Session Four Activities
Before We Were White
Below is the activities portion of your session four homework assignment for White Awake's 2021 Before We Were White online course.
To return to your participant page click here.
Activities for Session Four
As you work with the study portion of this window, we suggest that you review the activities from the past homework assignments, and continue to work with any of them that are helpful as you consider this window into your ancestry (of family, culture, or social categorization).
Notice, at the end of this section, we have another activity option that does not fall under your outdoor or altar categories. We hope that you review all of these activities, and engage with the ones that seem practical and helpful! :)
We suggest that your work in your outdoor spot build on the activities from the second and third homework assignments (which included: observing your outdoor spot through all of your senses; noticing specific animals, plants, and other natural elements in your spot, and asking “how can I be in right relationship with this place?”; leaving a gift, accepting a gift; breathing, scanning; and grounding). We suggest choosing one or more of the following exercises, as well, to tailor your time this week to the aspect of Indigenous Roots & Earth-Honoring Traditions that you are focusing on in your study.
If you live in a cold part of the world, and can’t go outside … or are simply experiencing the extreme weather that is currently going on (!) … we suggest that you find a way to savor and engage with your outdoor activities while you are inside. This week’s activities are particularly well suited for this given that (conveniently) they include some research and reflection that don’t require your going outside in the first place.
As a way of mindfully applying your research, we suggest you simply “visit” your outdoor spot (or perhaps more than one outdoor place you enjoy as part of your daily life when weather permits) using your imagination. “Go” there while you are comfortable at home by imagining that you are in these places. Think through various things that you know about each place: Can you recall how the air feels or smells? Or what the bark of a tree of leaf of a plant feels like in your hand? Can you call to mind exactly how these places look, or sound, or feel? Can you literally spend time, walk around, or “gaze” at some portion of your outdoor spot within your minds eye?
Having entered your outdoor spot using your mind, you may want to revisit past activities for this place and do a breathing and grounding exercise while you are “there.”
Once you feel the presence of this (or these) outdoor places you love, reflect upon them using the new information and corresponding prompts we’ve suggested in one or more of the activities we’ve outlined below.
If one or more of the places you visualized is a place you go to (or through!) even in the coldest of weather, you might mindfully smile at a tree, drop a small (and environmentally appropriate) offering as you pass through, or otherwise greet and appreciate this place, even if just for a moment in passing.
Living respectfully in a multi-species community
As you spend time outside, reflect on Graham Harvey’s definition of animism as “a learned means of living respectfully in a multi-species community, most of whom are not human.”
What would it be like to live respectfully in the multi-species community of the ecosystem where you currently reside? To what extent is this possible, given the structure of today’s society and the current way in which your life is arranged? What would it look like if we changed society so that living this way was not difficult, but, rather, normalized and supported by broader social systems?
While the first set of questions are abstract and “meta” in orientation, consider working with this idea of being one member of a multi-species community in a more immediate way. As you are outside, once again notice the other members of this community you are in – trees, smaller plants, animals, and other natural elements. Rather than experiencing yourself as a “human” in “nature,” experience yourself as part of a community with each of these other natural elements or life forms. Spend time observing or reflecting the different types of intelligence these other natural forms or species have – the things they can do or perceive that you cannot!
As you integrate this part of our work together into your life over time, you may also want to learn the names of the different trees, plants, and animals who reside in your outdoor spot, or general location. Understand their function in the larger ecosystem, and learn something about their history – are they native to this region? If not, how long have they been here? How do these different community members relate to one another (such as who provides food or shelter or water or oxygen or carbon dioxide to who … etc). And consider what role you (and other humans) play in this ecosystem as well.
For future reference, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass, and Stephen Buhner’s book The Lost Language of Plants, both have a lot to say about plants as the foundation for life on earth, and ways in which plants and animals (including humans) have evolved in relationship with one another in reciprocal, life enhancing ways.
Pronouns, and the aliveness of everything
Inspired by the portion of the “Speaking of Nature” essay you read (by Robin Wall Kimmerer), as you contemplate the other life forms in the community of your outdoor spot, spend some time playing around with pronouns. Look at a tree and refer to the tree as “it.” Notice how this feels. Then refer to that same tree as “she” or “he” or “they” (using “they” in this context is a relatively new development, which addresses the need for a gender neutral, singular pronoun in the English language). Notice how this feels.
Similarly, use non-animate (“it”) and animate (they, he, or she) pronouns to reference several different plants and/or animals in your outdoor spot. Do the same thing with natural elements, such as rocks, or soil, or a body of water, or the breeze …
While you do this, you may begin to feel an embodied sense of being in relationship with a multi-species community. You may feel the presence of all these different forms of life around you that is different from how you usually feel. If so, savor this feeling. Soften the focus of your intellect, and pay more attention to body sensations and emotions, and allow this feeling to grow and take root in your being. See if you can keep this feeling with you – of the aliveness of all of life – as you leave your outdoor spot. See if you can call this feeling into being at other times, in other places, in your daily life.
Ancestors of place
Our last activity involves some research and preparation. Drawing upon the general study you did about who indigenous people are today, do some research online to learn about the Indigenous People of your home. “Home” could mean: where you are living now, where you were born or grew up, or where your family originally settled, if this is known to you. One helpful place to start is by searching your location on the Native Land site here: https://native-land.ca/
Once you know whose territory you are on (or grew up on, etc), see what you can find out about their story. Do members of this tribe still live in your area? Were they relocated? How are they doing now?
For the purpose of the following exercise, you will want to have an idea of those who lived (and may continue to live) in the place where you are living now. If you live in your ancestral homeland, you can still consider the very different lived experience of ancestors who lived as indigenous people there, and interact with them in similar ways as we have outlined below, though the focus is on a settler experience.
Considering how to come into right relationship with the Indigenous People of your home is beyond the scope of this class, however we do recommend (at some point) that you make this part of your work with healing lineage and building solidarity relationships. For future reference, you may find Lyla June’s Training “Forging Settler-Indigenous Alliances”, mentioned as an optional resource in your study materials, to be helpful.
For the purpose of this week’s work, bring your awareness of the human ancestors of place into your contemplation in your outdoor spot. Consider that you are in relationship not only with the plants, animals, and natural elements of this place, but also the humans who once lived a life that was deeply embedded in the ecosystem of this place as well.
You might bring a gift to these ancestors, and leave an offering just for them in your outdoor spot. You might call them to you in your mind, thanking them for caring for your current home. Please do not rush past this moment of appreciation … spend time in it, and notice how this feels. You may feel that these ancestors of place respond to you, and you may ask them questions such as: how can I help repair the damage that was done here? how can I participate in the restoration of the ecology of this place? how can I participate in supporting your descendants in the restoration and respect they need and deserve within today’s society?
Allow anything that is too much to contain to drain through you into the soil. Quiet your mind, notice body sensations and emotions, and honor your pure intention for a life affirming society that addresses all the harms that have been done. Let the ancestors of this place know that you do not intend to forget them, in fact you need their help.
When working with your altar, we encourage you to return to the activities from the third homework assignment and adapt them to the work of this window.
As a reminder, these activities included: working with a protective companion; visiting a soothing, healing space; water & salt; and inviting your ancestors who are well in spirit. Rather than contemplating Harm Caused you will, of course, be contemplating Indigenous Roots & Earth-Honoring Traditions – we have outlined this activity separately, below.
Making additions to your altar
Finally, you may want to add new objects to your altar that relate specifically to this window. For example, if your research on where and when your ancestors were indigenous bears fruit – or if you have a connection to an ethnic or “folk” tradition that is earth honoring – you might add something to your altar that represents this, such as a traditional grain, a healing plant, a picture of the land where your people were indigenous, or of a sacred site or meaningful symbol.
You may want to revisit the instructions in the activities for session two, as well, that provide very general guidance for building an altar. Remember that your ancestors may be from your adopted family or your family of blood, and that an object from your own childhood can be a potent way to call in your entire family line.
Inviting ancestors who are well in spirit
If you call ancestors who are well in spirit, we encourage you to specifically invite (or contemplate / reflect on) the ancestors in your lineage (of adopted family or of blood) who were indigenous, whenever and wherever this might have been. More detailed thoughts about who these ancestors might be are incorporated into the contemplation for the window for this section (below).
When you make a specific invitation like this, we recommend you maintain a receptive state of mind. You may want to quiet your more verbal thinking process and notice body sensations, emotions, and/or images, sounds, smells, or other sensory “thoughts” that arise.
You may have questions for these ancestors, or you may notice that you have something to tell them. We hope that you will hold these questions or communications in a space that is quiet and receptive, which can help you be open and receptive to yourself as well as the “other” (in this case, the “other” would be your ancestors).
You may want to light a candle while you do this activity, and then snuff out the candle at its close as a way of honoring and saying goodbye to the ancestors you have called. You might also want to burn incense, or create a pleasing sound (bell, shaker, etc) while you do this activity.
Contemplating Indigenous Roots & Earth-Honoring Traditions
We encourage you to pair this activity with at least one of the others (such as calling your protective companion to be with you, or imagining a soothing healing space, or using the water & salt exercise, etc). These other activities are designed to help you explore and/or discharge anything difficult that may arise as you contemplate with the window of Indigenous Roots & Earth-Honoring Traditions. They can also enhance your work with this window by adding another dimension to the work.
Keep in mind that many groups of people held on to older, indigenous practices even after colonialism or empire had begun to encroach upon their lives. For example, it can generally be assumed that the majority of the peasants in Medieval Europe practiced “folk traditions” that were the remnants of former, indigenous ways of life.
We invite you to spend time with your ancestral altar and simply contemplate the fact that, at some point in time, you have ancestors who were indigenous to a place. You may know something about where this place (or these places) was (or were). You may know little to nothing about who these indigenous ancestors were, or what disrupted their former way of life. However, as we mentioned in a previous assignment, Katrina Messenger reminds us that: your ancestors know who you are, even if you do not know them. Conversely, if this doesn’t fit your way of understanding human experience beyond death, you can consider the simple fact that these ancestors existed, regardless of what we know about them today, and you are connected to them through blood and/or kinship (ie, the members of your family of origin were raised by people who were raised by the people before them, who were raised by the people before them, etc).
As you contemplate these ancestors, you may feel sadness or grief; you may feel a sense of curiosity, wonder, or comfort; whatever you feel, or whatever comes to you as you contemplate this window, we invite you to accept it with care and curiosity. Everything that moves through us brings information and the potential for insight, however expected or unexpected it may be.
Making something by hand
One of the biggest differences in the lives of our indigenous ancestors and our lives today is that virtually all of our material needs are met by industry, and accessed by the market (ie, we earn money and then use that money to buy something that was made via industry). Our ancestors who lived in an earth-centered way made what they needed themselves (either primarily or exclusively), working closely with the plants, animals, and natural elements around them in order to live and thrive. It could be said that this fundamental dependence on the community our ancestors were embedded in, and their close relationship with it, lies at the heart of their honoring and respecting the larger web of life – as well as seeing themselves as part of it, not something different or “better.” Their dependence upon, and interactions with, this web was more immediate and tangible than our industrialized lives allow.
Consider what you might be able to make with your own hands, and use this as an exercise to have a more embodied connection to this window of Earth-Honoring Traditions and ancestry. The goal is not perfection (ie, if you bake bread, you will likely purchase flour that has been milled elsewhere; even if you mill your own grain, you likely didn’t grow it yourself). The goal is to immerse yourself in the process of “work” that generates a product you “need” (like food, clothing, or shelter) in a mindful way.
Cooking may be the most accessible activity for most people, however you might find that you are able to do some early spring planting, or build a small arbor in a garden or yard that will provide shade later in the summer. Or, you might have experience with sewing or creating a small, practical item from leather, or making your own soap or lotion. Likely you won’t have time for a big project, and you might simply set your intention to work with this window of ancestry in the manner described here at a later date.
Our intention and hope is that you build on your work with animism (being in community with the many life forms around you), and also deepen your relationship with your own physical body, by making something that you can eat, wear, or use for health or comfort. While you make this item, see if you can call to mind the sensations you experienced in your outdoor spot when contemplating the aliveness of everything around you. Notice the elements you are using to make this item (such as ingredients for a dish of food, or fabric for an item of clothing). Reflect on where the raw materials came from, and consider them as living beings with whom you have an important relationship with (cotton; clay; corn; the skin of an animal; the truck or branches of a tree; etc).
Reflect as well on your indigenous ancestors as you do this. Can you imagine they are with you, guiding you in some way? Or might your actions in some small way mimic theirs? Making food for your family, building shelter with your hands …. If you know or have learned anything about some of the daily tasks, or important sources of food, clothing and shelter that your ancestors relied upon, reflecting on these things can enrich your experience with this activity – though this knowledge is not necessary.