Monday, August 27, 2007

Waiting...............(part 2)

©Copyright, entire contents, Turtle Heart 2007

"I have always believed I could trust my own senses, my mind and heart, my body and my spirit to help me understand when I am present with the truth. I believe that the teachings and rituals of the Sacred Pipe and the other ceremonies have helped make this possible for me in the strongest way. I believe that is the real purpose of these teachings.

Indian religion is not a faith religion. Indian religion is about a way of behaving and thinking and taking responsibility for your life.

The Sacred Teaching is a Warrior Teaching. This is why we call it Sacred. The great teachings give you power to stand where it is true and safe and bright.... But it ain’t easy." ...Tobacco Indian

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A life with the Sacred Pipe, all life long

©2007 Turtle Heart.

Reflections (only)

I grew up with the sacred pipe in my life every day, since I was a very young man. Through many talks, some of us came up with the idea to take the morning light, or first light of day pipe ceremony aound the worrld. Sometime we got really excited about the possibility. This was almost 30 years ago now. My father was an Ojibway Indian man. I was never sure about his enrollment status. He hated being an Indian. He was one of the ones they sent to indian school in Illinois. It ws an ugly thing to do to an entire generation of American Indian people. I came to know other relatives of my father’s family when I was younger and this is what brought Sacred Pipe into my life.

The idea of taking the Sacred around the world appealed to me as an Indian boy then, and now as an Indian man I feel the same way. Back then the first thing we needed to do was take the first sacred pipe we had (now we have 14) and take it to as many elders as we could for their blessings and support. I took on this work and travelled all over the United States at my own expense. I sought out elders who would listen to the idea and support us with their blessing. In 12 years of work and travel I gained the support of 38 tribal elders, men and women. I believe in these people. We did not make any PR statements or make any great public notice of this work. That does not seem to be so important. We have this blog and website up now. Rather than being publicity, we hope the internet resources are a collecting point for the documentation of this traveling sacred ceremony.

We have kept good records and by now we have a fantastic archive of photographs, paintings, sculptures, ceramics, poems, writings and journals and recorded conversations. As we travelled around inside of tribal countries of North America the Sacred Pipe slowly became the Four Directions Unity Bundle. Medicine people of many different tribes, cultures and beliefs contributed to these bundles. We also gained the blessings and support of some respected people in other religious faiths. We had the personal blessing of His Holiness the Dali Lama, as well as Budhist, Jewish and Christian leaders at various times. We have gained some interest from and support from psychologists and medical doctors and some university programs that look at social change and movement. Our compiled records from the web site, one of the earliest web sites on the internet, have been archived in the Smithsonian Collections of the Museum of American History Computer History Permanent Exhibit (what a mouthful huh?)

At the moment I am on my fourth month of assembling a long narrative with all the stories and ideas of the Four Directions Unity Bundle with all the multimedia attachments. I think this work will take about one year. After this time everything will have to be edited and the parts all gathered towards delivery to a publisher.

Very probably AICAP will produce and release a DVD multimedia disk of this publishing project sometime next year, possibly in the Winter.

It is hard to imagine that now it is 30 years later. I can almost feel the wind and feel the earth from those early days when we sat together and dreamed and had so many creative insights into life itself. Sacred Pipe has carried me all along, every step of this journey. A lot of stuff has come up and been passed around. My job is to nourish the beauty and positive. That is what is inside these ideas and these objects of the Four Directions Unity Bundle. It is not a smbol of what is Sacred. It is the Sacred. And that also is what is inside this “bundle”.

“Be like a baby when you look at the Sacred. Know nothing at all and believe in Everything….” Such a moment is possible. For everybody.

To embrace the Sacred is an act of choice. As an act of choice it really benefits from consciousness. The talking heads, for example, who represent the highly paid professional media, are unconscious. A father burying his dead children from the bullets of war is fully conscious of many things in that one moment. There is usually a gigantic disconnect that happens between the bullet which kills and the media which reports. Our powers of observation are being shaped in a rather shallow way while Rome burns, so to speak.

When I sit inside the meditations of the bundles, my spirit expands and feels and soars. I get all sorts of inspired ideas for poetry, prose, paintings and even stone carvings. It is like passing from one place into an entirely different place.

Many generations of tribal teachers have aspired in their suffering, and at the hands of a racist genocidal culture, yet prevailed in their essential truth and dignity.

Drums, sweat lodges, sacred pipes, eagle feathers and mysterious original instructions have never been silenced, have never ceased to be there to help the people. I have never heard a person speak to the mystery life while holding the Sacred ever blame anyone of anything. The Sacred things are from the voice of the earth and on the earth is where at least most of us still live.

I have always felt that a good Indian is really someone who works for the Mother earth. It is my own private meditation. In all my work with my teachers and my elders, it was learning to listen to the Creation, the Earth
that made it all such a fantastic revelation and adventure. It was in fact that ability to speak as one with the Creation that captivated me and changed my life when I made that journey back into the roots of my family so many years ago and saw a bunch of Indians standing there.

As a young man an elder once told me this, “look over your shoulder at what is behind you. If you see someone there you must turn around an see what they have to say to you. If you do not see anyone, you are free to make your own way.” Well, I turned around and looked and saw these old Indians. Think fast now. Who is that behind you?.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Feeding the Spirit

©2007 Turtle Heart
We are down here
waiting with the wind
we were over there burning in the dryness
and emptiness of those who guide us
except in line
now we are waiting with the wind
here on the other side of the world
I put down my dreams
I feed my earth and sing an old song sometimes
down here
waiting with the wind
on the other side of the world

Spirit bowl is a daily practice when practiced in its pure form, but can be done at anytime. Anyone can do it, rich or poor, in the city or the country.

Each time you eat you prepare a small plate of food. This small plate of food is taken to a place near to your home and left there. It is food for the spirits, for the hungry, for the mystery life. It does not matter if it is eaten by birds, or dogs, or cats, or whatever might be out there and passing by.

Many of my old friends would put their favorite foods or the favorite foods of someone who has passed away into this plate. I knew one elder who really loved strawberry jam, especially homemade jam. Whenever I visited these friends I would bring home made strawberry jam so we could put it on the spirit plate.

The energy of this practice is a great meditation on so many levels. It prospers the ideas of abundance, of sharing, of respecting what you have been given. It is a small giving back ceremony.

In modern society people do not like so much to put food out near their homes. It attracts problems they say. In the indian world it is not so important who or what may eat your spirit food. It is the offering that is the operative function in this practice. There is a bond created between your life and the mystery life of the earth when you honor such old ceremonies. It creates a thinking, a feeling that otherwise would not exist in your life.

Theoretical science has made good arguments that, as Huxley said, “consciousness is a function of the brain”. The spirit plate creates a physical link between you and this small need of the earth. Feeding the spirits invites the spirits to respond. Biology clearly teaches us that nearly every form of life has response capability.

I knew an old indian man who always put their favorite treats near a big ant hill. He never had ants in his house, though nearly everyone else did. He did not have to use chemicals or any other behavior except his respect and acknowledgment. You can always go some distance from your home to do this ceremony as well. Some people have a special place they love to visit and make the spirit plate when they go to this place.

In America for some reason it is very easy to find pretty good wild bird seed in many kinds of supermarkets and even hardware stores. All my life in america, wherever I have lived I have made spirit bowls for the birds. In return my home has always been filled with singing, migrations and multi generation bird families. These days I live on a small island in the Mediterranean Sea and it is almost impossible to find wild bird seeds. I have made a stone water bowl and now I am on my fourth generation of birds who have raised their babies on my water. Having a big crowd of happy birds around your home is very entertaining and interesting. I do also the regular spirit plate for the earth, but have a special fondness for birds. Here on Pantelleria where we have absolutely no fresh water (except what we catch in cisterns from the rain), the water bowl has become a very popular spirit bowl.

In the Pacific Northwest I had a big round ceramic spirit bowl. One day it just disappeared. We later learned that one of our neighbors had seen a big bear come and grab that spirit bowl and walk off with it. More than two years later I was walking in the big hills near the house and found that spirit bowl and brought it home.

Most families use spirit plates to feed the spirit of those loved one who have passed on. Some people who want to grow and change their lives make a spirit plate to offer to the spirits of change and renewal. When you are trying to make progress every small positive movement towards what you want is in fact progress. Even small things are important. Small things have great value that is often overlooked. Sometimes we want what is dramatic and profound. That which is small progress is the food of the sacred tree. The rain carries the sacred tree but also the mist in the morning covers her flowers and shines like the stars in full light of day.

When you want to grow, to be in balance or harmony, to make changes it is important to understand simple things, easy things They are so often over looked. When you go to sleep at night, you can tell your brain to visit the spirit plate while you are dreaming. It is your brain and sometimes it will help you out like this.

PS...don't use plastic plates. find a nice strong ceramic.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Sheiks of Zuni : Middle East Family Seeking To Control Lucrative Tribal Art Markets?

©2007. Turtle Heart, Ojibwe Artist for the AICAP Group

Middle Eastern family Business associates (possibly one family in control) are moving to dominate and control American Indian Art sales in the lucrative Southwest.

When I first starting visiting around in Indian country, as we call it,1975 or so, I was surprised to see so many art galleries selling American Indian Art. A lot of this art was really fantastic. In those days the Indians were still making art for themselves, for other Indians. Believe me there is a big difference in the art Indian people make for themselves and the art they come more and more to make only for the sales at market. This is the quality of stuff you would see everywhere. fantastic things of great beauty.

I first came to the plaza in Santa Fe, for example, at 2 in the morning. I had been driving all night. The plaza was utterly quiet and deserted. Every shop was crammed full of masterpieces of bead-works, fetish necklaces, cradle boards for babies, beaded clothing. It was an astonishing show of every kind of art in the big windows with only the night and the street lights.

Now it is very different. Who knows where this stuff comes from now. Designer galleries. Imports from every country, The old Indian galleries are now long gone. Large blocks of some of the best old and historic art galleries have been bought up by a family group of Palestinians (as far as I have gathered so far) . They sell stuff at really high prices and then come way down when you talk to them. They are fast and impatient and rude…. and they have so much money that they can fill a huge store in a single day ($200,000.00 inventories in a single day). They tend to buy art by the truckload. They have now made huge moves to control the shops in the plazas of Taos, Gallup, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.

Yes, the artists could sell elsewhere. When they can, they do. The business around the area do not always have money and also there are many artists, so that way is not always open. It can take a long time to find a customer that will give you a fair price, especially these days. This family always has cash. Cash right now, but they decide the price.

Their influence on tribal Indian art markets is becoming gigantic and I am sad to say negative, greedy and indifferent. Yes, if you know nothing, they may seem like charming people. Their culture produces outstanding sales people. They understand this kind of market very well. Try asking some pointed questions or watch, if you can them buy some things from a group of waiting artists. It is not very pretty. Indian artists controlled by a rich middle-eastern family. No one pays much attention to this except the neighbor galleries around them, which have a hard time competing. The typical tourist is really so poorly informed, that it makes almost no difference. They do not notice season by season the many magical and original art and artists that disappear beneath the dust of this industrial strength trade assualt on American Indian Art.

They pay the artist, who are living in very remote areas, cash on the spot; usually it is pennies to the dollar. I wonder if people can understand how bad this really is for everybody except these middle eastern families? It is a brutal transformation of the scene I first saw in the 1970s. These galleries feel like the land after clear cut logging but with boutiques instead of acres of dead trees.

I guess they have seen a good opportunity to make money. They began their family operations many years ago with a shop in Zuni Pueblo. The Zuni make pretty much the finest American Indian jewelry… period. Their multi generational arts are one of the most valuable and important sources of significant indigenous art in the world. Their village is remote. If you have cash and a lot of it is is possible to go there and buy a lot of things really cheap. It is a crazy situation. The modern world has been moving in on this little Pueblo steadily over the decades, but at least the greedy old white people who built up the gallery business for this art paid much better prices and tended to reward those artists who were exceptional in pretty fair ways. Those days are pretty much gone. It is like art under warfare. Dancing under the gun. The Middle Eastern people have invaded a tiny population of tribes(who have only themselves to protect them) with a lucrative, millions and millions (maybe) of dollars.

The American Indian art market is more and more substantially controlled by these people.

Maybe someone with the resources should investigate this situation. Usually American Indian issues don’t mean a whole hell of a lot to modern journalism or society in general for that matter. There are fewer and fewer galleries which offer what they call American Indian Art on the up and up. Buyer beware. I know I would like to know a lot more about who these people are....or maybe more importantly I wonder what it is we can do to keep the money and the opportunities these fine artists need and deserve back into a respectful and balanced system. This kind of approach is already creating failed artists and family businesses, and a new generation of master workers who get paid almost nothing for making some of the finest, most lovely things on this earth. The Zuni and the other Pueblos in particular have built their art traditions over many generations and it is this creative work that is in danger now.

I first became aware of this situation in the early 1980's. At first it has moved very slowly. However, in the last five years it seems to have become an all out push. In a tour of the southwest gallery towns last year I specifically asked independent gallery owners what the story was. Every one I talked to said they had been approached by agents of this family with offers of cash to buy them out. All together we may be talking about 400 or more galleries with inventories in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

When I talk to my friends about it, it now seems like common knowledge among Indian artists and their friends. Certainly savvy collectors have noticed this. I don't have anything against anybody. Maybe it is bad timing to have to say they are Arabic culture people. Rather than who it is my biggest concern is what it is doing to the artists, what effect it is having on the art. This region is one of the most important art distribution areas for all American Indian artists and collectors. I suspect the money is going away from the community, probably away from the country. I do not believe they have stepped up as protectors of tribal art. I think they are business people who know where there is money and a situation where they can make a move. I wonder how easy it is to move Indian art money over to the Palestinians, for example? Curiously in several of the plazas where they have moved in, they own the galleries at the four corners.

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