Friday, July 1, 2016
Spirit Islands of Japan 2015 One Man’s Prayer Journey
By NaBahe Katenay Keediniihii – July 1, 2016
1978 Sweet Water, Big Mountain (L) Larry Anderson - Dineh AIM (R) the late Pauline Whitesinger
In 1978, a Dineh (Navajo) brother and AIM leader advised me to join a cross country spiritual walk. This conversation happened while we were on security detail in Big Mountain for elder matriarch, Pauline Whitesinger, who had been harassed by the federal Indian police. She had attempted numerous times to ask the U. S. federal fence builders to stop and leave her ancestral homelands. Instead she had an altercation and the BIA Police were coming around trying to make Pauline commit more offenses. My “Bro” said, “There is a march starting in California. A lot of Natives from many tribes will be walking, doing ceremonies and protesting some racist legislations. They will be walking from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. You should join and tell everyone about what’s happening here. –Don’t worry we’ll ‘hold the fort down,’ here.” I’ve really never been anywhere outside of Arizona. Phoenix was probably the furthest place I’ve been. But wow, San Francisco and Washington D.C. were only words or places I heard about. My mind suddenly had new things to think about, because two years before I had enrolled in college courses which abruptly ended when my Mom summoned me back to Big Mountain to help organize elder meetings. The AIM Bro gave me Dennis Bank’s phone number and some other information. The medicine man of Big Mountain did a ceremony for me and made a special bundle for me to take “to the first river that The Walk will cross and make the offerings.”
The Longest Walk in Washington D.C. 1978
The story about how I met up with this “march,” The Longest Walk of 1978, is quite long and this writing is about how I met the Japanese Buddhist Monks and Nuns. The first moment I join this Walk was in the evening, in southwestern Utah and it was a cold, wet mid-February climate. A U-Haul truck was parked loaded with gear and food supplies. There was a makeshift kitchen where a small lady and another man were helping with dinner, they both had on orange clothing and it was obvious to me they were with some religious order. After a short but restful night in an old Mormon church, everyone had packed up as we converged toward the kitchen in the chilly early morning. Following some quick steaming breakfast and a prayer circle, my first day of this cross country walk is reality as the Buddhist drums broke the silences of the Sipco, Utah landscapes. A month had past and I begin to understand who these Buddhist monks and nuns were even though, they never spoke in the prayer and meeting circles. During a long rest outside of Pueblo, Colorado, I walked up to where some of them were fasting and chanting. Not far from their Buddhist altar was the Native altar that had a buffalo skull, tobacco ties and where a few diverse group waited to give the ritual flesh offering. I sat on the ground and listened to the beat of the Buddhist drum and the chanting, and I would get a whiff of that soothing smell of the Buddhist altar incense. In addition to that was the rare smudging smell of the sweet grass from the native altar, my mind was at peace.
Monks and Nuns from the Nippozan Mihoji Buddhist Group, The Longest Walk 1978
At Sand Creek, Colorado and near Lawrence, Kansas the Japanese were doing their usual chanting throughout our rest stops, early mornings and evenings. I had a lot of admiration for these devoted Buddhist men and women. Months had passed and we were at Deer Lake State Park in Pennsylvania when Nippashi-shonin and Jun-san invited me to their camp, now I was brother and close fellow walker. We joked and they shared some Japanese foods, and we exchanged stories. For this Walk, the beat of Buddhist drums sometimes helped keep our steps in pace throughout the day.
Sometime after The Longest Walk finished in July of 1978 and whatever the circumstances were, I was hitch-hiking with one of the Buddhist Monk, Ishibashi-shonin, and we got dropped off at a Mexican family’s house but we were uninvited instead. The shaved head and orange robed Monk and I bummed around in Farmington, New Mexico for food and a place to ‘crash,’ but it was best to get on the ‘Rez.’ Eventually, I went on home to Black Mesa and Reverend Ishibashi hitch-hike on. In the summer of 1980, my mother, one of the Big Mountain matriarch, hosted a stop for a native spiritual walk and for me, it was exciting to see Jun-san and Nippashi-shonin, again. The other excitement was that my elders were able to meet these Buddhist friends and to see them do their chanting. A couple of years later, Nippashi-shonin returned and stayed with us at the new Survival Camp, and he also stayed with other elders. Later on, Mr. Kyoshi Miyata came through with his film crew. This was followed by Junji Shimanuki-shonin who settled in at the Survival Camp to pray for peace for Big Mountain and fulfill his Nipponzan Mihoji studies.
My first trip to Japan 1987, Peace Walk to Hiroshima & in Hiroshima
Big Mountain struggle had gained international recognition by the mid1980s and the Survival Camp began to host the great Sun Dance ritual of the Plains Tribes in hopes of saving the Dineh’s endangered lands and culture. Big Mountain’s connection to Japanese peace activist and Buddhist practitioners became stronger, along with myself making three trips to Japan and the welcoming for Japanese to Sun Dance. The Save Black Mesa Prayer Walk of 2000 did its U.S. portion of the walk from Flagstaff, Arizona to Big Mountain. This spiritual walk was organized by new Japanese native supporters, and previous leaders like Junji-shonin and Nippashi-san had passed on and Mr. Miyata was in a care home after an earlier stroke. This 2000 spiritual walk, I feel, had a significant impact spiritually because the federal government had planned to forcibly evict all Dineh resisters out of Big Mountain but instead and as of today, that didn’t happen and most of the elders were able to remain the rest of the life on their homelands.
2000 Save Black Mesa Prayer Walk, Kiriyama, Takayama, Japan - Flagstaff, AZ - Big Mountain
On a short visit back to Japan in 2014 and having more personal time, I reflected back on all the years of Dineh-Japanese relations both spiritual and ‘soco-political.’ The islands of Japan, its mountainous landscape of occasional volcanic activity, great rivers, that U.S.- Japan military accords, and the closeness to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear and tsunami disaster. All this brought deep thoughts about how the ancestor elders of Big Mountain would have felt for their friends of Japan. If they were still alive, they would want to come to Japan and try to share their prayers for these friends who have walked and fasted in prayer for Big Mountain’s survival. I decided to come back again to Nippon (Japan) to do more, perhaps. The reconnection between Big Mountain and the Nipponzan Mihoji Buddhist group did occurred in April 2015 with the NPT Peace Walk which scheduled their routes through northern Arizona. It was a privilege, again, for me to work with my Buddhist Sister Nun, Jun-san, and this Walk was a success. Hearing the Nipponzan Mihoji drum, walking in the harsh April Arizona weather and praying together boosted my thoughts more to do prayer journeys for Japan and maybe Europe, as well.
Ito Shima, Kyushu 2015, with Riki-san
Summer of 2015 I am at Itoshima, it is located on the southwestern coast of Kyushu island, the gate way to Okinawa, Okinawa was where indigenous peoples were resisting U.S. military encroachment. On this shoreline, a few of us gathered before Meoto Iwa (Two Coupled Rocks in The Sea) which represent a union between two deities, one male and one female, and which are revered since ancient Pre-Japan times. A long time Japanese brother, Riki Masaki, who treats me as a true brother and one of his mentor was Nippashi-san. Riki joined myself and this was an honour to be supported by him. As in Dineh ritual ways and as probably in many cultures in the world, deities of both female and male in a union representation whether it be rocks, rivers or mountains, they require reverence and prayer offerings. We faced the East China Sea and Meoto Iwa, and prayed for a restoration of the human relations to nature and its land forms. We offered the blue pollen that I brought from my home country, and I offered corn pollen to small crashing waves. The Ocean is mother, her powers that nurture us and that nurtures our siblings, the mammals of the seas. We asked for her forgiveness for that we have lost these family ties, and that we often forget to give back after we take from her. We ask Mother Ocean that she embrace us again as we have brought offerings, and mostly importantly, that She acknowledge all the Japanese and indigenous islanders who are trying to stop the poisoning of the waters and stop the threats of wars. Pity those who are, now, standing up against the heartless government and industries.
The heat and humidity of July in Japan reminded me of my first trip there in 1987. After Kyushu Island, my first stop was to join some fellow walkers from the NPT Peace Walk of northern Arizona. The day long walk with the Fukushima – Hiroshima Peace Walk made me feel my weakness and age, all the hills, the busy narrow sidewalks and streets of Kyoto. Next was Tokyo because a friend wanted me to support Kamoshita-shonin, a Monk and walker from the previous Arizona walk. In Tokyo, the Nipponzan Mihoji temple monks also joined by a good crowd of Okinawan opposed to the U. S. Marine base, all were maintaining daily vigils as the police monitored constantly. We chanted “NymMyoHoRenGeyKyo” and held signs outside the gates of the Japan government’s version of the “U.S. Capital.” The Monks were chanting for peace or to protect Article 9, a post-World War II Law of Peace. On to Gunma prefecture after two full days of being among the Monks including my old “hitch hiker pal,” Ishibashi-shonin, the first time I saw him again since 1978. Staying a couple of days between two cities, Maebashi and Takasaki, I revisited Mr. Miyata Kiyoshi’s (now deceased) old film project for the traditional Hopis, “Hopi Prophecy II.” We only hope that the project can be restarted despite the time gaps with technology and today’s modern Hopi colonial attitudes.
2015 Tokyo after the vigil at the Japanese government, and bowing to Prime Minister's Office building.
My dear friend, Reiko Tasumi, from Gunma Prefecture was able to set up a schedule with a Zen Monk in Fukushima Prefecture. As quickly as I come and go on these kind of trips, seven of us packed ourselves into a small passenger van. National weather reported that a typhoon was about to make land-fall on the southern coasts of Japan, and we would have be try and make this trip quickly. Zen Reverend Tokunn Tanaka was the caretaker of a temple in Minamisoma-shi, a town situated next to the crippled Daichi Nuclear Power Plant. And it is a town that was completely obliterated by the March 2011 tsunami. We stayed an old temple which had survived the 3-11 tsunami and earthquake and since then, it has been a safe and spiritual haven for the survivors who occasionally visit to be consoled or to worship. Tokunn-shonin shared a few stories with me about the aftermath of that tsunami, living in a radioactive environment and a ghost town, and feeling those spiritual hopes while being at the temple. The evening was haunting with the silence of the normally busy streets except for the normal bird and insect sounds, and hearing nature helped me ease my paranoia. We woke up to a rainy morning and by breakfast time, it was a constant down pour. The outer reaches of the typhoon was here. The plan to go to the beach that is in sight of the nuclear plant with the continuing melt down was cancelled. Rev. Tanka suggested making the offerings to the giant, ancient gingko tree that has given him and other survivor strength to live on after the greatest of losses. Each of us with umbrellas walked to the ginkgo tree as the down pour and wind blew mist of rain everywhere.
July 2015, Minamisoma at the old Zen Temple with Rev. Tokunn Tanaka
To the great ancestor and grandmother ginkgo tree, you who have stood over many generations as well as many tribes that have dwell among these ancient lands where Horses (use to) Gather, Minamisoma, hear our songs and prayers today. We bring offerings of Blue Pollen from Dineh country and we will also smoke some Mountain Tobacco, and we come onto your presence, great ginkgo grandmother tree. In humbleness and as your children, we stand before your feet. Pity Us. The great blessing of the rain has directed us to pray to you, we ask for peace throughout these archipelagos and we pray for healing for earth children of Fukushima, healing from their great, unimaginable devastation. The great ocean and earth have acted and spoken, and as pity as we are, we asked that balance be restored among humanity. I ask for blessing for my brother, Rev. Tanaka, keep him strong for his peoples, for his temple and for the chants that he carries for his peoples’ ways. And bless our journeys, my fellow Japanese peoples and friends here, today. We offer you this Blue Pollen at this time and we shall also smoke the sacred Mountain Tobacco in this sacred temple. NymMyoHoRenGeyKyo, NymMyoHoRenGeyKyo, Hozhon naa Haasi’glii’.
After a few other activities, we again loaded ourselves as we drove through that newly opened but controlled thruways of the ghost town and on to the express way. The rains were now less intense as we travelled through forest and foggy mountains, and a couple of hours passed as we stopped to rest and snack. An electronic map displayed that one of our route is closed due to landslides and flooding, and we all realized it will be a late arrival in Maebashi. We took many detours in the night, taking narrow roads among flooded rice fields and city streets, and I had no idea where we were but my fellow passengers knew how to get out of these flooded towns. Another typhoon had made its visit to Japan and I, too, was about to complete my visit but first a few short stops in Utsunomiya and Tokyo. By train, I went back to meet my beautiful friend, Yumiko Tanaka. She has guided me and once again she leads me to Kyoto and Kobe to see old Japanese friends, peace walkers, comrades and Sun Dancers. Like old times when we would sit around the sandy and dusty campfires of Big Mountain, I join them in the big cities among endless neon lights and crowded stations, to share great foods and stories. I hope I see them all again. I did my best, we did our best even though there was not proper translators among the limited English speaking Japanese, and myself as a non-Japanese speaker.
1995, At Hiroshima Buddhist Stupa with supporters for Native struggles and with the late Nippashi-san
Back in my country, I read about how the world can be a better place, complaints not only about society and its leaders but despising thy neighbor or siblings. The somewhat abuses of the sacred circle where certain Natives enter and conduct ourselves ‘as they please’ and as if, the order of All Our Relations is forgotten. Like the oppressor, we humans place ourselves at the top above original leaders and forces, the animals, the mist, the heavens, and the coming generations. Perhaps, it is this modernized techno behavior that allows one to act irresponsibly to ‘be the change to make the change.’ Our dehumanized and ‘childish’ ways continue to rely on so-called leaders who rely on corporate policies to make further destructive polices. The rivers, the mountains, the seas have all been waiting and in many cases waiting for hundreds of years, waiting to hear their songs, prayer chants and offerings. My past when my traditional peoples were being traumatized with the harsh U.S. relocation and mining laws, a few of them were able to hand me small instructions for how to try and speak to the natural world. Not to tell them “thank you” or ask them to “heal themselves” but that, the natural sacred forces can feel thankful to us and in return to hopefully protect and heal Us.
© NBKatenay Keediniihii 2016 SDN Media