I learned about “The Way of the Heron” one Thanksgiving from Evan Pritchard, a descendant of Algonquin-speaking people, director of the Center for Algonquin Culture in New York, a professor of Native American history at Marist College 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.
Thanksgiving is not a day of celebration for the descendants of the Piscataway, Conoy, Susquehannock and Nanticoke, among other Maryland tribes. But we should reflect on something they left us — the words of wisdom Evan 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.
The Way of the Heron:
• 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. 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,” Evan Pritchard says. “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.”