Manataka American Indian Council®
Manataka Making a Relative Ceremony
Henbury Avenue Special School, Northern Territory, Australia
By Lynn Dream Dancer Guy
On June 20, 2008, at the time of the summer solstice, 151 students, teachers and staff gathered to be inducted as honorary members of Manataka.
A couple of months ago I got a big surprise when I opened an email from Bear telling me about a sacred ceremony that was going to be held in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia and asking if I’d consider going along to help. I was surprised and delighted to be given this opportunity to assist my beautiful Manataka family and to be there for the students and staff of Henbury Special School. I thought back to my time as an Art Teacher in the Northern Territory [also called the N.T. or ‘The Territory] from the late 80’s to late 90’s - how in my early years I’d written on behalf of my Aboriginal Students to another Native American tribe’s school to see if we could be ‘linked’ and share experiences. They never replied to my letter then and we’d been disappointed. Now the Circle had turned and here was my beloved Cherokee family offering to adopt a whole school: students and staff! How beautiful. Spirit always has wonderful gifts and surprises – here was one very special one!
Bear asked me to get in touch with a gentleman who’s heritage is Nez Perce: Graham Osceola Waters and his wife Jenny Paloosa Waters [who’s heritage is Tasmanian Aboriginal], and the school’s Principal Michael Jones, to start coordinating the event. Osceola was quick to respond and soon I found I had another sacred brother and sister through Manataka. We shared much and spoke regularly on the phone with emails flying back and forth too. I learnt that Osceola has a number of debilitating illnesses yet in spite of them, he has managed to paint many beautiful paintings including a beautiful mural at the school which his second youngest son, Michael, attends part-time. Osceola’s vision for the mural, following the invitation from one of the teacher’s at the school, enabled a number of students and staff to learn more about Native Americans’ understanding of the interconnectedness of all Beings on Mother Earth.
Ceremony coordinators: (L-R) Lynn Guy, Michael Jones, Michael Waters, Pallosa Waters, Graham Oseola Waters in front of the Peace mural.
These were the beginning steps leading to the offer from the wonderful Elders at Manataka to extend their family’s embrace to include the students and teachers at a Special Education School way across the Pacific Ocean in a very clear demonstration of the true meaning of Family and that We Are All One – This to me is what it truly means to be a part of the 5 Fingered Tribe of Mother Earth’s Children, those of us who walk Her as the 2 Leggeds.
Personally, I had lots of reasons for wanting to go: primarily to be of service to Spirit and Manataka, secondly to be supportive of Osceola and the students, and yes, to see how much education and the Territory had changed since I last taught Art up there 10 years ago. You see, I felt when I was doing my teacher training, and later when I finally left teaching because I just didn’t fit the system, that I’m a bit of a misfit because I believe that the education system too often misses the point and doesn’t prepare us or our children for life as it takes such a narrow focus on ‘education’ and ‘living’. I believe education should be ‘holistic’ not just the 3 ‘R’s’.
Ceremony coordinators: (L-R) Lynn Guy, Michael Jones, Michael Waters, Pallosa Waters, and Graham Osceola Waters seated.
As a child, I could never understand why we learnt as Australian children, about English culture, wars and class systems when we lived in this huge country - far from Britain - in a land with Aboriginal Peoples who’d been her caretakers for tens of 1,000’s of years. Why didn’t we have them teaching us about Australia, her land, her animals, climate, plants – how to survive in the bush, or their diverse cultures I’d ask. Years later when I got to the Territory I found that I could, and did, invite local Aboriginal people along to teach my students and me. This opened our hearts and minds to so much more about this sacred ancient and very beautiful land, to the Aboriginal Caretakers who, for millennia, had followed sacred teachings and traditions to preserve the animals and plants and look after the sacred places.
And on first glance, events leading up to and including our arrival in Darwin seemed to highlight that things hadn’t changed as there seemed to be a disregard for the importance of an holistic approach in education, in this instance, the significance of the Sacred Ceremony being offered to them. Although I’d emailed the Principal I heard nothing back from him. Bear, his supporters at Manataka, Osceola and I were what kept the momentum going to make sure everything was prepared in the respectful ways. I found out that the School had let parents know of the Ceremony via the School’s newsletter but not much else appeared to have been done except for the huge effort put in by Osceola and Paloosa.
Ceremony coordinators open the Making-A-Relative ceremony.
When my husband and I arrived at Darwin airport in the wee hours of Wednesday morning [Darwin’s about 3,500 kms from where we live on the East Coast of Australia], Osceola told me he’d managed to arrange a meeting for us with the Principal and also a teacher called Debbie [one of Michael’s teachers] for later that morning, so that we could organize where we’d hold the Ceremony, what we needed and so on. However when we arrived at the school we found out that the Principal was once more unavailable, although he did offer his welcome and his apologies. I wondered how much he truly understood the honour that his students, staff and he were being offered by Manataka and Osceola.
Again I found myself wondering when learning stopped being an experiential practice that encouraged the acquisition of wisdom through interaction between ALL the participants and included their active participation in what was being taught. I reflected on what ‘good education’ meant to me and how I’d wanted to change things when I was a student, then a teacher and finally how I’d left and was now teaching in a different way, in an holistic way because this is what’s always felt right to me. And then I remembered: Spirit never judges - neither should I. I was here to act on behalf of Manataka’s Elders and traditions. I could demonstrate best by letting go, becoming flexible and asking for guidance.
A group of Henbury Special School students and parents.
So I took a few breaths, remembered to be like the leaf bobbing along in the stream, up and down, flowing and finding a way around the ‘obstacles’ looking at what was before me from different perspectives: eagle - ant, willow - bamboo. How much could I bend I wondered? How much would Spirit and Manataka mind if the Ceremony had to be altered a little to cater for the ‘challenges’ we were experiencing. We walked around the school and Osceola decided that the gym would be best as many of the students and himself were in wheelchairs.
I recognized that if we wanted them to participate we needed smooth level ground. Also the weather was a very hot 32oC [89oF] and a bit humid which meant outdoors would be very uncomfortable for many of those attending. Okay gym it was. Now we had to figure out how we could make a circle big enough to include wheelchairs and chairs, those who were mobile and those who are restricted in their movement. Those who could sit through Ceremony and those who might have to be ‘removed’ because they ‘vocalised’ and/or get physically disruptive.
I asked Spirit to guide us, to show me how we could do what was asked in ways that would include holding a respectful Ceremony that could include as many as possible in an active and enjoyable way. I’ve always found that people respond best when they’re included, welcomed, honoured. So I stepped out of the way and was shown how we could do this. Spirit reminded me that the Stone people could be asked to hold candles in containers to represent the sacred fires for Spirit and the new Manataka family. Then I was shown how we could use the wood that the school had offered us to create two, 8-spoke wheels to represent the fires, and to use bigger stones to mark East, South, West and North.
Osceola, Paloosa, and 2 teachers Jane and Debbie offered to take a sacred Direction each, which they gladly looked after. Paloosa was East, Jane was South, Debbie took the West and Osceola represented the Wise Ones of the North. Each person was asked to speak with the Stone People where they lived to find one who’d volunteer to come and join us in the Ceremony. I also explained about the colours for each direction, and the animals usually associated with them, pointing out that different tribal traditions sometimes differed on colours and/or animals in the various Directions.
Another challenge was that although we’d asked to have Larrekeyah Elders invited along so that they could perform the ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony, that hadn’t been followed up – the Larrekeyah are the traditional custodians of the ‘country’ around Darwin. So we decided that Osceola [Speaker] and I [facilitator for the Ceremony] would pay our respects. With that agreed, we went home to discuss amongst ourselves the roles we’d each play according to what felt right in our hearts. Baz, my husband, was to be our main drummer along with Osceola and the new drum we’d gifted him. Baz was also our firekeeper and we invited their son Michael to assist him to represent the 7th Generation.
My normally shy husband surprised himself when he did a fine job in the singing, drumming, and dancing part of the ceremony showing everyone how to do the ‘signs’ used by those who are hearing impaired for the song ‘Oh Great Spirit’. Paloosa agreed to hand out certificates, take turns as a drummer, and was main supporter to Osceola and Guardian of the East. She was beautiful in performing these roles.
Friday dawned, another hot humid day with butterflies dancing merry steps in our tummies. We arrived at the school only to find again that they were unprepared for us. Big Breaths, flow, don’t judge, teach by doing with love, patience and gratitude. We placed the sacred fire circles first, then the stones signifying the 4 Directions – each with coloured ribbon to show the colour it also represented. As the students and staff assembled I had them form a circle of sorts around us. Someone handed me a microphone and I gulped, remembered ‘it’s not about me, so ‘fear’ jump cause we’re doing this NOW’, breathe big beautiful breaths, give inner thanks to Spirit and Welcome everyone.
Manataka members Lynn and Baz Guy.
I began by saying out loud: OSIYO! WELCOME MY SISTERS and BROTHERS. I asked if they knew how to say Osiyo – NO ! – so we practiced saying Osiyo and HO! Now I told them that I had to smudge everyone present to make sure we were clean and pure for Ceremony. As a lot of folk present have attended Ceremonies with Aboriginal peoples they understood the ‘smoking’ process and when I looked over at 2 Larrekeyah women present in the ‘audience’ they nodded and smiled approvingly. Some of the students were a little unsure of the smoke, others wanted to smell it more deeply and some even to taste it!! – we’d been warned on Wednesday that we’d have to take care as some of the students might try to eat the sage, tobacco, sweet grass or cedar so I’d kept the herbs in a bag over my shoulder.
Now it was Osceola’s turn to talk, to let everyone know about the Gift of the ‘Making A Relative Ceremony’ that was about to be given to them by the Elders and the Cherokee peoples and others who belong to Manataka. He spoke beautifully and from his heart as he first acknowledged the Larrekeyah, Manataka and the Creator. Osceola told of the history of Manataka as the Place of Peace and the importance of the Rainbow and the Rainbow Woman. He then shared a little of his connection to Manataka, before introducing Baz and I to those present. Osceola told the students and their teachers that we’d be giving everyone a certificate which showed how each of them had now become a member of Manataka’s sacred family.
Lynn Dream Dancer Invokes the Energies & Beings of the North.
My turn again – this time to first formally acknowledge and thank the Larrekeyah peoples, Baiame – the Rainbow Serpent - the Creator Being of Australia, Great Spirit, Manataka and all present. Then I created the sacred Circle sprinkling it with the tobacco, blessing the Stone People, the sacred ‘Fires’, the 4 Directions and We Are One! I looked around and noticed how everyone was now very attentive, even the most restless students were watching, learning, becoming involved. Again the Larrekeyah women nodded and smiled, recognizing what I was doing as being in harmony with their traditions. Inwardly I thanked the wise elders at Manataka and Spirit for guiding and helping me as I prepared to greet the Sacred Directions honouring the Animals, Grandmothers and Grandfathers who’ve gone before. I greeted the East and Wanbli the Eagle [paying silent acknowledgement to Paloosa] before I realized that Heyokah was stepping through.
I found myself grinning mischievously as I turned to the South, where Jane stood. In her daily role as teacher Jane often lovingly ‘teased’ the students in her encouragement and support of them – clearly she loved them and they her. As I greeted her, I was guided to ask everyone if they knew Coyote of the South – NO! was the response. So I howled like coyote and everyone laughed loudly. I said that Coyote is the Trickster, a great teacher, who was showing me to ‘loosen up’. When I turned to the West, I asked if they knew who was there? NO! Mato - Grizzly Bear!! And our beloved Bear from Manataka was felt. In the North I wondered if they knew who lived there? NO they again replied, wondering which animal they’d meet now. I said the word Tatanka and asked if they’d heard it before did they know who it meant? Some thought they may they knew. So we told them Tatanka is the White Buffalo – AAAAAAAAh! Now some of them were catching on and again the Aboriginal women signified they understood what I was doing and the similarities with how their Ceremonies honour All Our Relations.
Then Osceola, with the assistance of the school’s Assistant Principal, Colleen, began reading out the names on the Certificates. Each student or staff member was asked to come forward to receive their certificate to much applause and enthusiastic response from everyone there. Many were clearly delighted and proud, some were shy and a little reticent to come forward and for those unable to move easily we went to them giving them hugs and welcoming them as family. This part took a little while and we had a couple of staff members taking photos of the proceedings for us. These photos held their own surprises, their own blessings and gifts as I will share later. Finally the last had been given out and a tired yet happy Osceola happily handed things back over to me.
Time to sing, time to dance, time to actively share Ceremony. Again I thanked Spirit for the support as I had to sing with a microphone while leading the dancing too. Everyone joined hands as best they could and I told them we were going to sing When Dey Ya HO! – the Cherokee Morning Star song first in honour of our Tsa la’gi ~ Cherokee family at Manataka. The Larrekeyah women just beamed at the mention of the Morning Star song as the Morning Star is also very sacred to them, and to the Tiwi Islanders who live off the Coast of Darwin – a Morning Star Pole was featured on one of our dollar notes for many years! It was truly beautiful to look around the room at all the shining smiling faces as we became a circle, a sacred Wheel and sang from our hearts – me first and they calling back. The energy really started to build now. Everyone moved in their own way, everyone attempted to join in. Even the staff found themselves smiling, singing loudly and swaying with the drums. Our drummers were beautiful and kept a steady rhythm going for us.
Our next song was Oh Great Spirit and for this Baz stepped out and did the signs with Paloosa, Jane and Debbie helping, while Osceola drummed and I led the words of the song. It was truly wonderful to see these beautiful young people joining in whole-heartedly making the signs as best they could and singing loudly as they stamped their feet to the rhythm of the drums and for Mother Earth. Finally we sang ‘May We All Fly Like Eagles’ and I invited all who could, to come and dance with me. I started to sing and as I looked around the audience I saw faces lighting up everywhere so I turned around. Tears filled my eyes as I saw about a dozen beautiful Eagle chicks dancing behind me, their little wings outspread as they circled to the words of the song. The looks of sheer joy on their faces were a treasure to hold in one’s heart always. Now they knew they were part of the Cherokee family and welcome to sing, dance and share Ceremony. Now they belonged.
Finally it was time to conclude our Ceremony so I offered up a Prayer to Great Spirit giving thanks to Manataka and to all present, to Mother Earth and We Are One. I looked around to many smiling faces and a very different energy to when we first began. Teachers and others came up after to say thank you, to say how they felt their hearts open and one told me that she felt that the school would be a very different place now for what they’d received and experienced. Osceola and Paloosa shared that in all the assemblies they’d attended there, the students had never been so attentive, involved and quiet. You see some disabled folk can become very ‘vocal’ and/or physically disruptive. But for this Ceremony they were involved and they loved being a part of it.
Later on Friday night when I was checking the photos on my camera I was stunned and delighted to see that Spirit’s presence was visible in the pictures. Quite a few featured energy orbs or balls of light – some over Osceola and Paloosa, some over Baz and I, others over the audience. We were being lovingly watched and supported - here was the evidence of that.
Our lessons in all this were very many, the power of the human heart to give and receive love unconditionally regardless of how well ‘abled’ one is or is not, was one of the biggest. Staying in our hearts and being flexible regardless of what’s going on around you was another. Trust was a huge one, so was surrender, and always there was Gratitude for ALL, for every gift, every lesson, every blessing, for life, living, learning and loving.
Thank you Great Spirit Whose Breath Gives Life To All!
Thank you Mother Earth for nurturing all your children in so many beautiful ways.
Thank you Elders at Manataka for your generous, wise and beautiful hearts.
Thank you to all the beautiful, very special students at Henbury Special School who showed us all who the real teachers are, and thank you to the school’s staff for opening their hearts and supporting us.
And thank you my new brother Osceola, sister Paloosa and your family for opening your hearts and your home to us, sharing meals, wisdom, laughter and healing.
Wado Wado Wado ~ My heart is full! HO! We Are One!!
~By Lynn As-gi-ti-s-di A-la-sgi-da Dream Dancer Guy
In honor of Manataka Henbury students and staff created a magnificent mural under the direction of Graham Osceola Waters. The mural has become a beautiful object of pride and peace for everyone. See the Peace mural here.
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