2016 International CfBS Conference
Makasaysayang Pagtatagpo- Historic Encounters
Witness Report “We Are Learning”
October 13, 2016 | Jana Lynne Umipig
My name is Jana Lynne Umipig, daughter of Godofredo and Rosemarie Umipig, granddaughter of Anacleto and Cristina Umipig and Santiago and Nena Caldetera. My family comes from the regions of Ilocos Sur (Sta. Maria) and Ilocos Norte (Pagudpud). I am a proud yet humble Core Member of the Center of Babaylan Studies.
In our time gathering for the Third International Babaylan Conference- Makasaysayang Pagtatagpo (Historic Encounters): Filipinos and Indigenous Turtle Islanders Revitalizing Ancestral Traditions Together many lessons were amplified and much clarity was brought to the surface to guide us all in our individual and collective paths connecting to spirit and honoring our ancestry.
The most important of the roles I was called to rise in during this time, was the role of Witness, shared with us as a sacred native tradition by our hosts from the Coast Salish, Skwxwú7mesh Territory on the Sunshine Coast of Vancouver. In my understanding of the tradition, when tribes/villages gather in a large convening there were witnesses chosen from each village who would bear are the responsibility of observing, listening and holding space for the messages and truths that would unfold during the exchanges that would transpire during the time the tribes/villages were in communion with one another. At the closing of the convening they would be asked to share with the elders of the tribes and with the community in attendance what they gathered from their deep listening.
This is the written account of my reflections on a moment in this living where I was given the invitation and duty to Listen deeply.
The first days at Camp Elphinstone were filled with so much anticipation of our guests, with much movement to make every detail attended to, to the best of our ability as an organizing team of the Center for Babaylan Studies and Kathara Pilipino Indigenous Arts Collective Society. I followed with humility the lead of my sisters and brothers, and I sat with them in deep gratitude for the attention to those details as we stayed up late into the night on that Thursday evening, assembling name tags and satchels of seeds to gift as offering to those joining us in the next coming days and preparing the registration materials to welcome our guests upon arrival.
As a Core Member of CfBS, I feel my witnessing began the moment I was accepted into this circle of Sacred Work. I want to take this beginning moment of my report to recognize my sisters and brothers and what I learned from each of them in our communal work of manifesting this convening together.
In reflection of the teachings from our Kapwa in Kathara I thank Claudine for her teachings of Lifted Energy, the way that she awakened us all with her presence and warmth. Like the lessons of the sun she was continuously giving of warmth, of liveliness, of light. From the very last moment of her departure we all felt the rising of our spirits as you rose in yours with every exchange. I thank Babette and Sobey for the teachings of respecting sacred exchange; they taught us the arduous and important work of building relationships with our Native brothers and sisters and how much humility is part of every encounter. Sobey taught me the importance of patience and steadiness in communication, and was balanced by Babette’s way of dancing in exchanges, leading with her heart and with her mother womb. I thank JR for his leadership and his joy. JR taught me presence, particularly the importance of being in presence of self for the support of others – he walked with us every step of the way and was often the key communicator between us and the community in Vancouver. Because of you all, I left the conference truly understanding a call to reconcile a relationship with the Natives on the land I settle on in New York, and what it will mean to begin that relationship in a good and honorable way.
The teachings learned along the way from my Core Family are so tremendous. The largest of those learnings is how there is a life investment when you exchange in creating relationships centered on spirit. I had not lead my relationship-building so intentionally in spirit until I was invited into this circle; it was something that was unspoken of, but with my sisters of CfBS, that is what roots us in our Sacred Work together – our deep commitment to the upliftment of our spirits in connection to the spirit of all.
Ate Maileen, I am always in awe with the way you see moments with Light. I learn from you the beauty of observance and how profound it is to focus on awareness of what is transpiring around you. I believe this is where your mastery of photography comes from; it is rooted in a deeper way of being humble to moments and being silent to what you see, it is prayer in observance.
Ate Inday, I am in awe by your way of moving with grace, just as your name amplifies., I learned from you to listen from within and to do this lovingly and with patience. Your ways of Loving and Caring are so profound, they illuminate and bring clarity through your words, actions, and even stillness. I am humbled to have you act as a guide and model of upliftment in my life.
Sis Jen, you have taught me the truth of feminine power, the way you hold space with the desire for the goodness of all, and how you give so tremendously of your wisdom with each exchange. You are fierce in the way you hold yourself in connection to spirit continuously. I see you move like Water sister, gentle and healing and so powerful in this way., I learn from you to be a Warrior Womxn always rising.
Sis Aimee, I am humbled to have you in my life and to follow you in your tremendous leadership – I want to honor you in the way you were the weaver of our entire community in this process of creating this convening. You held us all accountable to roles to lift this sacred work and you always did it with such genuine joy and with so much wisdom of organizing. I learn from you to Lead, and I am so thankful for how you gave of your entire self to all of us in every breath you exchanged.
Ate Lily, thank you for being a gentle storm, that teaches me to be brave in my movements and to do so with ease and grace. I learn from you the power that can come from compassion and Love being held in every intention no matter how it disrupts and creates chaos. I learned from you that at all moments we will return to Love if we push forward with that intent. I learn to stand up for what our heart speaks to us and to see the beauty in the challenges that we rise up against.
And Ate Leny, I learn from you to live in vision. I listen deeply to the way you SEE. You are a seer, you understand when we lose sight;, you pause when we get caught up in movement and you invite us to join you in each moment to move with more awareness and knowledge. I thank you for this, and I thank you for seeing all of us on our paths toward and in seeing us, connecting us together, initiating unions that are rooted in spirit and ancestral learning. You are so powerful.
I begin my reflections in my witnessing in this way because it is important for me to recognize the individuals who answered a call from spirit to create our convening. It is important for me, because we did not get a chance to do so in the presence of those that attended the gathering, to honor those that took care of every detail before, during, and are still working to take care of details here after. We were faced with many challenges, and because we were the powerful collective of human beings that we were, who volunteered to rise in this sacred work together – we, together, were able to transform each moment into lessons.
These individuals throughout the conference held space for almost 150 other learners, giving of their time, energy, presence, and spirit to care for those we invited to walk with us. It is always unseen how much is done to create these types of sacred spaces, and I am humbled to have borne witness and to have contributed beside all of you in this creating.
Now I reflect on the conference in whole and what messages were heard and processed in my time as a Witness. Every lesson I share here, comes from the teachings of all of you. Many of you sat in exchange with me and I believe did so in connection and in echo of others in our community. I received your sharings and I listened deeply to what lay beneath these messages and I am still in this moment listening to what was shared with me, and I am still processing deeper and deeper what is beneath the surface words that were exchanged. Every lesson I share here comes from our communal teachings in exchange.
I pray you all know, that it has been difficult to write these messages, because I have experienced, even post conference, how many have left not looking deeper at our learnings with Love and humility.
The greatest message I learned in our time together was that “We are all learning. We are ever learning. Be kind to yourself and to others in our learnings.”
I hope this message can echo throughout my reflection and my sharing for myself, for you and for any other individuals that come to your mind in reading my words ““We are all learning. We are ever learning. Be kind to yourself and to others in our learnings.”. In our journeying through this life, we can get caught up in messages of colonial mentality that urge us to KNOW. The purpose of our gathering was embedded in its title: “Revitalizing Ancestral Traditions TOGETHER.” Colonial teachings create emphasis on the INDIVIDUAL, and raise our ego to take precedence over our humility, our gratitude that allows us to find continuous wonder and gratitude for our living. As Greg Sarris shared in his talk: “Wonder makes us humble.” How unfortunate that we have forgotten so much of what it means to live in wonder. We are all still learning and we will ever be learning about this life. Now is a time to be in wonderment as we have all experienced deep exchanges and newness in our circles on similar paths toward knowing spirit.
Lessons learned to begin: Be humble in your misunderstandings and the misunderstandings of others. Draw away from shaming yourself, from shaming others – take moments to express truth as you have learned it and offer it to others with humility; those teachings are universal learnings that were meant to be shared with care and not with ego. We need to work more to invite each other with compassion into conversations of learning and to approach one another with the intention of Love and the genuine want for us all to be better in our paths and to speak and act in a good way with all our relations.
In reflection of our misunderstandings of protocols and ceremonies and what transpired in our raising of spirit, I invite you all to have forgiveness to self and to each other. And to ask yourself continuously in your choices, your movements, your actions, in furthering your connection to ancestral learnings, learnings of the land and the waters and your learnings of spirit: “What is my intention? Is it coming from clarity in my heart and the ability to walk with Love?”
As the Core has reflected on since our gathering, we did not prepare the participants we invited to gather fully on how to enter exchanges in ceremony.
On our first day together when we were leaving to the water, I invited everyone to make their walk to the water in silence and to allow ourselves to fully “Arrive.” Invitations are just as they are, they are not mandates;, they are gentle reminders to be aware of how we treat our journey and our exchanges. I have learned in our gathering how difficult it is to break away from colonial rituals. We are more accustomed to these, than those of our ancestors (the reason why we gather, which is to remember)., And many times because there are insidious attachments to Colonial rituals we are not aware of the importance of being mindful, or how impactful it really is to be present to experiences with all our senses, especially in connection to ceremony and ritual inviting spirit.
Many who stood on the shore for the tradition of Canoe Ceremony, shared by our Coast Salish hosts, may not have experienced how present spirit was at that moment and how much they were asking us to be still, to listen. The mist that carried the canoe to the shore holding our dignitaries and representatives of our communities was the presence of our ancestors and a call to us to remember the journeys that have been taken through water to arrive on land to commune and exchange by many peoples including our own. These journeys have been covered, masked and forgotten- and to remember fully, to truly hear the voices of those that have journeyed is painful. They were there with us, in the mist, in the water, on the land. Remember the message “We are all learning. We are ever learning. Be kind to yourself and to others in our learnings.”
I felt the uneasiness of those present on the shore;, many were anxious, many were unsure and confused, many felt the desire want to invite others to act and be present in the ways they have learned, and drew back. I breathed through my own moments of wanting to tell folks to be quiet, to listen. I felt my own discomfort and breathed through it, pushing myself to be present as the rain fell on us.
I watched as Babette and JR submerged themselves into the water in service of ceremony, I listened deeply to Lagitan’s song and the Song of our ancestors and I saw many spirits in the fog waiting to be welcomed on to the shore by Chief Ian and Mandy.
I heard them say “We are here. We have arrived. You all have not arrived yet.” I felt the same, we all had not arrived fully yet to this moment together.
In that moment I recognized that it is not us who invites one another to be in these spaces, it is our ancestors. They speak to us to commune in exchange of understanding this way of living., They ask us to impart their messages and teachings in every moment., They invite us all to experience together because they understand the power in this. Our ancestors smiled the moment we heard their invitation to gather. Ate Leny and JR could not remember who invited whom to create this conference;, it was our ancestors who invited us to create powerfully TOGETHER.
They want us all to all listen and to learn in union. And the Canoe Ceremony itself was a lesson in how long and difficult the journey of returning to each other has and continues to be, and how we have to honor one another in our readiness to accept the invitation to be in union. We are not all ready to accept how much we belong to one another. As the boat arrived Chief Ian shared with us a creation story and I heard Chief Ian’s voice bring lightness to his storytelling-— because he knew, we were learning and we were all there with purpose to learn. And levity helps to ease these moments where spirit is present. “We are all learning. We are ever learning. Be kind to yourself and to others in our learnings.”
Through the canoe ceremony,- we asked permission in exchange through song – and song being the voice of ancestors vibrating through our vocal cords. Song is spirit expression just as dance is. And the asking of permission was elevated in this way. We ask permission because of a respect for one another, because of an understanding that we all must be willing to enter into genuine and equitable exchange to be upheld in our communion. This is not how we are taught in colonial teachings;, it is often more about what we receive for ourselves, how we as individuals gain, what the value is for self before others. Our ancestors ask us to consider, to have recognition, and to hold the betterment and goodness of one another in every exchange.
Ate Diveena spoke of the way the world we live in has been steeped in Colonial teachings, but we have our ancestors within us, around us, above us, and below us, and they are continually reminding us in messages that we have the power to live in a way that is good, that is just, that is connected to them and Great Spirit. It is not easy to walk the path of re-membering and re-becoming. The learnings of what it means to create home again on this earth when we have been told that it is not ours to live on, that it comes with a price tag- that the lands our ancestors walked on cannot be cared for by us, but it continues to be destroyed by others who have purchased the right to do so, that the land cannot be exchanged on in spirit by us because of our acceptance of colonial doctrine and ways of living. These false teachings have told us to fear, and that we cannot act upon what we learn from by and of our ancestors that the land does not in fact belongs to us, but that we belong to the land. “Three hundred 300 years of Church and 30 years of Hollywood” as spoken by our guest from the Philippines- their teachings tell us to be divided. But our ancestors are continuously trying to remind us and our hearts are continuously reaching out to re-member.
After Canoe Ceremony, I took a moment to ask permission from the waters to be with us, something central to our co-creation of the Dambana (altar). I asked Chief Ian, how to approach the Water in a good way, to receive her presence and listened to her welcome me into gathering a part of her to bless our sacred space. Water is sacred. Water is life. He helped me pray and I listened to her give to our gathering. The water spoke throughout our time together, she was helping us to clear and cleanse. The rain fell throughout the days we spent on Mt. Elphinstone, another invitation from spirit, from water, to be present, to be aware, to find moments of stillness, and to see what needed to be made clear. Like the Sea Lion made from fire and cedar and submerged in the waters as told by Chief Ian in the creation story of the Coast Salish- we were being submerged in waters of spirit throughout our time together.
Re-creation is just as arduous as Creation, and possibly much more painful. Ate Lily invited us to listen deeply to the process of re-membering after we have been “separated from our indigenous souls” for centuries. The process is repeated again and again, “Gather, Hurt, Grow… Abundance must be labored.” “We are all learning. We are ever learning. Be kind to yourself and to others in our learnings.”
In the Queer, Twin- Spirit Circle gathering, Ate Lily also spoke of the pains of not having a village to usher us in our healing.” I reflected on this in our finding of one another– hHow we have found circles to hold us in our healing, to share in strength with, to lift sorrows and traumas with, to remember compassion of self and other with, to rediscover joy with, in laughter and love.- I heard in this gathering and in our entire convening that this is our village and this village will grow, and as we grow, we will learn and know each other- we will learn and know of ourselves, we will free ourselves with every exchange, we will plant seeds for the future. Grief and sorrow is beautiful when held in communion. When we bare our broken souls to each other. We find in our Kapwa pieces of ourselves being filled- every crack and hole being filled with Love.
And also I learned and heard that we do not only have to Mourn in our process of remembering, because every time we hear, and see our ancestors and we reclaim their teachings in our lives, they celebrate us. “We are the dreams our ancestors dreamed would free them.” A message I have repeatedly shared in my artistic expressions, a message of universal truth I found within myself in my exchange of learning with others. Our ancestors breathe, speak, cry, stand, walk, run, dance, fly through us.
This brings me to reflection on Saturday and what it meant to be Witness in that moment of living and experiencing spirit together. I have been gathering and learning and processing and crying and feeling so moved by what took place around our Dambana at the conference. I looked deeply to Lagitan, to Nati, and to our elders for guidance as all those who were present were opened up to a tremendously transformative experience. We all left that moment changed in our path toward remembering and communing with ancestors.
The Dambana, the place where we invited our ancestors to join us in convening, where we laid down medicines from our Philippine Traditional learnings and unified them in bridging with our Coast Salish relatives. I recalled the care that was taken in configuring that sacred space, in an honorable way, in a way of following what has been learned and hoping to deepen that learning in the future. Such a powerful exchange I was honored to have with Biyaals in silence, in patience. And as she smudged with the room in the beginning before anyone else stepped into the space, I knew powerful happenings would emerge from our gathering. The Dambana itself was a representation of a bridge we were building not only between Indigenous peoples, but between us and our ancestors and Spirit.
The moment we shared on Saturday evening of the event brought many learnings. It was the moment when we needed most to listen, but many could not because they were not prepared to listen in this way. And so we convene in many circles after departing from Elphinstone to make sense of the messages that came to us in that moment:
“You have a dirty heart”
“You are not following your path”
“Give me us your voice”
“Pray for the grieving women.”
I sat with these messages myself throughout that evening as I sat in reflection with our community in intimate spaces and I recognized for myself how much we all may have received these messages in ways where we felt blamed, shamed, and condemned ourselves in the presence of community. I don’t believe that this is how these messages and learnings can serve us. To Listen, to fully and truly Listen, takes patience, it takes deep compassion, it takes us moving beyond just feeling. Because we have not been taught to do this, we may not have heard what the root of what was communicated to us was really offering us to move forward with. I invite us all to receive these messages not with fear, not with ego, but rather to receive them with Love and with Kindness.
There was so much I heard throughout the conference of judgment of one another and of our selves. I heard recognition and claiming of division. I heard messages of shame and feelings of unworthiness. These truths are not ours. “We are all learning. We are ever learning. Be kind to yourself and to others in our learnings.” We must fight for Love and Kindness to persist. Even through spirit and how we commune with them. We must do as Water and Fire do, clear things away and allow for us to truly see. To Listen. To recognize what roles we play in honoring the life we have been given and the many lives that are living in communion with our own. Prayer is important—, that is the exchange between us and spirit, and the way we communicate to them that we are listening and prayer comes in many forms. We all have power within ourselves and gifts that we carry that we must learn to use these gifts as prayer so we mayand live with all our relations honoring what they contribute to the whole in good and honorable ways. This is what I heard in the messages. And it all came back over and over for me about the value, the importance, and the purpose, of learning.
Seek teachers, see the teachers in each other, share as a teacher to those who appear in your life for learning exchanges. And know that these teachers are not just people, they are the animals, they are the land, they are, as I spoke of earlier, the Water, and the Fire, as we heard throughout from Lagitan and Corrine and its many keepers., Oour teachers are all around us, and they are within us. Our teachers are also our children- we should look more to them to remind us what has been forgotten and we must protect them in their growing in this world so they can hear spirit as clearly as we are working to remember how to. It is our duty to see them as our teachers and to listen to them as we listen to the Water, the Earth, the Wind and Fire.
All our relations are rooted in learning, and those learnings are what will grow us, and will propel us in living purposeful and full lives, guided by goodness and Light.
I give thanks in closing to our hosts of the Coast Salish, Skwxwú7mesh Territory. We follow in your teachings as we are all still learning. I thank Chief Ian and Mandy and their relatives for receiving us with joy and for seeing the connections between our people right down to the fiber of the cloth that we exchanged with them similarly draped over our hearts, and uplifting our minds. I thank Chief Willard for sharing teachings of justice and honoring and what it means to live to fight for your peoples and your traditions that connect you to ancestors and spirit for the well being and protection of all our relations. I thank Biyaals for being a deep example of teaching and bearing truth like the Bear and balancing it with gentleness and Love like the Deer, it was powerful to see the exchange between you and Lagitan in holding all of us, and in holding spirit.
I hope we all can reflect in a way that what transpired in our gathering was an invitation to continue in our learnings. This conference, this convening, this gathering,- was always about learning. We heard the importance of learning from our teachers and, most importantly, we heard it within ourselves the moment we made the commitment to attend-— we all arrived in common place to Learn.
To decolonize is not about ownership in reclamation, it is about remembering and learning that we belong to each other. As I sat in reflection I heard spirit speak to me and I wrote this-
You cannot own spirit.
You cannot own the land.
You cannot own the waters.
You cannot own what is wild and free.
You cannot own us.
We belong to all things
As they belong to us in exchange-
Ownership is not communal,
Re-member what it means to Belong
Belonging allows us to have a space,
In this larger sacred space of Life,
That is rightly ours,
In the scheme of all things,
In the weaving of life-
We belong to Spirit
We belong to the Land
We belong to the Waters
We Belong to all that is wild and free
We belong to each other
We are all learning.
We are ever learning.
Be kind to yourself and to others in our learnings
No matter how arduous
No mater how much you sweat
No matter how much you cry
No matter the pain
Protect the truth that
“We belong to each other.”
All that is Wild and Free