[saymaListserv] From Lynne Phillips RE: Quaker Sweat Lodge

Liz Perch LizP at fgcquaker.org
Wed Apr 20 14:03:31 JEST 2005

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Liz Perch 
To: Lynne Phillips 
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2005 9:23 AM
Subject: From Lynne Phillips RE: Quaker Sweat Lodge

Dear Friends,

This email is addresses to all LRCP members, to George Price, to Shelby Grantham and the New England Working Party on Racism, and others who may have received the following message from George Price regarding what he thought he heard me say at the March Long Range Conference Planning Committee meeting,

  From George Price  to Shelby Grantham, New England Working Party on Racism 

  I ask you to consider the following story. Lynne Phillips, Clerk of the
  2006 FGC Gathering in Vancouver, had deep concerns about the sweat and
  voiced these at the two listening sessions we had in Philadelphia over the
  last two years. Last month at FGC's LRCP (Long Range Conference Planning)
  committee gathering at Rochester she related the following: She read my
  article in the February 2002 Friends Journal about the sweat and took it to
  a local Native American leader for whom she has great respect. She said the
  Native American leader told her, after reading the article, that he had no
  problem with our use of the sweat. This reflects my experience with many
  Native Americans. Once they understand the honor and sensitivity that we
  have used to share the sweat they endorse our use of it. Lynne further said
  that she would like to see the sweat take place at the 2006 Gathering. 

The Anashinabe medicine man and healer from Nippissing First Nation who met with me was unknown to me until the evening of our meeting. I believe that I said that he was greatly respected by his community. I personally didn't know him but was introduced to him by a staff person from the Ontario Metis Association. He is her spiritual teacher. It was clear that he was very active in First Nations healing lodges. I believe that I reported that the Anishinabe healer said he would not forbid any one to do a sweat lodge if that was their spiritual journey. He did say that he thought the writer of the article could do a teaching lodge, but not a healing lodge. (I have that in my notes but I can't remember if I said it at the LRCP meeting.) I believe I also cited the stance of our local First Nations people in the Kootenays where I live- that any attempt on the part of our settler population to use any of their legends or practices would be fiercely resented. I said that to indicate that I realize there is nothing like unity among First Nations peoples in Canada or the United States on the question of what is appropriate "learning about"(which no one so far has objected to) and what spills over into appropriation. Another correction in George's statement: the 2006 Gathering will be held in Washington state, not in Vancouver, BC. 
George's final statement is only partly true. At the Oct 2004 Listening when we were asked to go around at the beginning and state our wishes, I said that I wished the sweat lodge workshop could be held at Gatherings if it could be done with respect and honour to all parties. At the LRCP meeting I said that I would like to think we could do a sweat lodge workshop at the 2006 Gathering but I didn't think that would be possible. I should have added my reasons for thinking it would not be possible but I felt that I had talked long enough.  

I was speaking from my heart as an individual Canadian Quaker who is deeply concerned about issues of racism, social injustice, and territorial and cultural appropriation of traditional First Nations lands and traditions, not as the clerk of the 2006 Gathering. The question of the Quaker Sweat lodge workshop and ceremony and their place in the Gathering is one which must be grappled with and decided by LRCP in their responsibility for the gathering.

I see two separate issues: (1) the workshop on sweat rituals as a spiritual practice and (2) the sweat lodge ceremony as practiced by George Price.  George has indicated that not all attenders of his workshop attended the sweats and some came to the sweats who were not members of his workshop.  I realize that in speaking on the Quaker Sweat Lodge issue, I should be making a clear distinction between workshop and ritual ceremony.  Learning about the rituals of most other religions is appreciated by most of the practitioners of those religions.  Practice is a more troubling issue.  I suspect that a workshop about ritual sweating as a spiritual practice around the world, including Native American examples, would probably not arouse the same concerns as the ritual sweat lodge ceremony itself.

I believe that we benefit from knowing about and sharing, where appropriate,the spiritual journeys of other cultures and other religions. I am a universalist Quaker. Having said that, I also say that I value the integrity of the Quaker traditions; in particular I believe in corporate spirit-led discernment as a way for a faith community to make decisions andto grow in trust and love. Last April when we were asked to make a regrettably quick decision on whether to allow the QSL workshop to continue in 2004, I agreed with the LRCP discernment that it should be canceled. I think that was the best decision we could have made and I also think our process was in right order, given the circumstances.

Over the year I have sent various emails to the LRCP ad hoc committee and others on the subject of the QSL.  I felt that the October Listening meeting didn't move very far in giving guidance to LRCP about the future.  One set of possibilities that I think were important which were not fully explored were some of the options "in the middle".  For example FGC could open a dialogue with the local Native Americans, in whose traditional territory we are gathering, to obtain their perspective on the QSL.  The local people might wish to act as resource people or as invited guest speakers. The sweat lodge ceremony might be the most difficult issue to resolve, but it seems to me that the workshop does not require the ceremony in order to be powerful and transformative. Note that these are my own reflections of the day - not an official report. I will continue to be involved in this issue and, as a member of LRCP, will be part of the group that makes decisions about the QSL.

I am conscious that this email is getting too long but lest I make the same error and fail to clarify what I mean by "possible", I will briefly repeat what I have said to various people on LRCP - that we could only offer the sweat lodge ceremony if we get the permission and collaboration of the local First Nations people and do it with their blessing, so to speak. This is the only honorable and respectful way to proceed with someone else's spiritual tradition.  The difficulty in doing this is that every year we would need to seek the approval and if possible, participation of Native Americans.  This means that every year staff and volunteers would need to find time and the money to meet with Native Americans in each locality. Even if there was unity that the QSL was "Quakerly" and therefore had a place in the Gathering, I suspect that we do not have the resources to do this. It is incumbent upon us to see that resources are fairly distributed according to the rightly ordered weight of each program. One workshop is a very small part of the whole gathering.  It is also not known if the workshop leaders would be willing to collaborate or subordinate their work to the requirements of local First Nations people.

I hope that there will continue to be opportunities to learn about Native American spirituality at Gatherings when such a workshop meets the criteria that all workshops must.  In my opinion, it seems highly unlikely that the QSL workshop is possible at the 2006 Gathering, given the complexities of the issue yet to be explored, let alone resolved.  However, this is not a question for me to decide, but a question for LRCP and perhaps the 2006 workshop committee. I have left many things unsaid, but I hope I have clarified my feelings and thoughts on the issue. Please respond to me if you feel moved. I would really like to hear you all.

Blessings on our work together,

Lynne Phillips
Rossland, BC

To be happy in this world, especially when youth is past, 
it is necessary to feel oneself not merely an isolated individual 
whose day will soon be over, but parts of the stream of life flowing on 
from the first germ to the remote and unknown futures.
Bertrand Russell
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