Monday, December 14, 2009

Kanyini~

"Kanyini" is an Aboriginal word that means, "unconditional love and responsibility for all things".  Seems like a good recipe for life.  So, my brain has accepted that, "yes, I would like to live with unconditional love and be responsible for my connection to every living thing"... now what??!!  My Western brain starts in with the questions, "well, what does 'living' mean?  I mean, in some First Nation ideology, rocks are considered to have spirits, and, of course, the ground- that's Mother Earth.  Right.  O.K., now I'm in my car and someone cuts me off... well, my first thought isn't unconditional love.  


So, there's the rub, then- how do you move from your head to your heart? 
...
I know!!!  
...
Practice.


A most humbling experience happened to me, quite unexpectedly, in a white, country town in Australia. I won't use names, but not to protect anyone.  This could have happened to anybody (and hopefully will again!).


I took a road trip to visit a friend from school and ended up in a town famous for a 15 metre tall sheep.  After a brilliant dinner of Thai food (naturally) we ended up playing pool into the wee hours.  My friend's husband is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, and he's also a real bloke.  A man's man (I think I still have bruises from where he kept slapping me on the back).  We got into a deep conversation (as is wont to happen when wine might be involved) and it came up that I had experienced a home invasion, and the trauma involved (not something I normally bring up at parties, but, it felt like something I was supposed to tell).  All the emotions that came up for him, should something like that happen to his wife, were intense and quick.  He then stated he would find the guy and kill him, and asked how I could even talk about it without being drunk all the time.  *As a side note, another friend, at the time it happened, couldn't understand why I wasn't in a corner with a bottle of vodka.  He lit up a cigarette and we went back to playing pool.


Later in the evening, under a starry Australian sky, three of us got into a debate about politics and the Aboriginal "issue" (which I have issue with, because people are not an "issue"- though I'm not surprised because before the 1967 referendum, Aboriginal people were classified under the "Flora and Fauna Act").  My new friend said, "wasn't that all sorted out, like, fifty years ago?", and though I normally would have gotten indignant, an amazing understanding settled over me and I calmly said, "actually, no, it's violence, racism and devastation, happening right now".  Then someone said what usually makes me crazy, that favourite of shell-people everywhere, "but aren't they drunk all the time and lazy".  Yep- I've heard this statement in many countries, including my own, and it is usually referring to homeless people, those on welfare or minorities.  Hello opportunity for unconditional love.  


I asked him to remember his earlier reaction to hearing about my traumatic experience (but just a horrible moment in time, through which I had incredible support, unlike so many Indigenous men and women who deal with life-shaking trauma every day).  I didn't understand how it was o.k. for me to potentially use alcohol to deal with stress, and not people who are Aboriginal.  Maybe they have a story like mine- but no one to help them, and a government that systematically disempowers and alienates them.  What if a black man had his woman attacked?  Wouldn't he want to fight?  


My friend, who happened to be born white, said, "I hadn't thought about it that way".





Kanyini.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Back to America


The thing about serendipity is that it follows you wherever you go~ and sometimes seeks you out! I was sitting at my favourite coffee shop (on Abbot Kinney) in Venice, and started a conversation with the guy next to me. I asked him how he could write and not be distracted (he was writing a screenplay), and he said it was about his life. Then he asked me my name, then looked slightly astounded. He turned his computer, and there was one of his characters just introduced: Katy. *Of course, the spelling is Way off, but that was pretty cool. Welcome back to Los Angeles...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Deeply felt stories~


I was up with the sun this morning and watched the moon disappear into the brightening blue sky. It made me cry, but then I remembered it was only on a journey to the other side of the world and would come back again tonight. I've been recently contemplating relationships between men and women, and have been challenged in my coming to understand not only Aboriginal culture, but my own as well.

Uncle Bob and his beautiful wife Barbara joined me outside and we spoke of dreams. Two stories were recalled that have grounded me in peace and awe.

In the ancient times women held the highest law and were the most powerful beings- holding sacred lore, which they kept in a dilly-bag. They came to a pool of the Rainbow Serpent, a place which is so sacred that no one must disturb it, and to swim in it would be unthinkable. The women, so drunk on their power, disregarded the law and were laughing and splashing, and cleaning themselves. The Rainbow Serpent saw this and made them blind and deaf to the men coming up to the pool where they had left the dilly-bag hanging on a tree... so the men took it and became the holders of sacred power. But now the men are going down the same path,
so who knows what will happen next in the balance of power.

My first response was to be angry somehow, but what's the point of that? because then you lose the lesson. The lesson is humility- and if you take away your attachment to the ego, and wrap it with love, then it is a lesson that doesn't sting, but instructs.

The wind continued to blow as Uluru became more vibrantly red in the rising sun, and the spicy scent of the gum trees surrounded us. Out of a moment of stillness, Uncle Bob began another story:

Up in the top end of Australia there is an island with an abundance of the best seafood and
plant-life, but it is only accessible at what is know as "King Tide", or again in the full, still time before the water begins again to recede. The whole tribe goes across and spends the day collecting crabs and fruit and other delicacies of the sea, but one member is in charge of watching the time, so everyone can leave before the strait becomes impossible to cross. When the tide comes in, the island vanishes, so there is no other choice but to go into the water. Sometimes, people are greedy, and don't heed the time, wanting to find just a little more food or supplies and the entire tribe can only wait. At this point the water is rushing in and everyone must wait until it becomes still enough to cross- but it will be deep, almost over some people's heads.

During this time, rafts are made out of dried pandana trees and paper-bark for the women, children and food. When it is time to cross, the men form a "V" with the strongest hunter at the front and the women and children in the centre, the most protected spot, then everyone begins the journey across.

At this point I feel the energy at the table shift to one of profound sadness and grief, but also an amazing sense of love. Tears flow for all of us as Uncle Bob relates the end of the story.

The end of the formation is where the elderly people and animals cross. They choose this position, because when the water is that high, and dusk begins to fall, the crocodiles are everywhere. Everyone knows that the crocs take those at the back of the line, and the old ones choose to make that sacrifice for the whole group, the whole family. When everyone makes it to the other side, there are one or two missing, the old ones who offered their lives.

Then Uncle Bob said, "These are the people who raised me".

The wind continued to blow and tears washed our faces, and then we smiled and got on with the day. I'm humbled and grateful to be given the chance to understand unconditional love.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wild Horses in the night...

It was like being on Mars as the moon rose over the ridge. Twilight transported me to the story, "The Little Prince", and I felt as if a snake was going to come talk to me any second. Wild horses were galloping all around us, and we made our camp in between the criss-cross of camel tracks.

For the first time, maybe in my life, I welcomed the dark (although it was like dark with training wheels because of the brightness of the moon). Two girls went with me to the watering hole at the dam near our campsite and there, barely discernible in the dusk, were a small herd of cattle. They heard us coming and bolted, moving up the slope faster than I thought possible for such big beasts, then we heard a huge splash as one of the horses jumped into the water. They took off as soon as the breeze picked up... we were not good trackers as we came in up wind of the beautiful creatures.

Stars competed for the moon's brightness and the glow of our fire as Uncle Bob told stories from Country. It was his land that we were on, and it was if the very Earth there welcomed us. Once you step onto Country here, you begin to understand what "kinship" means, and learn how to truly live in the moment.

I slept in a swag under a sky so bright with stars (after the moon set) that I thought I was looking at a dot painting. I still don't know if it was real or not. The profound silence of the desert was punctuated by the conversations of bullocks and cows, and the galloping and snorting of horses in the distance.
This morning we went to King's Canyon and learned Bush medicine and stories of ancientness and creation. The most poignant part was the lesson we all learned about community. One of the group was lagging behind and some of us were walking ahead, which in a Western view is pretty normal. Uncle Bob stopped us and said, "a group walks at the pace of its slowest member". Of course, I immediately became a little defensive, but soon after that got the gratitude I was hoping would show up. Our Western mind makes it paramount to be individuals, but in the Aboriginal Lore (The Law brought down from Creation time), the importance of your identity lies with your group, your mob, your family.

It's easy to say, "we are all one", but to live it is going to require practice. I invite you to have a go at changing your perspective on how connected you really are (and in that lies safety, support and power that goes beyond any amount of money or acclaim). Not easy, and not romanticizing, just passing on some amazing tools I'm learning. Much love! xoxo

Thursday, October 29, 2009

in the shadow of Uluru


The silence of the desert is punctuated alternately by crickets and wild dogs in the distance. The moon almost reflects on the red dirt and the gum trees are transformed into silver fountains.

The simplicity of fully being present in the moment is sharply contrasted with the gross injustice surrounding this most sacred centre of Australia. Should I make a list? 1. there is no money for housing at Mutujulu (the Aboriginal community here), but the Park service just built a 2o million (that's right- twenty million) dollar "viewing" platform for tourists. 2. the children of Mutujulu are not "allowed" to have a pool, because of expense and water... um, but at Yulara (the tourist resorts on the "other" side of the rock) every hotel and campground has a pool. 3. the only store in Mutujulu is run by non-indigenous people and the prices are exorbitant.

I could take up pages and pages to list what is unfair, unjust, violent and how much the government has betrayed and ignored these people. The contrast is in kinships and the kind of spirit most people only see at the movies. But how can I possibly describe what it is really like? Even being here and standing in country, my empathy can only go so far.

It's the journey, cliche or not, that is the guts of it all. Little lessons, new stories, letting go of pre-conceptions, self-reflection, helplessness, empowerment and most of all... simplicity. Everything comes down to love or fear, and this powerful place of violence and creation is no exception.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Global Youth Indigenous Leadership and Healing Historical Trauma Through Shared Experience

I have a vision of a global youth Indigenous leadership program, and the professional Indigenous mentoring network that will support it. The core values of the project are healing historical trauma through shared experience and community capacity building through service. It is well documented that First Nations people across the globe face daunting challenges. Some of these are violence, alcoholism, no health care, and despair, but I propose that each negative is symptomatic of historical trauma, and can be transformed into a positive through community capacity building and shared experience. Shared experience is a major tenet of grief healing, and can be a powerful tool in healing historical trauma. Imagine young people, from Indigenous communities around the globe, coming together to learn new skills and talk story with kids from other First Nations. Next imagine each participant going back into a different community to manage or assist in service projects. Possible areas of focus are health, education, legal, civil engineering, micro-finance or agriculture. The idea is modeled after Americorps and Peacecorps, but unique in that all participants will be from Indigenous communities and no more than 10% of teachers or administrators will be non-Indigenous. The youth providing services will not only be ambassadors for their own people, but create bridges of communication and an Indigenous grassroots support network throughout the world. Current systems of "aid" are still predicated on the values of the Colonial mindset and see Indigenous people as "other" who are incapable of self-determination without a community structure that mirrors Western ideology. Current systems thinking supports a world view where quantitative analysis trumps common sense and profit margin gets more consideration than right or wrong. Some Indigenous leaders have taken up this mantle of power and greed is disconnecting them from being able to truly help their people. The spiritual aspect is left out of political discourse, so we need to create a new way of globally communicating Indigenous issues that include the heart as well as the head. The first step is to go back through the roots of historical trauma, and engage youth in cross-cultural awakening and self-empowerment through service. To create a new world, the old world must be acknowledged, then lovingly let go. New models for vital and sustainable Indigenous communities can be brought into existence by re-weaving ancient knowledge and tradition into current Indigenous innovation. Program development through community input is vital, but this will only be possible if cultural identity is addressed after understanding the effects of historical trauma, and allowing for a transition period of forgiveness and healing. Youth Indigenous leadership will be the next step, through shared experience, to transform historical trauma and re-affirm dynamic and self-determining communities that will be role models to the rest of the world.

Friday, September 4, 2009

on the path~

My body is exhausted from all the travel and cramped sleeping, but my spirit is incredibly expanded. Just when I think I've reached a surfeit, a whole new way of thought becomes available. I keep wanting to capture it, to write it down, to prove it's happening, but that's exactly what I need to let go of, in a way. The idea of "control" is what fractures most any good intention. Control of people, control of the land, control of environment, money... it's a "dominator" pattern versus "partnership".

I'm heading back down to Tumbi Umbi tomorrow, and on Sept. 7, am speaking to a group of university students who sit on an Aboriginal advisory panel. The guts of my program are about personal transformation- on all sides, and the work recently is how to convey that.

I was lucky enough to go to the opening of the Melbourne Indigenous "Message Sticks" film festival. It was incredible! I was staying with my friend, who I met at Garma and I think the best part of the whole weekend was the number of amazing discussions we had. She introduced me to some incredible music, "The Last Kinection", "The Herd", and "Archie Roach", who are all writing incredible songs of protest and truth. Music is the blood of a movement, and this movement is walking away from the Empire and creating a real global Community. Not just saying the words to pat ourselves on the back, but really living with authenticity. Every colour of person can learn something about their own story, and live in communion with the land they find themselves on. It's repeated again and again, "We don't own the land, the land owns us".

Just knowing this is right isn't going to change the minds of real estate agents of architects who work in the current system...but that's the point. We get to change the system.

I've just been introduced to an amazing woman who runs a magazine on sustainable childcare and parenting, but also has a blog. Please read what she wrote about speaking to Uncle Bob Randall (who is coming to Asheville in September!!!). It's what I want to tell you too. Her tears have also been mine:

http://kaliwendorf.blogspot.com/


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Notes from the escarpment~

I have not been able to write, because there is so much to say. I thought I had good empathy and my mind was open, but the education I got at Garma had little to do with the structured festival.
The journey began at the Darwin airport, where I camped out the night before flying to a tiny airport called "Gove". My travel tiredness was whisked away as we sailed into the clouds of the Northern Territories and over the red and brown dirt below. I met a lovely girl called Trudie on the plane, who works with Aboriginal Law, and on the bus to the festival grounds I met another rock star named Louise, who teaches in Melbourne.
One thing that surprised me straight off was how many whitefellas there were. It turns out that the Garma festival is owned by one white man, even though there is ostensibly a board of directors (with, believe it or not, not much black representation). It was like splitting into two people then, one for my experience as a white person, and one to observe as an Aboriginal person. Thus began my true learning.

The panels of the key forum became an exercise in colonization and patriarchy- not just words that are heard in a book, but the truth you feel in your gut. The authentic experience for me came around the campfire and the tea station. The first night I met Annie, who I'm staying with now on the Central Coast. I asked about her story, and it was the first of many who casually started off with, "I was taken as a young child...". Another woman, told of how she was taken but her darker brother was not, and that every day while playing outside she and her sisters would notice a black man hanging around crying. They didn't know it was their father.
An incredible moment for everyone came did come during a panel though. Daisy Ward got up to tell the story of her brother- but this wasn't ancient history, this was early this year. Her brother had been arrested for drinking, but then was put into a prison transfer van (of course no one was called), and sent up North. It was an old van, and the air conditioning was broken. No one bothered to check in the back. The temperature got up to 118 degrees, and Daisy's brother was cooked alive.

There was a moment of silence, but the heart was cut out of everyone there. http://www.nit.com.au/breakingnews/story.aspx?id=18395

Another woman spoke after that about her experience being taken to the notorious Palm Island, and eating out of a bin as a child. Last month she spoke with the Prime Minister about Aboriginal health issues.

Words really don't seem adequate to describe the experience. I wandered over to the fire circle, without finding tissues and felt empty. I started crying and a sweet guy named Bernard gave me a handkerchief. Turns out he works for an Aboriginal radio station and he wanted to interview me. It was really the most healing thing that could have happened, because while talking about the project, I was able to see a way through all the violence and painful histories.

But it's not about my privileged self coming in to fix anyone. I'm here as much to learn as to teach. After Bernard finished the interview, his mate Matthew came to sit down. When I first sat down, Matthew had been halting in his speech and super shy. As we started talking story, he became animated and eloquent as he explained the creation stories of his family. He is a dancer, and come to find out, his father is Djalu, the keeper of all the Yidaki songs (didjeridu) who I had met the day before. At the end of the festival, Djalu adopted me as his sister ("Yapa") and did a Yidaki healing on me.

The idea of family here is more than a complex systems of names and rules. I'm only beginning to understand what community can mean.

There were so many fun and happy moments too, and laughter equalized the tears. I didn't spend very much time in my tent (but I'm pretty proud of myself that I did, indeed "camp"- that's big for me), but it was close to all the action, so I was in the thick of it most of the time. Those who know how much I love a starry sky can only imagine what it was like staring through the gum trees at night as the night diamonds spilled over me. They were healing and hopeful, and so important as a balance for all the lessons in the glaring light of day.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Sydney- the first two days



My first day in Sydney was a wonderful transition- and no jet-lag in sight!!! I unpacked and watched movie
s from the very comfortable couch of my brilliant friend Summer Foley. Day two it was time to explore my new city! I made it out to Tranby Aboriginal College, in the hip neighborhood of
Glebe, and met up with my friend Darryl that I met seven years ago at Macquarie University. He is now the Program Director for Community Development at Tranby, and the catalyst for my trip here. From the outside, the college is
unassuming, but as you walk through the Burnt Sienna hallway you come upon another world, formed with curved
walkways and round classrooms
. The administration buildings and the circular, tribal, classrooms are connected by the "reconciliation" bridge that symbolizes the link between the European and Aboriginal worlds.
After a tour of the campus, I had lunch with some of the staff and students. Everyone was incredibly nice and had great senses of humor. I've also see it in action, employed by a group of people who have had so many challenges in their community. I've already learned a lot, and I've nowhere near begun studying the available resources. You should see the library- it's amazing!Darryl took me to "Vinnie's", the best salvo store (thrift shop) where I got everything I'll need for my trip to the Northern Territories, then there was an impromptu birthday party for my friend. All in all, a wonderful beginning to this new journey!
At the moment, I'm writing from the only cafe I could find with wireless, and it was a perfectly sunny day- but the clouds have started to come in now. I leave for the Northern Territories in a few hours, and won't be able to check in until I get back on the
13th. This is going to be quite an experience, but I'm looking forward to the adventure! Lots of love!!! xoxo

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Voices of Wisdom- a possible Non-Profit~

This is a more academic version of a possible future. All I have at the moment is my vision, which will be informed by experience after my trip to Oz.

VOICES OF WISDOM

For the last six years I have been working on creating a program that could begin to address the travesties surrounding Native/First Americans and Aboriginal Australians. I really began to understand the atrocities endured by the Aboriginal population in Australia, and consequently in my own country, while pursuing my Masters degree at Macquarie University, north of Sydney.

During school breaks, on-campus housing was made available to Aboriginal students through the Warawara program, and as an international student, I also stayed on campus during holidays. As a fellow outsider, I became friends with members of this program and was allowed into their inner circle to begin a video storytelling project, as part of my degree. While listening to their stories I couldn't help but think of the Cherokee community which is close to my home in Western North Carolina. The historical genocide endured by both of these indigenous groups made me realize that the alcoholism, domestic violence and racism of the present day is for the most part symptomatic of the larger problem of historical trauma.

Historical Trauma is "the collective emotional and psychological injury both over the life span and across generations, resulting from a cataclysmic history of genocide "(Yellow Horse Brave Heart). I want to create an organization called "V.O.W.", or "Voices of Wisdom" that will engage community and the arts as a means to heal historical trauma. Employing digital storytelling and cultural exchange between Aboriginal Australians and Native/First Americans, V.O.W. will focus on women, ancient wisdom and current sustainability. Women are the heart of the family, and their empowerment is a means by which to facilitate reconciliation and truly heal the community in which they live. Women in developing countries and indigenous societies are especially at risk for violence, poverty, and have little or no access to health care. Rhonda Copelan, in her essay, “Understanding Domestic Violence as Torture” asserts that, “Violence against women in the home operates as an alternative system of social control unaccountable to the formal legal system.” This is especially insidious for those in indigenous communities who have historical memory of betrayal by the very legal system that professes assistance in the form of public policy. The wisdom of indigenous elders, in terms of oral tradition and environmental sustainability, must also be shared and protected or it will be lost, to the peril of our entire global community.

Bonnie and Eduard Duran, historical trauma scholars, remind us that, "Once a people have been assaulted in a genocidal fashion, there are psychological ramifications. With the victim's complete loss of power comes despair, and the psyche reacts by internalizing what appears to be genuine power--the power of the oppressor. The internalizing process begins when Native American people internalize the oppressor, which is merely a caricature of the power actually taken from Native American people. At this point, the self-worth of the individual and/or group has sunk to a level of despair tantamount to self-hatred. This self-hatred can be either internalized or externalized. . . Research has demonstrated the grim reality of internalized hatred result in suicide. . .Another way in which the internalized self-hatred is manifested symptomatically is through the deaths of massive numbers by alcoholism. When self-hatred is externalized, we encounter a level of violence within the community that is unparalleled in any other group in the country . . ." (Duran and Duran, 29)

I would like to travel to South Africa and Rwanda to study the process of creating reconciliation councils, and to glean tools that will hopefully ignite a movement of reconciliation in the Aboriginal and Native/First American communities. The reconciliation and the empowerment of women and elders in indigenous and Native/First American groups will facilitate a safe space for ancient wisdom to be transformed into present day healing, economic independence, and self-governance, which I hope to translate into a viable non-profit enterprise based in sustainability.


Thursday, July 9, 2009



I was invited to attend the Garma Aboriginal festival:  www.garma.telstra.com

     It's truly amazing, but the challenge is the $2,200 additional funding!

I'm having a documentary film showing on July 22.  Fine Arts Theatre, 7pm -Whaledreamers: www.whaledreamers.com

but if you can't make it, do try to see the film, it is brilliant.  

     I am learning so much. For instance, I had not realized that playing the yidaki (didjeridu) is only for men.  It's men's business and illegal for women.  Cultural understanding then comes in bits in pieces: 


The sound of the yidaki at Gulkula is a call to the Yolngu clans of Northeast Arnhem Land to come together. It is a call to all peoples to come together in unity. Every August it is also a call to men from around the world who are enthusiastic about the "didjeridu" enthusiasts to come visit the home of the instrument and learn from traditional masters at the Garma Festival.


Non-Indigenous use of yidaki

In the Northern Territory, around Australia, and even internationally, yidakis are being sold in their thousands by those who have no connection to Yolngu. The Garma Festival hopes to remind people that these instruments and their music have sacred cultural uses associated with them that are still being practiced.

Mandawuy Yunupingu explains:

Yolngu understand the yidaki has become an Australian icon and accept non-Yolngu people throughout the world now use it for informal purposes and enjoyment. Be aware, however, that its origins are sacred and secret to Yolngu men. Those stories can not be told here, they can only be shared with initiated men. The yidaki is a male-oriented instrument. In Yolngu society women are forbidden to play it as its origins are sacred to men.

Healing power of the yidaki

Mandawuy Yunupingu explains:

Yolngu people have long recognised the healing powers of the yidaki. Through the provision of exercises for breathing, the yidaki holds collective powers in the healing process. The sound transfers peaceful vibrations that penetrate the mind and create inner spiritual oneness in an individual or group. In some cases, the yidaki is used for physical healing with the player concentrating his breath on an afflicted part of the patient's body.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


If I had to speak so that everyone completely understood me, I would have to be silent.  In 25 days I begin a new journey, this time to Australia.  It'll be an intense road ahead, but it's also a chance to start work on a dream I've had for over six years, to facilitate an exchange program between Aboriginal Australians and Native Americans to heal historical trauma through shared experience.  Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart has an excellent website on historical trauma, if you want a better understanding:  http://www.historicaltrauma.com/