Indigenous Spiritual Leaders and Healers Meet in Malibu
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
For an estimated eight thousand years, what is known today as the Wishtoyo Foundation's Chumash Demonstration Village at Nicholas Beach was home to the Chumash and their ancestors, and an important ceremonial site.
Last week it was once again a gathering place for tribal elders, medicine people and healers, during a "Summit of Indigenous Spiritual Leaders" sponsored by the Wishtoyo Foundation and the Amazon Conservation Team.
"At this event, keepers of indigenous knowledge, healers, elders, medicine people and other spiritual and environmental leaders of indigenous tribes from North America, Amazonia and Polynesia will gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by the rapidly changing world we all share," a press release stated.
"The collective wisdom of those who are arguably the most connected people to Planet Earth alive today will be shared with a select group of people in the hopes their words will find a broader audience through the considerable influence wielded by those in attendance."
The event provided an opportunity for representatives from many cultures to come together and interact.
Most of the activities were for the practitioners only, but a fundraising event on Saturday offered the public an opportunity to participate in an evening of ritual and celebration, while supporting ACT.
The event, lit almost entirely by firelight, featured Chumash, Polynesian and Amazonian dancers.
The air rang with the sound of conch shells, clapper sticks, bone flutes, gourd drums and chants. Each tribal elder and medicine person shared a message in his or her traditional language.
The Malibu Surfside News took the opportunity to talk with Liliana Madrigal and Mark Plotkin, the husband and wife co-founders of the Amazon Conservation Team, and the shamans and healers who traveled from South America with them to attend the summit.
Plotkin, the author of numerous scientific papers and a popular account of his research entitled "Tales of the Shaman's Apprentice," is an internationally respected ethnobotanist and social entrepreneur who has spent almost three decades studying traditional plant use with traditional healers in tropical America.
Madrigal is a Costa Rican-born environmental and human rights activist.
They cofounded ACT in 1996, with a mission to "work in partnership with indigenous people to conserve biodiversity, improve human health, and fortify traditional culture in greater Amazonia," and "to seek to steadily increase the number of indigenous peoples in Amazonia able to monitor, sustainably manage and protect their traditional forestlands, and by extension significantly increase the area of Amazonian rainforest enjoying considerably improved protection."
Accompanying them on Saturday were Taita Luciano Mutumbajoy, general coordinator of the Union of Yage Healers of the Colombian Amazon; Taita Patricio, Yage Healer; and Charito Chicunque, the president of the Union of Women Healers and an advanced apprentice of Mutumbajoy.
According to Plotkin, Patricio is from a part of the Amazon which is still "completely pristine."
In contrast, Mutumbajoy comes from a part of Columbia where the Amazon has been extensively contaminated by the oil industry and is currently a battleground between oil interests and narco-traffickers, who clear cut the forest to grow coca.
"It's like being in a soccer match with three teams with guns," Plotkin told The News.
Plotkin is currently raising funds to begin a 65,000-square-mile mapping project in the Amazon. "We can't protect it until we map it," Plotkin said. "The indigenous people are the best cartographers. We teach the people how to do it. I believe you can be a shaman and have an iPad."
In addition to supporting an apprentice training program for shamans and healers, "creating new conservation strategies by combining indigenous knowledge with Western science," and programs like cartographic training, ACT encourages members of the Amazon tribes to become park guards and to take an active role in managing and protecting their resources. "This is a dream not only for every tribe but for everyone," Plotkin said.
Madrigal said the oil and factory farming industries use what she described as government-sanctioned "autonomous organizations" in the Amazon to circumvent what limited environmental and cultural protections exist.
Mutumbajoy, through a translator, described how crude oil contaminates previously pristine springs and streams. "There's so much crude oil you have to push it away with your hands to get to the water," he said. "I'm a traditional medicine man. I could heal anything. Now I can't. When I was seven years old, the forest was pristine. Our culture was very traditional. We didn't have disease like now."
"Part of what we are doing is preserving medicinal plants. Our goal is to recover our territory. That's the goal we are trying to reach."
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Madrigal read a proclamation that was drafted by all of the participants during the summit.
"The foundation of our work as healers is anchored in our traditional medicine which is based on plants, spirits and land, the four directions and key elements (fire, water, land and air). These elements are contaminated and weakened and this is making us ill.
"To create change, we recognize the need to first strengthen our core as individuals, as communities and as nations in order to collectively have the determination and the answers we need to effect change.
The proclamation concludes with the statement that "Humankind stands at a precipice. We accept our responsibility as stewards of nature, the source of our spiritual and bodily health. Our species does not exist in isolation from the biosphere; rather, our fate and that of our children and future generations depend on it."
More information on the Amazon Conservation Team is available at: www.amazonteam.org Information on the Wishtoyo Foundation is online at www.wishtoyo.org