram.
In a Pipe Offering Ceremony to open this year’s conference, I heard reference to the process of determining what is essential to the ceremonies and what things change as the times change. “We keep this buffalo hide as the place on which our ceremony is offered, but instead of a burning fire, we use a piece of glowing charcoal. Instead of a chokecherry stick to clean the pipe stem, I use a piece of metal.” Our facilitator chuckles and says, “But my grandfather doesn’t think I should do that.”
In further conversations, I learn of adaptations at the summer Sun Gathering. “We try to encourage the people to use tipis there, even though we don’t have Buffalo hides and the tipis are made of canvas. But we also use motor homes, because they make it much easier for our elders to participate, and so this is accommodated. Their involvement is really important.”
I recently read: What is required is having a language, a road map, for understanding the human being’s connection to the cosmos. Whatever form is offered to provide the understanding of that connection, it fulfills the wish of encountering the dharma. These young men and women of the Kainai are gaining a language to understand the wisdom of the ancient teachings of their culture.
Places like the Ashram offer the same good fortune. These teachings are being updated and, like the land, revitalized. It heartens me to find this kinship of exploration, encountering the ancient wisdom and enlivening it in the present. It deepens my gratitude again.