The Way of the Heron

On Thanksgiving Day, ancient and modern advice from the Algonquins

November 24, 2011|Dan Rodricks

Certainly, the Piscataway must have been among the Native Americans who understood The Way of the Heron. They lived along the shores, too. They inhabited land at the edges of the Chesapeake in what became Southern Maryland. They must have noticed how the great blue heron, stalking fish in the marshes, got along with other birds — even the teasing red-winged blackbird — and from that observation came a whole feast of philosophy about the peaceful life.

The Way of the Heron, Evan Pritchard says, is an ancient Algonquin teaching, and he knows it well enough that he can share its timeless wisdom easily with those who are open to it.

Mr. Pritchard, a descendant of Algonquin-speaking people, is the director of the Center for Algonquin Culture in New York, a professor of Native American history at Marist College, a teacher of philosophy and ethics, and the author of several books, including, "Native American Stories of the Sacred" and "No Word For Time, The Way of the Algonquin People." He lectures — and tells Algonquin stories and sings tribal songs — frequently around the U.S. and Canada. He's coming to Maryland this weekend to give a talk in Frederick.

So, of course, another Thanksgiving is upon us and, as Mr. Pritchard points out, many Native Americans and their descendants don't celebrate because, for them, the holiday represents the beginning of the end of their history. (The Piscataway people nearly disappeared with increased colonization, infectious diseases from exposure to Europeans and tribal and colonial wars.)

So Thanksgiving might not be a day of celebration for the descendants of the Piscatawaty, Conoy, Susquehannock and Nanticoke, among other Maryland tribes. But I thought this would be a good time to reflect on something they left us — the words of wisdom Mr. Pritchard distilled from conversations with his Algonquin elders.

The Way of the Heron is not merely about conflict resolution and mediation. It's also about getting to a higher level of understanding about yourself and the people around you.

So maybe you could take a few minutes on this holiday and consider Evan Pitchard's steps to peace, The Way of the Heron, 2011 edition:

•Resolve all differences with friends and family. Make peace with others.

•Finish all unfinished projects, within reason; plan your time carefully so that this is possible. Work diligently toward clearing away all unfinished business, both emotionally and economically.

•Get your house in order. Give away what you don't need.

•Bring your level of creature expectations to an absolute minimum. Take that yardstick of status and cut it down to 6 inches, then an inch, then nothing, until you are happy with bread and water, the sun and the moon and stars. When you are dependent on outer comforts and stimulation for happiness, then others can take it from you.

•Stop fighting with yourself, defending yourself against others. Just be — be in the present place and time.

•Make offerings to the Creator with gratitude for every new day of life that is lived as a free being.

•Work on becoming fearless of death so that you live purposefully rather than reactively. Be calm.

•Learn the facts: Form study circles, or study projects, to review world events and information. Keep an open mind and don't assume anything.

•Keep your eyes open. Ask questions. Study the stock market, the economy, the oil industry, the opium industry, the main players and places, plus the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Keep track of your sources. Being informed will help us mediate between our neighbors. There are two sides to every issue, so as peacemakers we need to know both.

•Share your knowledge with others. If you find answers, share them in your circle, your friends, or via the Internet.

•Be sensitive to the feelings of others as you speak, but don't let their illusions silence you. If you are well armed with information, they will be moved by your calm resolve.

•Pray hard. Throw yourself totally into your prayers for peace and justice, and for the well-being of the planet.

"In a world where there is no word for time, as in the Algonquin world, one only has the here and now," Mr. Pritchard adds. "To walk in the Way of the Heron one has to be at peace with oneself [and] prepared to meet the Creator in the spirit world."

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesday, Thursdays and Sundays. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com. Evan Pritchard gives a free lecture Saturday at 1 p.m. at Dublin Roasters Coffee House, 1780 N. Market Street, Frederick.

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