Prior to our mind-blowing, mind-training weekend, inaptly titled Mindfulness for the Yoga-less (more on why and the tender touch of Yoga Therapist Samantha “Like the Whiskey” Jameson in the next post), we attended a talk sponsored by the nearby town of Coloma’s North Berrien Historical Museum.. The descriptor stated: “Potawatomi Customs and Traditional Medicines presentation by Andy Jackson, Pokagon Tribal Council member. The Potawatomi inhabited the southwestern portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula long before European settlers began arriving in the late 18th and early 19th century. The Pokagon band remains active in the air today, preserving cultural traditions and autonomy as a federally recognized Native American nation. Jackson will present on the customs practiced and medicines used by her people.”
Note her people, as Andy turned out to be a girl. Or a woman rather, fifty-five years of age and a knowledgeable, trusted Medicine Person schooled in the traditional ways of her people. She opened the talk by identifying and thanking members of her tribe whose presence there supported her and gave her strength. Andy identified herself as a member of The Turtle clan of Pokagon Potawatomi’s, a Native American people of the Great Plains, upper Mississippi River and western Great Lakes region who called themselves Neshnabé from Anishinaabe, the “youngest brother" and Bodéwadmi or “keepers of the fire” in the Council of Three Fires with the Ojibwe and Odawa. Her exact Indian name I missed, but it boiled down to “She Who Cooks Killer Food for Her Family”. She then went on tell a fun hours worth of stories that could only be told by someone living the soulful, wholesome life in the center of the center of a traditional culture. There was information on the endless medicines and rituals they perform - from growing traditional tobacco and singing and praying over plants to harvesting milkweed and making soups to mixing mint and lemongrass in Ceremonial teas. But at the heart of it all is what I call a Mind Medicine, an understanding of life and death, the reality of the Creator and a connected tribal community that provides its people happy, meaningful, mentally-sound existences, having little to do with material wealth or notoriety in the world. These are traditional healing ways that have much to offer contemporary western cultures.
Now there was the surface content of the talk which I somewhat recounted and enjoyed — knowledge of plants and animals, stories of knocking on people’s door whose property held a nice caché of some medicine, fun times with family learning the language and upholding the culture. If your’e a Spartan and you’ve headed to or from Michigan State University home to Detroit, you’ve passed the town of Okemos a hundred times, unknowing that Okemos means “Grandma” in Potawatomi. At least I did (Go Green). Beyond her stories, I also enjoyed Andy’s demeanor and the way she thanked her elder who was present. I had a chance to approach Tom who was 94 years old and enjoyed meeting him as well. I asked, “What do they call you? Out of respect, is there a term?”, “Nope, they just call me Tom”, he replied.”When I was younger everyone called me Som.” “Som,?” i asked “Like S-O-M?” “Yeah, Som, that’s it.” “Why did they call you Som?” “You know, I don’t know why.” (we both laughed). Andy also spoke of Ceremonies like the annual thirteen mile Water Walk, a moving prayer open to non-tribal members. I’m always jazzed learning about Michigan tribes, not only because it’s my home and will be for a long time, but because my passion for healing and spiritual knowledge was actually first fired by leaving the area. And to return now to its richness, having been previously unaware, its a perfect reflection of the poet T.S. Elliott’s quote, “"… and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
So there’s this freshness, a newness, in the realization that’s its all personally, in many ways, come full circle. But there’s more to the feeling. There’s also an awareness - and people I humbly say this, with great joy and awe - that the Healing Ways hidden in the secrets and the dirt, back roads and the kitchen cabinets of Potawatomi Okemos (Grandma’s), are the same Healing Ways upheld here, at The Higher Haven. Same but unique in their own way., as are all clans, let’s say. We share the same four sacred medicines — tobacco, sage, cedar, and sweetgrass. We take part in the sweatlodge and other rituals that allow our people to renew themselves and strengthen themselves. And we carry and honor an authentic Healing Pipe for which we are very grateful. We have fire keepers too, or A fire keeper, and we take care of them, or him, as he does us. Our guy not only fixed the door, the great nemesis of all sweat lodge leaders, he writes haikus. He’s not on parole, and I’m not sure he’s even seen the inside of a jail cell. And when a tree or a rock let’s him know what’s up, he knows how to listen. We have some cool tribal members and we have a lot more coming, as we build our community one warrior at a time. I envy Andy because she doesn’t have to boost her social media posts to build her tiospaye, her family, warmly surrounded by relatives. Yet its an honor to be a bridge to the traditional Ceremonial way of life, provide a transformative experience for people and do our best to live the teaching of Matakuye O’yasin, that we are all truly related. We’ll be teaching a similar workshop to this, a Mindfulness Weekend for anyone who wants to learn techniques to expand their human happiness and take part in a traditional healing Ceremony. Join us the weekend of Saturday and Sunday November 10th-11th and if you do, you may just find yourself a member of our tribe, too,