The Gifts of Indigenous Communities

by Emily Boardman
Cornwall Meeting


Even as a child I was drawn to the Indigenous way of knowing. As a young woman I spent several years living with first the Navajo (Dine) and then the Lakota in South Dakota. I went on to receive a master’s degree in cultural anthropology, and most recently spent many rich years with the NYYM Indian Affairs Committee (several as clerk). The Indigenous paths have provided a wisdom and grounding to my spiritual life as nothing else has.


Despite the grim poverty of life on the reservation, there was something they had there that I didn’t. After two years on the Rosebud Reservation, I pleaded for an explanation from a Tribal elder. Reluctantly, and with deep compassion, he said, “you are a white without color.” I said, “connection?” He said, “yes,” almost in a whisper. I said “soul” and he touched my face and told me he had no doubt that I would find my soul.


I stepped away from that community for twenty years, had children, and taught cultural anthropology and Native American studies in the social services, education, and health fields.


My call to remember was intense and unequivocal. My parents died within a year and a half of one another. I bought a house. Within months, after being fired from my job and travelling with my children to spend a semester in Costa Rica, my house burned down.


When I told my brother of the fire, he said, “what’s left?” I said, “A metal trunk full of things given me at the reservation ‘giveaway.’” (A ceremony far too significant for a young white girl.) My brother responded, “I think you have what you need.” Within months, things spiraled quickly and I was asked to step up to the Indian Affairs Committee of the NYYM.


Most recently, I returned to the Massachusetts town where I grew up to live with my daughter. There I found yet another miraculous community of The Nashoba “Praying” Indians, whose recently protected, sacred hill just happens to include the site of our childhood family cabin.


The power of connection has always been real for me, and I have aligned myself to others by way of that vibrational rightness. Some would say this is to my detriment, but I wouldn’t.


In hindsight, as my brother said, “I have had what I need.” It has been my life’s practice to seek love, light, and power in a world our Christian Faith has disenfranchised us from—not only at our peril, but at risk of our survival.


The Earth Mother, our source, the teacher, the sustainer, the Womb of all sentient beings, has been used and abused to the point where she, not for the first time, sees our wanton folly. As the Hopi elder suggests, “She tires of the fleas and will shake herself free of their irritable infestation.” Perhaps next time around we will do better and live as “the hollow bone” that listens and carries the balanced vibrations of a sustainable world.


I call us all to listen to this silenced voice of wisdom and connection. We owe it to the seven generations both behind us and before us.


Let us ask one another if it might be time to turn with gratitude to that which we are one with and know that our divisions are an anathema perpetrated by those who know no home and have confused love with “mine.”