Monday, June 24, 2013

My Canoe Trip to Oneida Settlement

My friend, Rose, had told me about the upcoming canoe trip and I was so excited to take part in this meaningful and exciting journey. A group of people were to canoe from London to the Oneida Settlement to experience the traditional culture.

For myself, the trip has become memorable in many ways. I value and respect Mother Earth and the beauty that surrounds me every day. The canoe trip offered me a chance to see wild flowers by the river bank, bald eagles flying high above, a deer running through the woods, turtles bathing in the sun, numerous species of birds singing their beautiful songs, the changing landscape, and the gorgeous blue sky that somehow was bluer than usual.

Photo Credit: Rose Braxton

There were moments of excitement like pointing to a giant snapping turtle or rushing to pick up items from a tipped over canoe. But there were many opportunities to meditate and be at peace and to take it all in.  There were times that I felt so peaceful and happy loving the warm sun, the cool breeze, listening to the gentle flow of the river. I felt a great sense of gratitude and appreciation for the new experiences and how fortunate I was to enjoy Mother Earth and all its beauty.

Photo Credit: Rose Braxton

As we were setting up tents for our first stop at Delaware flats, I could not wait to settle down for the night and just enjoy sitting by the campfire. When the time came, I was content. There were many moments where I was able to meditate and be one with the nature around me. Staring into the fire, wind blowing the smoke over my whole body, the sun setting down, wild flowers shining under the glow of the sun’s rays, the sound of the river gently rushing by, the birds trying to sing one last song at dusk, the stars showing up one by one and all of a sudden having a sparkling blanket above. People talked about many topics, there were serious discussions and many moments of laughter followed by moments of reflection.

Tim Miller of Nova Craft and his wife Theresa  who live close by the area joined us that night, treating us with smores. I was glad to have met these people who generously donated all the canoes for the trip and were great hosts, welcoming us to their home and sharing their knowledge and expertise.

Photo Credit: Rose Braxton

The next day, I woke up early feeling happy, well-rested, and cheerful. I stayed quiet for the longest time listening to the river, the birds, and was intentional of about my experience. I wanted to remember how the air smelled in the morning, and how I was feeling. I loved being in nature and for the first time in my life, I had slept so close to the river that it’s gentle flow was music to my soul. Finally, I could not keep it all in and said out loud “This is beautiful, I LOVE THIS” and the reply came, “Oh shut up”! It was a gorgeous morning to wake up to. Some people had already kept the fire going and brewed fresh coffee. I really loved the experience.

Our second day of canoeing was calmer and there were more meaningful reflections about myself and how I related to the world around me. There were some fun times in between as well. We had a great laugh when Mike had picked up some wild flowers from the river bank and came close to our canoe saying “Hey warrier princess, I got flowers for you”, then they all started calling me Pocahontas. (Photo to come)

When we got to the Oneida Settlement we noticed Oneidas waiting on the bridge for us holding the sixnations flag, waving to us saying welcome to our home. I got teary eyes filled with emotion and gratitude, thinking I was only a spec in this universe and it is through humanity, spiritual connection with the nature, and respecting those who were here before us that we can find peace. When we got off our canoes and stepped to the grounds, the paddlers who were of First Nation background walked towards us and started shaking hands and hugging us with big smiles and nodding heads; implying the success and the value the journey had in it. This also is one of the highlights of the trip for me to remind me that we are all here on this planet together and we have a lot more in common than we know.

Oneida Settlement

We drove to the cookhouse, and as we entered we were greeted by friendly faces and welcomed with open arms.  The feast they had prepared for us was great and we all enjoyed sitting around the long tables taking it all in.

That night there was more campfires and good company with an added bonus. We took part in their social event. We went to the longhouse, which was made of beautiful oak wood with the traditional design. I was most impressed by how young people took charge of the ceremony - chanting, singing, and dancing, while the elders sat back and watched over them. They had strong and beautiful voices. Again, here I had mixed feelings of joy and spiritual connection. At times I closed my eyes to only listen to their voices and imagining myself hundreds of years ago on these grounds dancing and chanting with them and going in a circle. I did get a chance to join in and dance with them. I was delighted with the experience. Being welcomed to their circle and to experience this spiritual connection is something that I will keep with me forever.

The next morning, Chief Howard Elija came over to share his wisdom and history of his people. He performed the cleansing ceremony with sage and we became emotional at times and some of us had teary eyes. As human beings, some of the deep connections we make with each other do not require words or acknowledgment. We can feel each other’s pain or joy in our body and soul. When the chief was done I asked him if I could hug him. I found peace in his arms.

When I got home I looked at the many photos that had captured the spirit of our team and the purpose of the trip. One of the pictures stood out. The one with Chief Howard Elijah of Oneida put a smile on my face and at the same time a sadness washed over me that I could not explain. Upon reflection, I started crying realizing after many years of not having my dad, on Father’s day, I had been in the company of someone who not only reminded me of my dad, but in a short period of time I had come to admire and respect as a spiritual and community leader.

Upon further reflection and going back over the sequence of events, I realized the magnitude and impact of my interactions with the chief and his people.  The gradual spiritual experience had silently begun with Rose sharing the canoe trip with me and extending an invitation for me to go along with her. I had been really excited not only for the long distance canoeing but also to experience the first nation culture up close and personal. I was humbled and honored to have been invited to their home and to take part in their traditional social event. I was grateful to have experienced the spiritual journey as well as having met fantastic people who paddled with us.

Photo Credit: Rose Braxton

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.
The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,

the rhythm of the sea,

speaks to me.

The strength of the fire,
the taste of salmon,

the trail of the sun,

and the life that never goes away,

they speak to me.

And my heart soars."

Chief Dan George

Related Article: Paddlers Learn to Use Their Brains - The London Free Press

Facebook Page: Paddling Back to Traditional Culture - Thank you to Barry Gallow and Tim Miller and everyone else who had a role in planning this trip. Please like their page and show support.

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