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Peace Walk 2024: Mindfully Bring The Sacred Back Into Your Journey

Above photo: PeaceWalk 2024 sets off from Ogunquit, Maine, May 7. Anthony Donovan.

Remarks by Sherri Mitchell of the Penobscot Nation set the tone for the start of PeaceWalk 2024 on May 7 in Ogunquit, Maine.

Good morning. [Native greeting] Hello, everyone. [Native language]. My name is Sherri Mitchell. My name in my language, Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset. I am from the Penobscot Nation. My family is Bear clan from the Penobscot Nation and Crow clan from the Passamaquoddy tribe.

[Native language] I’m happy to be here with you today. It felt really important for me to come and support what’s happening here for many reasons. As I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to say in these brief comments, this morning, there are a lot of things that I thought about. I have a very dear friend who is currently doing a pilgrimage through territories where only the bones of her ancestors remain: through the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz. And, she’s currently in a small town called the Vilnius. And somebody came up to her at a restaurant and said, do you have family here? And she said, only in the cemeteries.

And, you know, Tarak [Kauff of Veterans For Peace] talked about, walking on stolen land. But one of the things that my friend talked about, was this connection to a story that I tell about the place where I’m currently living, which is a place called Wicuhkemtultine Kinship Community (on reclaimed land that I bought back in 2020, that was originally Penobscot Territory and was given away by the state of Maine the year that Maine became a state in a land grant). We have formed a learning community there. Wicuhkemtultine, means “let’s help one another”. We had looked at a lot of places before we, were called by  Wicuhkemtultine, and one of the things that happened, I had two other board members with me from the Land Peace Foundation, which is my organization, and we were walking there and I said to them in the language, “this land is beautiful”. And they turned around and they responded to me, “you know, it is very beautiful here”. And when we were speaking to each other in our language, we both felt the land sit up and take notice. And we could feel the energy of that coming up through our feet. That land was saying, “we recognize this language from millennia. Where has this voice been?” And so we feel like the land..[crying tears]..sorry..We feel like the land there reached up and grabbed our feet. And so I like to tell people, there are a lot of places that captured my imagination, a lot of places that tugged at my heart, but this was the only place that literally reached up and grabbed my feet. And so we knew it was the right place for us to be.

And as my friend was recounting her story, of her last few weeks of her journey, she said that she was walking, on these cobblestone streets in this city in Poland, and she literally started to feel the earth rumbling beneath her feet. There was no earthquake going on. No, natural event that was taking place. She realized that what was happening was that her ancestors were tapping her on the bottom of her feet, letting her know that they were with her on her journey.

There have been a lot of reasons why people have marched throughout time. Those reasons have historical significance. And so when we think about the reasons why people have marched or been in processions, on pilgrimage — at the heart of those walks, those journeys, there was an element of the sacred that was present.

We used to have runners that would go from here. Dud [Hendrick] mentioned Oren Lyons, who is a former, Faithkeeper for the Onondaga Nation, an elder that I worked with for over 30 years, through the American Indian Institute’s Indigenous Youth and Elder Circle. Oren talks about: as we step and walk upon the earth, we see the faces of our grandchildren looking back at us, all those waiting to be born. But also the faces of our ancestors are there, watching us, walking with us.

And so when I’m thinking about what you’re doing, when I’m thinking about the many reasons why people march today, it’s largely for political action, social action. It’s largely with the hope that the practice and the process, the procession of the walk, will lead to some type of political change that will bring about some type of peace. And what I want to say to you today is that if you endeavor upon this journey with the focus of political action, creating peace at the end, the futility of that march will defeat you before you arrive. And what needs to happen is there needs to be a reintroduction of the sacred into the heart of your walk. So with every step that you take, think about the future generations. Listen for their voices. Those who are beckoning to be born. Think about all those who have laid down their lives in order for us to exist.

Linda Hogan, who is a Chickasaw poet, says that, “we are the result of the love of thousands”. And so when we think about those thousands that led to our existence across time, we think about the fact that their blood is in the soil beneath our feet. There is an elder named  Curly Crow who said, “the soil beneath your feet is not ordinary soil. It is the dust, the bone, and the blood of my beloved dead”. And so the dust, the bones and the blood of the beloved dead, of all those who have lived in this territory, loved in this territory, carried life forward in this territory, are going to be walking with you beneath your feet. And what’s at the heart of all of these processions, these marches, these actions that we take, is a recognition of the sacredness of life. If we can reinstitute a depth of awareness about the sacredness of life into the actions that we take, and have that walk with us and in front of us, not with the mind of bringing in the spirit of a vengeful God, but bringing in an expansion of our heart-based awareness, our compassion, our empathy, our understanding, to give us the opportunity to create a real opening that can create realistic change in the hearts and minds of those who are making the decisions that are making all of us more unsafe.

The actions that are taking place in Gaza right now, are making everyone in the region unsafe. There is a genocide going on, we know this, in Palestine, but the actions of the Israeli government are also making Jewish people unsafe for generations. And so we need to hold all of those people, generations forward, in our hearts. We need to hold all of those who are suffering here, in our hearts; and listen to the rumblings of the ancestors and all those waiting to be born beneath our feet.

So as you get ready to head off, I want to encourage you to mindfully bring the sacred back into your journey. Keep it the heart of what you’re doing; not the anger over those who are causing harm, but for the love of those who you seek to protect. And our deep reverence for the sacredness of all life. So thank you so much [Native language] for having me here, and I just want to say [Native language]: “I offer these words for all my relations”. Thank you.

Transcription by Sam Rios.

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