Monday, November 08, 2021

Totem in Glasgow, at COP26

 Guest blog by Ailsa Clark

Totem Latamat at the Minga Indigena Fire Ceremony.  The Hidden Gardens, Glasgow.

As TOTEM LATAMAT makes its journey towards Glasgow for Cop26, we are asking people who encounter it along the way to write guest pieces about their response.  Ailsa Clark is the founder of Inspiralba, which delivers social enterprise development and support across Argyll and Bute.  

What an incredible and humbling experience to be with Totem Latamat and these kind souls who travelled from their Indigenous homelands to connect their spirits with ours, sending a collective prayer for a better future for humanity, ecology, our planet and beyond.

As if through the serendipity of a higher wisdom, Totem Latamat was in the very place that Indigenous leaders from all corners of the world had chosen to create a collective prayer for Pachamama and Pachapapa. And so it came to be that I, a wee lassie from Argyll, now in my more mature years, was there to join my own indigenous roots with all of their collective might in the most powerful and profound ceremony of this time in Glasgow. Our connections across continents run deep across our soils and rock and through our sea beds, touching every living thing, like the mycelium of the forest with the wisdom of the plants.

I journey from my home in ‘Campbell’ town - renamed/stolen (Ceann Loch Chille Chiarain) as a ‘royal’ seal of approval to the Campbells for their support in a colonialism learned then exported. James VI and I, who made various endeavours during his reign to improve the condition of the Highlands, erected Campbeltown as a Royal burgh, and encouraged the settling of people from the lowland districts. I think we call that cultural genocide. I pass my family home at Furnace en route to the Indigenous ceremony. Seeing the fumes from the quarry above the fish farm hatchery on the shore reminds me of how very far we are from climate care, with humanity and ecology overshadowed by corporate greed.

Then Inveraray: always a stark wee reminder of land ownership and feudalism, which still deeply affects the psyche across Argyll and the islands. Land stolen, gifted, bought and sold. More recently a return to community ownership has been supported across Scotland, with inspired places like Gigha and Ulva: but this remains very much a drop in the ocean with the vast majority of the land still owned by wealthy external interests.

I travel the last leg of the journey with my younger colleague: a dynamic force of nature with strong Argyll roots who has come back to work in her own community, and her friend who through kindness agreed to drive and offered us space to stay.  Arriving at The Hidden Gardens the calm of the space and sense of community is instantly apparent. I meet a friend who is there to film the events of the day. Sadly the mainstream media will likely dumb down the messages, but if just one glimmer of light gets through, that may spark an interest. We also meet a phenomenal group of women when we get to the Totem. They, like us, are in awe at the energy and beauty of Totem Latamat. 

We leave messages of hope on ribbons as we circumnavigate the garden space, then enjoy the colour and vibrancy of a vast textile creation brought by the Indigenous leaders. As we continue round we visit the medicinal garden, then come to a space waiting on the fire ceremony.

We wait and enjoy the sense of togetherness as more and more people arrive to share the ceremony. We meet Graham Harvey, a man with a wealth of wisdom on Indigenous culture, and he shares his insight with humility in an unassuming and modest way. Graham has journeyed part of the way with Totem Latamat and introduces us to colleagues from Border Crossings who have been instrumental in bringing this significant symbol of hope and shared connection on its journey from Mexico to our shores.

The ceremony unfolds. The collective wisdom, passion and focus of these Indigenous leaders  can be felt, as they call on the spirits to assist at this momentous moment in shifting the energy from evil and greed to love and care for all things. They invite us all to join the ceremony: our western culture of roping off the ceremonial area must be baffling for our visitors! Some of us are distracted by the desire to capture images, and the shaman asks us to set aside our cameras as the most sacred moment approaches. With greater focus we add all our energy to the ceremony, which builds in volume and connectedness.  The fire is sparked and we are all encouraged to add fuel, with a collective intention for peace and compassion so intense it resonates within and beyond. It's an experience that I am privileged to hold now as part of myself, and to connect with my own cultural roots, thanks to the kindness of these elders.

I have had the great privilege of traveling and working with Indigenous peoples in Australasia, Asia and the Americas; and now, I realise, in my own community also. I have become aware of the shared burden of colonialism.  I have always come home to Argyll, Earra-Ghàidheal, the border area of the Gaels, land and sea connecting Scotland and Ireland. I retrace my ancestral roots with folk in both these lands: migrants, refugees, Indigenous people forced to leave their homes.

Our great great great great great grand parents were cleared from their land. Half-starved and flea-bitten from Ireland they arrived by boat to start a new life on these shores, shunned for being different (like the refugees that come across the channel).  That misery and despair, shame and disconnection permeates a huge amount of the Scottish psyche. There’s us Irish migrants, and those cleared from their rural lands to make space for sheep. I think that experience of trauma, that feeling of shame and self-loathing are carried forward generation to generation, not in a way you would directly recognise, but in the self-destructive ways we live our lives. We have some of the highest addiction rates in Western Europe, and that’s only what’s reported. Life expectancy is very low. It’s a pretty dire picture.  But we as a generation have an opportunity to heal ourselves and to heal our planet, so that we don’t carry forward these wounds to the next generations. In order to do that, we need to talk about our feelings, our fears, and to explore our ancestral roots.

My sense of place and of the need for collective healing has been building over recent weeks, with support from friends at Heal Scotland and with Ariane, my younger colleague. We aim to bring back to our community a shared insight and a connection with our lands and waters, informed by the strength and wisdom of Indigenous elders, accelerated through our experience with Totem Latamat and the fire ceremony. 

I receive a gift from Professor Graham Harvey (the modest and wise) - an ancient piece of yew. As we prepare to leave, we make a promise to reconnect. Later, as we share food to celebrate the birthday of Ariane, I am honoured to hand on this yew pendant - to share the gift.  I realise the importance of us working together, the strength of our young along with the wisdom of elders, the nurturing of our mothers, the feminine wisdom of Pachamama along with the masculine energy of Pachapapa, and collective leadership of our communities as a whole.

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