Tag Archives: elders

Successful Teaching of Ancestral Tribal Knowledge (PDF)

Apela Colorado PhD, Elder

272-2 Pualai St.

Lahaina, Maui, HI.


17 Feb. ’00

Greetings return to you, Apela, and to the Elders (grandmothers) present, and especially to the loyal members of the TKN, in the love and in the light of the ancestors, The Source of Life.

Aloha Kakou!

I am in awe from yesterdays moving performance of sharing, by your humble, reverent, and loyal students of life; good work Apela! I was especially moved by Martina’s ancestral song of honor and all of the beautiful giveaways and story telling

. Thank you Apela for another beautiful day in paradise. I am greatly honored.

Each of those students in this group is striving to use, digest, and diversify the information into the channels of their mind, body, spirit, complex without distortion. The few whom they will illuminate by sharing their light, are far more than enough reason for the greatest possible effort. To serve one is to serve all.

Therefore to teach/learn or learn/teach, there is nothing else which is of aid in demonstrating the original thought (love) except their very being, and the distortions that come from the un-explained, inarticulate, or mystery-clad being are many.

Thus, to attempt to discern and weave their way through as many group mind/body/spirit distortions as possible among their peoples in the course of their teaching is a very good effort to make. I can speak no more valiantly of their desire to serve.

Again, Mahalo nui loa to the Elders (grandmothers) present, to all the students resonating and radiating to the light of the ancestors, and to those who came to observe the clarity of your teachings of the ancestral Tribal Knowledge.

With the permission of the ancestors, I leave all of you in the love and in the light of the ancestors; rejoicing in the power and the peace braided with the cords of patience revealing the tapestry of:




Respectfully, in Service

Hale Makua

Hono Ele Makua

(Council of Elders)

Children of the Dawn: Return to Turtle Island – Knowledge, Wisdom and Truth (PDF)

Return to Turtle Island

Children of the Dawn

Knowledge Wisdom and Truth

[Stan Nolton, Blackfeet, Circa 1990]

Return to Turtle Island – Knowledge, Wisdom and Truth –

-Introduction –

Throughout the course of recorded history, humanity has taken upon itself the responsibility of establishing a world order of social harmony and personal fulfillment. Although the virtues of this noble concept are worth striving for, most of the directions taken to this point, have also proven to be a significant factor for human conflict. As the global population approaches the threshold of another era, it does so wielding all the power and might that only centuries of physical experience could muster. Yet, deep from within humanities obscure beginnings which to a large part remain locked in mythology and speculation lays the veritable source of the natural Wisdom and Knowledge to have properly accomplished the task.

For as long as “Aboriginal” people can remember, the primary goal of Western civilization has always been to provide humanity with a uniform social conscience that would allow for the development and perpetuation of a single society. From this unified culture it was proposed that humanity could reach the pinnacle of its progression if unobstructed by the burdens of war and misery. Although one societal concept has emerged from the rest as the proclaimed model worthy enough to carry and interpret the collective skills of the species, it has in the process of of accomplishing this, compromised certain intrinsic values, that according to “Aboriginal” people, they should have been preserved. As a result, the turmoil, confusion and strife this world order was suppose to eliminate has inadvertently created further problems to solve.

With this world order now stumbling around beneath the weight of its synthetic inhibition, and, with no clear direction on how to reach the next level of development, all that there is to sensibly hold on to is the past.

As far as this situation goes, there is an old story among the “Blackfoot” people, that when translated, describes how as people, we all need to learn from our mistakes. In this old story, “Aboriginal” people are portrayed as existing in an unbroken, circular continuum of reality, never really progressing; yet, always remaining in a constant state of motion. This large circle of life, is compared to the greatest circle of the Sun. In the beginning, it is said, that all life came into being in the morning of creation. As far as progress was concerned, this perfect balance was the height of civilization. However, as some of the first people became too comfortable with perfection, a kind of disenchantment soon set in. Some people grew restless and thought they might like change. These people are known as Napi Kwan (The Changing People). Others were content and preferred things in there originality, for this they were named Ni Tsit Ta Pe (The Real People).

The Creator, seeing the discord among the people and their ways of thinking offered up a challenge to both. To each group of people there was given a gift, and set of rules or a constitution to live by for the duration of the contest. To the restless, the Creator gave the gift of change. To the content, the challenge of maintaining what there was in the face of change. For this contest the Creator provided one complete day which would start with the sun at high noon and end sometime after sunrise the next day. At the completion of the contest, the participants would again sit and evaluate what they had learned.

For the restless people the gift of change would be in the form of fire and would be used to litht their way; but, because of its limited intensity they would not be able to see beyond the light that they made for themselves. For the content however, the sun, moon, stars and the light of that first day would always shine brightly in their minds to guide them through their journey which would take them through several generations. As each generation would come into being as a part of the Great Circle of Life, they would mark the position of the sun for the contest and assume the responsibility of their particular period.

Although, this is only a condensed version of a more elaborate story which was last told in its entirety by a “Blackfoot” Elder who was of the generation known as “The Children of the Dusk,” it nevertheless bares a striking resemblance to what is happening today. As each generation has a different responsibility for maintaining the continuity, this Elder fulfilled his part by conveying the message from the “Children of the Setting Sun” to “The Children of the Night” and “The Children of the Dawn.” Since this story was told by the Elder, another generation has since entered the Great Circle of Life. Without a clear understanding of how all people form an important link in the Great Circle of Life, can we afford to negate our responsibility because we no longer appreciate the value of the old stories?

– The Perspective –

As a person belonging to the generation known to the “Blackfoot” Elder as “The Children of the Dawn,” I am also a product of the “Children of The Night.” What ultimately distinguishes night from dawn is the distance that a person is able to see. Having said this, it is not to say that one generation is any better than the next; but rather, it simply means that each generation has a different responsibility for maintaining the continuity of the Great Circle of Life.

After surviving the great period of darkness, I can only be thankful to “The Children of the DArk” and the previous generation for having seen to it by their enormous sacrifices and endurance that we, “The Children of the Dawn” have arrived.

The period of darkness which was marked by the reservation system and the apparent removal of our ability to see who we really are, has given way to a period where what we thought we had lost, was in fact only temporarily obscured by the night. This new period which we have now entered will be marked by a time of unprecedented, renewed excitement. Just as the birds are aroused into a singing frenzy each day in anticipations of the first rays of light; so to will it be with the “Children of the Dawn.”

After a short time of jubilation, there will be much work to do. Even though this period will be one of the most exciting times to live it will unfortunately be one of the hardest; for, in the period of darkness which we have come through, various nocturnal creatures scattered pieces of our belongings over the face of the earth. Therefore it is our duty as “The Children of the DAwen” to go out and put things back into their rightful order. Although we may not know what some items are, or, what they are for, the time will surely come when all will be answered.

As “The Children of the Dawn” it is our responsibility to prepare for “The Children of the Rising Sun.” As the enlightened generation, they will understand who we are and see how all people fit into the Great Circle of Life. Once again, just as the first people had seen clearly in their day, we will also understand what our purpose is. Not only will we clearly see who we are, but we will also see where we have come from and to where it is that we all go. Together, at the “Grand Sunrise” all generations will gather in celebration of completing a magnificent journey through the Great Circle of Life.

-The Assemblage –

As “The Children of the Dawn” it is with great honour that we have the responsibility of awakening our people. Although some may not wish to be disturbed at this time, it is important that they are at least given the opportunity to be properly reminded of their duty and reassured by our actions that it is alright to be who they are.

For most of “The Children of the Night,” the reservation system and the boarding school syndrome has taken a heavy toll. The people traumatized by these extreme forms of conditioning were effected to such an extent, that for some, reality goes no further than what they were taught. Although descendants of these people may speak a variation of their original language and claim to represent the position of their Elders before them, to a large part, there is little correlation between what was said in the past and what is actually happening today. Although “The children of the Night” are essential carriers of information vital for future generations, their vision seldom persist beyond the limits to which they were confined. What unfortunately resulted from the time of the forced indoctrinations was that a psychotropic wedge was temporarily driven between their original thought process and what is considered to be the spoken part of the language. However, with proper commitment and the right healing process, our societies can be restored back to their rightful position.

It has only been until very recently that “Aboriginal” people on the reservations have been permitted to leave their reserves. As more and more people become confident enough to reacquaint themselves with the land, the stories of the old people will slowly begin to take on a renewed reality. This relationship or bond connecting the “Aboriginal” people to the land and their environment, can be best described as a type of sacred constitution. It is from this constitution that everything which contributes to the identity of the “Aboriginal” people emanates. Whether its their lines of communication such as language, song and dance, ceremonies or, whether its their circuits of knowledge and wisdom concerning Geography, Astronomy, Philosophy, Sociology, or, what ever names they may go by today, what is known for cetain is that the entire being of the “Aboriginal” people has emerged as a direct result of the close, personal relationship they have with the environment through this constitution. Furthermore, from this constitution, it is the environment and not the people that determines who they are.

To date, “The Children of the Dawn” have converged on a massive campaign of utilizing the combined wisdom and knowledge of all our previous Elders to reestablish and appreciation of our original constitution. Although, the focus of this movement is to bring into question the perceived truth of our present existence, this can only be done by removing and carefully examining the layers of prevarication that accumulated during the period of darkness.  What is rather unfortunate about the whole process is that it can not be done without offending cerain certain people who are determined to forget about the past. However, because we are confident that the culture of our constitution is based on the values of equality, sharing and understanding, the potentially disruptive problems that currently exist can only be resolved once the balance of the original “constitutions” or “thought patterns” are restored; for, without truth, there simply can be no knowledge or wisdom.

What ever the popular ay of thinking may wish the “Aboriginal” people to be, what is certain is that an entire society of people, complete with their own distinctive institutions, existed relatively undisturbed for thousands of years in what is now known as the “Americas.” Although it may be the consensus in some academic circles that the “Aboriginal” people have lost, or, are in danger of losing their identity, for most of the people of this continent who chose to store the information of their identity in the huge, living, storehouse of the environment instead of in print, their identity is still very much alive. As a result everything from the very minute up to the most significant features of the environment still have a purpose and reason for being. In practically every instance where a particular name was used to describe something, it also serves as the means to access  other information vital for all people.

Therefore, in order to fully understand the Pe Ka Ne people, it is important to understand all the other “Aboriginal” people of the “North American” continent as well. In order to understand the it is imperative to know the continent first. However, in order to know the continent from the proper perspective, a person must be able to see beyond the countries, provinces, states, and cities which disguises what is actually there.

Before there was such a thing as “North America,” this land was known to most of the inhabitants as Turtle Island. With a little imagination it is not too difficulty to see why this would be. Alaska, is said, to represent the left front flipper of what resembles a huge turtle. Baja California is said to be the back left flipper, Mexico, is the tail, Florida, the back right flipper, Labrador, the right front flipper and the Elsmere Islands in the North are the head. As is the case with all turtles, the back or shell is divided into thirteen large areas which are then surrounded by numerous smaller areas. As with the real turtle, all the parts or areas of the turtle are what contributes to what it is. So too is it with all the areas of Turtle Island; in fact, this relationship is the basis of what determines the parameters for the sacred constitution of Turtle Island.

Within one of the thirteen areas on the turtles back which now takes on the present countries of Canada and the United States, the “Blackfoot” people still occupy one of these specific territories. As with all the other areas, the “Blackfoot” People have a responsibility of maintaining and protecting their area for future generations. This protection is more than just a matter of defending the area against outside intrusion, it also involves providing a mechanism for preserving the knowledge and wisdom from whatever adverse influences might occur.

For the “Blackfoot” people, Geography is far more than just a vast, open, empty area waiting to be discovered. Everything from the mountains, rivers, trees and rocks is considered to be a sacred keeper of knowledge. Within the area of Turtle Island which the “Blackfoot” people still inhabit, the land holds all the knowledge and wisdom as to who they are, their responsibilities as people and their relationship to past and future generations. As a living entity capable of such a feat, the land is respected and treated with the utmost honor. Despite the numerous attempts made by early “Blackfoot” people to demonstrate the integrity of their position, the difficulties in transferring the information from this medium to a print has proven to be one of the greatest obstacles to overcome. As a result, a large percentage of the common knowledge open to all people remains trapped in a metaphysical state of limbo.

It is only after careful examination of how the “Blackfoot” and English languages correspond with each other, does it then become obvious just how incompatible the languages really are. this in turn has a tremendous impact on the ability of the different has a tremendous impact on the ability of the different people to communicate. Although there has been an extensive amount of dialogue taken place in the past, for the most part, the communication that occurs remains at a very superficial level.

A good example of how this language distortion can be physically demonstrated is by simply observing the differences in nomenclatures used by the “Blackfoot” and the non-native people to describe the same geographical areas. For the non-natives, place names have little significance other than to identify a certain place or a particular feature. As a result there is Alberta, Calgary, the Bow River, the Elbow River, the Belly River, the Old Man River, the Rocky Mountains, the Nose Hill and so on. Without a map it would be very easy for a person to become disoriented and to eventually get lost. Place names are given so little consideration that they can be easily changed as the need arises; such as the case when the Belly River became the Old Man River in 1914.

For the “Blackfoot” people, place names are a manifestation of the special relationship that exists between the two legged and the rest of the universe. In the areas which include South Western Alberta and Northern Montana, the “Blackfoot” people consider this area to be the land of the Old Man. Just as Turtle Island is divided into specific areas, so too is it with the Old Man The Rocky Mountains of Alberta are said to represent the back bone of the Old Man. The Nose Hill in Calgary is the centre of his face, the Elbow River is a part of his arm, The Bow River is his bow, the Little Bow used to be his arrow, there was the Heart River, the Belly River, Chief Mountain was his organ, there was the Thighs River, the Knees River and down by Missoula, Montana there still is the Blackfeet River.

Further to this, there is the Old Woman with all her body parts listed in the vicinity of the Milk River, and in addition to this there is a whole collection of birds and animals arranged in a definite pattern throughout the whole region of what is now known as Alberta, Montana, and parts of Saskatchewan. From this mosaic of esoteric beings which holds the autobiography of a group of people from Turtle Island, lies the key for understanding the otherwise mythological world of the “Aboriginal” people of Turtle Island and other “Aboriginal” people around the world.

Epilogue –

Since the time when the “Children of the Night” were confined to reserves many changes have occurred to the environment, the people and to the land. This in turn has had a significant impact on the thinking process of the people. From actual geographical alterations to simple changes in names, the entire continent of Turtle Island has become a corporate empire of Canada, Mexico and the United States. Although each have their own economic agenda, “Aboriginal” people have had little or no input into these changes which have greatly effected their lives. Although a lot of our knowledge is preserved for us in the stories of our Elders, many of our people who still remember these stories have never actually had the opportunity to personally experience the areas where certain events important to their culture were supposed to have occurred. For those who have venture out to look for these sites, there is the increasing problem of accessibility to many of the sites from development.

As “The Children of the Dawn” we have a duty to see that the knowledge from these stories are once again connected back to the Earth to become living parts of our identity. To accomplish this task, it is necessary to completely return to Turtle Island and do a comprehensive examination of how all “aboriginal” people relate to each other and access the impact of how progress has effected their relationship and understanding of the Universe from how they originally knew it. This journey to Turtle Island, although totally mental in nature, will nevertheless be an exercise in repatriating the mind, body and spirit with a place that actually exists. As such, it has to be remembered that as of now, we are only visitors to this foreign place which has a completely different set of rules or constitution from that which we are familiar with. This journey which is essentially the same as taking a trip to Asia or other parts of the world has in itself certain conditions that must be followed.

That a Universal Constitution exists for the continent of Turtle Island complete with its own institutions.

Recognized that the territory of the “Blackfeet” is only one part of Turtle Island and others exist.

That the original institutions were excepted as the legitimate pillars which contribute to a distinctness of the society and therefore served a specific purpose.

That these societies still exist as distinct societies and must be respected.

Now that we have a partial map and a definite direction to follow, we the “Children of the Dawn” would like to resume the journey to Turtle Island. In the territory which is held under the responsibility of the “Blackfoot” People it is essential that all place names and original nomenclature be restored to there original title. Eventually, as we pass through each area to be visited, a more detailed map and understanding of Turtle Island will appear.

Come, let us walk together as one people on this journey.

Recommendations for Education in Native Social Work at the Bachelor of Social Work Level (PDF)

Recommendations for Education in Native Social Work at the Bachelor of Social Work Level

A report submitted to Dr. Ray Thomlison, Dean

Faculty of Social Welfare, University of Calgary


Dr. Pam Colorado, Coordinator

Native Studies Development Project

November 24, 1987

Table of Contents








APPENDIX 1     13


Terms of Reference

The University of Calgary Native Options Program is committed to the development of scholarly and academic excellence in Native social welfare. To this end our definition of Native social work includes:

the education of Native and non-Native students who wish to work with a Native population.

the integration or infusion of Native content into the generic social work courses.

Neither the Native population nor the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Welfare want diluted course content or reduced requirements for a Native options track. Instead, Native course content, methods and field instruction will be subsumed under the generic course numbers. The goal and objectives of the Native Options Program will be to produce successfully synthesized, biculturally functioning social workers (Swenson).

2. Toward a Native Options

The University of Calgary is committed to establishing a Native Options Program. This commitment stems from six forces:

Native bands and people are a significant population in Alberta and have critical human service needs. The Faculty of Social Welfare is charged with the provincial mandate to provide social work education which would begin to address these needs;

There is no mechanism or process for eliciting or integrating Native knowledge into social work theory or practice;

Nearly ten years of fragmental intradivisional efforts have not produced the coherent, unified program hoped for;

The Collins report of 1986 recommended a Native concentration for the three Divisions, but was not funded beyond the two-year developmental phase;

Without additional or outside funding, the Faculty of Social Welfare has now hired and obligated one Native M.S.W. full-time sessional and one Native Ph.D. (one day per week) to begin meeting the needs of the Native community and to spearhead the drive for a Native Options Program;

Historically, only a few Native students have been admitted to the program. those who are admitted are unduly burdened with the lack of culture specific curriculum and the need to assume total responsibility for re-interpreting course content into a Native context. Moreover, the transition back into the Native world rests solely on the shoulders of our graduates.

3. Native Social Work Programs, Design Issues

The struggle to articulate and implement a Native Options Program is not unique to the University of Calgary. The firs decade of such efforts has produced a number of concerns. Dunbar-Ortiz, Ph.D., Sioux, catalogues these issues:

There are few Indian scholars;

Native social work programs remain unstable due to a lack of qualified Indian faculty to develop academically viable curricula and research;

The absence of Ph.D.’s, publications and research mean that programs flounder in instability. Indian faculty remain temporary, part-time and are eventually phased out in retention, promotion, and tenure procedures of the University;

Indian students are especially sensitive to the historical process of attempted acculturation — the educational system;

Native studies are essential for educating the non-Native majority and for the Nation building process of tribes;

The University is not an appropriate vehicle to learn one’s cultural values. Instead a profession is to be gained. Mastery does not mean acceptance of Non-Indian values. But the ability to analyze and assess problems and issues and date within an historical and larger socio-economic context requires substantial reading, research, writing, discussion and the acquired ability to assimilate and analyze information;

Funding and counseling should be based on the realities of Indian and non-Indian relationships, not on university realities;

Federal and foundation funding should be supplemental;

Indians should be encouraged to pursue substantial education;

Specialized programs in different universities should complement each other, not overlap; Ortiz punctuates her list of concerns with this advice: A sense of mission, despite limitations, could work miracles in transformation of Indian high education from a mechanical mass production to excellence.

This proposal follows close on the heels of Ortiz. The document that follows is a blueprint for developing a Native social work program with a mission. That mission is the creation of a program which will address and draw from the interface (relationship) between Natives and non-Natives; to create opportunities for the two cultures to cooperate, collaborate and communicate.

4. The Concept

The Ortiz analysis points to a developmental problem in Native social work efforts. This is, programs either attempt to mass produce “Native” social workers or to teach culture within the university. As Ortiz notes, both approaches are conceptually flawed and fundamentally confounded.

The University is not the appropriate locus of cultural education; such teaching requires a tribal context. Moreover, it is the right and responsibility of First Nations to provide such education. On the other hand, avoiding cultural issues adhering to the mono-cultural, European tradition also presents problems.

Reliance upon a monocultural tradition within a multicultural arena constitutes an essentially transparent form of intellectual domination, achievable only within the context of parallel forms of domination…. Churchill

The Native Options Project will learn from and move beyond this developmental conundrum. merely establishing the Project will address one critical problem – the recognition of the multicultural basis of social work and the destruction of the deadly myth of one truth in social work theory. Deloria, distinguished Sioux scholar, notes:

One of the most painful experiences for American Indian students is to come into conflict with the teachings of science which purport to explain phenomena already explained by tribal knowledge and tradition. The assumption of the western educational system is that the information dispensed by universities is always correct and the beliefs or teachings of the tribe are always wrong…

Considering the present state of things, it is important for scholars…to begin to help us break the ice of ignorance and neglect which has been thrust upon our traditions for nearly half a millennium. Without the voices of respected white scholars, there is little chance we can get sufficient attention from the scientific establishment to plead our own case. But we should remember…(that this is) a call for each of us to enter into the exchange of knowledge…(and we, Native Americans are called) to offer our knowledge to the larger benefit of our species…

Churchill offers one final piece of incentive for a biculturally-focused grounded Native Options:

By pooling knowledge, resources and effort in a broad forum such as interdisciplinary studies, perhaps we can jointly seek to expand our knowledge of the world..the signposts point to a reconciliation of the two approaches. Western science must reintegrate human emotions and intuitions into its interpretation of phenomena; Eastern peoples must confront the physical world and the effects of technology. We shall understand as these traditionally opposing views seek a unity, the world of historical experiences is far more mysterious and eventful than we had previously expected. Such and achievement would be one from which all humanity would benefit…

5. How Do We Develop a Native Options?

The Native Options Project must be seen as an ongoing transcultural process. The components or mechanisms for initiating the process include:

an integrated curriculum

a Native Advisory Committee

a Native Options Track, consisting of optional courses which have been tailored towards Native social welfare issues.

6. Native Social Work Component

The Native Social Work Program will be an integral part of the existing B.S.W. programme, offered at the University of Calgary. The B.S.W. program will integrate “Native content” to specific required courses and also offer students a concentration of courses that are critical to working with Native people. As a result, all students will be offered critical components of the N.S.W. programme specific to their choice in the B.S.W. degree programme.

The Native social work component will provide appropriate prerequisite and field of practice courses in conjunction with the existing required methods/practicum courses of the B.S.W. programme. A Native Advisory Committee will assist in the development and operation of N.S.W. through prayer, teaching and advice.

The following are core courses required by all students enrolled in the B.S.W. programme; included are students pursuing the Native concentration.

SOWK 311 Human development: Childhood and Adolescence

SOWK 315 Communication and Social Work Interaction

*SOWK 325 Ideology and Social Welfare

*SOWK 341 Social Work: Its Social Science Foundations

SOWK 411 Human Development: Adulthood

SOWK 423 Canadian Social Policy

SOWK 432 Practicum I

SOWK 434 Methods I

SOWK 435 Groups in Social Work Practice

SOWK 441 The Scientific Base of Social Work Practice

SOWK 461 Social Welfare Administration

SOWK 532 Practicum II

SOWK 534 Methods II

Those marked with an asterisk will integrate the Native component to the course content. Thus, these courses will be made relevant to the Native situation and clientele. This can be accomplished by individual instructors who have had background to the Native situation, thus applying theory and concept to the Native situation (See Appendix 1). For example, the Canadian Social Policy course should include policy directly affecting Native people.

The following core courses will be developed specifically for the Native concentration. Native Science is the basis of knowledge and practice; therefore, a course equivalent to SOWK 441 is critical to the programme. Practice must also be made available in either Native communities or in agencies with a large Native client population.

N.S.W. 432 Practicum I

N.S.W. 434 Methods II

N.S.W. 441 Native Scientific Base of Social Work Practice

The Faculty of Social Welfare, University of Calgary, will decide whether N.S.W. 441 will remain as a core course and students may be exempt for another core course, or students with the Native concentration are expected to take one extra core course.

The Native Social Work component will include the above core courses plus five social work options. These courses are pertinent to the field of Native studies and practice.

SOWK 551.01 Intergroup Relations (Native Canadians)

SOWK 551.02 Alcohol and Drug Abuse

SOWK 551.05 Child Welfare

SOWK 555.09 Community Issues

SOWK 555.15 Integrative Approaches

The above courses with the core course will make up the Native Social Work component for the B.S.W. programme.

The following courses will be options for the students and may be made relevant to the specific situation to Native people.

SOWK 551.10 Social Work and Corrections

SOWK 555.07  Child Sexual Abuse

SOWK 591 Directed Reading

SOWK 595 Conference Course

6.1 Native Advisory Committee

A Native Advisory Committee be established with one-third of the committee being elders. The elders will be able to provide guidance through prayer, teach tribal tradition and give advice on tribal policy and law. Other Committee members will be represented from the various distinct cultural communities among Native people. This committee will advise the Faculty on all aspects of the N.S.W. programme, including curriculum, recruitment, admissions, appeals, policy and planning. It is recommended that the Native Advisory Committee be a subcommittee of the Undergraduate Committee. This Committee will also assist Native Communities with joint research projects.

6.1.2 Native Studies

These are courses in other university programs such as Native American Studies, Sociology, Political Science, Psychology and Anthropology which teach Native American history, culture and contributions. Where these courses exist, the Native social work component must utilize them in the two year prerequisite courses of the B.S.W. degree programme. Native organizations such as the Indian Association of Alberta, Metis Society of Alberta, Native Counselling of Alberta, and Nechi Institute on Alcohol and Drug Education must be involved in the developing of courses and research for viable solutions and programmes for the “myriad” of social problems facing their constituents.

The Native Social Work component is integrated into the core stream of the B.S.W. degree programme, because it is not sufficient to separate “Native content” to only those who choose Native studies, but is for those who work in the field of Social Welfare. (Recommended from Report to the Attorney General, Dec. 1984, by Assistant Chief Judge W. White, Provincial Court of Alberta).

6.1.3 Field Placements

Social work programs must have a full and direct involvement with Native communities. The practica for all students enrolled in the N.S.W. will be involved in both the non-Native and Native fields of work placements. It is critical for the students to access both practica and to integrate and synthesize their theory and methods in their respective practica. Where there isn’t a Native Community such as in an urban setting, agencies with large target populations that are Native may be the only suitable practica placements.

These practica placements are not only valuable learning experiences, but provide excellent opportunities for developing social work practicum placements in agencies that serve Native people. This can be done by demonstrating to agencies that professional Native people have the ability to perform at the same levels as professional social workers. Secondly, these agencies are a means of developing contacts and job placements for social work graduates.

6.1.4 Native Options Faculty

Native Social Work Programmes will have both Native and non-Native instructors. Non-Native instructors will be selected on the basis of their experiences and commitment to Native issues. Further these faculty will serve in the critical role of mentor for students in the Native Options component. Native instructors and elders must demonstrate a high level of knowledge, understanding and skills of Native culture. This is essential if we are to develop sensitivity to and an understanding of Native culture.

Faculty staff will include a Native Coordinator and two Native faculty members, sessional instructors, one counsellor and one clerical support. It is recommended that existing Non-Native Social Work faculty members who can be recognized as specialists in the field of Native Studeies can teach Native Social Work courses specific to their specialization.

6.1.5 Position Descriptions

The Coordinator will coordinate all activities of the Native Social Work Programme, including consultation with the university and First Nations’ communities and Native agencies, development of the curriculum, and coordinate meetings to ensure relevance in the Native concentration area.

The counsellor/tutor position will advise, support and recruit Native students and will also liaise with other faculty members, departments and practicum agencies.

Full-time professors will have full tenured positions with the Faculty and carry regular course load and research initiatives as it may take 5-10 years to develop a pool of Native Ph.D.’s. The full-time position may be entered at the M.S.W. level. Part-time sessional instructors with at least an M.S.W. will teach many of the courses in the Native Social Work Programme.

The core components of the Native Social Work Programe must be an integral part of the university budget. Provincial and federal governments special grants should be used to provide the support costs for development, remedial and support services that may not otherwise be available to the university.

6.1.6 Recruitment of Native Students and Support Services

Recruitment for Native students and their success depends largely upon the Native Social Work Programme. Active Native student recruitment must be extended to schools on reservations, Metis settlements, universities, colleges, Native agencies and other Native communities, to both public and separate off-reserve schools and to public welfare agencies.

The Native Social Work components needed to develop support services for Native students which include:

Financial security should be guaranteed for Native students;

Opportunities for individual and small group counselling and discussions. Native students, Native faculty and other qualified persons would be involved;

Socializing activities for staff and students;

Extensive tutorial assistance and remedial courses as indicated;

Special training in the use of libraries, writing papers, research, etc.; and,

Provision of Native-related library materials.

The Native Students’ Services at the University of Calgary, the Office of the Advisor on Native Affairs at the University of Alberta, and the Native American Studies Department at the University of Lethbridge successfully provide many of these services. The Native support services should be fully supported and further developed in close consultation with those programmes already established.

Funds required for these special services need to be negotiated with provincial and federal governments and foundations.

6.1.7 Admissions Criteria

The B.S.W. degree is often thought of as a four year social work programme when instead it is a two year programme completed after two years of general arts courses or after completion of a two year college Social Services diploma.

University undergraduate students planning to enter the B.S.W. degree are normally required to complete 20 university level semester courses (two years) chosen from a broad list of options. Once completed, students are eligible for admission to the B.S.W. programme, which is comprised of 20 social work semester courses (two years). Consideration will be given to N.S.W. students who speak a Native language or have taken Native Studies in these two years.

Graduates of an Alberta Community College two-year Social Services programme will receive, on admission, up to ten unassigned social work semester credits; and, in addition, credit for up to ten non-social work semester courses will be awarded on a course-for-course basis as indicated in The Provincial Transfer Guide.

Successful completion of 20 university level semester courses or a two-year college Social Services diploma does not mean automatic entry into the B.S.W. programme. Enrolment limits have been established on social work courses in relation to the number of students who can be accommodated in practicum settings. Admission decisions are based on academic standing and the extent of relevant work, volunteer and general life experience.

Appropriate methods must be developed for assessing the academic qualifications of prospective Native students whose background and grade point average might not accurately reflect their potential. These appropriate methods can be determined with the advice of the Advisory Committee. It is anticipated that giving a higher weight to life experience compared to grade point average need to be discussed.

6.1.8 Programme Networking

Programmes for Native social work students must be coordinated at all post-secondary levels to ensure that there is continuity in opportunities for Native people. Linkages between both the college and university level programmes should offer Native students a “career ladder” of opportunities since an individual may choose to enter the work force at either level.

Post-secondary levels must facilitate and support social work education. The community college here takes leadership in this role. It is felt that a two-year college social service diploma may initially be more attractive to many Native students than a four year university B.S.W. programme. All efforts should be made to enhance the credit recognition and transferability for these students. A word of caution is that many persons who may successfully complete Social Service diploma programmes at community colleges and then go onto very meaningful and successful careers in social services for whatever reason,

not able to successfully complete a university level professional programme, i.e., not all college graduates are adequately prepared or ready for university level study.

The following mechanisms and processes can be initiated to enhance the networking programme:

Better communication of the opportunities available to Native students who are interested in accessing the post-secondary system. Students should be able to enter the system at various levels according to their educational background and proficiency in basic academic skills.

More comprehensive articulation between programmes and post-secondary institutions must be initiated to ensure credit transferability or recognition, thus facilitating student educational mobility, culminating in a degree if so desired.

Intensified communication and cooperative links to be established between the post-secondary institutions and employers of social work graduates, with the intent of permitting students to leave the post-secondary system at various levels and seek employment, and yet ensuring that improved in-service training opportunities are made available for skill upgrading.

To ensure programme networking, there must be regular meetings with representatives of all the post-secondary education systems in Alberta to discuss the above programme networking issues. In the the last year, this has occurred with representatives of the community colleges and universities in Alberta. further networking meetings are planned.

6.1.9 Family and Community Involvement

Families must be encouraged to support their children in the education process. It has been observed that Native students from so-called “leadership families” continue further up the educational ladder than the vast majority of Native students. It seems that education and role-modelling are more actively supported by these leadership families.

Similar to the need for family support, it is very important that the Native community, including elders, friends and relatives support students’ efforts to obtain an education. Individual tribes and groups must be given the responsibility and opportunity to provide input into educational programmes for Native students. The Native community, students, and successful graduates need to be involved in the education process, not only for student support but also to keep the curriculum relevant to Native needs. It is stressed that Native elders need to be involved in any Native Social work education concentration developed in this faculty. Elder involvement may include representation on the Native Advisory Committee, possibly an Elder in residence and guest lectures.

7. Summary of Major Recommendations for Native Social Work Component to the B.S.W. Degree Programme

7.1.1 Programme Content

Native Curriculum developed;

Increased opportunities for Native Studies;

Increased opportunities for Native students in the field of Social Welfare.

7.1.2 Staff

Full-time Coordinator

Two full-time instructors/professors


7.1.3 Support

Internal support services

Tutorial service

Social activities

7.1.4 Networking (U. of C. N.S.W.)

Between post-secondary levels

Among Native communities/agencies

Among Non-Native communities/agencies

Non-Native to Native Child Care Services: Shifting Paradigms (PDF)

Non-Native to Native Child Care Services: Shifting Paradigms

Pam Colorado & Don Collins

Assistant Professors

Faculty of Social Work

The University of Calgary

Lethbridge Division

28 September 1987

Published in Journal of Child & Youth Care 1990. 4(5) pp 47-57

Native Culture and Child Welfare

…when a child was born, an old person would talk in that baby’s ear a long time. As the child would grow, that voice would be like turning the pages in a book – as the child goes through life. Now, that has stopped among the Indian people and there is confusion. It could be done again… Donawaak (Respiritualization Project, 1985)

This paper presents the need for a paradigm shift from non-Native child care services to Native child care services. A major issue addressed is that a parallel child care service for Native people does not take into account traditional Native child development practices, yet a parallel Native child care system seems to be presently supported by the government. The present child care system is mono-cultural in that it does not address clearly different cultural needs. There is a need to shift from a mono-cultural model to a bi-cultural model.

In moving from a mono-cultural paradigm to a multi-cultural paradigm a number of important questions are raised. These questions addressed in this paper include: How should this shift occur? What processes and structures are needed? What kind of relationship should exist between the non-native and native child care services? Will native child care services be embroiled in a privatization battle that diverts attention from the native child’s best interests? Under whose auspices will native child care services be: provincial or federal? What are the historical, legal and ethical issues involved in this paradigm shift?

A new child care paradigm would involve going back to traditional Native child care practices. Current native child care problems can be positively impacted if Natives and non-Natives will systematically and rigorously rely on Native Elders as a bridge between child and services. Implied in this thesis is the notion that resources-time, energy, funding, and concern will be devoted to the development of such an approach. Without this commitment, the evolution of effective tribal child care systems is imperiled. For example, the present transfer of control to tribes does not take into account the following: the historical disruption of the Native family calls for a major effort in parenting skills and the intervention of family alcoholism; young people are often unwilling and unable to listen to elders. Western trained workers must team with Elders to ease the identity crisis of the young and to help in the formation of biculturally functioning tribal people.

The figures are startling. During 1984 it was determined that between 35% and 40% of children receiving services in Alberta under the Child Welfare Act were of Native ancestry. Compared with the general non-Native population, about ten Native children to one non-Native child out of the province’s overall population required services under the Act. Thus the Native child has been strongly over-represented in child welfare programs, with an historical emphasis on the more intrusive rather than less intrusive care and services under the legislation (Alberta Social Services, 1985). Forty percent of Native children under care have been living away from their culture yet no provision is made for their reintegration or repatriation. Tribes lack residential and emergency care facilities as well as foster homes and trained child care staff. Specific allowance must be made.

A strong aspiration, encouraged by the government, on the part of Alberta’s Native people and communities to take care of their own children is being recognized. The process to move from aspiration to actualization has commenced and will continue. Throughout Alberta, Native communities and groups are developing initiatives to establish family support services to ensure that in future their children need not come into care. These initiatives are designed to progressively assume more responsibility for dealing with family problems within Native communities.

When we look at Native child care we see through a two paned window. Each view is a world, representing both Native and non Native worlds. The glass, symbolizing our professional training and values, enables us to see yet also separates us from the lives we impact. Today we stand on the threshold of a new era in Native child care work, an era which demands that the “window” be opened, that true communication occur between the community and the child care provider. Native Elders, silent for generations, are a bridge to the dialogue and direction we seek.

In the old days, prior to European intrusion, Native child care was a disciplined, structured development process involving extended family, community and Nation. This process was healed by elders so the child care system was based in love and kindness and grew from an understanding that all life is spiritual and related. Joy and living in a “Good Way” were hallmarks of a healthy Native family. Children were encouraged to “know what life is”, to “have an understanding”; each child “had a place in the community and was encouraged to find it.”

Self discipline was normally taught through example and discussion; rarely did it involve force. A Tlingit Grandfather explains:

…Love is more important than anything. My Grandfather used to say – “Grandson, go get for me.” Even though he could walk, his work “Grandson” comes to my spirit, so I run and get it. If I say to him, “Are you lazy?” I’m going to hurt him. “Grandson” is more important than anything…

A Blood Grandmother explains self-discipline from the woman’s side”

…When we talk to our children we say, “Niyeah, my child” quietly and lovingly…

Situations that called for a firm hand meant that the Aunt or Uncle would step in:

…The Uncle is obligated to train the nephew because he is of the same clan. The Uncle, because it is the nephew, pulls him out of bed and as the Nephew is getting dressed says, “Do this for a day; this is your work day.” And you do it…(Cyrus Peck, D.D.) (Respiritualization Project, 1985)

Sadly, this traditional way of child rearing has become disarrayed.

In this forge of neo-colonial confusion and conflict, child welfare work was born. Looking at the degraded Native culture and the harsh realities of Native life, the solution seemed obvious, “remove the children and help them assimilate into majority life.” This practice continued until a full 40 percent of children under care were of Native ancestry. Thus, the gentle hand of the child welfare worker created a new problem which called for a larger definition of child abuse.

…a case of social institutions in one culture abusing whole segments or classes of persons in another society…

The results of this practice are best expressed in the words of the People:

…where I come from…I run into a lot of younger generation my age, kids just getting out of school, who go to the city or college for a little while. They can’t make it so they come back and start drinking and causing problems…They are drinking because they can’t make it in the non-Native world and they don’t know how to make it in the Native world…

…Nobody talks about it so how would we know? We have a community across the river that is inter-marrying. I see they are destroying themselves; their kids are retarded…We are ignoring it; we don’t say anything.

…We got to stop our people from fighting each other…

…It is like a tidal wave, it will come toward you. The White people are moving…

…In March two French people came to our community. They were filmmakers who wanted to make a three hour movie…They are going to focus on the elderly and the younger generation. Their title is, “Is There Survival for Natives?”

Looking at Native family life today, Elders blame themselves:

…We (Elders) talked about how our younger ones live…It’s our fault. We are not talking to our grandchildren and our sons. Our land; what we used to know before we don’t tell. How are they going to learn? We got to tell them everything so they will learn to live. In these times, we just leave our children when they say it (our ways) are old-fashioned. We are scared to talk with them.

Young people feel that they are to blame.

…We don’t know where we fi in…the older people do not know how to approach us…They’ve never seen young people drink like we’re doing…sniffing glue, gasoline, pot…it was my impression they just gave up on us…

Non-Native child care workers also feel a sense of blame. As one worker recently put it, “I feel so bad about what has happened to Natives. A lot of us do. But we don’t know what to do!” Indeed the wholesale removal of Native children did not produce the healing or integration hoped for. So, privatization and tribal takeover seem a ready made solution. But what is it we are trying to solve? Will we settle for merely altering the appearance of institutional abuse? As it now stands, the issue of “best interest” of the Native child has narrowed to one word, “control”, and this definition carries danger.

While child care agreements occur in the political context of Provincial and First Nation legal agreements, Native and non-Native social workers must see that “control” does not end with shifting the unwieldy western child care bureaucracy onto Natives. Unless the definition of “control” is expanded to include intra-cultural controls, we risk creating a parallel (and equally destructive) Native child care system on the reserves.

So what can be done? Turning to the Elders we find clear direction.

Intra-culturally, Elders want to be connected with their grandchildren as the first order of business.

“We can’t give up with our Grandchildren.”

“I am willing to teach; we don’t have to give up.”

“With our feeling, our love, we have to teach them.”

“We got to set them down to listen; there is no old fashioned.”

Elders also want change in the Native/non-Native relationship:

Look into this. There’s going to be an interaction anyway, so why not try to go into something good…Lives are at stake if we (working together) can help that life to live, I think we have accomplished something.

“We are bashful to talk to our White brother. Some of them are good; some of them are not”

“Why not work with the White people? What they learn from us will help us too.”

As these comments illustrate, the Elders’ notion of “control” is much fuller than we understand in current legal agreements. Elders advocate control through respect.

A short traditional story for children makes the point:

There was a little bird who had a nest with eggs in it. The birds flew away. The eggs were left. One broke open. The little bird came out. It started walking around. It was looking for something. My grandfather asked me – “What is the bird looking for?” Finally, he came back to get the egg shells. He found a hole and buried the egg shell. He covered it with moss and dirt. My grandfather asked – “Why is he hiding the egg shell?” That bird had respect for the egg shell. If he left it, something would step on it He don’t want something to step on it so he put it away. That is when they tell me the egg shell is his Grandfather. The little bird respects the egg shell to put it away. Our people when they have a big potlatch say in the Tlingit way – “our eggshell”, that’s our Grandfather we talk to. This is what I was explaining to the children, to respect Grandfather and Grandmother. If you don’t have respect your life will be short, because you don’t listen to anybody. But if you listen to your grandfather, your life will be longer. (Donawaak)

Between the cultures we must be cognizant of the fact that we are emerging from an era of harsh racism and stark segregation. Elders tell us to prepare ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually for the new dialogue. And they caution us to watch our words.

My grandfather used to tell me, if you are going up the river, cut a pole so they can push your boat up. Before you give it to your partner who is going to help you, you got to run your hand over the pole. If you don’t sharp ridges on it will cut your hand. Then your partner will not help you. You have to run your hand over the words before you say anything. I tell my children. They are beginning to listen, how to respect each other.

In a context of respect, “control” involves tribal takeover of programs; developments of complete cultural models of child care services and establishing critical intercultural linkages.

New Child Welfare Act

The new Child Welfare Act allows for the delegation of responsibilities for child protective services to persons outside the Alberta Social Services and Community Health department. This will enable Native communities to develop their own child welfare services. This objective is being pursued in dialogue with many Indian bands and other Native communities. Yet without understanding and incorporating traditional Native child care practices, Native communities will only be developing a parallel child care system brought with the same problems existing in the present child care system.

The Province of Alberta has led the way in encouraging Native communities to take over their child care services when the first tripartite child welfare agreement was signed in 1973 with the Blackfoot Indian Band at Gleichen. Ten years later, a similar agreement was made with the Lesser Slave Lake Regional Council; a thrust supported by federal as well as provincial governments. Band children are cared for on the reserve, by and large, and nurtured in their own cultural environment. Very few children now leave the reserve for purposes relating to the need for child welfare services, whereas when the agreement began in 1973 almost 150 children were in temporary guardianship, most of them in non-Native foster homes off the reserve.

The Lesser Slave Lake Agreement promises to have a similar impact. This Indian Regional Council is currently readying itself to assume full authority and responsibility under the new Act. To date it has been occupied with developing community resources and training its staff. Yet a major question that needs to be asked is: Are we only creating a parallel child care system that does not understand or meet the unique cultural needs of the Native community but only mimics the present child care system.

Discussion & Recommendations

Alberta Social Services and Community Health is focussing on Native families and children in its child welfare services. The need for this special attention was verified by departmental statistics and by a growing awareness that Indian and Metis people want greater involvement in the case planning for Native children as well as in the actual administration of child welfare services. The 1980s will likely form an era in Canadian and Alberta history where Native communities seek a return of functions from government to the community with a special focus on prevention and early intervention, as well as on the utilization of Native resources which allow for incorporation of India, and Metis cultural values and customs (Alberta Social Services, 1985b). In December 1984 the Minister appointed a Working Committee on Native Child Welfare, a group of Native community workers and senior civil servants assigned the task of assuring that Native issues and Native families are considered in the implementation of the new Act and the evolving new service systems. Although the Provincial Government desires Native communities to take over their own child care services a major problem now arising in the province is budget cutbacks. The Government seems unwilling to put sufficient monies into the necessary dialogue process, consulting process and education for Natives to develop effective bi-cultural child care service. Instead the Government seems only willing to allow Native communities to take over the existing mono-cultural child care services that presently service Native children, complete with their existing budget problems.

Further, the push for privatization creates both challenges and problems for Native communities. Problems in terms of competition for limit funds and people resources. Challenges in terms of taking control and development potential of a bicultural paradigm. As privatization and tribal assumption of child care services is already underway, the following recommendations will focus on the development of a new bi-cultural Native child care paradigm:

I Development of Culture Based Child Care

Family Tree: The disruption of Native family life has resulted in a loss of traditional oral histories and family lives. One way to prevent further loss of family history and to mitigate against the danger of intermarriage is by creating and writing family trees. The children must know who they are.

Extended Family/Clan Networking: It must be openly acknowledged that anonymity does not exist in closely related Native communities. The western weakness is a Native strength when key Elders, Aunts and Uncles are identified and used as critical child care resources. These traditional experts should be compensated in some form for their services.

Elder Participation and Networking: Tribal child care workers need access to key Elders in a structured way. That is, Elders must be seen and used as policy makers, educators and quality control experts. Their roles should be clearly stated in tribal child care services and they should be compensated for their work on par with non-Native experts.

Inter-tribal Networking: Tribal child care workers must have the opportunity to meet with their counterparts in the tribes. Elders must also be encouraged to travel and enter into dialogue with Elders from other reserves. Finally, more audio-visual materials must be developed on the evolving Native child care services so that geographically scattered and isolated reserves may exchange information.

II Intercultural Linkages

Climate: The atmosphere of reconciliation exemplified in Catholic churches recent apology to Native people must be continued. Sometimes the best way to begin cross-cultural communications is with an apology. Those agencies dealing with large numbers of Native children may wish to follow suite as Native people complement these efforts following traditional practices of preparation.

Communication on appropriate levels: Leading non-Native child care experts and top agency administration must have the opportunity to meet with their counterparts – Native Elders. Tribal child care administrators may be a link in this dialogue. Communication amongst these Native experts will provide direction and guidance to the transfer and development of Native services. Working through the Elders will also promote strength and renewal to the original system of child care. this process will also halt the present destructive trend of using westernized Native child care workers as the benchmark for cultured people.

Creating opportunities for inter-cultural dialogue: Native people need the chance to meet and share with good non-Native people. Gatherings like Tiospaye in South Dakota provide a model for positive cross-cultural communication. Headed by Virginia Satir and Sioux Medicine People approximately 70 people from around the globe meet with an equal number of Indian people to spend four days each year working on family , spiritual and cultural communication issues. This could be done in Canada.

II Higher Education Level

The time is propitious for the universities and colleges to commit themselves to a more concentrated effort in training Native child care and social services workers. Native groups and organizations are keenly interested; government social services agencies (federal and provincial) are anxious to hire qualified Native practitioners. We must develop academically sound programmes which take into account a variety of training needs and methods, yet maintain credible standards (Collins, 1986).

It will be no easy task to develop education programmes and support systems for Native and rural students that will adequately compensate for major deficiencies in their early education as well as compensate for deficiencies in existing programs.

The following points need to be considered to enhance education opportunities for native people:

Native people see the need and value in tailored western training.

“Successfully synthesized (biculturally functioning) Indian people must receive human services training. They must be trained to consciously ease the transitions between the Indian and the non-Indian worlds, which must no longer be left to chance.”

Professional training has merit – “as you return certified, it shows people on the reserve that even though we want to get back to our traditional ways, we do realize there’s a white world out there and we’re arguing with a white problem.”

Credentialing is important, “it’s good for funding…it gives you a sense of accomplishment…it’s some credibility and helps if you want to move on.

Curricular must be modified to include Native content, screening of admission criteria must reflect the contribution Native people offer to social work programs.

III Creating Opportunities for Communication

Trent University Native Studies discovered that it is not enough to give advice, to tell the young “go back and talk to your elders” or “your culture is valuable”. People have trouble following such advice; we need to create opportunities to learn from each other. Universities can co-organize events like Tiospaye and can research models of positive cultural communication.

IV Inter-cultural Research

The university can play a vital role in identifying and creating materials, methods and structures that will lead to emergence of positive inter-cultural infrastructure. Examples include the identification of existing integrative and appropriate social science practices. Native social scientists are working alone in fields such as reality therapy, dream analysis, ethnomethodology and community organizing. University research efforts can link these Native social scientists with their western counterparts.

Further Considerations

Articulating a culture (Elder) based model of Native child care services brings together the secular and sacral. As a science, western social work does not include religion in its paradigm, yet spirituality is the foundation of Native science or truth seeking ways. Because of this difference it is important that the two systems remain discrete yet connected through an infrastructure that promotes understanding and unity. These considerations have been addressed in a number of Native projects. The Tlinget, Chilkoot Camp which provides a Native cultural/survival camp experience for children of all ethnicities is a good example. Chief Donawaak who established the camp concludes this paper.

“When you’re talking to the newborn baby, when that little baby listens, it stays there, everything we say. Anytime that child starts talking, its (the words you spoke to it) going to come out in front, like the tape recording when you play it. That’s the reason we talk to our babies so that what we try to teach will stay in its mind.

This is what I am doing with the children. These trees we see all around us, the roots are together. Spruce, hemlock, pine tree, birch, everything. All that is growing under some berries, salmonberries, raspberries, everything that is growing has roots. All the roots stay together. Then the grass grows and the flower grows. Right now you see the trees that are coming out, just like a newborn baby they start growing. Our grandchildren, they are just like a flower growing under the trees. Anyplace where you look there are different colors. When I opened the camp here, they asked me “What are you going to do? Are you going to teach just the Tlingit?” I told them, “No, this is for everybody.” They told me I am crazy. I told them maybe I am crazy. We used to be crazy ourselves. We used to fight with our white brothers. Now we adopt them, different colors. My son was married with white girl. My daughter was married with a white. Some of them are married with the Filipinos. They are all different colors. This is what the flower is. All different colors, what is growing. This is the children, they are growing as the grass and the flower. They are newborn babies, they have to learn.”


Weaving the Way of Wyrd (PDF)

Weaving the Way of Wyrd: An Interview with Brian Bates

by Janet Allen-Coombe

Brian Bates, author of The Way of Wyrd and The Way of the Actor, is the leading exponent of a movement that seeks to revitalize Europe’s ancient shamanic traditions. Working from a scholarly and experiential approach, he has developed a contemporary shamanic practice based on the original Anglo-Saxon and Celtic traditions as documented in historical texts, art, and literature.

Born and raised in England, Bates lived in the United States during the 1960s. After earning his doctorate in psychology from the University of Oregon, he returned to England to serve as Research Fellow at King’s College, Cambridge. He currently teaches courses in shamanic consciousness and transpersonal psychology at the University of Sussex, where he also directs the Shaman Research Project. In addition to his academic career, Bates directs plays in London, teaches shamanic workshops for actors, and leads experiential courses in European shamanism.

Bates is perhaps best known for his historical novel, The Way of Wyrd, which documents in fictional form his research on ancient European shamanic practices. Recently released in paperback by Harper San Francisco, the book provides a fascinating narrative about Anglo-Saxon shamanism—and serves as a focal point for the following interview.

Janet Allen-Coombe: Wyrd is described in many ways in your book, The Way of Wyrd. Would you explain what word is?

Brian Bates: The term word is the original form of today’s weird, which means strange or unexplainable. Wyrd had essentially the same meaning more than a thousand years ago in shamanic Europe, but in sacred rather than mundane realms. Wyrd was the unexplainable force—the great mystery underlying all of existence—that was the cornerstone of Anglo-Saxon shamanic practices.

The essence of wyrd is that the universe exists within polarities of forces, rather like the Eastern concepts of yin and yang. according to Anglo-Saxon beliefs, the universe originally consisted of two mighty, unimaginably vast force regions—one of fire, the other of ice. When the fire and ice met, they exploded, creating a great mist charged with magic force and vitality.

This “mist of knowledge” exists beyond time, concealing wisdom about the nature of life that may be revealed to people traveling on the shamanic path. This creation cosmology was perhaps best preserved in Germanic and Norse myths and stories. It was also documented by early Roman functionaries who traveled through Western Europe.

The meaning of word can also be understood through the image of a vast web of fibres, an image that appears frequently in early European literature and artwork. The European shamans visioned a web of fibres that flow through the entire universe, linking absolutely everything—each person, object, event, thought, feeling. This web is so sensitive that any movement, thought, or happening—no matter how small—reverberates throughout the entire web. In some of the incantations preserved in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the British Museum, the journey of the shaman’s soul into the otherworld is facilitated by a spider spirit. When an Anglo-Saxon shaman wanted to understand the complexity of forces affecting an individual, such as during initiations and healing, the shaman visioned the pattern of fibres entering the person.

I will never forget the first time I consciously experienced these fibres. One day in early summer, I was walking alone in a forest in England, enjoying the flowering wild bluebells that blanketed the ground between the oaks and beeches. Suddenly I sensed a pulsing in my body, around my navel, and I felt sick. At first I thought I would vomit, so I stopped and leaned against a tree. Then I saw hundreds of lines of light coming silently and beautifully from all directions and passing through my body. They were like shafts of golden sunlight filtering through the trees, only they were coming from every angle. The image was so clear and strong that I started to follow some of the lines of light, walking right into them and along them. They seemed like warm fibres supporting me, and I felt as if I were walking on air. The longer the experience lasted, the more wonderful I felt. After a time, I lay down on the ground and went to sleep among the bluebells. When I awoke, the sensation had passed. I now know that this experience was only an introduction to fibres, and that working with them involves not only sensory experiences but also ways of balancing life with their help.

Allen-Coombe: Anglo-Saxon shamanism flourished over a thousand years ago. What made you decide to explore that once-forgotten shamanic path?

Bates: During the 1970s, my spiritual quest led me to become deeply involved with Zen and Taoism. However, despite the fact that I admired these traditions very much, I felt handicapped by my unfamiliarity with the cultural backgrounds—the mythology, imagery, and physical landscapes—which gave birth to these visionary paths. I decided that I needed to find a Western or European approach. When I met Alan Watts, whose writings had inspired my journey into the Eastern traditions, he encouraged me in my search to discover a Western parallel to these great Eastern paths.

Of course, such life decisions are rarely intellectual ones. In retrospect, I can see that my path into Anglo-Saxon shamanism actually started during my childhood. From four up to about nine years of age, I had many recurring dreams involving wolves and eagles. As a child, I had an especially vivid imagination and I occasionally experienced visions, some during illnesses. These experiences haunted my life and propelled me inwards to the imagery of the unconscious. In the small, traditional village where I grew up, the adults were fairly accepting of my inner world. Later, when I moved to a city, I found that most people were locked into the material world and had little time for the inner life, so I learned to be much more careful about sharing my dreams and visions. Without my knowing it, however, these early experiences had sensitized me to the way of the Anglo-Saxon shaman.

It has often struck me that most paths to wisdom—the ways that enable us to move forward in life—usually involve going “back” to the realm of inner experience. Most of us had vivid inner lives as children, but we soon learned to deny those realities, in favor of the consensually validated “real world.” Following the shamanic path involves reentering the image world we knew as children and returning to that source of wisdom which, as adults, we have forgotten.

My quest to find a Western path led me first to learn about the Druids. Contemporary British Druids have a well-developed approach to spirituality which reflects a deep reverence for the landscape and the sacred forces of nature. They look to the ancient Druids of two thousand years ago as a source of inspiration, although they do not claim direct descendence from them. Because my goal was to find a path that was well rooted in the ancient Anglo-Saxon and Celtic ways of wisdom, I set out to find historical documentation on the original Druidic beliefs and practices but soon became frustrated by the paucity of available material. Although I have a lot of respect for contemporary British Druids, I realized their path wasn’t for me.

I then spent two years studying alchemy, both theoretically and practically. The alchemical practices include many meditative rituals focused on processes of inner and outer transformation. These practices taught me how to be sensitive to inner change, how to observe the workings of the psyche in response to archetypal imagery, and how to use external objects and interactions as metaphors for internal work. However, as an esoteric magical system, alchemy failed to address my primary concerns—the practices of healing and divination.

Eventually I became involved in the path of Wicca, or Witchcraft. I was fortunate to be able to study with some remarkable women, who taught me many things that would be important for my later understanding of wyrd. In the process of researching the historical roots of Witchcraft, I came across a reference to Lacnunga, an obscure one-thousand-year-old manuscript in the British Museum (ms Harley 585)

Lacnunga is essentially the spell book of an Anglo-Saxon shaman. It contains a collection of magical healing remedies, rituals, and incantations. Historians estimate that the document was written by Christians in the tenth or eleventh century, although the material had probably been passed down orally for several hundred years, from the pre-Christian era. At that time, writing was the almost exclusive province of Christian monks and missionaries, and it was extremely unusual for a collection of indigenous pagan shamanic healing spells to be written in the Anglo-Saxon vernacular. Because of the pagan nature of the material, historians speculate that the manuscript was written by a scribe or novice, and not by a monk.

Through research, I learned that portions of Lacnunga had been translated by Anglo-Saxon scholars, but that there had been very little analysis of the manuscript’s overall content and meaning. I eagerly made arrangements to examine the original document in the British Museum. Lancing is a beautiful book—a small, thick manuscript on vellum leaves, wit little diagrams and drawings carefully scratched into the margins to indicate the end of one spell and the beginning of another. Although most of the entries were magical healing remedies and herbal treatments, I discovered among them some rituals for shamanic initiation and training. I immediately recognized the manuscript as a shaman’s handbook—a touchstone for entering the world of the ancient European shaman.

I became tremendously excited, personally and professionally, at the prospect of breathing life back into the practices described in Lacnunga. The manuscript literally changed my life, as I took on the challenge of rebuilding the practice of wyrd through an experiential, as weak as scholarly, approach.

I soon found that evidence for the way of wyrd is substantial, but that it is widely scattered in books, journals, manuscripts, and museums throughout Europe. One of my tasks over the years has been to pull together all this information and integrate it. The process is rather like weaving a tapestry, only the materials are facts and ideas, image and stories. I have consulted countless journals and books in subjects as diverse as the history of medicine; Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and Germanic social history; Icelandic sagas; comparative mythology; folklore studies; archaeology; and philology.

My research has showed that although there were some differences in details of expression between the Anglo-Saxons and the Celts—the two major cultural groupings in early western Europe—there was much overlap between the shamanic practices of these peoples. The shamans served as healers, diviners, spell casters (particularly through the use of the magical languages of runes), leaders of sacred rituals and celebrations, custodians of tribal wisdom, and advisors to warriors and chieftains.

After several years of studying research material in order to understand the system of shamanism represented in Lacnunga, I decided to explore some of the healing rituals presented in the manuscript and to recreate the journey described in its incantations and narratives. My work included practicing meditations, memorizing the stories, and journeying—physically into forest landscapes at night and psychically into visionary landscapes.

From the start of the project, my aim has been to reempower the way of wyrd as a living shamanic path. Throughout this process, I have tried to maintain absolute integrity, so that readers and workshop participants can see exactly how the historical material is being used. For that reason, I have included in the bibliography of The Way of Wyrd well over one hundred references to the most accessible material, so that readers can explore the sources for themselves.

Allen-Coombe: In The Way of Wyrd, you present Anglo-Saxon shamanism through the fictional experiences of Wat Brand, a Christian scribe who apprentices to a pagan sorcerer. Why did you choose this format?

Bates: Originally I had intended to write a nonfiction book that would explain the nature of wyrd, but my first attempts failed to bring the wonderful material to life. I then decided to use the format of a fictional story in the hope that it would speak more directly to the imagination that to the intellect. I felt the readers would be better able to experience something of the nature of the shamanic quest if I told the story through one person’s journey into the way of wyrd.

While conducting my background research, I had studied a historically documented mission from Anglo-Saxon England, and I decided to use this setting for depicting someone’s initiation into the way of wyrd. I had learned that when Christian missionaries traveled into pagan areas of Europe, they often sent a junior member of the mission to journey through the countryside, gathering information about the rituals, beliefs, and practices of the indigenous shamans. Since a scribe called Wat Brand had actually lived at the mission I studied, I gave his name to the fictional scribe in my book. The Way of Wyrd describes Brand’s experiences in gaining the knowledge of wyrd, and his initiation by a shaman called Wulf.

In preparing the book, I wrote a series of essays for myself on fifty or sixty different aspects of the principles and practices of wyrd, based on my experiential studies and the historical evidence available about the European shamanic path. The actual structure of the book and the unfolding of Brand’s quest were dictated by these accounts of my research.

allen-Coombe: In your book, you describe an individual’s life as “ a cloth woven on a loom.” What relevance does this image have to contemporary life?

Bates: Contemporary psychological science teaches us to image our lives and psyches in terms of a machine—in particular, a computer. Although that model bears little relation to the organic, living, breathing reality of the human experience, we continue to make educational, professional, business, medical, and military decisions as though the computer model were a close fit to our reality.

In contrast, Anglo-Saxon shamanic cultures viewed each person’s life experience as an artistic pattern evolving on a loom. The motif of goddesses spinning individual fates appears many times in the spells and stories which have survived and is one of the best-documented aspects of Anglo-Saxon shamanism. Admittedly, images of spinning and weaving were more familiar in those eras, but the use of a creative rather than mechanical metaphor is worth studying—especially when considering how to change our lives. Instead of changing our “life program,” we can change our “life design,” using metaphors of color, shape, texture, pattern, and theme.

Becoming sensitive to the fibres that pulse and reverberate within our lives is an important practice of the way of wyrd. Sometimes, in contemporary word healing workshops, we paint images of the fibres penetrating our lives, starting with those influences of which we are consciously aware—people, evens, hopes, and fears—and then moving on to fibres which can be perceived only through meditation and inner visioning.

Even if you are highly motivated to change your overall life pattern, you can’t just change it immediately, as if inserting a new program into a computer—to do so would be to break your life. You can’t afford to lose the strength inherent in what you’ve already got. You can alter the pattern, expressing previous themes in new and different ways, but developing a new pattern must be accomplished harmoniously, in tune with the energies that created the original design. Therefore, when working with individuals who want to make changes in their lives, we help them to get a clear picture of their existing life patterns, and then we guide them to redesign tose patterns through use of artistic media.

One man I worked with had many psychological blocks to deal with. He had undertaken conventional psycho-therapy but still felt confused and paralyzed by the multiplicity of his problems. So, before delving into the content of his individual issues, we simply mapped them out until he saw an overall pattern to his life. Then he expressed that patter through artwork and dance, creating a map of his psychological states.

We first choreographed a dance sequence that expressed his past psychological states and then choreographed a ritual dance that enabled him to transcend his blocks. The first time that he performed the entire dance was a tremendous cathartic experience for him. Each subsequent time served as a centering process, allowing him to reach a state of presence within himself, and was a ritual act of faith in his liberation. Of course, life issues are complex and need to be addressed in detail, but this process provided him with a bird’s eye view of his situation, allowing him to get his bearings. The improvement in his general well-being was remarkable.

Allen-Coombe: Much of Brand’s work in The Way of Wyrd deals with developing personal power. What is power in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and how can people develop this kind of power?

Bates: In modern society, the concept of power has been debased—it is usually conceived of as power over other people. But in the European shamanic sense, power something that one ha within oneself. It is an enabling power which helps people resist being “overpowered” by others.

Forming relationships with guardian spirits is one practical way to nurture shamanic power. There are many accounts in European literature of shamans transforming into their guardian animals, both spiritually during initiations and ritually during celebrations and healings.

An important aspect of shamanic work is finding externalized forms—such as creatures, animals, or runes—that to only represent but give manifestation to one’s inner resources and strengths. The process has parallels with contemporary creative psycho-therapies in which a personal issue is given form through something external, such as a painting or sculpture. Even though we know the issue is “inside,” we seem to be better able to deal with it once it is transferred onto something “outside.”

One of the central premises of word is that, in certain states of consciousness, the boundaries between inner and outer realities become permeable and can be transcended. By working with guardian animals, we can get in touch with abilities that were formerly outside our awareness. For example, guardian spirits can give us access to many of those abilities that society has labeled “paranormal.” By embodying the fibres of word that reverberate through us, guardian animals can help us develop enhanced sensitivity to the myriad influences which constantly affect us but remain beyond the scope of our physical senses.

One way that I work with individuals is to help them connect with their guardian animals. Many people may be familiar with similar practices—where images of animals are induced and those animals danced—taught in short-term workshops. however, in contemporary word shamanism, we go much further in contacting this deep source of inspirational energy.

We begin by asking people to record animal dreams that they remember from childhood—nearly everyone has had them. Then we guide individuals on imaginal journeys to meet their guardian animals. That’s where the real work in word begins—people research their animals, observe them in the wild if possible, paint them, write stories about them, and work with them experientially and dramatically. This process is very personal and important, not something to be rushed. Some people training in word shamanism find that guardian animal work becomes a quest of high degree—a sustained path of exploration that illuminates many aspects of their lives.

Allen-Coombe: Dwarves and giants play a significant role in The Way of Wyrd. Can you discuss these beings and their relevance to shamanic practices?

Bates: Giants and dwarves featured significantly in the initiatory visions of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic shamans, as may be seen in the accounts of shamans’ journeys to the upper world and underworld. They also play a role in some incantations in Lacnunga, but they are given particular prominence in shamanic vision quest stories in the Norse sagas.

Later, under the influence of Christianity, the indigenous Celtic and Anglo-Saxon spirits were redefined as angels or devils. Eventually, the shamanic imagery was preserved only in stories for children, where it could be dismissed as fantasy.

In pre-Christian European shamanism, giants were embodiments of the elemental forces that had created the universe, and they represented tremendous, unbridled power. Stories related that giants had both knowledge and wisdom, but—as giants were often aggressive—this knowledge could only be gained by the shamans at great personal risk.

Dwarves were the powers that transformed the elements of the universe into material form. In early European cultures, blacksmiths were associated with dwarves and magic because of their ability to transform the basic elements of Earth into tools, weapons, and jewelry. when shamans journeyed into spiritual realms, they often encountered sacred smiths, usually imaged as dwarves, who made unbreakable swords and knives, and beautiful jewelry with magical properties. these dwarf-smiths were also responsible for transmuting the body, mind, and soul of the apprentice into that of the shaman.

In our workshops, we work to activate the dwarf powers of transformation inherent in our lives. First, participants tell and enact stories of the dwarf powers that they know form European mythology. Since over the centuries most of these stories have been altered and turned into children’s moral tales, we examine and reentrant the stories in their original shamanic versions. then we recast the stories in terms of our own lives, putting these “dwarf energy” aspects to work for our personal transformation.

To ritually enact our own transformational tales, particularly within a group, is a remarkable experience. Many people discover that story details they had forgotten become manifest as the experiences are given magical power. It is not psychodrama as we know it in contemporary psychotherapy but rather an infusion of transformational energy into those important life experiences which have not been resolved or celebrated—or, even worse, which have been locked into our psyches by denial or the wrong kind of analysis. This work often involves some suffering and sacrifice, but it ultimately creates beautiful, magical things from the elements of our lives—just as the dwarves made beautiful, magical things from Earth’s elements.

Allen-Coombe: In The Way of Wyrd, Wulf teaches Brand about the shamanic use of runes. Can you tell us about runes and other methods of communication with the spirit world?

Bates: In recent years, many people have become familiar with the use of runes as an oracular system. Runes were much more than an alphabet of angular shapes; they were an important form of sacred communication in the way of wyrd and were used with great respect and reverence. Runes were traditionally carved into wood, rock, or occasionally bone, or into metal jewelry and weaponry. the process of carving runes was a way of centering, meditating, and communicating with Earth. The carving of runic messages to the spirit world was an integral part of most healing and divining rituals.

Contemporary work in the way of word includes the use of runes as an oracle. Of course just as with other divinatory tools, the power inherent in their use depends upon the sensitivity, skill, and journeying capacity of the person who is doing the reading.

There are many ways of getting in touch with the other realms, and all shamanic cultures employ ritualized and sacralized means of communication with spirit forces. Some cultures use dancing, drumming, and chanting; other use painting or creating sacred objects. In the European tradition, advanced shamans often traveled with trained drummers and chanters, who performed sound rituals to aid the shamans in communicating with the spirit world during healings and other sacred ceremonies. There is a manuscript description from about one thousand years ago of a North European shamans who traveled with thirty trained chanters—fifteen men and fifteen women.

Allen-Coombe: Were there very many Anglo-Saxon shamanesses?

Bates: A thousand years ago, when shamanic traditions thrived in Europe, male and female practitioners were equally prominent and were accorded equal status. They performed some functions in common, although other tasks were divided along gender lines. For example, women had authority over rituals dealing with childbearing and were specialists in divination—in reading the future of individuals, communities, and the landscape.

In Anglo-Saxon shamanism, both male and female shamans practiced healing and presided over spiritual rituals of various kinds, although usually separately. Men followed a male path of initiation and women followed a female path, but both paths had equal status. Entering the shamanic world of the other gender was considered an advanced form of shamanism. Those shamans who were able to acquire elements of the wisdom, techniques, and insights of the other gender were the most highly admired.

When Christian missionaries came to western Europe, they presumed that the indigenous spiritual structure was vested in the male shamanic advisors to the tribal leaders. Ignoring the role of female shamans, the missionaries concentrated on persuading the chieftains to outlaw male shamans and replace them with Christian monks and priests Consequently, although the male shamanic path was quickly driven underground, the female shamanic path continued to flourish for several hundred years. However, in order to control the still-thriving shamanic approach to life, the Christian authorities eventually turned their wrath against the female shamans and instigated the infamous witch hunts.

Allen-Coombe: What shamanic tools would Anglo-Saxon shamans typically carry with them?

Bates: Probably the most important tool of a European shaman was his or her staff. These staffs were carved with runic inscriptions and decorated with metalwork and objects of symbolic significance.

Norse sagas from over a thousand years ago describe shamanesses in northern Europe carrying staffs decorated with ornate stonework. Among other uses, these power staffs enabled the shamanesses to journey to spirit realms. The image in popular culture today of witches flying on magical broomsticks may have evolved from stories of these magical staffs.

European fairy tales are replete with wizards carrying magic wands and staffs imbued with healing powers. Today, we dismiss these stories as fantasy, but there is evidence that the shamans’ staffs were used physically during rituals to draw sacred circles on the ground and to heal people.

In the way of wyrd, most healing, divination, and initiation rituals involved creating circles for containing and concentrating the flow of life force—physical, psychological, and psychic energy.The use of circles is well documented in Anglo-Saxon and Celtic literature and artwork. Even Anglo-Saxon jewelry—rune-cut armoring, and torcs worn around the neck—was used to aid in concentrating power.

As in many other cultures, the shamans of Europe usually performed in ritual costumes that were representative of their power animals—their sources of inspiration. There are numerous literary descriptions of European shamans wearing costumes decorated with feathers, stones, and other magical objects.

In researching ancient texts recorded by medical historians, I also came across several references to shamans working with seeing stones. These stones, usually marked with a shape resembling an eye, were used by shamans to see into the spirit world and to vision the spirit state of a person during healings and initiations.

the first time I personally encountered a seeing stone took place during a workshop I was leading in the Alps. Our group was standing under a huge beech tree with gigantic exposed roots, clinging to the thin soil of the Swiss mountainside. Just as I was telling the group about seeing stones, I saw among the roots a brown and pink stone, with an exposed, white area in the shape of an eye. When I picked up the stone, it fit smoothly into my palm. My whole body began to tingle, and I immediately knew it was a seeing stone. I have since used it many times to read a person’s energies. The stone creates a channel of sight which allows me to vision a person’s fibres and energy channels, rather than his or her physical form.

Allen-Coombe: Can you tell us more about shamanic healing in the Anglo-Saxon tradition?

Bates: The historical basis of my understanding of wyrd healing comes primarily from Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the British Museum and from some smaller manuscripts housed in various other European museums. These “medicine work handbooks” provide a picture of the healing practices used in western European shamanic traditions.

Typically, healings started with a spirit reading of the patient. This reading would be carried out either by using seeing stones or by drumming and chanting until the shaman had a vision revealing the path to be followed in the healing. The healing process often involved “singing the patient better”—using an incantation to create a healing word web for the patient. The incantation, sometimes created specifically for that patient, induced imagery within the patient’s mind that catalyzed mind/body healing. Of course, the incantation also enlisted the assistance of the spirits and activated healing forces from the web of wyrd.

Sometimes it was believed that the patient had been possessed by harmful spirits , and the shaman then had to drive these sickness spirits away. This work required great care, because confronting dark spirits could be dangerous even for an experienced shaman.

In some cases of serious illness, it was believed that the patient had lost his or her soul. Lancing contains several incantations for journeying in search of lost souls. It was usually assumed that the soul had been stolen for a particular reason, or a combination of reasons, that had to do with the way the patient had been living his or her life. So, as step in retrieving the soul, the shaman had to find out why the person’s soul had been stolen and who in the spirit realm had stolen it.

In our contemporary wyrd practical healing work, the shaman’s job also includes helping individuals reweave their lives into a form which develops their strengths and protects their souls.

Allen-Coombe: What relevance does the way of wyrd have today?

Bates: I consider wyrd to be as relevant and powerful now as it was for our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Although our ancestors lived in a technologically simpler world, they were more sophisticated in spiritual matters than we are. We can learn from their wisdom, because they dealt with the same matters of mind, body, and spirit that we are still grappling with today. It’s important to remember that—although our physical and cultural environments have evolved greatly over the last few centuries—our deep inner nature has probably not changed much over the last several thousand years.

I also believe that the shamanic path can play an important role in solving crucial personal, social, and global issues that confront us today. Although the ritual forms of shamanism needed to solve today’s problems won’t necessarily be identical to those that flourished in traditional hunting or agricultural communities, the holistic vision of wyrd and many of its ancient shamanic elements—its concepts of life force, spirit guardians, and interconnecting fibres; its healing techniques; and its approaches to life and death—are still directly applicable to our lives.

the basic message of The Way of Wyrd is that we can recapture and revitalize a shamanic approach to wisdom that is based on Anglo-Saxon and Celtic traditions. In reading about wyrd, many people have a sense of recognition—a sense that it’s al something they already knew, deep down, but had forgotten. The way of wyrd is the archetypal shamanic wisdom of the European peoples. I would like to see this heritage take its place alongside the other great traditions of spiritual liberation, for anyone to learn from.

Allen-Coombe: What are your plans for the future, particularly in regard to your research work?

Bates: Recently, my personal research efforts—both scholarly and experiential—have been concentrated mainly on the processes of initiation and on the roles of male and female paths through the shamanic realm. I am currently compiling this material—as well as my findings in other areas of word shamanism—which I plan to work into a number of new books.

Moreover, since The Way of Wyrd’s publication in Europe, I have met many remarkable people who—without being knowledgeable about their European shamanic heritage—have been exploring shamanic practices in  their own lives. Because I believe that it is very important to encourage the exploration of shamanic practices in nontraditional settings, where there is little cultural support for the role of the shaman, I am writing a book about some of these encounters.

The response to The Way of Wyrd has been very strong in Europe and has enabled me to creat the experiential Shaman Research Project at the University of Sussex. The project is an unusual enterprise for a university, because our aim is not merely to build academic knowledge of a historical form of shamanism but to explore Anglo-Celtic shamanism at an experiential level. We now have six researchers directly involved in the project, and part of our work includes studying aspects of shamanism from other traditions around the world. We are also setting up a worldwide network of people who wish to be connected with the project on a regular basis. Ongoing research includes work on guardian animals, masks, masculine and feminine shamanic paths, sacred landscapes, and shamanic performance.

My overall aims are to recreate and reentrant the wisdom inherent in European shamanism and to apply its practices to personal development, psychotherapy, and healing, as well as to the broader issues of the environment, education, and the arts. I am interested in seeing that the insights of shamanism are introduced into as many appropriate settings as possible. This work is in its early stages, and I hope that I shall be able to report our progress widely as the project unfolds. It is time for the way or wyrd to take its place alongside the other great shamanic paths, so that its traditional wisdom can help us face the future.

Janet Allen-Coombe is a research psychologist at the Shaman Research Project, University of Sussex, and is currently writing a doctoral dissertation based on her research on guardian animals.

Brian Bates may be reached at the Shaman Research Project, Arts Building B, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, Sussex, England BN1 9QN

An Excerpt from The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates

“Do you really believe that you can read future events from a tiny snatch of bird flight? Do all your people believe in such omens?’

Wulf rolled on to his back and cupped his hands behind his head, squinting up at the sky.

‘Omens frighten the ordinary person because they believe them to be predictions of events that are bound to happen: warnings from the realms of destiny. But this is to mistake the true nature of omens. A sorcerer can read omens as pattern-pointers, from which the weaving of word can be admired and from which connections between different parts of patterns can be assumed.’

I was puzzled by his use of the term ‘wyrd.’ When used by monks orating poverty, it seemed to denote the destiny or fate of a person. I explained this view to Wulf and he hooted with laughter, sending the sparrows flapping from the shrubbery in alarm.

‘To understand our ways, you must learn the true meaning of wyrd, not the version your masters have concocted to fit their beliefs. Remember that I told you our world began with fire and frost? By themselves, neither fire nor frost accomplish anything. But together they create the world. Yet they must maintain a balance, for too much fire would melt the frost and excessive frost would extinguish the fire. but just as the worlds of gods, Middle-Earth and the Dead are constantly replenished by the marrying of fire and frost, so also they depend upon the balance and eternal cycle of night and day, winter and summer, woman and man, weak and strong, moon and sun, death and life. Thee forces, and countless others, form the end points of a gigantic web of fibres which covers all at the worlds. The web is the creation of the forces and its threads, shimmering with power, pass through everything.’

I was astounded by the image of the web, which seemed to me both stupendous and terrifying. I trembled with excitement, for I knew that Eappa1 would drink in such information like a hunter pinpointing the movements of his prey.

‘What is at the centre of the web, Wulf? Are your gods at the centre?’

Wulf smiled, a little condescendingly I thought.

‘You may start at any point on the web and find that you are at the centre,’ he said cryptically.

Disappointed, I tried another line of questioning. ‘Is word your most important god?’

‘No. Wyrd existed before the gods and will exist after them. Yet word lasts only for an instant, because it is the constant creation of the forces. Word is itself constant change, like that seasons, yet because it is created at every instant it is unchanging, like the still centre of a whirlpool. All we can see are the ripples dancing on top of the water.’

I stared at him in complete confusion. His concept of wyrd,obviously of vital importance to him, repeatedly slipped through my fingers like an eel. I went back to the beginning o f our conversation.

‘But Wulf, you say that the flight of birds shows you the pattern of wyrd, of these fibres; if you can predict events from wyrd, it must operate according to certain laws?’

Wulf looked at me with kind, friendly eyes. He seemed to be enjoying my attempts to understand his mysterious ideas.

‘No, Brand, there are no laws. The pattern of word is like the grain in wood, or the flow of a stream; it is never repeated in exactly the same way. But the threads of word pass through all things and we can open ourselves to its pattern by observing the ripples as it passes by. When you see ripples in a pool, you know that something has dropped into the water. And when I see certain ripples in the flight of birds, I know that a warrior is going to die.’

‘So wyrd makes things happen?’

‘Nothing may happen without wyrd, for it is present in everything, but word does not make things happen. Wyrd is created at every instant, and so word is the happening.’

Suddenly I tired of his cryptic responses. ‘I suppose the threads of wyrd are too fine for anyone to see?’ I said sarcastically.

Wulf chuckled goodnaturedly. ‘Sometimes they are thick as hemp rope. But the threads of wyrd are a dimension of ourselves that we cannot grasp with words. We spin webs of words, yet wyrd slips through like the wind. the secrets of wyrd do not lie in our word-hoards, but are locked in the soul. We can only discern the shadows of reality with our words, whereas our souls are capable of encountering the realities of wyrd directly. This is why wyrd is accessible to the sorcerer. the sorcerer sees with his soul, not with eyes blinkered by the shape of words.’

I knew Wulf’s views to be erroneous, yet I was fascinated by them. He spoke about his beliefs as confidently and fluently as Eappa explaining the teachings of our Savior. I rested my chin on my hands and tried to analyse Wulf’s ideas as Eappa would have wished. ‘Be sure you understand clearly everything you see and hear,’  he had cautioned. ‘You can remember only what you comprehend.’ I tried to identify the main tenets of Wulf’s beliefs and subject them to scrutiny, one by one.

Wulf leaned closer to me and spoke into my ear as if sharing a secret:

‘You are strangling your life-force with words. Do not live your life searching around for answers in your word-hoard. You will find only words to rationalize your experience. Allow yourself to open up to wyrd and it will cleanse, renew, change and develop your casket of reason. Your word-hoard should serve your experience, not the reverse.’

I turned on him in irritation. ‘I was chosen for this Mission because I do not swallow everything I hear like a simpleton. I am at home in the world of words.’

He smiled gently. “Words can be potent magic indeed, but they can also enslave us. We grasp from wyrd tiny puffs of wind and store them in our lungs as words. But we have not thereby captured a piece of reality, to be pored over and examined as if it were a glimpse of wyrd. We may as well mistake our fistfuls of air for wind itself, or a pitcher of water for the stream from which it was dipped. That is the way we are enslaved by our own power to name things.’

‘My thoughts are my personal affair,’ I said sulkily. I was here to listen to his beliefs, but not to submit to criticism of my private contemplation.

‘Thoughts are like raindrops,’ he persisted, introducing yet another of his interminable images. ‘They fall, make a splash and then dry up. But the world of wyrd is like the mighty oceans from which raindrops arise and to which they return in rivers and streams.’

Editor’s Note

Brother Eappa was Wat Brand’s teacher at the Mercian Monastery, where Brand served as a scribe. As part of his efforts to establish a mission at the Saxon court, Eappa sent Brand to “travel though the kingdom, gathering information on the beliefs and superstitions of the heathens.”

From The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates

Copyright 1992 by Brian Bates

Makua’s WISN Vision (PDF)


Greetings return to you, in the love and in the light of the ancestors, The Source of Life.

Aloha Kakou!

Members of the World Indigenous Science Network are gathered from all branches of human enterprise, of which organized religion is only one. There are scientists who, repudiating violently the unproven, yet are giving all they have of scientific ability and knowledge to the service of humanity- each in his chosen scientific field; there are men of financial stature, who regard money as a responsibility to be dispensed wisely in the service of others, yet the mystical or occult terminology may mean nothing whatsoever to them.

There are educators, preoccupied with wise formulations of knowledge and with an encyclopedic understanding of garnered wisdom of the ages which they seek to utilize in fitting the younger generation to live beautifully, constructively and creatively; there are churchmen and religious leaders who are not tied or handicapped by the form; the spirit of light is in them, and they intelligently love their fellow men. All of these people, if they are members of the World Indigenous Science Network, must inevitably be reflecting thinkers, must have creative objectives, must be truly intelligent, and must have added expanding love to their intelligence.

These men and women have a dual relationship: to the rest of humanity whom they seek to serve, and also to the Hierarchy, via some malae, a sacred gathering place, – which is the source of their inspiration and of their creative efforts to think and to work.

This spirit of goodwill is present in millions, and it evokes a sense of responsibility. This is the first indication  in the race that man is divine. It is upon this steadily growing goodwill that the World Indigenous Science Network is counting, and which it is their intention to utilize. It is found in the collaboration of every group which exists for world betterment, and constitutes an unused power which has never yet been organized into a whole, as the loyalty and effort of the individual man of goodwill has hitherto been given to his organization or endeavor. It is the intention of the World Indigenous Science Network not to interfere with this loyalty or to arrest any activity, but to gather into one organized whole all these people, without creating a new organization or sidetracking any of them from the work they have already undertaken.

The World Indigenous Science Network is already a functioning, active group. Every man and woman in every country in both hemispheres, who is working to heal the breaches between people, to evoke the sense of brotherhood, to foster the sense of mutual interrelation, and who sees no racial, national or religious barriers, is a collaborator of WISN, even if he has never heard of it in these terms.

The members of WISN are not a band of impractical mystics. They know exactly what they seek to do, and their plans are laid in such a manner that- without upsetting any existing situation- they are discovering and bringing together the men of goodwill all over the world. Their united demand is that these men of goodwill should stand together in complete understanding, and thus constitute a slowly growing body of people whose interest is shown on behalf of humanity of people whose interest is shown on behalf of humanity and not primarily on behalf of their own immediate environment.

The larger interest will not, however, prevent them from being good citizens of the country where their destiny has cast them. They will conform to and accept the situation in which they find themselves, but will (in that situation and under the government or religious order) work for goodwill, for the breaking down of barriers, and for world peace. They will avoid all attack of existing regimes and personalities; they will keep the laws of the land in which they have to live, but they will cultivate the spirit of non-hatred, utilizing every opportunity to emphasize the brotherhood of nations, the unity of faith, and our economic interdependence. They will endeavor to speak no word and do no act which can separate the breed dislike.

It is of value to reiterate at this point that WISN is not an organization. It has no headquarters, but only units of service throughout the world; it has no president or list of officers; it has only servers, who are occupied simply with the task of discovering the men and women of goodwill. This is the immediate task. These men and women of goodwill must be found and trained in the doctrine of non-separateness, and educated in the principles of cooperation and characteristics of the new social order, which is essentially a subjective re-alignment, resulting in pronounced changes brought about through the weight of a world opinion, based on goodwill which knows no barriers or religious differences.

Loosely knit together by mutual understanding and similarity of objective, the members of WISN stand, whether they are conscious or unconscious of each other or the group, as it is here described. In every country they are found and actively are working. Through them the men and women of goodwill are being discovered. Their names and addresses are being noted and collected into mailing lists. Their capacity, whatever it may be, to serve their fellow men and women, will be also noted when possible, and utilized if desired.

Thus through the men and women of goodwill everywhere, the principle of goodwill can be nurtured and developed in every country, and eventually turned to practical use. These people will constitute a new body of practical thinkers in every nation, who will be no menace to any government, nor will they work against the established order. They will throw themselves into those movements and undertake those activities which can in no way foster hatred, spread enmity, or cause division among their fellow men and women. To this group of WISN, no government or church can object.

Therefore, the echoes of the ancestors is complete for now, and I leave you, in the love and in the light of the ancestors, The Source of Life; rejoicing in the power and the peace braided with the cords of patience, revealing the tapestry of the most powerful force in the universe, your love.

Sincerely in service

Hale Makua

Hono Ele Makua

12 October 2002 Letter: WISN Elders’ Council (PDF)

Dr. Apela Colorado

272-2 Pualai St.

Lahaina, Maui, HI.


12 Oct. 2002

Greetings return to you, Dr. Colorado, in the love and in the light of the ancestors, The Source of Life.

Aloha Kakou!

The first WISN international indigenous spiritual Elders and peoples conference was convened on the 29th of September 2002. Participants included indigenous peoples from Glastonbury, Avalon, England, Louisiana, USA; Wisconsin, USA; Hawai’i, USA; France, Italy, Washington D.C., USA; and London, England.

The conference was called to share experiences and common problems, and investigate the formation of a unified body of indigenous elders to promote unity and co-operation amongst indigenous peoples and organizations, to articulate the concerns of our people at an international level, to promote universal recognition and respect for indigenous forms of spirituality, and promote the ideas of peace, respect, compassion, equality and understanding amongst all members of the human family. It was concluded that a further conference be convened on the 28th of January 2003 to:

a) establish the international indigenous spiritual elders council.

b) hear formal submissions regarding human rights violations on indigenous peoples.

c) facilitate on going dialogue encouraging information sharing and developing collective programmes promoting self determination, cultural advancement and environmental protection initiatives between indigenous peoples, states, and international organizations.

d) celebrate through song, dance, chants, art, etc. the world indigenous people.

The echo of the ancestors have been sounded, therefore, I leave all the elders council and Dr. Colorado, in the love and in the light of the ancestors, The Source of Life; rejoicing in the power and the peace braided with the cords of patience, revealing the tapestry of the most powerful force in the universe, your love.

Sincerely in service,


Credo Mutwa’s Keynote Address: Living Lakes Conference (PDF)

Credo Mutwa: Keynote Address
Living Lakes Conference, October 2, 1999
US Forest Service Mono Lake Visitor’s Center, Lee Vining, California, USA

The following text was transcribed from an audio recording. The speech includes Zulu words fro people, places, and things that are spelled phonetically in italics.

As we say in our country Bash-on-e-payg which is a completely asexual way to address those who we respect. I stand before you as a man who is stunned and shaken by what he has seen, what he has heard, and what he has experienced. First of all, did you know, you who live around Lake Mono, that your lake joins together Africa and Native American people? Did you know that the most amazing word I heard when I arrived here was the word Inyo? Which is said to mean the dwelling place of the creator, or rather, the place of creation. Did you know that that word occurs in Africa as a reference to the sacred organ of a mother? Did you know that the word Mono is a name for something delicious and nutritious that you eat? Perhaps one day if I return this way I shall share more of these things with you.

Shumenitch-y means “the one,” and no matter who we are, no matter in which part of the world we dwell, we are one. We are one with each other. We are one with the earth. We are one with the moon, the sun. We are one with the stars. Please, please remember that. It is useless to conserve entities such as water and trees if you have severed yourself away from those entities. You cannot conserve something which you do not feel within you. You cannot conserve something which is not part of you.

When I was initiated for the first time in 1937 into the mysteries and knowledge of Mother Africa I was ordered by my teacher, who was my aunt, to go outside and fill a small clay pot with water. Then she said to me, “Look into the water—what do you see?” I was caught in a trap because an initiate is not supposed to have an ego. An initiate is not supposed to refer to himself. I said, “Aunt, I see a person in this water.” She said, “Who is that person?” I did not dare say it was me. I said, “It is the person I know who is the son of my mother, the only son.” And she said, “Yes, you are in this water, and the water is in you. Until you know that, that you and the water are one, you must not even drink the water, you must not even think about it, because you have cut yourself off from it.”

Respected ones, no matter where you go in Africa you will find African people referring to water by a very interesting name indeed. In the language of the Swahili people in Kenya, water is called ma-gee. In the language of my people the Zulu’s, water is called amaze. And in the language of the Besutu people of Esutu in a small kingdom in South Africa, water is called mazte. And all these words mean one thing no matter where you go: the fluid of creation, the thing that did something, the thing that caused something to be.

In olden days Africans used to risk their lives protecting water. In olden days our people used to severely punish anyone they caught urinating into a stream or a river. There are some ants which you find in my country, they are called ma-the-bella ants. When you hold one in your hands it looks as fat as myself, and it fights like nobody’s business. And if you were caught, wise guy, making water into the water, one of those babies was taken, and made to bite you on your thing, closing the hole for several hours, and it will be the biggest lesson you will ever learn.

Africans used to say that no punishment is too severe for somebody who murders nature. There are trees in South Africa and in other parts of Africa which you are not allowed to cut. And sometimes this thing is carried to such extreme ends even now, that one day, I, Credo Mutwa, was brought before a chief and accused of murder. It was a really serious charge, and after a trial which lasted for three days. I was acquitted because I pleaded that I was guilty but insane. The holy person whom I had murdered had interfered with my dinner, which in the Credo Mutwa book is a mortal crime. Now, who was the holy person? It was a fly, an ordinary housefly. In South Africa, there is a tribe called the Bahune-bamata who even today will charge you with murder if they find you hurting a fly.

Honorable ones, our people believe many strange things regarding water. They believe that water is a living entity. That water has got a mind, that it remembers. The reason why a lake forms where it is, the reason why a river flows through where it flows, is not because it happens to be the right place for water to flow—no! It is because in that place where the river flows, there is an energy, an invisible spirit that moves like a snake, under the ground through the fine sand and which moves in the direction opposite to the one down which the river flows. If this great fire snake, as we call it, this unseen energy, if it dies, then the river dies too. We are told that lakes form where they form because there is an agreement between the water and certain types of rock.

In the language of my people, the Zulu, a lake is called Icibi.
Now this word icibi gave birth to the verb iciibella which means, “to patch.” If there is a hole in a cloth and you put a batch on it, that patch is called icibi, and you, icibella. Now why do we say that a lake is a repairer? We believe that a lake controls the life forces of all living things around it. A lake controls the life forces of every bird, every fish, every tiny creature that you find in water, and it also controls and stimulates the life forces of bigger animals up to and including human beings that they are of the same. And each time there is an illness in the land, our kings used to prevail upon the tribespeople to go closer to lakes, to get into that field. There is and invisible field of power all around a lake. If you take off your clothes and moisten your skin slightly and walk into that field, you will feel a tingling. That is what we call the spirit of the water, the icibi, the repairer of life.

Our people believe that there is a music, a sort of communication that goes on between streams, and rivers, and lakes. If you destroy a lake, say about 20 miles away from another one, this music is cut off and the lake that you have destroyed dies, and so does another lake which has been in communication with it.

Ladies and gentleman, many, many times in Africa, when I started fighting to preserve what I thought was sacred, I was often snarled at, ridiculed, and even beaten up as a superstitious heathen. But I was only preaching what my grandfathers had preached. I was only preaching what our mothers had taught us: that water is sacred. It is the life-blood of the great mother. It should not be dammed or in any way interfered with because if that is done, the water dies.

Our people say that water is the first thing that happens to you. It is also the thing that happens to you throughout your life. And it will be the last thing that will happen to you. When you are born, you are bathed, and thus, you are married to the spirit of water. When you leave, you take-in water and you become one with it. You drink, you wash, and you clean your clothes. You drink in the spirit of water whether you like it or not, or whether you believe in the spirit or not. Our people also believe that when you die, you are bathed with water, not to clean you up, because who needs to clean something that has kicked the bucket in the first place? But you do need to be bathed so you can quickly go into the village of judgment and advance to reincarnation. We say that a dead body which has not been bathed will not be able to reincarnate.

Our people further say that water has got ears. We have a proverb amongst my people that says: he who makes love to another man’s wife on the bank of a river must be careful not to utter loud and stupid noises. Because why? Because water. If there is a fierce emotion near a stream, that stream somehow records it. And guess what will happen? What you did near the river will be heard by every person in the surrounding villages one day. And you will wonder how they got to hear about it.

In South Africa there is a range of mountains called the Devaterbergh Mountains. There are many springs and fountains of water, and there were many more in the past. And when you come to the water mountains and you sit alone in total solitude, you are going to hear clearly sounds of ancient battles which were fought in that area. You will hear horses screaming, sabers clashing, and you will hear warriors shouting and people dying in pain. You will hear that because water has got ears.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there is much I could share with you. But our people say that he who talks too much makes people tired. I am not here to make you tired. I am here to tell you this: let us by all means conserve the beautiful song of nature. Let us regard each lake and each river. Not simply as an interesting stretch of water across whose expanse spoiled millionaires will zip around in their powerboats—no! Let us feel the water, let us hear the water, and let us be one with the water.

Accompanying me is my ritual wife, Nobella. Nobel is capable of finding water. Nobel is what is called a dowser. In Europe she would be honored and here in the United States, but because of rapid death of the black culture in South Africa a person like Nobella stands a great chance of being burned to death as a witch. She can find water, and I sometimes play tricks upon her. I will sometimes lead her blindfolded to a place where I know there is a great sewage pipe that passes under the ground and she will find this, and very angrily, and she is a Mantebella with a very fiery temper. She will be furious that the water under her feet is dead and is not sinking at her breasts. Now what does that mean? it means that sewage water is water that is now so overloaded with dead matter that it has died itself. It has died as a living entity. It only lives as a liquid entity that is taking this rubbish to wherever it is going to go.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please, let us bring back the earth. Let us accept one thing which our mothers accepted and our grandfathers knew: that the earth is a living entity where everything is joined to everything else in eternal marriage. And if you destroy something in one part of the world you create a chain of destruction that destroys things somewhere else.

Let me tell you two last things please. One, it is this, that I am told by the great storytellers of our tribes, that fresh water is not native to our earth. That at one time, many thousands of years ago a terrible star, or the kind called Mu-sho-sho-no-no, the star with a very long tail, descended very close upon our skies. It came so close that the earth turned upside down and what had become the sky became down, and what was the heavens became up. The whole world was turned upside down. The sun rose in the south and set in the north. Then came drops of burning black stuff, like molten tar, which burned every living thing on earth that could not escape. After that came a terrible deluge of water accompanied by winds so great that they blew whole mountaintops away. And after that came huge chunks of ice bigger than any mountain and the whole world was covered with ice for many generations. After that the surviving people saw an amazing sight. they saw rivers and streams of water that they could drink, and they saw that some of the fishes that escaped from the sea were now living in these rivers. that is the great story of our forefathers. And we are told that this thing is going to happen again very soon. Because the great star, which is the lava of our sun, is going to return on the day of the year of the red bull, which is the year 2012.

Well, I’m glad I won’t be there to see the fun. My wish is this: that there may be ““blessing over everything that you have done, over everything that you are going to do. May whatever power there is beyond the stars strengthen your efforts, because each lake that you bring back to life is a whole world saved.
Thank you,

Credo Mutwa is a Zulu spiritual leader.