What to Expect
Each Wisdom Keepers Gathering hosts a group of four to five indigenous Elders and Presenters from across North America and the Caribbean. This variety of cultures and the landscapes they come from helps set the stage for dispelling stereotypes and opening people’s minds. Friday afternoon and early evening participants register, settle into their cabins, and explore the camp’s prairie, woods, and shoreline until dinner in the main lodge. During this time orientation sessions are held for newcomers to explain Native protocols and the schedule. Events start after dinner with introductions of the FHWK Board and White Memorial Camp staff. The Elders and Presenters then introduce themselves in an opening circle, sharing their tribal affiliations, personal history, and an overview of what they will present during the weekend.
The Gathering officially begins on Saturday with the Sunrise Ceremony led by an Elder at the Sacred Fire (hotchka), the heart of the gathering. This honoring of the land, ancestors, the Elders and Presenters, and each other in the presence of the fire sets the tone for further sharing throughout the weekend.
After a hearty breakfast we get down to the serious business of actively listening to each Elder and Presenter. There is great diversity in what they choose to talk about, but the Elders and Presenters know that how their cultures operated by consensus and viewed humans as just a small part of nature are topics of great interest. How were their leaders chosen? What was their relationship to the animals they hunted for food? People are encouraged to write questions for the Elders and Presenters and place them in a box. They enjoy answering these questions because they want to know what participants are thinking, what their concerns are.
Elders and Presenters acknowledge that the non-native and indigenous cultures are diametrically opposed. The non-native model approaches the world through the intellect or reason, while the indigenous model approaches the world through feelings or relationships. Opposites can always learn balance from each other, and Elders and Presenters are practiced at teaching how to balance opposing forces or elements. The indigenous system for balancing male and female energy is an important topic.
The indigenous worldview requires that gratitude flows between all parts of this beautiful world. The details of how gratitude is expressed on a day-to-day basis for each of their diverse tribes and landscapes are the gifts that the Elders and Presenters share over the weekend. We might hear about the Hopi’s strict corn planting ritual where four seeds are planted in each hillock. The first seed is for the crow, the second for the earth and all the creatures in the soil, the third for Great Spirit and the four directions, and the last is for the people to harvest. Whether the topic is child rearing, how names are given, the role of medicine people, how leaders were chosen, to the roles of clans and special societies, each is explored from the standpoint of how this aspect of living knit the whole society together. If dances are the topic, an Elder or Presenter might describe his or her tribe’s major dances and how the grass or gourd dance helped people get comfortable in a new camp or show respect to warriors.
Listening takes a lot of focus, so we break up the listening with a variety of events like a nature and plant identification walk on the camp’s prairie. There are also special, unscheduled, spontaneous events that the Elders and Presenters feel are appropriate such as blessing the land, a water blessing, a naming ceremony, or a prayer offered at sunset.
Evening sessions on Friday and Saturday might involve learning songs or drumming and dancing. The offering could also be something more challenging like the Boulder Friends workshop, Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change: Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples. We offer a drum or rattle-making workshop when a teacher is available and if enough people sign up. Films by Native directors like Chris Eyers or on Native topics like the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers or The Exiles are also popular.
The weekend is educational, challenging, fun, and often life-changing. At the very least, participants will have heard from Native people how their cultures functioned before contact with Europeans and how they are preserving languages and traditions while changing to meet new challenges. And at the most, participants have met Elders and Presenters from cultures that challenge every member to live with the discipline and self-awareness to meet the spiritual challenge of knowing that we are all one.
Any ceremony or practice at the Flint Hills Wisdom Keepers Gathering is offered and will be led by an Elder or Presenter. They invite us to participate in ceremony because they want to include us. They also know that participation will further our understanding of their complex, spiritually guided cultures.