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Right Relations in Rites of Passage: Reflections on a Shared Learning Journey

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It is my delight to share one of Youth Passageways’ undertakings this past winter, a web-based learning journey called Rites of Passage in Right Relations. This six-part series was facilitated by all eight members of the Youth Passageways Cross-Cultural Protocols (CCP) working group and was our first attempt to offer an educational experience to the general public, and translate the written protocols document into a supportive, educational opportunity.

We originally capped the program at 20 participants, but we found that the interest was so strong that we flexed to offer it more broadly, and we had 36 participants that joined us for all or part of the series.

Session One: Introduction to Rites of Passage and Cross-Cultural Protocols
The first session introduced folks to rites of passage, Youth Passageways, and the work of the CCP Group. We opened by honoring our ancestors and the peoples of the lands in which we lived and introducing ourselves. We explored the context of how rites of passage came to be lost by so many cultures, how Youth Passageways emerged to bring together those reclaiming and revitalizing rites of passage in the world today, and the challenges that those building Youth Passageways have and continue to face. We shared what we have learned in our work together so far. We began as a learning journey group to build a quilt of images, weaving our ancestral lines together which you can see below.

Session Two: Cultural Affinity Groups & Ancestral Research
We then dove into our own ancestral lineages, sharing the words for “water” and “moon” from the languages our ancestors spoke. We split into cultural affinity groups, and shared our learnings about these questions: What were/are the coming of age traditions in your ancestors’ lifeways? What was their importance? How may they have been disrupted? How have they survived? Some of us had learned many of the details, and for many, this was brand-new, and overwhelming, questions to explore.

Session Three: Turtle Island and Indigenous Histories of Place
Next, we dove deeply into the history of colonization of Turtle Island, exploring what happened to displace the indigenous peoples from these lands. Again, we split up into small groups and shared what we knew of the histories of the lands we now called home. We discussed where those peoples are now, the challenges learning the history and the similarities and differences in the stories from our various locations.

Session Four: Building Relations with Indigenous Peoples
In this session, we took the learning and themes that had emerged so far, and dove into the question of how we, as individuals and as parts of programs or communities, are building relations with the indigenous peoples of the lands where we live and work. We dove into the nuances of this conversation, like what practices we felt that we had “permission” to use, and what practices we felt were inappropriate. We discussed the importance of moving slowly and building real relationships, which only evolve over time.

Session Five: Archetypes of Gender and Sexuality Beyond the Binary
In this content-rich session, we explored some of the many indigenous ways of understanding those that do not fit neatly into the category of “male” and “female.” We explored how even under the forces of Empire, these peoples have continued to exist, learning about the forms this took in ancient Greece and Rome. Many of our minds were blown in this session! The context of colonialism in based on gender and sexuality-based oppression took on a profound depth, as we considered what it means to initiate young people today, and the importance of learning about gender and sexuality as part of adolescent rites.

Session Six: Accomplices Not Allies
In the final session, we explored the complexity of the questions even further. What does it really mean to engage in rite of passage work in ways that are contributing to deep and systemic change, and moving toward justice in ways that allow indigenous cultures to thrive in their homelands, and others to reclaim their ancestral ways? No easy answers were offered! But a supportive circle was built to continue the exploration. A few final words that folks offered to describe their experience on our journey together:

Intentionality
Affirmation
Accountability
Family
Wokeness
BIG
Healing
Unraveling

The success of this journey, for the participants and for the CCP team as guides and fellow paddlers in our collective canoe, affirmed the importance of the work that we are doing. New relationships emerged and are being nurtured and strengthened, The importance of this content became clear, as well as the importance of opportunities to build learning communities to support folks in doing the difficult, painstaking work of internal decolonization, which often feels deeply isolating.

The CCP is learning from this pilot offering and plans to offer a second session this fall.

Ancestor Quilt

Historically quilting was developed as a union of many different traditions. First showing up as a “houseware”, quilting often symbolized a meeting place of various traditions into something new — as a union, rather than a separation, of often contrasting or forcibly separated cultures and traditions. Quilts and quilting are used to convey certain themes of self-expression, union of opposite values or people, the formation of close bonds among women and kin, heritage, history, family, comfort, love, and commitment. Quilting as a medium brings contrasting backgrounds together to create a new meaning from the dialogue of its constituents parts or patches.

Below you can see some of the ‘patches’ of our Learning Journey folk and the objects or images of the places or people we come from.

Click on any of the images to read the longer description [if applicable]

Wendy Kaas
Wendy Kaas This is a picture of my grandfather Charlie and my father Barry in Queens, NY, circa 1947. My grandfather is goofing off, using my father's head as a tee. He died just a few years later, when my father was 11. Barry died in 1991. They have recently shown up for me as strong ancestral allies--showing up as a beaming unit.

Wendy Kaas

This is a picture of my grandfather Charlie and my father Barry in Queens, NY, circa 1947. My grandfather is goofing off, using my father's head as a tee. He died just a few years later, when my father was 11. Barry died in 1991. They have recently shown up for me as strong ancestral allies--showing up as a beaming unit.
Julia Hitchcock
Julia Hitchcock A cross-stitched pillow made by my maternal (all the way) great-grandmother

Julia Hitchcock

For the ancestor altar I send this picture of a cross-stitched pillow made by my maternal (all the way) great-grandmother and name-sake, Julija Eidimanis. I grew up with this pillow and others made by her - this one is my favourite. In the last few years as I have been journeying mostly on my own learning about my ancestry and the names of the moon at different times of year, I found a Latvian diagram shaped like the orange sun on this pillow. The four cardinal directions, the four seasons, the two solstices, two equinoxes, the holy-days that fall evenly between those 4 making 8 sacred times on the circle of the year.
Darcy Ottey
Darcy Ottey Image from my 2016 Ancestral Pilgrimage

Darcy Ottey

This is an image from my 2016 Ancestral Pilgrimage
Kruti Parekh
Kruti Parekh This is the altar I use at home

Kruti Parekh

This is the altar I use at home
Ann Hackney
Ann Hackney My ancestor wall

Ann Hackney

My Ancestor Wall
Dane Zahorsky
Dane Zahorsky These are my Great Great Grandparents in Hungary [Modern Day Slovakia]

Dane Zahorsky

This is my Great Great Grandfather Michael Zahorsky after whom I'm named. He was born in Hungary in 1867 to yet another Michael Zahorsky and Elenora Muller. The elder Michael was born in Hungary in 1839 to (wait for it) Fridericus “Fred” Zahorsky and Cathrina Muller; his wife Elenora was born in Hungary in 1840 to Michaelis Muller and Anna Maria Saltzer. [Note: the Kingdom of Hungary included present-day Slovakia until 1918. Next to him is his wife Mary A. “Mamie” Kruse: She was born in Cass County, Illinois in 1879 to Henry Kruse and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Baujan. Henry was born in Illinois in 1851 to Franz Henri Dierk Kruse and Hiske J. Miller, both of Germany; his wife Lizzie was born in 1853 in Arenzville, Illinois to Joseph Baujan and Helena Synkenrodt, both also of Germany.
Sobey Wing
Sobey Wing This is my ancestor altar

Sobey Wing

This is my ancestor altar
Ramon Parish
Ramon Parish Pa Pa

Ramon Parish

Pictured here is my maternal Great Grandfather Fred Montgomery Sr. and his mother (my Great, Great- Grandmother!) who I think is named Mary. I am not sure when this picture was taken but it is the oldest picture from my mother's side of the family. It had been on my Aunt's wall every since I can remember. I knew Fred briefly in my childhood as "Pa Pa". He used to sit up on the porch in his rocking chair, smoking his pipe, overlooking the neighborhood from my grandmother's house in St. Louis. Seemed like every sentence he spoke began with a "Well..."
Maryjane Marcus
Maryjane Marcus Discovering how loved I am by recently discovered relatives in the mountains of Greece.

Maryjane Marcus

Discovering how loved I am by recently discovered relatives in the mountains of Greece.
Cameron Withey
Cameron Withey Book written by my great grandmother

Cameron Withey

This book was written by my great-great-grandmother, Edith Sanderson Redfield, about her experience of the early days of the city of Seattle. She arrived here as a young woman with her parents in 1869, and a couple lines of my family have lived in and around Seattle since. To me this book is a treasured record of some of my ancestors' lives, a symbol of my family's relatively long history in this place that I love, and a window into and symbol of the local history of colonization by which I came to be here. Even more symbolically, this particular version of the book is the product of a local real estate company's appropriation of my great-great-grandmother's writing for the celebration of their 100th year in business, the name of the white man CEO of that company is more prominently featured on the cover, and his picture is the one on the back. With all the messy symbolism, inherited memory, and personal longing, I thought it would be appropriate on the altar for this journey.
Amanda Canty
Amanda Canty My grandmother Ida B. Canty

Amanda Canty

This is an image of my grandmother Ida B. Canty who was born in 1914 and remembers marching with Martin Luther King and all of the civil rights era. She is a woman who has never worn pants in her entire life and never leaves the house with her hair undone. Her family and my ancestors lived on slave plantations in the Carolinas for years and years back. I don't know too much as she is now getting to the point where she is too old to want to speak anymore. So I begin at the age of 30 diving into my history and putting all the pieces together from what she has given me.
Pegi Eyers
Pegi Eyers Here is my contribution to the Learning Journey Ancestor Quilt. I finished this mixed-media painting a couple of years ago to honor my matriarchal Ancestor Eliza Bailey.

Pegi Eyers

Here is my contribution to the Learning Journey Ancestor Quilt. I finished this mixed-media painting a couple of years ago to honor my matriarchal Ancestor Eliza Bailey. “The first white child to arrive in the village came in the arms of the Chippewas.” The Orillia Spirit: An Illustrated History of Orillia by Randy Richmond During the time of the settlement of Orillia, Ontario, Canada by Settler-Colonization in 1832, a newborn baby of Scottish parents (my third great-grandmother) was on a boat that capsized in the waters known today as “The Narrows” at Lake Couchiching. She was rescued from the channel and brought safely to shore by a kind member of the Chippewa (Ojibway) Nation. As part of the immigrant wave that engulfed a pristine wilderness, the flourishing of Eliza Emily Bailey and her family has given me the haunting legacy of her miraculous rescue, and my deep roots in the Orillia landscape. Her story reminds us that the first contact Settler Society were welcomed, integrated and dependent upon First Nations everywhere, who freely gave us gifts of land, food, medicine and our very lives. Their generosity and kindness is woven into the heritage fabric of our families and communities. Even the structure of Canada owes a great collective debt to the first peaceful treaty agreements between native and non-native leaders, and to the partnership model of indigenous diplomacy that contributed to our first constitutions and laws.
Gabriel Keczan
Gabriel Keczan An image from my childhood in Niagara Region of Southern Ontario

Gabriel Keczan

This is an mage from my childhood in Niagara Region of Southern Ontario, Haudenosaunee / Anishnabe turf. The mid to late 1980s. The boy is me. My Dad, Les, is standing beside me and my (Grampa) Nepapa Laszlo (Louis) Keczan. Nepapa arrived on the Eastern shores of Turtle island in April 1929 from Nyirondony, Hungary. The name he provided for the nearest relative from where he came was ‘father Osazlo Keczan Szabolos megye Nirondony. He could read, was listed as a ‘farmer’ and had $25 in his pocket. The people I came from on my paternal side are 'Magyar Orsag’ (Hungarian people). (Thanks to my Auntie Mary Ebos for this info)
Adrionna Fey
Adrionna Fey When playing music I play for my ancestors.

Adrionna Fey

In the Irish tradition the Western wall is wall to the otherworld, and placing items, instruments, and books of the dead there enable them to access them in death. When playing music I play for my ancestors.

About the Author: Darcy Ottey, on Behalf of the Cross Cultural Protocols Working Group

Since her own wilderness-based coming of age experience through Rite of Passage Journeys at age 13, Darcy Ottey has been passionate about the importance of creating intentional rite of passage experiences to help young people mature into healthy, capable adults. The entirety of Darcy’s professional career has been dedicated to the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual growth of young people through rites of passage. She served as the Executive Director of Rite of Passage Journeys from 2006-2011. During her tenure, she successfully supported the organization through 300% growth, building a solid infrastructure, and leaving the organization with a clear strategic plan for the future. She served as Rite of Passage Supervisor for Pacific Quest, as well as Interim Adolescent Program Director. In addition to her role at Youth Passageways, she continues to support and guide rites of passage at Pacific Quest on an ongoing consulting capacity. Darcy holds an M.A. in Environment and Community from Antioch University Seattle.

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