1492 Becomes 1992

One of the groups to meet in the library-conference room, was a crowded gathering of forty people, who, in 1991 formed AQUA, Alternative Quincentenary Understandings and Actions. AQUA began preparing for 1992, when lots of people would be celebrating Columbus’ “sailing the ocean blue” to “discover” America. We determined to provide an alternative celebration. The theme was: 500 years of Resistance to Racism. AQUA continued to meet at CCI every month.

AQUA was particularly active during 1992. We joined with other groups in demonstrations near the wharfs when three replicas of the Columbus ships came into the harbor. With Jimi TwoFeathers we boarded one of the boats, and engaged its Captain in conversation. He invited us to write and post on the ship’s watery information site a weather-proofed statement presenting an alternative view of Columbus alongside the traditional one on display. I’ve always wondered how long after leaving Boston, the Captain allowed our version to stay on display.

Perhaps the most innovative action of AQUA was sponsoring, with local Wampanoag elders, the native Ceremony of Four Colors, celebrated on Boston Common. Tlakalel came from Mexico, to lead the ceremony, and about one hundred people, mostly curious onlookers, stepped forward and participated in the ceremony, which invites all participants to move from one station to another, giving honor to all the Four Colors of the world. We were told by the elders that this was probably one of the first times this native ceremony had been conducted in public. When we planned the event we could not have predicted this, but the Ceremony actually took place just days after the police beating of Rodney King had shocked and revealed a divided nation.

One Boston response to the King incident was a call for white people to gather on City Hall Plaza, in witness that they rejected and despised the “white structures” that supported and condoned the beating. Several thousand people stood in pouring rain on that occasion; as one of the white men invited to speak, the day had taken a personal meaning. Here, with the Four Colors Ceremony, my native friends were renewing my vision, healing a wounded heart. I still knows the yearning I felt on that day, wishing that everyone in the United State could have participated. The heart of “dis-ease” was quieted for a moment, and hope revived.

An insight into life came for me during that Ceremony of Four Colors. I was there on Boston Common with the native people who were setting up for the Ceremony. At one point several of them began pointing into the sky above our circle. They identified a hawk, so high in the air that I saw it only as an unidentified bird. The hawk was circling right over our site. I would have quickly dismissed this as an interesting coincidence. No such thought of “coincidence” occurred for my native friends. They saw through the eyes of a culture which had taught them of the close connection of their lives with all living creatures. For them here was a clear sign of blessing on the Ceremony. I stretched to want to believe, and their confidence helped me to see a phenomenon I had only heard about. That hawk was there and it was no “coincidence” that it flew exactly over the spot where the Ceremony was prepared. I believe it now also, but my belief is not rooted solidly in a culture, and I shall probably never be able to experience the depth which my native friends knew in that moment.

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