Imagine, if you will, your family and all your ancestors of 2000 years ago, buried in a national and internationally recognized historical site. The Mounds in Newark, Ohio, one of the largest such sites in the world, is an Octagon, laid out in a way that every 18.6 year lunar cycle there are nights when "the moon rises over the central axis of the Octagon". But there is more to it than that:
"For Native Americans, the site has a great spiritual significance. It is similar to that of sacred spaces of other people and cultures – the Vatican, the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Nativity, Lourdes, Stonehenge, Assisi, Mt. Ararat, to name but a few. Others have compared it to the more contemporary sites such as Gettysburg or Arlington National Cemetery, as it is a memorial to those who have passed on, in addition to being a site in which people come to pray and reflect." Friends of the Mounds
Earthworks Day was celebrated on October 22, 2005 at an academic and archeological conference held at Ohio State University in Newark. The conference was important, but not as important as the Native American ceremony planned at the Octagon, where a spiritual leader and singers hoped to lead a procession into the earthworks complex to dignify the sacred space. The "mounds", as they are popularly known, are now the site of the Mound Builders Country Club golf course, in the proximity of the Indian Mounds Mall. The people who rent the Mounds and run the golf course, with a lease given to them by the Ohio Historical Society, refused to allow the spiritual leader, and the visitors from the OSU conference, access to the site. On the night when the moon rose into alignment, the powers-that-be declared that the occasion for viewing the site, arranged by the conference people, was now officially rained out. If one eighth of an inch of additional rain fell on the Mounds, no one would be allowed on the parking lot of the site to celebrate the alignment of the moon; and/or commemorate the people who constructed the mounds. A last minute line was drawn around the site; a signature of authority left over from Custer's Last Stand. While no outsiders were allowed on the parking lot of the Mound Builder's Country Club, its members sat outside drinking, having advertised it among themselves as a "pow wow", with no Indians or friends of the mounds in sight. Ironically a storm of controversy followed the Mound Builder's Country Club members as they sloshed their way home. I found the Newark incident had become a Living Theatre presentation with the Country Club members unknowingly on stage.
"Between Earth and Moon: Voices From the Great Circle" is a work specifically designed by Daystar: Contemporary Dance/Drama of Indian America, to celebrate, with thanksgiving and respect for the Earth, for the Water, and for the Moon, the occasion when "the Moon stands still". The Earth, for native peoples, is a living breathing entity. Not just something to talk about while it warms over. Anyone who has performed in a special space, outside in a natural environment, or inside on a stage, knows how being still is not only a moment of silence capturing the impact of an event, it is also a moment of being aware, with renewed energy, of where you stand in the light of the past. Standing still is a resonant metaphor for being a witness to historical memory.
The Daystar work was developed and premiered at Trent University's First Nations Performance Space in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. It then moved on and was staged on October 20th at OSU-Columbus; and then again, October 22nd at the Alford Performing Arts Hall, the Reese Center, at OSU-Newark. The occasion at Newark was not only the academic lectures and demonstrations on the importance of the Mounds; it was also, for the indigenous people involved, a gesture of reconciliation with the forbearers of a still proudly existing indigenous culture. If you are dragging your bags and swinging your golf club, trudging across the Mounds, you might on occasion, if you're smart enough, become aware of that history with something more than a nod and a putt. Unless you completely divorce yourself from the past for the sake of a hole in one.
Beyond Earth and Moon was staged in four segments: paralleling the Four Directions. "The Tradition Speaks", narrated by James Whetung (Anishinabe) and danced by Patti Shaughnessy (Anishinabe/Irish), both from the Curve Lake Reserve, Ontario.
The Traditon Speaks is a masked, transformational dance work, an evolutionary tale from the Anishinabe story tradition − a creation story that highlights the separation of the First Man from his first companion, the Wolf. What happens to the wolf happens to the Indian people. A comment that rings out with something more than bells, and something more than theatre. "The People Speak", a round dance, celebrated the abundance of the earth with offerings of a variety of food in baskets. Narration was now divided among four performers; including Daystar (Rosalie Jones, Pembina Chippewa/Welsh) and Barbary Crandell Salvi (Cherokee). The gift of teaching was highlighted and passed on from one generation to the next, in the four directions, from one narrator to the next. How the Earth "blooms, flowers, grows and extends" progressed into the responsibility to protect it. "The Voices Are Stilled" used a lively cartoon-like golf game, with satirical and ironic twists of humor. The performers stretched, bent, squatted, wiggled and jingle jangled, swinging golf clubs, until one of them shouted "fore" - and they broke away. A dense fog rolled in, a timepiece ticked away with growing intensity, and a homeless spirit (Patti Shaunessy) crawled out from beneath the fog cover. She stood up and sang a "prophecy song" in her native tongue; both a meditation and a reminder of the issue at hand. The final scene commenced with the Prayer of the First Dancer, a Navaho Beauty Way poem, danced by Daystar with a lavish use of a red shawl, a lyrical, commanding presence, and a respectful narration by James Whetung, in a gentle and embracing finale.
So ended the convergence between reality, theater and a sacred site. Not with a whimper, but with a caress and a thumbs up.
Think not forever of yourselves, nor of your own generation.
Think of continuing generations of our families.
Think of our grandchildren and those yet unborn
Whose faces are coming from beneath the ground.
-Peacemaker, Founder of the Iroquois Confederacy