“What did I find that had been left by the side of the trail? I found that being close to Spirit and having faith in Spirit supports us. It really does.”
– Alycia Longriver
Day 156 - Saturday, November 25, 1995 – As is his custom, Grandfather Commanda rose early, then sat in a chair to smoke his small medicine pipe. He puts fire to the tobacco plant as a part of his daily practice, making time to pray and meditate before breakfast.
After breakfast this morning, Grandfather headed off for a meeting with Lakota medicine man Leonard Crow Dog, who was also visiting in Albuquerque this weekend. Crow Dog is a spiritual leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), dating back decades. The two elders exchanged tobacco, and visited for a while in private. Leonard told Grandfather that he would pray for our walk.
In the early afternoon we all gathered back out on the llano – the high desert plain – and convened our circle. José Lucero of the Santa Clara Pueblo—one of our core pilgrimage advisors— presided over the second day of our circle.
Our circle went on for many long hours. José stood in the center of the circle in shirtsleeves, just as he had at Thanksgiving, 1995 at First Encounter Beach in Massachusetts (Day 0) during the icy-cold ceremonial circle that preceded the walk. José had been on the beach with us as the idea of our Sunbow walk took form and was supported with vows.
Now, a year later, he was standing at the center of the emotional storm that engulfed our walk five months into it, and many hundreds of miles west.
Each person was given an opportunity to speak. There were about 55 of us. We continued until well after sunset. Most people stood for the duration.
After the elders offered up prayers and petitioned for spiritual support, José called on Tom to speak first. Then, as the afternoon wore on. José turned in a sunwise direction to face each speaker, each of us taking as much time as we needed to express ourselves, but each having only one chance to speak.
Tom, as always, was eloquent and forceful, making a case for how important our walk is, and how the past was over. But he did not say what we had hoped to hear from him: that he would walk with us as one of us, not trying to be our leader, and not trying to boss or bully us.
Navajo Sand Painting - by John Benally of Shiprock, New Mexico.
It took a long, long time to hear from everyone in the circle. We'd had five months of build up to this gathering, and we had a lot we neded to express. Many emotional words were spoken about lies, disrespect, bullying, lack of caring and sharing, unaccounted for money, and needless pain and suffering. Most of us still felt hurt and disrespected, and had a need to express that rather than just forgiveness. It's hard to forgive when there is only denial, and no acknowlegement of wrongdoing or harm caused.
The women pilgrims, in particular, spoke directly and passionately. Many fingers were pointed at Tom. They made it plain they were not on the walk to take direction from one male leader, or even the men in general, but to walk and pray as equals. They asked for more complete respect, and a greater opportunity to share in the decision making. But there was general sense that we all shared in the blame, that we were all complicit in allowing abuse and conflict to fester.
Three Rivers later told me, "the reality is, we all had to give our permission to let Tom lead us the way he did. We moved aside and let him do it. We should have been working through consensus. If you give your power over to people, then you can be in danger."
Tom’s wife, Naoko, who had not been with him or our walk since July, spoke beautifully at the healing circle. She offered only words of understading and forgiveness. She welcomed Lauren Keahbone to our Sunbow pilgrimage, and thanked her for giving companionship to Tom. She urged us all to forgive Tom as she was forgiving him, and to walk on to the west together in peace and respect.
All of the Rainbow Walkers who had split from the main Sunbow 5 Walk in Arkansas came to be part of the circle in Rio Rancho: Alycia Longriver, Sherry Noser, Brianna Muggli, VaLaine Lighty, and Clayton Peters.
They told the circle that experiences and insights they had been gifted with at Chaco Canyon had shown them that their walk is now complete. They had come to bid us farewell, to let us know that they were returning to their respective homes, and that they would continue to pray for us.
As the afternoon wore on it became apparent, once again, that all was not yet healed, and I think we all knew it. We were finally getting a chance to express ourselves, but we had not yet moved from naming our sorrow and grievances to healing them.
I, for one, was not healed. I hadn’t gotten beyond the past, had not yet arrived at a place of full forgiveness. I still felt righteously angry, and I know other walkers did as well. I was willing to walk with Tom, but not to follow him. As our circle dispersed for the afternoon, I stalked to the center and discarded the hawk feather Tom had given me in Memphis. I wanted nothing to do with Medicine that had come from him. I wanted the wind to carry the feather far away.
The elders recognized that our circle of pilgrims needed further healing. They asked us to return to this place tomorrow, for a third day in the desert.
Emily Philips of Albuquerque gifted the walk. She presented us with 40 coupons, each good for a free, all-you-can-eat meal at Furr's Family Cafeteria. Emily had prevailed upon the management of the local Furr’s, and they had responded with the coupons for our walk. We filed into the cafeteria that night, and a major Sunbow chow-down ensued.
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 157 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire