The Parliament of the World’s Religions closed yesterday. We go home today. It’s curious and apropos that today the planet Jupiter enters into Sagittarius, astrologically: wisdom and knowledge integrating with power and authority. When coherence and responsibility blend, the results look a lot like justice. The results look a lot like mercy and peace.
I heard from several aficionados of these Parliaments that “this time wasn’t as good as Salt Lake City (Utah, USA)” or “it wasn’t as intense as my experience in Melbourne (Australia).” For my part, as a first-timer, I was astonished by the range of diversity, nuance and complexity on display within the various theological and spiritual traditions — and the ways in which these vast and subtle traditions resolved to a few core principles again and again:
Develop a right relationship with the spirit world.
Develop a right relationship with nature.
Develop a right relationship with other human beings.
Develop a a right relationship with self.
Develop and iterate traditional practices that cultivate these relationships.
Now— it must be admitted, those relationships look VERY DIFFERENT based on whether your tradition began in a desert or a forest or a mountaintop or a city. Those
Our EarthSpirit delegation (photo by Moira Ashleigh)
relationships look different when they’ve been cultivated for fifty years, five hundred years, five thousand years, fifty thousand years. Those relationships look different if you’ve always been persecuted, never been persecuted, or suffered both extremes. Those relationships look different based on the portability and replicability and practicality of your traditions and the ideas it carries.
But the successful religious systems still look like justice. The successful ones still look like mercy. The successful ones still look like mutual respect and kindness for all the realms of being.
It can’t possibly be an accident.
Every conference attendee I spoke with couldn’t deny how powerfully we were affected by the conversations, the presentations, the constant reminders embedded in both our own traditions and those of others, to practice hospitality and welcome, to share with strangers, to communicate in trust and in good faith, to hope for a better world.
It doesn’t mean we’re not ruled by fear at times. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have genuine conflict as individual people or as nations over resources, over access to necessary goods and services, or challenges with bad actors of various kinds. And, of course, we are all experiencing some of the most radical shifts in our relationships with nature, that our species has experienced in quite a long, long, long time.
But after talking with Buddhists, Indigenous elders, Sikhs, Jews, Christians, and other pagans and heathens — I end my own Parliament experience with recognition and insight and renewed sense of purpose that love, justice, and mercy live very close to the center of all of the Earth’s great wisdom traditions. and that love, justice, and mercy look a lot like long-term survival.
by Jennifer Bennett — When you think of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, lunch is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. The thousands of people from all over the world; the hundreds of workshops; the spiritual and religious presentations; and, the many, many speakers and booths full of information—these probably are. Yes, those are all important parts of the tapestry of this amazing gathering that happens once every three or so years somewhere on planet Earth. But, I’m here to tell you about the magic that is lunch at the Toronto Parliament.
The Sikh community, both local and partnering with communities from all over the world, offered langar every day of the 2018 Toronto Parliament. Langar–a free,
Isobel Arthen, Deirdre Pulgram Arthen, and Sam Long attending langar (photo by Moira Ashleigh)
communal lunch–is cooked, served and cleaned up after all by the Sikh community. Thousands of people are fed, every day. Langar is offered in a space specifically created for it–you are requested to take your shoes off, cover your head, and wash your hands. There are spaces for shoes, stations where they will tie temporary head coverings for you—if you don’t already have your own—and sinks are set up for handwashing. The Sikh community members sincerely welcome you all along the way and have informational kiosks about the Sikh community and their religion’s requirement of service set up around the area.
As you stand in the initial food line, lunch is ladled in to Styrofoam trays (which are recycled). Every person who serves food or water or hands you utensils, looks you in the eye and welcomes you personally. The food is some of the best vegetarian, Indian-style food you’ve ever tasted. Chapattis, nan, rice, dahls, lentils—different combinations, every day–are ladled into your tray. You then make your way to sit on the floor—thus illustrating that everyone (regardless of caste, or any other “category”) is equal. (A small number of tables with chairs are set up for those who require them.) As you sit and eat, more volunteers are wandering up and down the aisles of floor seating, with stainless steel buckets and ladles, constantly offering you more of everything on your tray. But wait, there’s even more! After you bring your trays etc. to the recycling table, it’s time to visit the dessert and chai table on your way out.
As if all this was not the Divine in action in and of itself–all this generosity, true service and abundance–there are also the relationships that spring up with those you randomly end up sitting next to. This is where real holiness blossoms.
Throughout the week of the Parliament, I shared langar encounters with a member of the The Troth’s Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry; a woman from Aumism–Universal Religion, who was from France (and spoke just about as much English as I did French—but we managed a bit of conversation anyway); a well-known Canadian grass roots organizer (who was asked by Prime Minister Trudeau to attend the G7 Advisory Council on Gender Equity) who ended up going to a crone-ing workshop because I mentioned it to her; the husband of one of the Parliament organizers; a family (whose faces lit up once they found out I was Pagan) who asked me if I knew a particular person from S. Carolina…and I did!; a lovely young couple—one of whom was running for office in his very conservative state district (as an out gay man) because no one else from his party was running; and another young man who was living in an intentionally-multi-faith household in New York City (Christian, Jewish, Muslim). When he found out I was Pagan, he actually apologized that they had no Pagans in their community…yet!
Talk about feeding your spirit! All these are folks I just randomly sat down next to, or they next to me, to enjoy our meals, became a huge part of the Parliament experience. The Divine works in many ways and through many voices. We should all, always, have such opportunities to “do lunch” and in such a Pagan-friendly, accepting and supportive atmosphere!
by Kate Richardson
— The Spirit Soaring Art Salon and Gallery formed the core and bulk of my experience at the Parliament of 2018. In the weeks leading up to it, I had already been reaching out to and communicating with artists who might participate. When I arrived on Thursday, the first thing I did after checking in at the EarthSpirit booth was to start setting up the gallery space, located in a generous alcove right next to the Red Tent. Deirdre negotiated lighting as I unloaded my easels and tables (the overhead fluorescents were on one switch, and lit both gallery and Red Tent).
Deborah Koff-Chapin showed up early, and set up a table draped with a banner and decks of her Soul Cards. Deborah then spent every plenary and assembly making ‘touch paintings’ in response to the speakers and performers; keep an eye out for an online gallery of her Parliament work. Swami Matagiri Perkins dropped off two paintings by Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, and I set up a table with the drawing I had brought and some cards, just so it wouldn’t seem empty.
Over the next couple of days more work arrived and the space became full and lively. One evening an artists who became aware of the gallery while visiting the Red Tent
Mosa’s altar and Carolyn’s mask (photo by Moira Ashleigh)
called me to ask if she could set up an altar. I enthusiastically invited her to do so; it was a thing I wished I had the energy and resources to plan and execute but had not been able to. So I met Mosa McNeilly, who set up a beautiful and deeply meaningful altar honoring Yemaya, and her ancestors brought from Africa to America. She gave permission to share the poem she posted alongside the altar, which I will do in a separate post.
Sunday morning I arrived to check on the gallery and found some striking drawings of stylized goddess faces right next to Carolyn Hawthorn’s paper sculpture of Medusa’s head, resonating with her fierce energy. I did not get to meet the artist, Megha Venketasamy, until the actual Salon on Monday, just another example of the beautiful synergy of our location right next to the Red Tent. I can’t speak enough gratitude for the way ALisa and the Red Tent holders shared the space and the flow of energy through our area. The Spirit Soaring gallery and the Red Tent experienced a flow of conversation, energy and experience between them that felt inviting and richly creative.
Finally Monday noon arrived, and the gallery filled with even more art, along with all the artists and others who came to attend the Salon. I patterned the presentation on our EarthSpirit Art Salons. Each of the artists briefly introduced herself and her work, then presented some statement or demonstration of how her creative process connects with or expresses her spirituality. With 17 artists presenting, we used the entire 90 minute time allotted, and many stayed later to engage or continue conversations.
Dr. Suresh dancing (photo by Moira Ashleigh)
The offerings were wide-ranging. There were drawings, paintings and photography, weavings and tapestries, and books. Cheri Jamison sang an operatic aria, Mani Rao sang one of the Zoroastrian devotional songs she has composed, Dr. Padmaja Suresh along with her spoken presentation, demonstrated her training in Indian classical dance. Mosa read her poem and called on Yemaya with chant and rattle. The artists came from different disciplines and different spiritual backgrounds, and there was a joyful enthusiasm of sharing the wealth and range of expression.
Many of the artists expressed interest in keeping in touch with each other, and following each others’ work. I felt that the supportive, engaging experience I’ve had with our EarthSpirit Art Salon’s format translated very well to this setting. I received enthusiastic feedback encouraging us to repeat and expand upon it for the next Parliament.
I had thought this would be the end of my blog post, which I drafted after the Art Salon, but the experience continued! On Tuesday, the art started to leave the gallery, and I started to break down the easels and tables. In the late afternoon as the space was emptying out, Mosa came by with some friends, and began drumming on some drums she’d left there after a workshop. People began dancing, and joining in the drumming and chanting. The now mostly empty gallery space became an impromptu drum and dance, which seemed a most fitting closing for the joyful expressive energy that had inhabited that corner of the convention center. It delighted me as I was preparing to let go of a space I’d been holding all week, and seemed like a natural outgrowth of the kind of energy that EarthSpirit seems to join with and bring forth in the world.
by Will Rowan
My name is William, and I am a man. I am a man who struggles with how to be me in a culture that has strict definitions of what a man should and shouldn’t be. I am a man who had to relearn to cry as an adult. I am a man who struggles with rage and who needs to remind myself that I can ask for help when life is overwhelming. I am a man who is getting better at admitting and apologizing when I am wrong or when I have made a mistake. I am a man who listens to and believes women. I am a man who is in service to my community, which includes all beings of the Earth. I am a man who seeks the mystery.
When I was 25, I came to a gathering called Rites of Spring. Within half a day, every man (and a few women) who I had met came up to me at lunch and told me that I should go to the beach and meet the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf. How could I say no to that?
On the beach, we met each other hand to hand, body to body. We pushed each other upwards, and we caught each other when we fell. And we held each other when we cried—we gave each other space to let out the pressure that had been building and building inside of us. But we let it out without fear of hurting anyone, because we held each other.
Will and Donovan demonstrate during the workshop (photo by Moira Ashleigh)
And over the years, we built networks of trust with one another. We howled into the distance between us and our brothers called back, offering to us a witness of our struggles. And we grappled with what it means to be a good person in a world that tells us over and over that to be a real man we have to hurt our sisters, our brothers, and all others who dare to not bow at the altar of He-Man. We sacralized this work, built a temple, and took our place in the web of our community.
And now we’re sharing it with the world in the hopes that other men can learn from our stumbles and our successes and take up this important work themselves.
For the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Donovan Arthen and I spoke about our experiences with the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf, its founding, its development, and the effect it has had in our lives. The presentation was called Transforming Masculinity: Changing the Way that Men Engage with Communities. The response to the material from the fifty-some-odd people in the room was palpable and I hope we left them inspired to go out and do their own version of this important work. Unfortunately, Donovan and I spoke so passionately about the subject that we ran out of time to answer questions!
So here are some of the questions folks wrote down for us along with my answers. Please note, these are my answers, based on my experience, and I do not speak for Donovan or for the all members of the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf.
What suggestions do you have for transferring this experience to young men living in an urban setting?
Donovan did answer this one at the Parliament. He suggested taking them out of the urban setting to begin with. I definitely second that. Even if that’s not possible, it’s important to bring this work away from environments associated the sort of heckling that often goes along with recreational and sporting culture among men. A good urban setting for this kind of work would be a martial arts dojo, and I would suggest respecting the customs of the dojo by bowing when entering or leaving the mats. Keeping whatever space this happens in sacred is important.
Say there is a young man who is struggling with toxic masculinity to the point of making others feel uncomfortable. However, this young man doesn’t see a need to change. How do you help him become aware of his actions?
This is a tough one. This kind of young man is habituated to discount the words of women and feminine folk, and he also is likely to ignore any criticism of his actions from any source — especially if it’s paternal. To accept criticism is to admit defeat and lose face, and this defensive mindset is a master shape-changer that can rationalize itself for days. (I should know, I’ve lived it.) He needs to be called on his behavior by people he respects and trusts who are willing to be patient with him refusing their criticism over and over again. And in order for that to happen, somebody has to gain his trust and respect first. That’s a lot of emotional labor, and it’s definitely not a burden to be put on the shoulders of the ones he’s making uncomfortable. This sort of emotional education is often the province of coaches, outdoor educators, and camp counselors. The trouble is, a lot of coaches—men specifically—are still operating within the constraints of the same model of masculinity and so need to break themselves out before they can do this work for others.
Do you share your vulnerabilities with each other? Also do you work on relationships with women?
In some of our work in the past five years, we’ve come together to share what we’re going through in our lives and how we’re doing. The network of howls (sending a simple coded email to a whole list and whoever is available can respond), has been another way for us to see each other in a supportive way at our most vulnerable. As to relationships with women, we’re all working on our own relationships and support each other on an individual level as requested by each other. However, some of the best work on that that I’ve seen in our community was when we hosted a series of discussions over several years entitled “I’m a Guy, Any Questions?” During those we dug into a lot of the pervasive societal gender dynamics we see around us and talked about ways that men can use their privilege to support women rather than marginalize them
What are the ways (if any) that a woman can assist a man to break the societal expectations of masculinity?
I have to say it’s really tough for me to suggest that women and feminine folk take on more emotional labor than is already loaded on them by default in our culture. This is our work, and we really can’t ask you to shoulder the burden for us. That being said, when you have the bandwidth, there are some things that in my experience help.
1) Don’t pull your punches, rhetorically speaking. Sparing our feelings only teaches us that our comfort in ourselves is more important than your emotional well-being and sovereignty.
2) Celebrate and encourage the ways that men around you are breaking societal expectations. Sometimes we’re putting a brave face on it, but we’re internally nervous as heck.
3) Please don’t participate in the casual shaming of “feminine” behavior in men, and call shamers out.
4) This is a silly one: call it a bun, not a man-bun. It’s the same hairstyle. We don’t need to be insulated from the merest whiff of femininity by having it called “guy-liner.” Is our masculinity really so fragile we have to put “man-” in front of a purse in order to carry a moderate number of things around? #petpeeves
by Arianna Knapp
As I drove the last few hours toward Toronto, I realized that I was coming to my Grandmother’s childhood home, and the city where my ancestors had arrived from
Kay Malcom Knapp
Scotland at the turn of the last century. It has been remarkable to witness and participate in a variety of cultural rituals which have each venerated ancestors. Her presence has echoed in my mind and poked at my bones as a chalice is raised and I walk a Wiccan circle dance invoking her spirit at Sam Hain, I speak her name over a horn of mead at a Sumble witnessed by dozens of participants from a variety of cultures, and meditate on her journey to the drums and chants of Canada’s First People.
Added to the depth of connection is the discussion of women’s history, empowerment and agency. There was never a time to explore such things with her, she left this world before I was of an age to ask the questions. However, I have the distinct impression that she is witnessing the generations of her lineage and proud to know how we have carried her name, her strength, and her kindness into our world.
Kay Malcolm Knapp: you are carried by:
Alma Kay Alberghini
Kael Laurel Malcolm Alberghini
by Andrew Watt
One of the items on display here at A Parliament of the World’s Religions is Esther Bryan’s Quilt of Belonging. Consisting of 263 hexagonal frames for 263 embroidered and textile blocks, the quilt is a kind of self-portrait of Canada at the dawning of the Christian Era’s second millennium: there is one block for each of Canada’s First Nations, and one block for each nation of the wider world whose immigrants have come to Canada. It took six and a half years to create. Members of each immigrant group and First Nation worked on the block representing their community, some only agreeing after long periods of negotiation and gradual or grudging trust-building. One nation, San Marino, is represented by only one person in all of Canada, while other blocks represent thousands of people and their descendants. One two-year-old sewed a couple of stitches, while a 92-year-old had to be helped to hold the embroidery needle between trembling fingers. Just outside the display area, several massive crates with giant foam rollers inside hold the Quilt on its travels around Canada — which have already taken it enough miles to go from Earth to the Moon five times. Listening to Ms. Bryan talk about the creation of the quilt left me with the impression that the Quilt of Belonging is not simply a quilt: it is a treasure-house of stories.
The Quilt is currently on display on the first floor of the North Building. It’s nearly impossible to take in all at once — the ribbon of color that forms the upper edge creates a rainbow of extraordinary intensity. Yet as one approaches, the appearance of continuum dissolves into a formula of precise strips of color all down the length of the hall. Beneath
Photo by Miriam Klamkin
these ribbons of hue in harmonious order are the Nations. The eye catches on San Marino, and then on the Tlinglit First Nation. One has to go and seek out countries of one’s own national origin: perhaps Great Britain, perhaps France. The Diné come into view, and then perhaps Thailand. Malayasia and Tonga and Cuba appear. The Labradorans and the Dakota and the Haida.
It’s the opposite of erasure.
And then something curious happens. You stop seeing the names of countries, and you start looking at the artistry, at the needlework, at the overarching structure of the quilt. You start to see the heavy tassels of yarn along the bottom. You start seeing how the fabric pulls against the stitch-work here and there. You begin to imagine women and men sitting with Esther Bryan in kitchens and living rooms, all across Canada, as she gently but deliberately earned their trust, came into their communities, and helped them stitch a quilt block. This pull here was a stab through the textile by an untrained hand; that one over there is a daughter guiding her mother’s hands that are starting to lose a battle with arthritis; these interwoven threads were stained by the tears of a refugee remembering their homeland. You start to see those big crates carrying the quilt on the back of a cargo skid pulled by a ski-doo across the ice for a display in the far north, or hauled onto a ferry for a showing on Prince Edward Island. You imagine careful hands unrolling it from its crate for the first time, and staring in wonder at a picture of their homeland for the first time.
And then you, the viewer, start to cry.
You become one with the stories that you see, hear, and imagine in the great quilt before you. You, in a sudden moment, find yourself drawn into the story of Canada, even as a visitor, you find yourself wrapped in all the tales of wonder and heartbreak and hope and tragedy and dignity that are caught up in this quilt, tangled together in its threads and in its fabric.
You are in the presence of a relic. A medicine, in a sense. An object that has been made holy by the hands that have made it, and the stories that have been woven into it, and
Photo by Miriam Klamkin
the community that has chosen to honor it. An emblem of Canada — not its government, not its national presence on an international stage — but of its people and its common life.
So many rooms and spaces at the Parliament are barren and devoid of symbolism. It’s a conference center, of course — part of the very nature of the spaces within it is that they are non-descript and easily shifted from one purpose to another and another. At the same time, though, the Quilt of Belonging shows a portrait of grace: a nation of nations, a country of countries, at peace with itself and with its neighbors.
And simply by viewing the quilt with your other eyes, you feel the potential for welcome and trust, the gracious hospitality, and the growing strength, of this year’s host nation for the Parliament.
— EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto! You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.
Indigenous Elder Francois Paulette (Dene) led the sunrise observance on Monday, accompanied by elders Be’sha Blondin (of the Sahtu Region), Trina Moyan, and a Mayan Elder. I arrived at 6:45 for the scheduled 7 a.m. ceremony, but as I arrived, Bob Goulais (Anishanaabe), who is the co-chair of the Indigenous Working Group of the Parliament and was there as a fire tender, announced that the ceremony would begin around 7:30 a.m. because the elders wanted to wait until the Sun had actually risen. He explained that the Parliament insisted on scheduling all the morning observances at 7 a.m., despite the fact that most of the presenters wanted an actual sunrise ceremony. I was left wondering why, at an event like this, such a simple request could not be accommodated.
So I had forty-five minutes to wait. But as so often happens, the highlight of the moment happened outside of the scheduled event. Mr. Goulais said that while we waited, he would offer us a teaching about the fire. He then told us his people’s story of creation, which began with the thought of the Creator, and spiraled down through space, to the Earth, and primarily through the Fire. We learned about the “happy hunting grounds,” as
he explained with a smile about that place from which our spirits come and to which they will go when it is their time. We heard several of his people’s teachings about the Earth, many of which have been confirmed by science today: the fire at the center of the Earth, the idea of action and reaction, and more. He finished with an explanation of the roles of men and women in his community, and how and why men have become the fire keepers.
At 7:30, the Elders had arrived, and Chief Paulette gave a brief instruction to all, after which we were given a small handful of tobacco to offer. As Mr. Goulais drummed and chanted (we joined him in raising our voices when he got to the “exciting parts” as he had invited us to do), we moved in a sun-wise circle, and one by one, facing the East, offered the tobacco into a small basket. When all the participants had completed their offerings, a Mayan elder took the basket of tobacco, while Elder Trina Moyan took a basket of food in her hands. Together they faced the East and offered prayers, then moved around the circle, stopping again for prayers to the South, West, and North. Finally, they emptied each basket onto the Fire, completing the offering.
The Mayan elder then explained how the teachings of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are strikingly similar to those of the Indigenous peoples of Australia because the Original Teachings had been given to all peoples. Ms. Moyan told us that her prayers at the directions had been for all people at their beginnings, their youth, their adulthood, and their elderhood, that we might live good lives and guide others in doing the same. Elder Be’sha Blondin then gave a final blessing, exhorting us to live a simple life, and to clean and heal the Earth.
The ceremony concluded with the Elders beginning to move inside the circle, spiraling around to shake the hands of and greet each person there. The whole circle followed them in until it was whole again, where it began. As we all headed off to our next destinations, I couldn’t help humming to myself, “In the circle of Earth and sky, my heart flies to yours. We gather, we remember, and the pattern endures.”
— EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto! You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.
On this chilly Sunday morning at 7 am, about 40 people gathered at a small park outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to join the Zoroastrian Fire Ceremony. Tehemton Mirza, the Mobed (Zoroastrian priest), greeted us as we gathered around the warmth of the fire just before the Sun rose. First he thanked the representative of the First Nations, who was present to help tend the fire, for hosting us on their land. Then he explained that he was going to do an abbreviated Boi Ceremony, a fire blessing. Each attendee had been given a dry piece of wood to offer the fire at the end of the ceremony. What followed would be familiar to any pagan today. He chanted a long blessing over the fire in Farsi, and at the point in the prayer where he intoned “Dushmata, Duzukhta, Duzvarshta,” (Bad thoughts, bad words, and bad deeds), he rang a bell nine times (three for each) to banish these.
During the ceremony, the Atash (Sacred Fire) asks in the prayer, “What did the walking friend (the devotee) bring for his sitting friend (the Sacred Fire)?” This was the invitation for the attendees to place their individual pieces of wood on the fire. At a certain point, sandalwood is offered to the fire, being particularly sacred to the rite. This morning, the First Nations attendee also offered cedar, sage, and tobacco, the sacred offerings for the particular land that we are on here. Toward the end of the chant, the Mobed asked the Fire to bless the devotees:
In thy family, may the flock of cattle increase!
Unto Thee may there be an increase of heroic men!
May thou have an active mind!
May thy life be active!
May thou live a joyous life, those nights that thou live!
The blessing is reminiscent of many of those from the Gaelic highlands.
After the prayers, and the final pieces of wood offerings were given to the Fire, each attendee was offered some ash that had been removed and cooled earlier, so that we could put a small bit on our foreheads in a sign of humility and respect for the Fire.
Having concluded the ritual part of the gathering, the Mobed drew attention to the very close parallels between the Zoroastrian ceremonies and those of our First Nations hosts. He spoke of the three different kinds of sacred fires, and he introduced a female Zoroastrian priest who was present, pointing out that there is equality among men and women, and this includes women’s participation in the priesthood.
photo by Balkowitsch, used under a Creative Commons license
On Saturday, I attended a workshop titled “Pipe Ceremony,” presented by Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota. Mr. Looking Horse talked about becoming a sacred bundle keeper when his grandmother died in her eighties, which was young for a bundle keeper. As a consequence of becoming a sacred bundle keeper, he began to live in ceremony all the time. He was told that he could not ever use a gun or weapon, he could not use foul language, could not run for political office, and he could not raise his hand to swear an oath to the U.S. flag.
What I find impressive about his presentation and his life is his willingness to take on a responsibility for his community that defines how he will live for the rest of his life. His role in his community is not merely the person who keeps the bundle or offers the pipe. His entire life is now a ritual.
Most modern pagan communities don’t have such a rigid differentiation of roles. In fact, we often have a difficult time staying in ritual for more than an hour or so, even when there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. Few of us live in the kind of tight-knit or geographically-centered communities that would allow for such a lifetime dedication. But the model might serve even for those of us who take on temporary roles within our own groups. If you are responsible for holding a particular piece for your community, perhaps you might try letting that role infuse your whole life, at least until you pass that role to another. Instead of looking at your responsibilities as something that you do, maybe try to think of them as who you are.
— EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto! You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.
by Andrew Watt
At my second day of A Parliament of the World’s Religions, the thing that keeps striking me is the “Canadian Way”. That’s the name I’m giving to a practice, which I have found striking and emotionally powerful, of acknowledging and recognizing the First Nations of the region around Toronto as the keepers of the land. These tribes include the Mississaugas, the New Credit Tribes, and the Six Nations. I’ve not caught all the names or subtleties of the relationships between the tribes, I know. But I know that they are here, their chiefs saw us at the Parliament’s opening session on the first day, that they knew we were coming, and that they have extended a formal welcome to the Parliament and a kind of formal permission to conduct our business here. (In a kindly, funny but also serious fashion, we were told in no uncertain terms to go home when we were done.)
Talking with a few Canadians today, I learned that this is becoming more and more common at all sorts of Canadian official events: graduations and conferences, government meetings, matriculation ceremonies, and higher-level religious events like church synods. Canada appears to be making a serious commitment to recognize and acknowledge the place and position of what it calls the First Nations within the fabric of Canadian life. My new Canadian friends admitted that it feels more like “talking the talk” and not enough like “walking the walk” — but that Indigenous Peoples are much more active in the political and social fabric of the nation today than they were twenty and forty years ago in their own childhoods.
And so, the Canadian Way: to be welcomed to traditional lands by traditional First Nations custodians, to be given permission to settle and perform ceremony, and to participate in the life of the nation as the First to speak. To Be First.
The formal opening session of the Parliament was preceded by several hours of Indigenous Ceremony in the park outside the Convention Center: dancing, smudging done by members of the Toronto tribes, welcomes from the chiefs of several of the tribes, drumming and singing in the traditional styles and in the traditional costumes of the
photo by Moira Ashleigh
Mississaugas, the Cree, the New Credit Tribes, the Six Nations. A few hours later, at the formal opening of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the chiefs spoke again. No rousing strains of “O Canada!” filled the hall. Instead, with the raising of Indigenous eagle feathers and staffs, the singing was one of one of the local tribe’s national anthems, and another song in a First Nations language to thank veterans. During the opening speeches, a minister of the government of Canada thanked the Mississaugas and the New Credit Tribes and the Six Nations. So did the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. So did a city councillor of the government of the city of Toronto. No one stumbled over unfamiliar names. No one tried a couple of times and gave up. The tribes were mentioned in the same order each time (which I’ve endeavored without notes to repeat, but apologize if I’ve gotten in wrong). There is clearly an effort underway within the Canadian government to restore a sense of traditional custodianship of the land to the First Nations, at all levels of government.
That’s extraordinary in itself.
But then… it happened in some of the sessions and workshops I attended during the day. A presenter thanked the First Nations tribes of the Toronto area, and named them the same way the government officials had. Then she got around to thanking the Parliament for inviting her to speak. A ritual event in another space included a formal acknowledgement that the ceremony was taking place on Mississaugas land.
Later in the day, I asked a Canadian if they knew what First Nations land they were on. “Mississaugas,” came the answer, followed immediately by surprise. They didn’t know, quite, how long they had known that information, or how they’d come by it.
And yet, in an extraordinary way, the Canadian Way is beginning to undo the effects of centuries of deliberate erasure of the First Nations: by inviting them to speak First, by inviting them into the role of the traditional custodians, all across Canada people are waking up to the idea that they are on someone’s land, that they are in someone’s land: that Canada is more than one country, and the country has a deeper and longer history than just the French and English, Confederation and a couple of World Wars.
The Canadian Way may bring about a deeper understanding of their nation’s cultural heritage, a heritage that extends at least twenty thousand years into the past…. and into a present where the First Nations always speak First, in words of welcome and of permission. There’s a power in that; and I hope that it brings the many peoples of Canada a few long and graceful strides toward reconciliation. At the same time, I feel the challenge and the opportunity in the Canadian Way that all of these visitors from around the globe must see and hear, and I hope that many of them — and we ourselves — can take the steps and begin the conversations that begin to put Indigenous voices as First Voices.
— EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto this week! Keep an eye here and on our Facebook page for more updates on our interfaith experiences.