Manataka American Indian Council

 

 

 

GRANDMOTHER L. COTA NUPAH MAKAH SPEAKS

 

 

 

 
 

 

Seven Sacred Fires of Wisdom
 

By L. Cota Nupah Makah

 

The morning promised to be warmer with the mud drying up in the back of the house so I decided to go to the river to seek some guidance.


I dressed as quickly as I could layering my clothes to help keep out the cold air and yet allow me freedom to move around.


Pulling on my old boots and lacing them up I got out my nap sack and filled it with a bottle of water and some bread and cheese.


In the back of the cupboard I found a small bag of dried meat. Tossing it in I pulled the top string tight and went to the door. Very carefully I opened the door, the old leather straps that served as hinges always made a kind of creaky noise and I did not want to wake anyone today.


Stepping out into the cold of the spring morning I felt the cold wind whip at my hair. I took out my scarf and wrapped it around my head and face to keep warm then headed off down the road to the river.


My hands were jammed deep in my pockets and the back pack strapped across my shoulders felt good. I had the whole day ahead of me and did not want to waste it sitting in the house.


My had brought digging stick, and a small basket in case I found some early spring treasures were all I needed. The sun was crawling up over the pine trees on the other side of the river and crows were scolding in the oak trees.


At the end of the road that leads right up to the river I made a left turn and continued to walk along the deep cut path where deer and other larger animals came down to drink. The path was slippery with wet clay and I had to hang on to the low hanging pine limbs to keep my footing.


The river was running high along the bank hiding the homes of musk rats and small river animals.


I sit for a while under one of the old trees on pine needles that were as dry as summer and soft and warm.


The over hanging low branches serve as a water barrier and protect the ground under the trees. A good place to curl up and wait out a storm unless there is lightening.


I have sit here many times while fishing. This old pine tree has seen many years of my family and we have enjoyed camping out here in the summer months.


It was here that my friend Tony Tree Spirit, now in spirit, came to gift the council drum he had made from the maple tree.


He said it was like the hearts of the women who gave and gave of the sweet teachings of life. I miss him and made a prayer for his now long departed spirit.


Back out on the path it was getting lighter and the way a bit easier, I continued walking until I saw the open water.

 
Near the old bolder that sits out in the point of the beach I cut back into the deeper woods. The path into this area is over run now with berries and other vines. There along the path are May flowers peeking out from under the wet rich floor of leaves and rotting plants.
Soon they will bloom into wonderful smelling flowers that were used to decorate the baskets we hung on May Day morning.
 

After some climbing up the side of the hill I come to the clearing. It is quiet here. peaceful, and undisturbed as it was hundreds of years ago.  The trees grow in a natural circle around the clearing. They are close together like dancers and shield the circle from prying eyes.
In the center of the clearing are the remains of a stone ringed fire pit.
 

It is here that I want to be and sit for a while. The stones have been tossed and turned by the winter snow. I pick them up gently and replace them in some form of order.  All the while I am singing and talking to the stones and plants that grow among them.
 

Next I clean out the old charred pieces of wood from the fire pit and lay them aside. Deep down in the center of the pit I see a soft red glow and dig out the branches that lay on top of it.
 

Very carefully I lift the small glowing ember and place it on a dry piece of wood.
 

I must look hard to find dry wood this morning as all is soaked from yesterdays rain. I bring pine needles to the fire pit and more dry wood. After careful feeding and fanning. the ember bursts into flame and there is a bright fire in the pit.
 

I put down my poncho and spread the blanket I have wrapped around me on the ground. I sit there and drink my water and eat my bread and dry meat. I think of the time in the time past when this was a sacred site for the people.
 

After a while I fill the fire pit with an arm load of dry branches and bring more to place beside the fire.
 

The air is silent and the birds are still you can feel the sound of the food steps on the land.
 

I take my blanket back to sit by the trees and wait.
 

Soon I hear the sound of a snapping branch in the woods and then more and more sounds as they come like shadows of light through the trees.
 

The Gray Hooded ones, the Silver Hooded ones, on and on they come Gold, brown, all the colors of the Sacred Wheel they march into the circle and stand around the fire. The chanting goes on and on as the water drum is sounded to the rhythm of their foot steps.
The sound of the voices and the drum fill my heart and mind. Once again the old ones come to tell the stories of wisdom.
 

First they start with the old story of the elders who left the sacred council fires so many years ago.
 

They speak of the time before time when the people did not listen to the elders.
 

It was then that the elders held a great council and agreed to speak no more at the fire until the people listened. It was to be for seven generations that this would hold true.
 

The seven generations are now gone and the new world is starting to appear. From the damp floor of the land the people are returning to the sacred fires and the elders sit ready to share the wisdom.
 

They sit wrapped in the blankets of spirit and clothed with the skins of the deer. The bear gives its hide for them to sit on and the fire dances in the night.
 

Soon the circle is full and all is silent in waiting for the Elders to speak.
 

Then from the circle stood a man who was taller than the rest. His face like that of the hawk and his eyes were black as night.
He stood tall and quiet and waited for the words to come.
 

The first words he spoke were, "In the time before time, we gathered like this in many lands".
 

Holding his hand up he continued to speak.
 

"The great council fires held more people than fish in the waters. Our nation was great and our men and women were strong and lived in a good way.
 

The children were loved and the elders were respected."
 

He folded his arms across his chest and walked a few steps into the light of the fire.
 

He continued to speak. "It was in this time that great changes came to Turtle Island many were sick and died. Many left the ways of our people and went to other lands. Soon we were few and we were sick in our hearts."
 

Hanging his head he continued in a low deep voice. "Our women lost their path and the men gave their souls to the ways of the strangers. In time the hoop of the people was broken."
 

The other elders sit in silence, and the people hung their heads in shame and sadness.
 

Again the man spoke to the people who were gathered.
 

" Tonight we come back to the sacred fire because it was found and the last burning coal was honored lit the sacred fire once more."
 

"We had all but despaired of this ever happening. Now we are all here at this fire. All through the nations other council fires are being lit from the sacred fire of peace."
 

"It is the beginning of a new time a new world and a new peace.
 

Listen well, and remember the old ones, and the sharing of the wisdom."
 

Honor your elders and your teachers keep them close and safe from harm. Rebuild the long houses and join as one under the big blue bowl of the sky."
 

He continued saying, "here we are one and here we are all brothers and sisters. We will share what we have, and welcome all to sit and eat with us."
 

After a long pause he spoke again, "The great peace maker has come once more and will walk with us into the place of peace love and truth once again."
 

With this he sit down and motioned for the dancers to come and sing and rattle. The old songs were sung and the elders spoke one by one to the people who came.  The children played around the fire throwing in small hands full of wood.
 

The fire burned long into the night as the story tellers shared the time from before time. In the morning the food was shared and the people slept until the sun was high in the sky.
 

When they woke up the fire was burning just as bright as it was the night before. The elders were gone but they left their robes of color all around the circle of the fire. Each night they returned to share more until the people finally remembered the old ways.
 

I gathered up my blanket and pack and back away into the trees so not to disturb the gathering. My feet step on the wet damp earth and make no noise.  Back along the slippery river bank I climb, and hurry home to the warm wood fire and a hot cup of tea.
 

Now on nights when I cannot sleep my mind drifts away to the Sacred Fire and I can hear the old ones speak.  My mind remembers the old ways that call to me, and again my feet are walking on soft damp earth. It is in these moments that I can see my path.
 

This is the time we all must rejoin around the sacred fires and share our hearts and wisdom.
 

Mitakuye Oyasin
Nupah Makah L. Cota

 
2009 by Nupah Makah L. Cota. All rights reserved.
 

  

 


 

 


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