The Elders Step Up
Historic International Meeting of Indigenous Spiritual Elders: Return of the Ancestors

By Stephanie M. Schwartz
Freelance Writer
Member, Native American Journalists Association (NAJA)
Published at

May 17, 2009 Cottonwood, Arizona

For 11 remarkable days, April 18-28 of 2009, indigenous spiritual Elders and leaders from around the world met in northern Arizona.  The gathering, entitled Return of the Ancestors, was sponsored by the Institute for Cultural Awareness (ICA) and based upon the vision of Adam Yellowbird which he received as he sat with Mayan and Inca Elders in Peru in 2007.

This was not some typical New Age gathering where a couple of Elders speak to a mostly-white audience.  This was also not a bunch of whackos or neophytes.  This was a step up and step out working meeting of real Elders and spiritual wisdom keepers from nearly every continent in the world.

Yes, there was a large international audience during the day although many were often also participants or volunteer workers than simply audience.  Additionally, there was a sizeable number of spiritual young people who had come to learn.  Moreover, many in the audience were spiritual leaders in their own countries who had come to learn from the Elders, too.

Yes, there were white people there.  More importantly, color didn’t matter.  There were people of every color and nearly every spirituality, belief system, and politics in the world coming together in a sincere effort to learn from each other and work to help humanity survive these troubling times.

Don Alejandro Cirilo Perez Oxlaj, Mayan Elder and President of the National Council of Elders Mayas, Xinca and Garifuna of Guatemala, spoke of the Mayan prophecies and the approach of the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012.  Interestingly, many of the cultures represented there had similar prophecies and timing.  But all of them, including the Mayans, spoke that the end of the calendar does not mean the end of the world.  It means the beginning of a new Era.

All the Elders spoke of the necessity for spiritual people to come out of hiding now and help their fellow human beings.  The period of transition is here and it is a difficult time until the new Era blossoms into an age of peace and understanding.  They spoke of the necessity to heal our Mother Earth but also to heal each other through love, compassion, respect and, most of all, prayer.  This became nearly a universal mantra throughout the gathering.  Most of the Elders also spoke that the coming new Era would be one of a more feminine nature, based in the heart, and that it is critically important for women to become spiritually empowered at this time.

Yet, while the wise words and ceremonies during the day changed countless lives of those witnessing them, it was in the evening that a different kind of significant work was done.  Housed on separate land, cloistered away from the crowds and sleeping in humble tents, yurts, tipis, and the few available bedrooms, the Elders met amongst themselves in council and ceremony every night.  This was no party time for them.  They came to work and work they did, learning from each other and helping each other in ways that only they will reveal in time.

But one factor became abundantly clear to everyone who was a part of this gathering: These days took on a life of their own, clearly guided by spirit rather than humans.  When one planned thing didn’t happen, something even more profound did.  The beauty and intense spirituality present to everyone there lasted throughout and transcended what few negatives existed.

As with all important spiritual events, there was negativity which tried to disrupt that which was transpiring.  The occasional dismayed females who were asked to wear a long skirt during times of ceremony, a few disappointed people who were focused on going to Hopi land, a rare few disagreements between Elders.  But everything was always quickly resolved as everyone, Elders and attendees alike, worked from the heart rather than the mind.  It quickly became a model of how the world should work and could work. 

It’s true, the daily agendas and organizational issues had to be constantly revised, black helicopters were periodically flying overhead, buses carrying the Elders refused to drive on dirt roads which necessitated the Elders catching rides from (delighted) attendees on two days, a visit from the Hopi BIA which surprised the staff, and finally a blinding sandstorm on the Land of the Forgotten People on the Dineh’/Navajo Reservation (cause for joy, signaling spring for the Dineh’ and Hopi) was very difficult for those trying to attend the outdoor talks and ceremonies.  Further, there were outsiders who had riled up the Hopi Tribal Council so that the event was not allowed to meet on Hopi land as scheduled.

But even that was resolved in beauty and harmony when Hopi spiritual Elders came down from their Mesas and met with the other Elders on Dineh’ land…. that, in itself, historic and moving.

Perhaps the most ludicrous difficulties were the accusations made by those not at the gathering that ICA was making huge money off this event when the reality was that every penny was spent on the Elders, their transportation and care, the cost of the event and various facilities.  ICA is a non-profit organization and no one associated with it receives a salary.

But the difficulties were all minor issues when compared to the many significant and profound messages and happenings that did take place, on every single day, for those who were there.  Clearly, the spiritual experiences and learning the people received will guide and evolve within them for many years to come.

Whether it was by a Hindu fire ceremony, a Lakota Sweat Lodge, a Havasupai dawn ceremony on the rim of the Grand Canyon, an African rain ceremony, an Aztecan Four Color Ceremony, an Algonquin dance ceremony, an Australian Aborigine prayer ceremony, a Tibetan fire ceremony, a Mayan morning ceremony, or any other of the many ceremonies performed, there is no question that many lives and understanding were changed.

Yet, the greatest gifts were the Elders themselves.  Many things were learned about the various countries, beliefs, and spiritualities.  But the humble words and actions of the Elders, clearly always from the heart, touched everyone.  They created the realization that we really are, indeed, One.

In the end, this event proved the simple Truth that, while the semantics and names might change from culture to culture, the spiritual messages are universal.  We are all related as humans in this sacred circle of life.  Further, the Elders tell us the time is Now for us to step forward and heal humanity and our Mother Earth.  We are the ones we have been waiting for.  We must do it, we can do it, with the help of the Divine.

Spiritual Elders and Spiritual Wisdom Keepers at this event came from:

Guatemala (Mayan), Lake Titicaca Peru (Inca), Bolivia (Aymara),
Mexico (Aztec), Mexico (Toltec), Sierra Nevada Colombia (Kogi), Colombia (Arhuaco),
India (Hindu), Tibet (Buddhist Lamas), Okinawa Japan, Japan (Ainu), Japan (Buddhist)
The Lakota - Nakota - Dakota Sioux Native American Nations, The Havasupai Native American Nation,
The Yavapai Native American Nation, The Northern Arizona Hopi Native American Nation,
The Dineh’/Navajo Native American Nation, Canada (The Algonquin First Nation),
Greenland (Inuit/Eskimo), The Amazon, Africa (Ghana), Australia (Aborigine), Spain

Other Delegations Included:

Spanish Delegation
Colombian Delegation
Mormon Delegation
English Delegation
Germanic Delegation
Hebrew Delegation
Celtic Delegation
Ecuadorian Delegation  
Scottish Delegation
French Delegation
Lakota Drum Delegation
Hip Hop Delegation
Numerous Native American Representatives
And others

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