Grandmother Carole Bubar-Blodgett, explaining aspects of the 220-mile Prayer Walk of the Howsatunnuck River (Housatonic).

Grandmother Carole Bubar-Blodgett, explaining aspects of the 220-mile Prayer Walk of the Howsatunnuck River (Housatonic). Photo: May 27, 2018.

Easily taken as just another crazy old lady, Carole Bubar-Blodgett talks a lot. Her stories are personal, about the lessons, teachings, and experiences she’s had walking the Good Red Road. Emotion runs through her, especially gratitude.

Grandmother Carole was at Standing Rock, where she gifted the Water is Life Eagle Staff to the youth of the Seventh Generation. “It was always theirs,” she explains, “I was just holding it for them.”

Healing

Beginning in 1999,  Carole danced the Sun Dance at Chief Leonard Crow Dog’s Paradise Grounds, and continued dancing for twelve years. Sun Dancers commit to a specific focus of their dancing in four year cycles. Grandmother Carole’s commitment is to the Seventh Generation, to strengthen the children as they lead us in healing the planet. She renewed her Sun Dance commitment three times. In 2011, Carole transferred her Nurture the Children Prayer from the Sun Dance to Walking the Sacred Water.

“Ceremony,” Grandmother explained during this year’s 8th Annual Water is Life Walk along the Howsatunnuck (Housatonic), “is about healing.” Carole had been raised white and learned by chance that her family had suppressed their native lineage. A decade before her first trip to the international Sun Dance at Paradise Grounds, Carole offered tobacco to Bill Soaring Eagle Martin (circa 1989-1990), asking him to become her teacher. Then aged thirty-five, Carole had a lot of whiteness to un-do. Soaring Eagle explained to her that the kind of instruction he could provide was primarily about healing. Personal healing. In the beginning, Carole did not comprehend how sincere he was. “I didn’t know I was going to be digging to China!”

About a decade later, Carole went to Sun Dance in support of a friend. Following communication with Spirit and strict attention to protocol, Carole was soon authorized to Dance. Like all Sun Dancers, Carole was required to conduct a Vision Quest prior to Dancing. In preparation, she was instructed to select and tie the prayer ties that she would need to a stick. Having never been exposed to a vision quest before, Carole did not know the traditional structure of how these ties would be incorporated into the Ceremony. Left with her imagination, Carole created a multicolored rainbow replete with seven ties of seven colors for the seventh generation, including extra yellow and a single purple tie for herself. She was abashed when she saw the sticks made by the other initiates, who used only the four standard colors of the four directions: black, red, white, yellow. Convinced she had “done it all wrong” and showed herself “an idiot,” Carole nonetheless was guided to an appropriate location and completed the Vision Quest.

Upon completion of the Vision Quest, Carole was sent to Auntie Diane Crow Dog in order to debrief the experience and share dreams. Turns out that Auntie Diane had anticipated the arrival of someone who would inherit her responsibility to pray for the children, and had previously instructed the men to watch out for this person. Carole’s unwitting deviation from tradition singled her out for this honor; it also identified her as a contrary, a person who works with opposites, heyoka.

Auntie Diane adopted Carole in a private Hunka Ceremony, and passed her a medicine bundle. “I will be an expensive teacher,” she explained, “because you will have to call me long-distance every week.” Today, Carole misses those weekly calls, which she made faithfully until Auntie Diane crossed over in 2006.

Water is Life Walks

In 2011, Carole was experiencing high blood pressure and took the question into Prayer about how to renew her next four-year commitment to Sun Dance: should she dance only three days each year? A white earwig appeared during her Vision Quest, with the communication that it was time to switch the four-year commitment from the Sun Dance to Walking the Water. Carole did not delay: she completed that year’s Sun Dance and conducted her first Water is Life Walk that same summer.

The next year, for her second Walk (2012), Carole was ready to embark when her friend, Raven Redbone, told her that Josephine Mandamin would be speaking nearby at Evergreen College. Josephine invited Carole to wait a few more days so that she could participate in the special “Paddle to Squaxin” sea canoe event. Paddlers from 102 canoes poured water from their points of origin (not only North America) into the Budd Inlet at the Port of Olympia. Carole then collected water from the shore. She carried that water across the country, along the way collecting discrete amounts of water from 28 sacred sites, all the way to Indian Island in Penobscot Maine. There she “married the waters” from the East Coast, the West Coast and points in-between to illustrate the primary lesson of water: unity.

Once water is mixed with other water, it is indistinguishable: you can no longer separate out which water came from where. This is a lesson of getting along with each other that humans need to (re)learn: we are all one.

“We Are Water”

The 2018 Walk is along the Howsatunnuck River (Housatonic) with Headwaters in Massachusetts and New York, running down through the Berkshires and Central Connecticut to the Long Island Sound.

This river was suggested to Grandmother Carole by Micah Big Wind Lott, who was supporting actions against the illegal extension of a fracked gas pipeline in the Otis State Forest in western Massachusetts. It is mind-boggling to comprehend the poison in this river, given the pervasive gorgeousness of the landscape. Fishermen, kayakers, and tourists gawk at the beauty. But what do they make of the signs warning of fish you cannot eat and water you cannot enter, should not even touch?

Sachem Hawk Storm, of the Schaghticoke, admitting to his daughters that he licks rocks.

Sachem Hawk Storm, of the Schaghticoke, admitting to his daughters that he licks rocks.

One evening on the Walk, we were treated to a cozy dinner with Schaghticoke Sachem Hawk Storm and his family. Grandmother and Hawk spoke of many things, but mostly we laughed. Some of the more serious topics included the inadequacy of the English language for conveying the sacred nature of water, the absence of a discrete word for time in some indigenous languages, and being heyoka. At one potent moment, Hawkstorm emphasized that we (humans) are water. The emphasis on language—how to say things properly—seemed (to me/nerdy white grrl) similar to the prayer Grandmother has taught us to offer whenever we cross a waterway: seeking permission to cross.

We ask permission, she explains, because water can either be soft and gentle or hard and forceful. The gesture of asking could be literal, yet it is the ritual of asking that is most significant because it is about an orientation to the water. Seeking permission is a way of showing respect and remembering relationship—of affirming kinship and connection of humans and water. Language and language use is also about orientation: soft and gentle or hard and forceful.

For a few millenia, the hard aspect of language has sent us spiraling toward disaster. We must re-orient ourselves, somehow, so that we can slow and divert the onrush. Humans have two unique tools for this task: our languages and our cultures. Spending a month walking 220 miles in the company of a river will not automatically cleanse it of pollutants or free it from dams. But devoting such time to thinking about and caring for the water is a way to signal the intention of doing whatever it takes to ensure this water is clean and free-flowing for the next seventh generation.

I am honored and humbled to be a part of organizing this 8th Annual Water is Life Walk led by Grandmother Carole Bubar-Blodgett.

Please visit the Water is Life Walk website for more information, to volunteer, or to make a donation. Thanks!

Going to Boston to counterprotest white supremacy following the violence in Charlottesville did not turn out to be dangerous, but there was no way to know this in advance.

Walking the Talk or keeping my plans?

When I first learned of the antiracist rally in Boston, it did not cross my mind that I should go. I was already booked on a flight away from Massachusetts that Saturday morning. However, on Thursday, a friend invited me to a preparatory training hosted by SURJ — Stand Up for Racial Justice. I was curious and that evening was free, so I went. Once I arrived to the training, I realized that I had been too busy to consider that I might change my plans. Nearly everything that I learned that evening was, to be honest, a reason to keep my original plans, that is, reasons not to go participate in the counter-rally and march in Boston.

Stellan Vinthagen holds the Endowed Chair in the Study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance at UMass Amherst.

Stellan Vinthagen holds the Endowed Chair in the Study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance at UMass Amherst.

There were more than 20 people attending the just-in-time SURJ training; emotion in the room was high. Introductions and conversation centered on personal motivations for participation—almost nothing about strategy, goals, or specific mission. Similarity of purpose was assumed. No one seemed to blink when we were told that the march organizers, the Movement for Black Lives, had asked for white allies to put our white bodies physically in-between Black activists and white supremacists, and also between Black activists and the police. Further, the leadership had decided not to commit this march to nonviolence: they reserved the right to self-defense. Finally, just as the Mayor of Boston was actively discouraging the white supremacists from holding their (so-called) free speech rally, the Mayor had also sought to discourage the counter rally — creating a pre-condition in which violent police intervention was more likely.

It had already been a long day at work. My energy began to fade as each risk, and their compounding interactions, became increasingly clear. About an hour 1/2 into the training, we divided into groups for bonding purposes. Since I didn’t think I was going, I let my friend know I was heading home. We had a quick conversation about the lack of input into the design process…for instance, were we being deployed disposably by black leadership? Did they care about or disregard our (possible) intellectual contributions and the health and safety of our bodies? A basic reversal of power roles is not the kind of society I’m seeking to help build. I kept to myself my worries that the white supremacists had planned the sequence and locations of rallies long in advance, so their prior planning was possibly more extensive. We could literally be marching into a trap.

Who was I kidding?!seeds tshirt

Before I’d driven ten minutes I knew that I was going to cancel my flight to Missouri to see the total solar eclipse with my closest longterm buds. Yes, the counter-protest felt like a set-up. Yes, it felt like if things went wrong, they would go wrong very, very, very badly. But I’d been talking all week with Patty Nourse Culbertson, who had been on the frontline in Charlottesville. She had explained that even though anti-racism activists in Charlottesville had an entire month to prepare, they still weren’t ready. I realized readiness has both existential and practical aspects. Practically, one can only be as ‘ready’ as one is, and this may never feel like enough.

Preparation

First, communication. Not intending to be dramatic, I just touched base with my main peeps, letting everyone know that I was going to be there. I deeply appreciate the support of my friends and family. It wasn’t that I assumed there would be violence and people would get hurt or possibly killed, but the reality is casualties do happen: prior to Heather Heyer’s murder in Charlottesville, there was Sophia Wilansky’s terrible arm injury protesting the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. The chances of being that individual are drastically lower in nonviolent than in armed, violent conflict, but I cannot pretend there is no risk. It seem important to at least attempt to minimize any subsequent mess.

Grover's signSecond, gear. I perused the links provided by SURJ:

I followed the recommendations for clothing, and selected first aid items, personal protective gear and snacks that I could carry in cargo pants (since backpacks were prohibited).

Action

Will and GroverWell, it was a beautiful day. Sunny, no rain, quite warm but not excessively hot. There were 40,000 of us. We had a marching band, witty and poignant signage, and many, many onlookers who showered us with thanks and gratitude. The free speech rally was fractional in comparison, about 50 individuals. A small amount of incidents with police occurred, some which seemed unprovoked and others that were in response to taunting. I enjoyed myself and remained vigilant, seeking to stick with my group members while staying alert for trouble. Thank god nothing happened because our group(s) had practically zero discipline. If something had happened we would have been scrambling. But nothing did, and so we had a successful march and, as a result, free speech rallies across the country were cancelled.

Aftermath

We returned from the march just in time to attend a free evening concert. I couldn’t muster the juice to celebrate, too exhausted. I went home, ate and went to bed early, sleeping for 11 hours. I was still groggy and out of it on Sunday morning. By a delightful coincidence, I was able to go camping overnight at a lovely spot on a beautiful lake. Sitting there in the woods, basking in the afternoon sun, watching the calm water, listening to the sounds of birds, children playing nearby, and the breeze in the trees, I began to feel restored.

Lake TullyLater, after dark, gazing into the flames of a campfire, I realized I was experiencing white fragility.

Think about it. I had just spent an entire day acting as if nothing was wrong, as if everything is normal, as if it was just a usual day…while at the same time remaining alert to the fact that super bad shit could happen at any second. I know it is not an exact parallel, but I had a small epiphany: this is what people of color in the US feel all the time. They must develop and allocate internal resources to manage this tension every day, all day long, and all night, too. 24/7.  No breaks. No 48-hour recovery period, and probably no easy access to nature in which to draw spiritual sustenance.

Not only was my fragility on display, but my white privilege, too.

 

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