"There ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them."
- Mark Twain
Day 107 - Saturday, October 7, 1995 – The Algonquin people have passed down for many hundreds of years the story of the Seven Prophets and the Seven Fires. As the story is told by Grandfather Commanda and by Eddie Benton-Banai, Mide elder and author of The Mishomis Book, there is a happy possibility in the story.
If we human beings turn from materialism, greed, and hate, and choose a pathway of living out basic spiritual qualities – honesty, caring, sharing, respect, unity – then we ignite an 8th Fire, an era of peace.
But for an 8th Fire to illuminate souls, for that fire to unite all the people of all the colors and traditions, it must be more than just a story or just an idea. It must be a living reality.
This is how we walkers have heard the tale. This 8th Fire potential has become our dream. We see the brokenness, the pollution, and the sorrow around us, just as described in the Seven Fires teachings. We see also the very real but difficult possibility of an 8th Fire – something within our grasp. But we have a long way to go.
|On the road west - Tom Dostou, center, leads the Sunbow pilgrims down the road. Photo by Regula Vellacott, 1995.
The situation in our Sunbow camp at Toad Suck Ferry, Arkansas is furious and chaotic. At this point there are no clear reports or understandings about what exactly is going on. I can tell I am not getting the whole story.
Long after the events were over, I spoke at length with Brianna Muggli, 17, who was directly involved in the Arkansas incident that served as a trigger for the eruptions that are roiling our pilgrimage. Here is what she said.
"I want to tell what happened to me, to possibly prevent it from happening again. I'd been with the walk for over three months, and it had gotten weird for me...I felt it was getting too political, and yet I understood in the beginning that it was not to be a political walk, but a walk for unity and respect.
“I have had so many problems with the walk, and with the men in power, and their anger and control. Women have no true voice or say on the walk, not unless they are in agreement with the small group of men who are in control.
"I was mad at one man (Tom) who is a leader of the walk, and especially the way he had yelled and screamed at a 15-year old boy who was with us in Arkansas. He had done that so many times to so many people. I went for a walk in the woods with this man to talk about it. He told me I had a lot of problems, and that I just did not trust.
“I began to cry, and he held me to comfort me. I did not mind that, or when he started rubbing my back. But when he touched me sexually I was uncomfortable. When I told him that and asked him to stop, he did.
"But I was still upset that it happened. He was a spiritual leader that I was supposed to trust. I couldn't say anything to anyone. I did not know who to go to. But the next day I was with another one of the young women who was telling me that she felt uncomfortable in Tom’s presence. That's when I told her what happened.”
Later that night, Brianna said, the other young woman met with four of the older women. She told them. The next day one of those women (Alycia) went to confront the man.
Alycia took the truck and drove out to confront Tom today about what had happened between him and Brianna. Joe went with her.
They found Tom walking along the road. After they stopped, the discussion among them soon became heated. According to Alycia, she asked Tom to go off on his own. She asked him to take some time, and to walk and pray alone for a week or two to get his head clear and his priorities straight before rejoining the main body of walkers. She said that Tom really needed some time alone to think about how he was behaving.
Tom’s temper flared again. He immediately accused Alycia of trying to usurp his power and authority him as head man of the walk. He told her she was making a power grab, and that he would not stand for it. He told her that she had no business to confront him or ask him anything.
In angry confusion, Tom, Alycia and Joe parted on the roadside and began making their way back to camp.
Later, back at camp, Tom went about telling his version of events. He said that nothing had happened between him and Brianna, and that Alycia was making a power grab.
Brianna, Alycia, and Joe feel hurt and betrayed by Tom. I feel betrayed also, and mistrustful of him. While I have been remote in my New Hampshire office, I have heard again and again from walkers complaining of Tom's temper outbursts, his controlling style of leadership, and his bullying.
Last week in Memphis it disturbed me profoundly that Tom refused to answer any questions about the walk's money, and that he became so furious and defensive when I asked to have a meeting with him to address the issue. Now, hearing Brianna's account of what has happened, and Tom refusing to speak with me about it at all, I have lost confidence in him as a spiritual leader.
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 108 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire