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Cross Cultural Protocols Working Retreat

September 5-7, 2014, The Ojai Foundation, Ojai, CA

Intention: To develop a set of Cross-Cultural Protocols for the Youth Passageways network through a process that contributes to healing and reconciliation, and further develop the ongoing community that will carry this piece of Youth Passageways’ work forward.

Participants: Sharon Bearcomesout, Montana; Orland Bishop, California; Joshua Gorman, California; Mark Robinson, Washington, DC; Miakoda Collins, California; Lyla June Johnston, California; and Marisa Taborga-Byrne, California.

Organizers: Khepe-Ra Maat-Het-Heru, Massachusetts; Sharon Shay Sloan, Mother Earth in General; Sobey Wing, British Columbia, Canada; and Ramon Parish, Colorado.

Co-Coordinators: Darcy Ottey, Washington and Pat McCabe, New Mexico.

The organizers for this event put many hours, and true heart and soul into holding, designing, and bringing to fruition this gathering. With love, hope and tenacity they made a place for Right Relations to seed and grow as the Youth Passageways network, many roads coming together on behalf of the next generations. Thank you!

Day One: Gathering

Arrivals happened in rental car pods making their way through L.A. traffic toward the hills moving east from the coastline. Our participants came from all over the nation, from Washington, DC, to Colorado, to Vancouver, Canada to Irvine, CA. Our subject and this network was enough to call members from all parts to come together and give three days of their time toward exploring this aspect of our proposed work on behalf of our newly forming community.

We met first under a grape arbor in the dry heat of Ojai, beginning with an orientation to the land, tended and cultivated for many years, for coming-togetherings exactly like ours. We were walked through the places that we would mostly likely be visiting during our stay, ending at the magnificent Teaching Tree, overarching Elder of Elders on the land. The Buddha would have appreciated such a tree. We had a chance to put our things away in our own “Dome Sweet Domes,” geo-turtle shelters on pathways in a cluster and agreed to meet at a yurt at the end of the trail.

As Darcy Ottey greeted us at the entrance to the yurt, she carefully and reverently washed our feet in an act of gratitude, humility and honoring for each one who had made their journey for this work. Opening ceremony included song and poetry and a blessing prayer by elders Sharon Bearcomesout and Mark Robinson.

After dinner we had a round of Council, a form of talking circle for which the Ojai Foundation is known, held by Shay Sloan and Pat McCabe. Our introductory inquiry was: What brings you? How do you carry these questions in your work? What are your edges around cross-cultural relations? In this opening round we heard about each others’ work, challenges, hopes for our time together. A feeling of connection, trust and rapport among us, many sitting together for the first time, began to develop. There was gratitude for the topic, and not dancing around the edges.

Day Two: Drawing on the Collective, Attitude & Goodwill

Assess: Can we assume goodwill? If ‘Yes’ then commit to this premise.

Heart-to-heart exchange through relationship building can distinguish co-creation from appropriation.

“We enter with a spirit of humility, and openness to learning. We strive to trust that others are doing the same. The goal is understanding, the power of bearing witness for one another, and healing and reconciliation to move forward from this place to the future we want to create. The goal is not to inflict shame on one another, but to cultivate awareness and responsibility. We acknowledge our common goals and work by assuming goodwill in our interactions.” Excerpt from Youth Passageways’ rough draft of Cross-Cultural Protocols Presented

Because of previous experiences of other gatherings that broke down, to some extent, due to developing conflict over cultural differences and cultural insensitivities, the organizers of this retreat sought to include an upfront conflict management agreement. This was to be used for this particular gathering, but also as an exercise in gathering best practices for how others create a container for successfully moving through sensitive discussion with multiple cultures and points of reference. As it turned out, our group was, by and large, fairly adept at being observer of ourselves and our processes. Still our harvest of best practices for creating safe containers for these conversations and meetings was very useful, and will be drawn on in coming months as we publish our working Guiding Principles.

Our next working session the following morning was a brainstorming session about what people found helpful in their work – best practices they had developed or used in cross-cultural work and meetings. We asked them to write their distillations of this brainstorm on the wall and took time to read each others’ practices.

In the weeks prior to the gathering, the planning committee had formed a draft list of principles compiled from a variety of sources and situations. Sources included: human subject guidelines for medical practice and for academic studies; guidelines developed by tribal governments; and interviews with Indigenous elders. Some of the most coherent pieces, and most directly related to our Rites of Passage work, came from a staff member of a foundation who had begun his own inquiry as a person of European descent working with people of many cultures and in many situations.

We made an attempt to organize this material into different themes in the spirit of a rough draft, a starting place for this work. The themes were:

  • Attitude and Goodwill
  • Historical Context
  • The Right of All People to Earth & Spirit
  • Appropriate/Just vs. Inappropriate/Unjust Exchange Between Cultures
  • Cultural Competence
  • Relationship to Place
  • Addressing & Moving through Conflict
  • Different Perspectives & Perceptions on Time
  • Legal Considerations
  • Accountability
  • Legacy
  • Gratitude/Generosity/Celebration

We narrowed our material down to a four page document (Special thanks to Ramon Parish for all of his work in developing the themes).

We read the compiled list of protocols aloud, and gave initial feedback. We discussed what additional resources were available that related directly to our topic, e.g. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Many other topics were named including protocol around fees for ceremony.

We broke for lunch, and a session of community service at The Ojai Foundation. We gardened, cleaned, and restored structures on the land. We had a chance to meet community members and get to know The Ojai Foundation on a much more personal level. What a beautiful retreat, and what a beautiful gift for them to host our gathering.

We reconvened with a circle of sharing. The prompt question was: What’s alive for you, given all the material we just went through and shared. We had a breakdown in process here, regarding whether or not we were keeping a safe container, ceremonially and energetically for our process. We were reminded by elders and youth alike that our work was quite serious and many forces are at work that would see us not have success. We agreed to be attentive and alert to our container.

After this regrouping and check-in, we broke up into small groups of 3 and 4. Our task was to look at the protocols we had written down and “test drive” them by applying them to our life and work experiences. How might they help? How do they need to be altered? What additions would we need? We came back to our circle again and shared another round of feedback and insights.

(Note: The best practices, feedback on the compilation of protocols the planning team put together, feedback from the “test drive” sessions, as well as thoughts on creating safe space for sensitive cross-cultural discussion, has been captured and will be used for the next steps of this work.)

After dinner, we gathered at the fire circle where Sobey Wing and Lyla Johnston had planned a “non-cerebral” evening of community for us. As instructed, we brought instruments of found materials with us to the circle. We used these, and were led in finding our essential and unique “sound” and together played/sounded an arrangement that lasted maybe 20 minutes by the light of the fire and under the stars. Lyla recited poetry, songs were led, stories were told and some stayed by the fireside for most of the night.

Day Three: Conclusions and Commitments

With plans for one more working session to capture some solid drafts of protocols, we headed into our final circle. We moved from the yurt to the Council House. We opened our morning with a check-in round. This turned out to need an expansive space, in time and in relationship. Very real sharing of what had been stirred by our process, deep feelings even about the process of planning our gathering were expressed. The readiness of those gathered to engage and to what extent was also expressed. Some knew they had given what they could and would be moving on, others knew with even more clarity that their commitment to this process and its importance had only begun.

We concluded our session by asking the staff to stand at the center of the circle. They were the holders and drivers of the work. Next, the Leadership Circle members were asked to come and stand in the next concentric ring of work and commitment. Then all those who felt called to bring this work of developing cross-cultural protocols for Youth Passageways and the developing network to fruition were asked to come stand in the next ring. All others were asked to stand in a spot relative to the center that showed their placement in relationship to this particular work.

Our working group moving forward is: Ramon, Shay, Mark, Darcy and Sobey, with Pat as the holder of this work on staff. We concluded with prayer and adjourned for a group photo.

Next Steps

As of this writing, the Cross-Cultural Protocols working group has met twice. Our first meeting was a looking back at the gathering together but also outlining next steps forward. At our second meeting a small group was designated to move forward compiling and organizing notes and best practices harvested at the gathering in order to begin to move forward the draft of protocols to be adopted by Youth Passageways as an organization, and as a resource developing a set of guidelines or guiding questions available for partners.

Some Final Thoughts

As we approached this work session, and as I was collecting more information on the work of others around cross-cultural protocols, I went to many of the organizations I had worked for in the past, also academics, tribal groups and asked them if they had developed any such document. Their responses were all the same: What a great idea! No, we haven’t done that, but when you get done, we REALLY want to see what you came up with. Shay had asked at one point in our session: Where does a person go to become educated about how to conduct oneself around, in and with ceremony? Members of our group since our meeting have shared that they were deeply affected by our process and inquiry and have begun to ask some of the questions we asked within their organizations. Sobey Wing concluded that just our meeting for this purpose alone was an outcome for which we can feel proud.

This is ground breaking work, and while we will be using it specifically in our organization and in our network, we are also crafting a significant contribution to the Field of Right Relations which is taking its next steps all over the planet. The need for this work is indicated far and wide and in many, many contexts. What are the Forces working with us, one of our elders asked us to consider? Willingness. Willingness to overcome our fear and misunderstanding of our differences and systematically, collaboratively, in vulnerability, bring them into harmony. My people call this Hozho.

Special Thanks

We give our very heartfelt thanks to Marisa for holding our center with loving planning and preparation of beautiful, healthy, meals from shopping to baking to presenting. It was gorgeous and was part of our foundation. Also for the times you gave to us your gentle, heart-centered wisdom for our process. We have so much gratitude for the Ojai Foundation who gifted us their home in which to do this work but also as a vote of support for the importance of this work. Deep gratitude for the many hours and careful considerations of the organizing team: Khepe-ra, Ramon, Sobey, Shay, Darcy and, in the final stages, myself. Thank you too to the generous donors of Youth Passageways, whose contributions allowed for this gathering to take place. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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