“The Harmony Way”
The Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is known as a public intellectual, author, scriptwriter, activist, farmer, speaker, and wisdom keeper. He is a recognized leader in the fields of Indigenous and Intercultural Studies, Ecology, Spirituality, Race, Theology, and Mission. He is a Cherokee descendant recognized by the Keetoowah Band. He and his wife Edith, an Eastern Shoshone tribal member, are co-creators and co-sustainers of Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice and Eloheh Farm & Seeds, currently located in Yamhill, Oregon. This is their third location. The first in Kentucky had to be abandoned due to racist and white supremacist neighbors who literally ran them out of town. Eloheh is a Cherokee Indian word meaning harmony, wholeness, abundance, and peace. The farm focuses on developing, implementing, and teaching sustainable and regenerative earth practices and embodies educating mind, soul, and body to fulfill a mission of living in harmony with the land, using North American traditional Indigenous knowledge (TIK), wisdom and practices as a guiding model. that supports human needs, while improving the earth and all creation inhabiting the web of life. Dr. Woodley teaches at George Fox University/Portland Seminary, where he serves as Distinguished Professor of Faith and Culture and Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies. Edith runs the farm and their programs there.i
“Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth” has been a part of my Wednesday morning reflections for seventy-eight weeks now. It is billed as an invitation into an Indigenous worldview, known variously as “the harmony way.” This is not our first encounter together with the idea. I have shared before from folks like Robin Wall Kimmerer and Joy Harjo, spoken about the Land Back Movement, usually around this time of the year when there is a heightened sensitivity to American holidays that fail to tell the real stories behind our initial meetings with Indigenous people. It is a philosophy of life that teaches the interconnectedness of all that is, something we, as Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote, but clearly it was not our invention! Key takeaways include a belief that there is a symbiosis among all living things – human, plant, and animal; that there is a reciprocity at work in our midst that we, in our Western worldview operate in opposition to. Concepts such as land ownership or a hierarchy of beings are foreign to Indigenous people. Woodley has taken me on a gentle journey beginning with the basics of Indigenous perspectives to an acknowledgement of the damage of colonization and on toward a way of return – a decolonization, which is his primary invitation. And taking this in, in weekly doses, has given me time to incorporate more of what he says into my own ways of thinking – being – doing. Each reflection is followed by a specific invitation – and I mean this sincerely – it is an invitation, not a “you must do this” kind of question that asks me to begin to shift.
One of the main things I hear in the short essays is the truth of Indigenous lifeways that existed long before the arrival of colonists from Europe. Their connectedness to the land was real and visceral and moving them to reservations disrupted connections that had been in place for thousands of years. Medicine and technology unrecognized by the colonial settlers had served these peoples for centuries.
Woodley is quoted as saying, “The values of the Western worldview will not sustain us through the coming generations. The Western worldview is at odds with a sustainable earth. We must seek to convert ourselves to a more Indigenous worldview, with Indigenous values, if we hope to retain our place as co-sustainers on the earth. The earth will no doubt, survive. The question is, will we?”
Humankind has interfered with the natural course of the earth in so many ways, leading to unwanted consequences. Earth is always changing, but we have imposed artificial changes upon it, to its detriment and to our own. Just as our own skin protects our bodies, the earth’s skin – its topsoil, according to Woodley, protects it, too. When we do damage to this skin, we do irreparable harm. And yet, there are ways to live differently, in harmony with the land that can heal what we have wrought. The harmony way is both personal – referring to human relationships, and structural – meaning that our unjust and broken systems need to be changed. Indigenous knowledge comes through lived experience – it is a heart rather than a head knowing. We are stuck in our heads most of the time. What would it be like to rely on our hearts more fully? The moral teachings of the harmony way come to us through millennia of experience and the passage of its knowledge, much of it through the telling and living of a people whose wisdom we, as colonists, failed to accept as valid and useful. This negation of so much valuable to our very existence has been perpetuated over the centuries and we have traveled so far from it, sometimes I wonder if we can make that turn in time to propagate healing and wholeness in human relationships and our relationship to our Earth home. But that’s not cause to quit trying! Instead, it offers an urgency and a way forward.
This month Chief Glenna Wallace of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma gave the keynote speech at UNESCO’s meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks in Ohio was added to its World Heritage list alongside other ancient achievements like Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, and the Taj Mahal. The Earthworks were created between 1600 and 2000 years ago, rounded grass covered walls rising 14 to 20 feet defining geometric shapes and encompassing many acres. Their builders were astronomers, architects, and mathematicians, but were not given such accolades until now. The calculations involved pointed to an understanding of the planets and astronomical events, our moon rising through one of its gates at the moment of the northern standstill, the northernmost point of an 18.6 year cycle. Part of the significance of the recognition is the location, which is on Indigenous homelands, the places from which they were forced to leave in the 1830’s. It is a reconnecting of people and place and a celebration of the knowledge and experience of a people connected to the land upon which they lived for millennia. It is an honoring of the intelligence and ingenuity long disregarded, of giving credit where credit is due that has long been ignored.
We have just celebrated one of our nation’s biggest holidays – the highest travel days of the year I hear as folks make their way to family and home, the things for which we are most grateful. And it is good to have a day focused on gratitude. Woodley would say that every day is cause for gratitude – for the rising of the sun, for water, for food, for shelter, all of it to be honored in the moments of receiving, a continuous thankfulness that permeates our existence. But we have set aside this day, Thanksgiving Day, to focus on such a practice. The problem with the holiday is the mythology imbedded in it – the false narrative about the “first Thanksgiving” celebrated between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people. We grew up with this story, most of us, our children learned about it in school and likely still do so today. I have from time to time included a “native land acknowledgement” in our times of coming together – a statement that we live on the unceded lands of the Wampanoag people here on Cape Cod. I have done so to both praise and discouragement, if I am going to be honest with you all. Some of us wish I would do this every week, that we would include it regularly in our Order of Service. And some of us say that would be too much, maybe it would lose its effectiveness, but I wonder if it is just that we don’t want to be reminded so frequently about our colonialist roots – too much negativity – too much responsibility – too much to think about. For me, it seems a valuable practice to have called to mind a history that is disturbing and remains ripe for change. An invitation to acknowledge and to turn toward more harmonious ways.
In a 2021 article, Kisha James, an enrolled member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), also an Oglala Lakota, and granddaughter of Wamsutta Frank James tells the story of what has come to be known as “A National Day of Mourning” celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November each year since 1970. Frank James was invited on the occasion of the 350th anniversary to tell the story of the first Thanksgiving back then and determined to tell the truth of it. He was not allowed to speak these truths though and ultimately created this opportunity to recall what really happened back then. So, every year there is a gathering on the hill above Plymouth Rock where Indigenous people and other activists and allies come together to remember and speak about the real history – a violent history of European settlement in the US, the lasting impacts of colonization, and the social and political issues faced by Indigenous peoples. It is a day of mourning because of the thousands of Indigenous people whose lives were lost in the process. I don’t know how you all spent your day last Thursday, but my hope is that some of this truth telling was a part of it, steps toward dispelling the myth and planting the seeds of change.
Eloheh Farm is open to visitors who come for a day or more, living the life that Randy and Edith live in connection with the land and with the lifeways that have been passed down to them over the centuries. When people leave they often say that they have been changed by all that was taught them, by the experience they have been given. Randy says that he and his wife are just there living the life they have always lived. There is so much power in living our values in real time and the ripple effect, which keeps coming up for us this month, has the potential to heal and to manifest the kind of world where all of life can exist together.
What can we do to aid in that turning that is so necessary to our times? I offer some of Woodley’s suggestions:
Take action to make others aware of injustices toward native Americans.
Seek to understand the past in order to see the future.
Do something generous and cooperative every day.
Wean yourself off plastic.
Work to establish Earth-rights laws in our communities.
Immerse ourselves in the culture and wisdom of those from whom we wish to learn.
Discover one practice that moves your relationship with nature toward intimacy and respect.
Search out the great contributions of so-called primitive societies.
At your next meal, stop for a moment to give intentional thought to your relationship to everything on your table.
Support and volunteer for an organization that works to preserve and amplify Earth’s voice.
Remind yourself that you are part of the community of creation. Choose and embody values that exemplify this.
Today we look back again in order to move ahead in beneficial ways. We are all indigenous to somewhere and our ancestors hold so many truths that can make our todays more peaceful and our tomorrows more inclusive of all of life. I commend Woodley’s work to you – accessible and challenging both, it is an entry point into the harmony way for our times. May we move in oneness with creation, making sustainable choices, honoring each and all.
So may it be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, November 26, 2023
i From randywoodley.com