American Indians welcome spring equinox with ceremonies
JOSEPH B. NADEAU , Staff Writer 03/21/2004
SOUTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. -- The snow on the ground might make you think otherwise but Chief Ray "Looking Glass" Lussier pronounced spring had nonetheless sprung Saturday.
Head of the Metis Community of Rhode Island and Southeast Massachusetts, Lussier presided over a ceremony outside the Bethany Village Fellowship Hall on Newport Avenue to welcome the change of seasons.
The Metis trace their heritage back to a mix of American Indian, French Canadian and Scottish bloodlines and follow the beliefs of the Abenaki and Algonquin peoples that once inhabited the region.
"In the old days, the only way to actually know when the seasons were about to change was to count the moons of the year," Lussier told the 30 people circled round a flaming brazier in the parking lot behind the church.
Lussier asked how many moons make up a year and a child in the group piped up with "13."
"Yes, 13 moons because there is a new moon every 28 days," he said.
This yearís marking of the season change came with mixed feelings for the band, the old chief said.
A war is stilling being fought that keeps many local soldiers from their homes and the Earth is under assault from those who would squander its resources.
And so as the sun rose to noontime, Lussier began a series of prayers he said would be echoed at similar Native American ceremonies around the country.
"Great Spirit, Creator of all, I welcome you here into my heart and mind," Lussier said as the adult followers in the group passed around a ceremonial smoking pipe.
"Guide me down my chosen path," Lussier continued.
He also called on the Great Spirit to watch over those away at war and asked for healing of the poisoned Earth.
"Never take from her more than you can use. As we care for her she will care for us," he said.
After the prayer ceremony, several of the group members gathered around a large, stretched-hide drum and began to pound out a rhythm for the season change.
A singer lifted his voice in a Native American chant timed with the drum beat. After completing the song the group continued with another, this time saying the words in English. "Mother I feel you under my feet. Mother I hear your heart beat," the group chanted in time.
John Spirit Bear of Acushnet said the ceremony was intended as a celebration of the reawakening of Mother Earth after the long winter. "This is the day to start planting," Spirit Bear said while noting the snow on the ground would keep planting off for a little while. "But hopefully not much longer," he added.
After the ceremony the band members assembled for a procession with flags from a number of Native American tribes, as well as the banners of the United States and Canada, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Also joining the group were two members of a Metis band from Woonsocket, Harry "Soaring Hawk" Young, and Dave "Silent Thunder" Kimball.
Young said members of Lussierís band have started their own group in Woonsocket called the Circle of Wisdom SNEIC.
"We teach an education program that enlightens kids on what Native Americans are all about," Young said.
The group, which includes, Kimballís wife, Celeste "Amber Rose," Emily "Lady Slipper" Klien, a teacher at the middle school, and Joyce "Eagle Cries" Gavin, meets every other Tuesday at the Enrico Caruso Club in Manville, they noted. The next open meeting will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Kimball became a member of the group through his wife. Celeste has ties to the Algonquin Nation as do many French Canadians, he said.
The Woonsocket groupís education work includes visits to area schools to talk about Native Americans and their beliefs and especially their beliefs in preserving the environment for the use of future generations.
"We try to teach the kids that the way of the Native American is to utilize only what you need, donít waste, and respect Earth, respect Mother Nature," Kimball said.
Lussier said his ban has been marking the spring equinox with a ceremony for 12 years now.
The fact his ban is made up of people of mixed heritage draws many to ceremonies who would not think of themselves as traditional Native Americans, he said.
"Sometimes we just get people who want to follow the old ways just like their ancestors did," he said. Some even come from Woonsocket as Kimballís wife and fellow band members did, he noted.
"Woonsocket is a big time Metis community but a lot of people donít know about their heritage because itís just not spoken about," he said.
And yet Lussier said he can pick a half dozen last names from the list of his own bandís members and most of those would be immediately recognized in Woonsocket.
"I have a lot of people from my group still living on Diamond Hill Road," he said as he and his War Chief, Dorothy "Spirit Runner" walked toward the drumming ceremony beginning in front of the church. Nearby, the rest of the bandís members stood silently on the church steps as the bright colors flags in their hands flapped lightly in the spring breeze.
03-23-2004 07:41 AM
This is not far from me at all.