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In the Wake of All that is Crumbling

Written by Dori Baker, PhD

I hear a faint buzzing and see the first hummingbird of spring scouting sustenance for its community as we sit in a circle on Randy and Edith Woodley’s back deck. 

We are ten sojourners from across the US spending a long weekend at Eloheh Farm (pronounced ay-luh-HAY, from the Cherokee word meaning harmony). We are here because we heard a rare and precious invitation: spend time with Indigenous leaders, walk their land, sit around the fire, ask questions, and welcome into our bodies the process of decolonizing our white Western worldviews by immersing for a brief time in Indigenous ways of life. 

I welcomed a similar invitation almost forty years ago when the Ojibwe people of central Wisconsin called out to midwestern clergy, asking for witnesses to stand in solidarity against emboldened sports fishermen contesting Native treaty rights. White men organized late-night armies, shouting racial slurs and aiming slingshots as tribal members launched their canoes for the annual spring ritual of spearheading walleye perch by moonlight. My hosts, Ceba and Roscoe, welcomed me into their home on the reservation. I noticed Ceba thanking the lake with a tobacco ritual each morning, and I watched Roscoe express gratitude for the perch while teaching me to wield a filet knife. 

A budding feminist noticing intersections across histories of oppression, I wove that experience into my career as an educator and spiritual leader. This clash between worldviews informed my teaching, as I worked alongside mostly white faith communities, teaching ways of living and leading alongside historically oppressed peoples.

Now, at age 60, I organized this journey to Eloheh to renew and deepen my insights for the work I currently do, guiding a startup called Our Own Deep Wells: Awakening Soulful Practices for Wellbeing. 

Brain research shows that soulful practices mitigate anxiety and depression. Experts tell us that anxiety and depression are on the rise due in part to post-pandemic social isolation, high rates of social media consumption, and a pervasive sense of fear about the future, sometimes called climate dread. 

Our Own Deep Wells introduces winsome, evocative practices from worldwide traditions through our workshops and retreats. At our events, people experience a repertoire of healing practices they can return to in their daily lives and use as they lead in their communities. We’ve created and carefully adapted practices such as earthing, rainbow-basking, and moon-seeking, inviting participants to consider how they might use practices like this for individual or communal reflection in their own contexts. 

Bringing members of our leadership team to Eloheh fulfilled an intention: taking time to steep ourselves in earth-honoring communities and listening to the elders’ stories of resistance to generational harm is critical as we create a project committed to cultural humility and reciprocity.

We watch the garden coming to life on a warm spring day from the Woodley's back deck. Moments after our welcome, we walked the land, listening to how it unfolded under new owners' care. In 2020, mid-pandemic, Randy and Edith bought a home on these ten acres, fulfilling their lifelong dream of creating the Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice and Eloheh Farm & Seed. They built a yurt, teepees, a fire circle, a sweat lodge, and a bunkhouse for guests. They began farming in harmony with the flora they found here, repopulating the land with native species but not launching an all-out attack on invasive ones. “It’s about harmony,” Randy says. 

They began offering online and then in-person courses, the most popular of which was called “Decolonizing with Badass Indigenous Grandmas.” We are the tenth group to visit in person.  Randy (who is a Keetoowah descendant), Edith (who is Eastern Shoshone), and Lenore Three Stars (who is Oglala Lakota) shared in storytelling, teaching, meal preparation, and hospitality. They opened their home, their land, and their life stories of generational resilience and resistance – to the history of violent massacre, the terror of boarding schools, and the ongoing violation of treaties – in conversation with our questions.

At Eloheh, we hoped to learn soulful, earth-honoring practices while deepening existing soulful practices from our traditions. We did not come to borrow Indigenous rituals such as sweat lodges, sage smudging, tobacco offering, and talking circles: as beautiful as they are in context, they are not up for grabs. What is available for borrowing is a pedagogy that integrates daily life with practices of gratitude, hospitality, compassion, and justice. Five such principles embedded in Eloheh’s way of life resonate as I consider how I lead into the future. They are: 

  1. Walk the land. This means acknowledging the names of the land’s original occupants and embodying care for the more-than-human trees, rocks, rivers, and mountains where we gather. In urban spaces, point to the sky, tree, bug, bird, and food as reminders that Creation is ever-present. 

  2. Tend to Bodies. Time for rest, healthy food from as close to its source as possible, and gracious attention to—rather than mere tolerance of—dietary restrictions create a kind of hospitality that encourages us to acknowledge we are part of, rather than distinct from, the earth. 

  3. Stories Matter. Welcome personal story sharing into analysis and critical thinking. Stories build empathy and help us reconsider mental models that might need changing.

  4. Extend Homeplace. When safe and possible, extend welcome beyond strict work/life borders; daughters and sons, farm workers, cats, and dogs—all were invited to drop in, befriend us, share perspectives, and widen the circle of care and concern.

  5. Be a good relative, and

  6. Make decisions for the next seven generations.  

The last two echo especially loudly. My relatives are not simply those who look, think, and act like me; my relatives are all of Creation, the web of mutual dependence in which I might invest. When we pause to ask how our actions impact our relatives, we open space for more compassion.  I begin to see a glimmer of hope amid raging climate concerns, and this glimmer creates an alternative to the dystopic narrative of scarcity and violence.  Making decisions for the next seven generations thickens our imagination into desires we can set to work creating.

Years ago, I learned that the hummingbird holds symbolic significance for the indigenous people of Peru. It hovers between heaven and earth and delivers messages between the two. At Eloheh, we learned to embrace a harmonious way that repairs the Western mind’s division of heaven and earth, body and soul. The harmonious way weaves an integrated wholeness, and the resulting worldview is incompatible with hierarchies based on race, gender, religion, or national origin. 

This is the hope. Just as scout hummingbirds seek outposts of nurture on pathways traveled by their ancestors, those called to scout sustenance for our collective futures will rise. Worldviews formed by colonization and Christian supremacy will probably not give up their power easily; at the same time, healers will respond with ways of knowing and being influenced by Indigenous intelligence and informed by the desire to acknowledge, mourn, lament, and repair. 

The hummingbird is fragile, but it is also resilient and adaptive. I’m taking this one as a powerful reminder to attend to pathways of sustenance and memories passed from generation to generation, to build something positive in the wake of all that is crumbling. 

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