Friday, June 20, 2014

Stommish: Unity, Spirituality, & a Run Against Fossil Fuels

Written by Jessica Zimmerle
Earth Ministry Outreach Coordinator
Dear friends,

Grand festivities continue this weekend at the Lummi Nation where tribal and community members are celebrating the 68th annual Stommish Water Festival. Earlier this week, the Lummi hosted a series of public events to raise further awareness about the serious threat that increased fossil fuel extraction and transportation pose to numerous tribes throughout the region.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Stommish Sacred Summit, where I was repeatedly moved by the wisdom of the elders and experts who shared their stories and beliefs about sacred obligation to the environment. Leaders joined from the Plains, the Midwest, and Canada to promote a common message of unity in the face of oppression.

Chief Phil Lane Jr. of the Ihanktonwan Dakota & Chickasaw Nations emphasized that “we are all in this together; we’re only here for a short time…like shadows vanishing before the setting sun.” Building further on the call for unity, Chief Reuben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation encouraged everyone to live in honor of “all our relations, with one heart, one mind, and one prayer.” These powerful messages resonate with this fall’s upcoming totem pole journey in which the Lummi will connect ongoing battles against coal export, tar sands, and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

As the speakers shared their stories, a strong sense of spirituality permeated the longhouse. The silver lining to these detrimental projects, as Chief Lane explained, is that the fossil fuel companies have inadvertently awakened a spiritual giant. In this spiritual springtime, people are coming to the realization that we are all indigenous people to Mother Earth, created to care for our one and only planet. It is this grounded faith that gives us the strength to carry on because, although taking on the fossil fuel industry may feel daunting, “the Creator is much bigger than all of them, that’s why we do the right thing.”

Winona LaDuke of the Abishinaabe Nation is an incredible activist and champion of Native rights. She opened her talk with a saying from the Lakota:
“How long are you going to let others determine the future of our children? Do not operate out of a place of fear, operate out of hope. With hope, all things are possible.”
Hope is crucial to maintain the energy for this battle. Not only hope, but perspective - keeping in mind that the fossil fuel era is a very short blot on the spectrum of history. We currently live in a short-sighted linear economy and must recognize that we are all indeed fossil fuel addicts that have relinquished our agency and found ways to rationalize our behavior. But, if we start to shift back to a more cyclical worldview, we can accomplish the graceful exit from our addiction to consumption and transition to a higher quality of life that we actually desire. LaDuke offered some practical and technical advice for how to achieve this goal, but ended with the reality that “sometimes you have to go outside what is comfortable.”

So I took Winona’s advice, and I ran. Without planning, training, or knowing if I could even make it to the finish line, I ran eight miles from Cherry Point in solidarity with the Lummi. This last minute decision was far beyond my comfort zone, and it ended up being the best run of my life.

This event, the “Sacred Relay,” followed the theme of the summit in being both unifying and spiritual. Folks gathered on the beach at Cherry Point where runners and paddlers were blessed and given a pair of carved prayer staffs, carried by land as well as by water, to eventually be re-united at the Stommish grounds. As we ran, the staff was traded off and filled with prayers, the woods were alive with the sounds of creation, and supporters lifted us up with encouragement. It is difficult for me to place words to what I experienced on that run, but needless to say it was incredibly empowering and I am sincerely honored to have participated.

Our friend Kurt Russo boldly stated that “their evil is mighty, but it can’t stand up to our stories.” That is why these stories, your stories, perseverance, and actions, are such an important piece of our Power Past Coal campaign. Let us continue on the journey together, spreading the epic tale of our collective movement towards a fossil free future.

In peace,

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