By Wyndy Knox Carr
How A Mountain Was Made by Greg Sarris and Huston Smith’s A Seat at the Table: In Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom, edited and prefaced by Phil Cousineau
Story, Song and Respect for All
Categorized under “Fiction / Native American,” How a Mountain Was Made is another strong branch from the local oak that is Heyday, rooted here in Berkeley. For Greg Sarris’s animal, plant, material and bird characters, a particular location on the land is the starting place: an entire, vitally animated and evolving eco-source now called Sonoma Mountain. Sarris holds the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Endowed Chair in Writing, and the traditional Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo creation stories he collected and writes down are from the land beneath and encircling UUCB’s Freestone Retreat.
Answer Woman says to her sister, Question Woman, “The big ongoing story is that each of us – the humans, plants, trees, birds, animals, – has a story to tell. For that reason we must respect all of life. When we forget this big ongoing story we get into trouble…”
“…each one of us needs the other,” and the sharing of these stories acts this out and moves it forward interactively.
Indigenous oral traditions encompass culture, ethics, religion, history and all parts of natural history; they circle around and back to a worldview where dreams, songs and visions of interconnectedness are held in the highest esteem. We are NOT “left to our own devices,” but exist being-to-being among All Our Relations, holistically. All is held in balance by each part working together in the midst of change, BECAUSE of inter-being respect, curiosity, learning and sharing “songs.”
This unified “gravitation” to a center is also elucidated by longtime Berkeley resident Huston Smith’s A Seat at the Table: In Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom, edited and prefaced by Phil Cousineau.
He quotes Gene Thin Elk: “We have, at the very core of our being, more power than anything human kindness has ever made ever since the beginning of time…We can, in any given second, start that healing process and walk a healing road.”
Vine Deloria Jr. said in 1979, “The fundamental factor that keeps Indians and non-Indians from communicating, is that they are speaking about two entirely different perceptions of the world.” Smith, in conversation with Anishinaabeg activist and politician Winona LaDuke, responded to one of her questions about world religions by saying “the unique contribution of the Indigenous peoples is to focus on this point of mutual relatedness,”and she “vigorously described this way of conducting oneself in the world.”
The name for her nation was “the land of the people,” “But it also means the land to which the people belong…In all our stories, in our oral history, we say this is where the giant went to sleep, or this is where the great river was made. All those stories are contained in the land itself, and they are not contained elsewhere.” “It’s not about looking back – it’s about beingon your path – staying on the path the Creator gave you,” and to “live in accordance and respect to the Akin,the Earth that cares for us, which is our Mother. That is what we are taught in our community.”
In the last three lines of a “Hopi Prophecy,”** we hear: “All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. For we are the ones we have been waiting for.” Have we really “forgotten” how to “do things in a sacred manner and in celebration?”
“Well then, Sister, what about rocks?” asked Question Woman. “Can they teach us stories too?”
“Oh my yes,” answered Answer Woman, “Rocks have spirit like anything else. They can teach us stories too. Listen to this one…”
“Yes,” said Frog Woman, “let the Chief’s honoring ceremony begin!”
Cricket readied his voice to accompany the Chief’s Song. Chicken hawk picked up his bone whistle. Then the Widow dragonfly and her several children of all sizes and shapes stepped forward and sang: “Soundless like the wind / I pass by you / Lifting, lifting / I’m here /dancing for you.”
Then it was Lizard’s turn: “Strong like the wind / I pass by you / Rain and hail at my back / I’m here / Covering you.”
Then Rattlesnake: “Like the wind, nothing much for the eye to see / I pass by you / Rattling, rattling / I’m here / Warning enemies for you.”
And finally, Quail sang the fourth verse: “A gentle wind / I pass you by / Touching the huts’ walls / I’m here / Even as you sleep”
The ceremony turned out beautifully and the people felt safe and happy once again.”
(“Coyote Creates a Costume Fit for a Chief”)
(Adapted from Wyndy Knox Carr, The Berkeley Times,June 20, 2019, Knox Book Beat)
* (Waziatawin, back cover)
** Like Desiderata, this “Prophecy” may not have been handed down from long ago and written down by Hopi, but it rings true of spiritual, land-based roots of tribal Indigenous people and traditions humans had learned to live by for 95% of our time as homo sapiens.
Gray, Leslie, interviewed in The Sun magazine (2009), regarding “The Good Red Road, Rediscovering America’s Oldest Psychology.”
Sarris, Greg, (2017), How a Mountain Was Made, Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA.
Smith, Huston and Phil Cousineau (editor and preface), (2006), Huston Smith: In Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom, A Seat at the Table, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA.