Friday, August 28, 2009

Earth Ambassador

Random Fact #2: I was once an Earth Ambassador.

Some time back in late 1989 or early 1990, one of my mentors encouraged me to apply for a youth leadership program known as the Earth Ambassadors, operated under the guidance of UNITY of Oklahoma City (United National Indian Tribal Youth). I remember almost nothing regarding the application process, except that maybe I wrote an essay about my tribal and family traditions. After applying, I mostly forgot about it.

But then a few weeks later, they called to say that I had been selected as one of only 48 tribal youth nationwide to form the first group of Earth Ambassadors.

That winter, they flew us all to a posh retreat center about an hour outside of San Diego, California to complete a nine-day training. We addressed a wide range of topics including tribal traditions, spirituality, the mind-body connection, environmentalism, and much more. We also explored issues of personal growth and healing. For example, some of our sessions dealt with difficult topics from Indian history, such as the emotional and psychological effects of Indian boarding schools. We learned that many of our parents and grandparents suffered violence and sexual exploitation within government and church operated boarding schools. The negative impact of this historical fact has created a legacy of pain that often continues to the present day.

Our first retreat was an amazing experience.

The next spring, the Earth Ambassadors flew to Washington DC for another retreat, this time to become more directly involved in lobbying for positive environmental change. Many of us met with our respective senators and representatives, and others attended Senate hearings on matters related to Indian lands and water rights. As an aside, the office of Senator Slade Gorton from Washington State gave us a somewhat hostile reception.

We later toured the White House and met First Lady Barbara Bush. We also attended a reception at the Department of the Interior and met with the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and actor Rodney Grant, who played Wind In His Hair on Dances With Wolves.

The highlight of our trip was an intertribal ceremony we performed on the National Mall in honor of Earth Day. The photograph at the beginning of this post was taken during that ceremony.

That summer, UNITY held its national conference in Spokane and requested my assistance with some of the organizational responsibilities. Most important of these, I was able to negotiate with the county government for a special permit to build two sweat lodges near Hangman Creek, one for male conference attendees, and one for female attendees. I was master of ceremonies at the plenary session and spoke before an audience of 1,500 people. My father and I also cooked a traditional salmon dinner for more than 500 people.

Earth Ambassadors opened my mind to a Native world beyond my local community. It also gave me an essential introduction to leadership and positive change.

To review:

Random Fact #1: I was once a millionaire.
Random Fact #2: I was once an Earth Ambassador.


cieldequimper said...

This must have been a fantastic experience.

Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

It was awesome, life-changing.

jenX said...

How neat. That is an awesome picture, by the way!

Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

Thanks Jen. By the way, are you familiar with UNITY? Is Robert familiar with it? After I wrote this piece, I realized that I had connections to OKC much longer than I remembered.


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