What would it look like to live in regenerative harmony with the land? Asking this question has led me to study dance as a way to connect with ancient European ways of expressing reverence for the earth. Seeking to live where I am in a good way has also led me to learn from the Dakota, Ojibwe and Ho-Chunk people indigenous to this place. I ponder, what would it look like to participate in decolonizing where I live by tapping into my ancient European roots?

These questions led me to create a community gathering this past July with guest artist Lyla June Johnston. The event was called Roots and Kinship, a title that evokes how it is upon all of us to connect to our roots and at the same time come into a deeper lived expression of our kinship with each other.

Here are three snapshots of how the Wisdom Dancers collaborated with Lyla June to explore how we can heal our roots so we can repair our relationships with each other.

Lyla June is a musician, public speaker and performance poet of Diné (Navajo), Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne), and Scandinavian lineages. She explores indigenous resurgence, reclaiming European indigenous roots, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love as a revolutionary force.

One of the songs Lyla June sang is titled Mamwlad, which means “Motherland” in the Welsch language. It honors all of her grandmothers who were killed as witches. The witch hunts had the effect of destroying the keepers of indigenous European wisdom; this unresolved trauma continues to affect us today.

Following Mamwlad, the Wisdom Dancers shared a song and dance based on a Bulgarian tune about “the cherished Motherland.” The song is based on a tune which names the facets of a beloved landscape and the Wisdom Dancers used the tune, and the way of dancing on the earth, to sing about the Twin Cities region. The lyrics honor the many sites sacred to the Dakota people, in both English and the Dakota language.

One of the major issues facing indigenous communities in the US and Canada is the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). In solidarity, the Wisdom Dancers shared a Greek song and dance that remembers how it was not safe for young girls to walk alone during Turkish occupation. The dance serves to remember, heal and protect against this history and inspires us to dance as allies to those currently experiencing similar violence. We invited all in attendance to stand with us as we danced to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and call for action.

The evening closed with the Wisdom Dancers joining Lyla June in singing her song Time Traveler. Originally an electronic song, the Wisdom Dancers created an acoustic version and added some Balkan harmonies. Together we sang “we are here to give all our love to the unborn.” I hope to share a video of this special moment sometime soon.

Roughly 150 people were in attendance and for those few hours we gathered together we could feel a new possibility emerging, one in which all people connect with their roots and work to repair our relationships with each other and Mother Earth. In the words of one woman “I’ve never been to anything quite like this – and I like it!” Many people expressed that they were deeply moved by the gathering. After the gathering people moved to the lawn outside the building to enjoy food prepared by Intertribal Foodways. The circles of people eating, talking, and singing on the lawn reflected how people truly felt gathered together.

I am grateful for the many, many people who helped make possible this vision of healing for our community. It was a privledge to work with Lyla June’s generous spirit. I am grateful for my dance teacher Laura Shannon who planted the seed of this vision in me through her pioneering work. It could not have happened without the dedication of the Wisdom Dancers and musicians and many generous volunteers and donors including Seward Coop and Ferndale Market. Thank you to Heidi Inman for being our event photographer. This activity was made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

The work continues! May our paths cross on this adventure.

With love and gratitude,

Emily

Reconnecting with Ancestral Love

Join me for a half-day retreat on November 2 in which we will explore how dance can hold many dimensions of ancestral healing and support us in becoming courageous, hopeful, and powerful ancestors of the future.

Embodied spiritual practices to heal our relationship to the land

Healing Waters Qigong is a Spring Forest Qigong practice group. The Wisdom Dances Circle is based on Laura Shannon’s research on traditional dances from the Balkans, Greece, and Asia Minor as tools for healing and transformation.

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