A Place at the Fire: An Interview with Diane Longboat

April 28, 2016

Diane Longboat, also known as Kahontakwas, is a Mohawk, Turtle Clan woman from Six Nations Grand River Territory, Canada. The traditional name defines the spiritual gifts, the place of origin and the Nation affiliation.

Diane is a ceremonial leader, traditional teacher of ancient Indigenous spiritual ways and a healer. She is also a professional educator, with a Masters Degree in Education who has lectured at Universities in Canada and at many national and international conferences on the challenge of personal spiritual renewal as the guiding force for Nation building.

She will be joining another elder, Taoyewakanwi, June 11-12, at "Voices of Wisdom," sponsored by the Sacred Fire Foundation.

Blue Deer Center: How did you become connected with "Voices of Wisdom"?

Diane Longboat: I got a call from Scott Sheerin [from the Sacred Fire Foundation]. He said he was looking for teachers to come to a specific event, which was going to be held at a place outside of Boston. It was a very special fire, and it was on land outside of the city, and he asked if I would come and share some teachings at that fire. It was so compelling to hear about the kind of people who gather at that fire that I thought, you know, I rarely go into the US, these days. I thought this is a real, beautiful opportunity to meet people who are really seeking, who are true-hearted people, who are really dedicated. And maybe I might have something that will help them.

How important is a spiritual approach to healing Mother Earth? And in what way is it important? You hear about technological approaches to healing the earth, but we still have heard very little about the spiritual side of things.

I think that spirituality is the key to healing Mother Earth. And it’s the key to indigenous wisdom, and indigenous knowledge systems. We’ve had an entire evolution as a human family in a physical way. Our bodies have changed and evolved physically from that time of creation, that whole process of evolution on the earth for millions of years, not thousands of years, but millions of years.

“That spiritual evolution creates a wave of energy that is love. And that wave of love energy as it courses through the earth defeats evil.”

The next stage of our evolution as human beings was most evidenced in Europe where people were coming out of the dark ages, coming into the Renaissance, coming out of the Inquisition where women healers were brutalized and killed, and the whole rise of paternalism and capitalism evolved. The evolution of our minds into scientific thought and theory came as a result of that Renaissance. What was happening in the Americas at that time was also an evolution of our high civilization, which is probably a topic for another discussion.

So tell us more about this evolution.

Having a physical evolution, having a mental evolution, we are now in a time (and our prophesies talk about this) of a spiritual evolution. And that spiritual evolution is to turn the light switches of our DNA on for spiritual development so each of us understand where we come from, why we are here, the gifts we were born with, the ancestors of our lineage, the spirits that walk with us to help us achieve our mission here for the Creator. It’s a spiritual mission to promote life and to enhance life and to encourage life. So, if we are going to promote life and enhance life, then we have to understand who we are spiritually. And every culture has that capacity built into it. You have to look for it. And you have to look for the land-based peoples who are living in your homelands and territories for that sacred guidance. Because it can’t come from an institutional kind of religion. It has to come from land-based peoples who are living in concert with the natural laws of Mother Earth and the spiritual laws of the Creator. Because if you live with the natural laws of Mother Earth, there is no denying that there is a Creator.

So, the healing of Mother Earth in this next evolution of humanity is triggered by a spiritual evolution for every single human being. That spiritual evolution creates a wave of energy that is love. And that wave of love energy as it courses through the earth defeats evil. It defeats evil. It defeats sickness in the spirit, in the heart, in the mind and in the body. But we have to generate that. And there’s no other way to generate it other than to activate your spirituality.

When you say that’s our task in this world, how do we do that? As humans, how do we find that spiritual work that needs to be done on the planet at this time?

We look at the processes of indigenous people that talk about coming out of five hundred years of a deep sleep. Walking out of that fog and asking the question, "What do we have as indigenous people in the Americas to rebuild ourselves?" After five hundred years of genocide. What do we have? We have our spirituality. We have our ceremonies, our songs, our medicines. We have our ethical codes and laws that govern our life. So, that’s what we use to rebuild our nation. In rebuilding indigenous red nations the fires begin to burn in communities, and those spiritual leaders begin to grow and emerge, and take their rightful place for guidance for their people. And inspiration for their people. When that fire burns in our communities it’s a welcoming fire for other nations of people to gather at that fire, who may not be able to find their way. That is especially true in the Americas, because of colonization, that people have lost their way, and their connection to their ancestors, and their connection to their homelands. They have lost their way. So at the fires of the red people, they regain a connection to the spirit that helps them regain a connection to their ancestors and a desire to walk in their own homelands. They may not ever live in their own homelands. But they need to return there for that connection of spirit, of connection to their ancestors. So, they become spiritually activated, because in their homelands there are vortexes and strongholds of spirit, and ancestors that are waiting to guide them. But they have to seek it out. They’ve got to do the work.

That "doing the work." Is that an invitation for those of us who realize that our ancestors brought us here to a land that was not our own to do the work? I’m wondering what a respectful approach is to connecting with our land and our ancestors in this time and place.

I think really respectfully engaging those indigenous ceremonial leaders whose lodges are open to people of other nations, respectfully engaging them and saying to them, "How can I learn more? How can I take care of my spirit? Because I can’t find that in the places I’ve been looking." In those special lodges where the doors are open to people of other faith traditions and other families of the healing element, then there’s a place at that fire for people who are seeking. They take part in that sweat lodge. They take part in the healing ceremony. They take part in the vision quest and the fasting. So that they can develop that connection to their ancestors and to the Spirit. That strengthens them on that walk. Their journey.

I think a lot of people romanticize indigenous ways and people want to do it on their own.

Where people get stuck is that they enter a psychological place where they want to be indigenous, from this land. You can’t be that. The Creator didn’t make you that. If you want to be something the Creator did not make you, you’re saying to the Creator, "You made a mistake when you made me. I want to be this!" There’s no integrity in that approach.

The integrity of the approach is to find those lodges that will open the doors to teach people of other faith traditions and races, and bring those people to the fire so that they can ask questions openly, so that they can seek their own pathway of healing. So that they can connect their ancestors, and they can activate their own spirit, by connecting to the Creator, in that pure essence of those ceremonies. And it’s incumbent upon those leaders of those lodges to uphold the beauty of that person that’s coming through the doorway, that they are equal to everybody else, that they have beautiful gifts that need to flourish, that there’s no oppression of that student, no control from them, or getting favors from them. So, those spiritual leaders carry that integrity to do the very best for those who are in their lodge, who are vulnerable, and weaker than they are, and seeking help, and seeking guidance. They will not always be weak, but they’re on a journey, and to honor that journey. So, there are certain lodges where the ceremonies are open to enable seekers to find the pathway they need to find. There are other lodges that are closed. And they’re closed for a reason. Because they’re rebuilding. And because there’s trust issues with people on the outside for appropriating culture.

This summer the Blue Deer Center hosted "Ancient Wisdom Rising" and I remember a participant asked Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemum Wintu people in California what those of us non-indigenous people should do to reconnect. Her response was that her current concern was keeping her people, who had been reduced to about 300, alive. Not what non-indigenous people needed to do for their own development. It was a sobering response. But I think people heard it.

Well, the Blue Deer Center is located in the heart of Haudensosaunee country. So, when you look at our protocols for our ceremonies, there’s no white people allowed. There’s such good reason for that. And of course, we can always talk about the history of that. But it’s that whole rebuilding process that is so key, and so critical. And I don’t think that Americans have a real sense of indigenous history, and the extent of colonization. I don’t think it’s taught well in your school system. And for a lot of them, they don’t even know what happened on the land near that center. As we gather as human beings to try and take care of our own spirits, we also have to take care of the land, because there’s a lot of atrocities that happened on that land and in that region where the land also suffers, and the land bears those scars, and the trauma of human development, but also human wars.

Yes. When I’m on the land there, I feel like it welcomes what we’re doing there, bringing people like yourself and others to share the wisdom they can offer.

I’m sure that the land has that feeling, because it needs people there who are peace-making. It’s so important, you know?

Well, we’re really excited about you coming to the Blue Deer Center in June. Do you have anything else to share with us today?

One of the great things about coming to a very special center like the Blue Deer is that you’re keepers of that sacred fire in that region. That’s very important to me. Because I’m a carrier of sacred fire. And I’ve carried that sacred fire all over the world, to the many places we’ve gone.  It has been the connection to the Creator, and to Mother Earth, and to all the spirits and the ancestors that have made the difference whether that conference achieved its goal or not, whether that teaching was powerful and changed peoples’ lives or not. I’m such a believer of that sacred fire to bring us together spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Really bring us to the point of one heart, one mind. And that’s why I’m coming to the Blue Deer Center.

Thank you, Diane.

Thanks so much for this opportunity to talk with you.

You’re welcome.

Diane Longboat is one of the Elders who will speak at Voices of Wisdom, June 11 and 12. Don’t miss your chance to sit with the Elders at Voices of Wisdom.