When I look back on my life and reflect on the times that meant the most, that helped shape me as a person, and that gave me a much wider outlook on life, I can with little hesitation say that the Healing Journey and the people of Ruby, Alaska have had a profound effect on my life. The 2011 Healing Journey for me had a little bit of everything-excitement, danger, good friends new and old and most importantly strong words from strong people who are committed to staying the course of being one with the Earth and protecting the environment for today, tomorrow, and for the Seventh Generation. And having my sister Carol as my Alaskan guide didn’t hurt either. The journey for me began on the Onondaga Nation, located in Upstate New York, through cancelled flights, lost bags, and a possessed Tarp holding everything in the pickup from Anchorage to Fairbanks. More flights and a few days delay in Tanana due to strong winds, and we finally had canoes in the water. Coming from a community that in recent history where a majority have lost their nautical ways, I can appreciate the skill and knowledge the people of the Yukon River possess. The trip itself was exhausting, but only of body, for simply the privilege of being in a place of such untamed wilderness that many will only get to see or read about in books or the internet, extinguished any desire to quit. To simply sit and let the current carry you in the waning light, surrounded only in silence and a soft breeze is a memory I will never lose. Despite the cold, the wet boots, and lack of sleep, I would be on the next plane if asked if I wanted to do it all over again.
Arriving in Ruby (the unscripted and scripted arrivals) was very enjoyable, to be welcomed by good people with kind hearts and good soup. Although not my first time in Ruby, it never feels like visiting a town over 3000 miles from home. Walking around town has the feeling of where home is, the Onondaga Nation, and even feels like visiting another community within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Everyone knows each other, and even with not being from there, their hospitality and friendliness creates the environment that you feel at home away from home. Even when ‘home’ is sleeping in a tent and in a sleeping bag.
The most immediate and direct impact the Healing Journey stirred in me was the truth that despite the odds that we as Native people face, we are not alone. The Healing Journey itself is a kaleidoscope of faces, each with their own unique stories and insights, all working with the desired goal of protecting and maintaining the environment, for like us to the Earth, we are all connected. With all the hardships and challenges that the people of the Yukon River face, I was reminded of the challenge we face at Onondaga, with the coming dangers and pain we face with Natural Gas production and Hydraulic Fracturing of the Marcellus Shale by companies and people, always with the dollar signs in mind, never with the consequences their actions create. We stand and see the potential dangers these people and their processes bring to our lands, to our waters, to our homes. I remember this while being in Ruby and I am comforted in the fact that with threats that face the Yukon River and the waters of Onondaga alike, there will be strong people who will meet these threats and challenges head on and never waver in their desire and goal of doing what is right not only for today, but for the tomorrows to come. These are the people who I met in Ruby at the Healing Journey.
As this journey neared the end, I was left with words I overheard that have stuck to me up to today and I’m sure beyond. It was when getting a chance to visit with Martha Wright, after being fed salmon, rice and otter pops, she offered her perspective on the Yukon. She said the waters, “they are my mother’s veins. I will not stand by and watch her die while I’m alive.” In the Onondaga Thanksgiving address, the word Ojinoñ hya’ dade nyoñ is spoken, which gives thanks for the Veins of Mother Earth. So even though we are separated by masses of land, the waters connect our minds and hearts. I left Ruby much like how arrived, exhausted of body, but nourished and well fed of mind. The lessons and experiences I will pass on when I can, but the moments of being with good people, with views of vistas that would take more words than I have to describe, I’ll keep those with me.