NCP & Native Communities
Before the arrival of Europeans, there were some 60 million native people living in what came to be called the Americas; by 1900, there were 4-5 million. Their numbers had been decimated by disease, starvation, enslavement, displacement, and the technologically superior weapons of the invaders. (Here's a map showing the locations of the many groups that once occupied the Americas.)
New Community Project has been involved with native communities since our beginning. Our first partnership was with the Gwich’in of Alaska, then the Siona, Cofan and other groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and more recently with the Dine of New Mexico. (photo: Siona shaman and NCP friend and guide Delio sits by the Ceibo tree - the Tree of Spirits - which his people believe to be the foundation of the world)
While the “numbers” of native people has rebounded following their earlier decimation, native people are still beset by poverty, racism, and the loss of cultural moorings and the lands which shape their culture, religion and economic survival. “Our young people don’t seem interested in learning traditional medicine; I’m afraid these things will die out soon," Dine medicine woman Dorothy Keetso (photo) told our Learning Tour group. Along with the loss of 99 percent of their traditional lands, native communities in the USA were also relocated to areas that now are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Our goals in all these relationships:
gain understanding of their history and present situation
learn from their culture, especially in regard to living with the land and to healing practices
show support for them in attitude and action, politically and personally, and appreciation for what they bring to our world
be inspired by their courage, as they are often on the front lines of the battle with the extractive industries. Sarah James (at right) is a leader among the Gwich'in of Alaska as they oppose oil drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the birthing grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd, and the area the Gwich'in call "the sacred place where life began."
We take Learning Tours to visit; we educate our network about their realities; we support campaigns to assure their rights and survival; we provide financial support when appropriate (our If a Tree Falls... fund provides financial support for native communities as they seek ways to protect the forest)
On our visits to the Cofan community in the Ecuadorian Amazon we have seen Victor grow up. We first knew him as an active young boy, diving off the bank in the stream, running circles around us on the soccer field. Then when he turned 12, he turned a corner. Dressed in clothing mimicking his grandfather, chief shaman Aurelio, he joined us as Aurelio led us to the Big Tree – the ceibo that is a spiritual center and conduit for the Cofan – pointing out things along the way, things he had learned from his grandfather. He also leapt out and surprised some of our members from behind bushes on the trail – the 12 year-old still very much evident.
Why did he decide to become a shaman's apprentice to grandfather, when so many other young men go away to the cities or take jobs with the oil companies?
“When I saw how you respected my grandfather and wanted to learn from him, I decided to follow in his steps, as what he is doing and what he knows about the forest must be important.”