Kahontakwas, Diane Longboat is from the Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, Canada. She is a healer, ceremonial leader and traditional teacher of the spiritual ways. Diane is also the founder of Soul of the Mother, a teaching and healing lodge dedicated to spiritual activism and peace building.
Diane is interviewed by WECAN International ally, Terran Giacomini. Terran is a graduate student at the University of Toronto studying the commons and the transition to a post-fossil capitalist era. She serves as an associate member within Canada’s National Farmers Union and La Vía Campesina’s Climate Justice Collective. This interview was originally conducted in May 2016.
Terran: Please tell us about your work.
Diane: At Soul of the Mother located at Six Nations, dedicated Elders and Spiritual Leaders train people to become spiritual warriors of peace — to go out into the world to bring messages of peace, healing, balance, brotherhood-sisterhood, and inclusivity. The training is long and difficult. People are evolving from a place of being wounded as human beings to becoming balanced. Our work seeks to change the world one human being at a time.
We have been doing this work for almost 40 years. Over time, I have seen that many people are beginning to follow a deeper ethical code.
T: Describe this ethical code. How it can help us stop corporate destruction?
D: I think this is the central question. It goes back to the prophecies that spoke about Indigenous peoples leading the movement for peace. And the reason is this: we are only 500 years away from our original teachings and our original ceremonies and ways of life prior to colonization. Both my grandmother and grandfather died when they were almost one hundred years old. Just in my own generation, within my family, there are over 200 years of collective consciousness.
So what is “original?” It is the Creation Story which is at the heart of every First Nation. The creation story tells us what was in the Mind of the Creator when he made this place. Everything that we have here on Mother Earth came out of the mind of the creator. So those creation stories are very detailed. They take days to recite in the oral tradition. They talk about what is creation, what is our relationship to the world of spirit, to the Earth, to all the beings — the birds, the water-life, the grasses, the medicines, the animal life and all the plant life. What is our relationship to them? How do we speak their language? How do we honour them and always ensure that all life forms continue to thrive? Are you contributing to the continuance of life or are you taking from the Earth to rape her?
The creation stories also talk about how to get along as human beings; about conflict resolution and peacemaking, how to build a good marriage and raise your children, how to live a good life and contribute to your own life, your family and your community. They also talk about how to restore a relationship when there has been hardship between us.
The ethical code builds character. It creates within a human being a sense of honour that guides the way we live and relate to one another and to Mother Earth. If you do not live by that code, the physical laws of cause and effect come into being.
Whatever we do to the Earth we do to ourselves. We have to see ourselves in creation. Part of the problem is that people live with a strong sense of entitlement. They think that this Earth is here for the taking. Mother Earth is a living being. The ideas that the Earth can be bought and sold, that certain people deserve it and others do not, the fear of scarcity — these are very different from our understanding as Haudenosaunee. For us, there is so much abundance of life in the world to be shared. We should never be afraid of scarcity. But we should help each other to live well, equally, and with grace.
In order to confront the harm to Mother Earth, we need to give thanks, and we need to work collectively to create a spiritual community. The time is over for people to do their own thing at home in their meditation room. When we do ceremonies and make prayers together, we create love energy to defeat evil energy in the world.
T: Why are women, and especially Indigenous women, at the forefront of ecological struggles?
D: From the Creation Story we learn that the first being on the earth was a woman, Mature Flowers or Sky Woman. She was pregnant with new life. It is inescapable that women will lead. Women represent the earth. They have an intuitive capacity to listen to the spirit of the womb, to the waters, to the animal and plant life. They are born with it. Our work as spiritual leaders is to awaken the women to their sacred and divine power, and personal responsibility to serve the Creator with the gifts one has been given.
There is a whole different mindset when women lead. But women need to be spiritually activated to do it. It is not just about a female leading. It’s about spiritual female leadership.
At Soul of the Mother, we are inclusive of all women, not just women who are born as women. We open the door to anyone who wants to respectfully feel the true loving essence of the Creator. We do not expect anyone to change who they are in terms of gender identity, faith tradition, or ethnicity. We say you are welcome when you approach the sacred with respect.
T: What about the role of men?
D: Men’s role is equal to women within the circle and journey of life. They need to stand with women. Not in front, not above, but equally with women, to uphold women’s gifts. Women need to uphold men’s gifts which are very different from ours. Together women and men become a formidable force of change.
T: What are actions that settler-descendant Canadians can take to support First Nations’ struggles?
D: We need to learn about each other. We need to learn about pre-colonial times. Some important questions to ask are: What it was like here? How did nations co-exist here? How was peacemaking undertaken? How were conflicts resolved? How did we know where the boundaries were between nations? How did we respectfully enter their nation with protocols, prayer and offerings before we walked in their homelands as guests? All those pre-colonial times have to be explored in more depth so that settler peoples who come here understand that great civilizations lived here and their descendants are still here. The descendants of those great civilizations are still with us, still practicing their languages, cultures, ceremonies and lifeways. Also, Canadians need to learn about what it means when Indigenous peoples talk about nation-to-nation relationships. As First Nations, we need to support and lead the effort to learn about each other. It might take a generation, but things are going to change.
Finally, it is important for us to remember that we are one movement: we all have the same wishes and dreams. We are part of one big human family with spectacular cultures that make us rich and we all have to take our place within the circle of life to do the work that the Creator intended us to do.
We are going to change the world together, we really are.