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Conference seeds new vision of our relationship with water and Earth

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – They came from the Hopi Reservation, the Navajo Nation, the State of Washington, the Northeast Kingdom of Maine, India via New York, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Japan, Canada and a half-dozen other locations. This culturally-diverse group of 18 internationally-acclaimed scientists, teachers and artists gathered in Flagstaff April 6 and 7 to consider the most important questions facing us at this critical moment in history. Where did we come from? What is our purpose? What is water? How do we create a proper relationship between human beings and the planet on which we live?

Elders and artists from Hopi, Navajo and the West, scientists and researchers from across the country and across cultures, and conference attendees shared their teachings, worldviews and wisdom at the Braiding Through Water conference presented by Black Mesa Trust.

Vernon Masayesva, executive director Black Mesa Trust.

Braiding, because bringing to bear a wide range of knowledge generated by different physical, social, human and cultural environments could create a new, more inclusive worldview that will help us move forward; water, because it is the medium through and in which the discussion, like so much else that is crucial in our lives, can thrive.

The presentations and discussions brought to light many paradoxes: Water is a living, sentient substance that flows through and connects all life, explained Hopi Tobacco/Rabbit Clan at Hotevilla Keeper of the Pipe Jerry Honawa. Yet scientists can describe the three conditions that are necessary for the beginning of life, one of which is water, said a Western participant. If water is itself alive, this makes no sense.

Public health officials examine drinking water using chemical tests and find it to be safe. Yet when a researcher looks at water drops released one-by-one into a dish of water, healthy, clean water manifests shapes and patterns – vortexes and tendrils – in kaleidoscopic fashion. Water drops form what is said to be a pristine reservoir, however, form only a few concentric circles when subjected to the same treatment. It is dying, and water from very polluted sources forms no pattern at all – it is dead.

So, from a Western scientific perspective, that drinking water is safe, but the same water looked at from a different perspective – a visual image taken at a very high magnification – has lost many of the properties of life: movement, elasticity and beauty, explained keynote speaker Jennifer Greene, director of the Water Research Institute of Blue Hill, Maine, and vice president of the Constructed Wetlands Group.

Western science has its roots in Greece in the fifth century B.C. when people started asking what is nature made of, what are the primary constituents of the universe, what is reality, how does change occur, how do we know? In discovering those questions, the unified body of Greek knowledge began to disintegrate, explained Phil Duran, a Native teacher of Western Science and former Dean of Science and Mathematics, Northwest Indian College.

As myth and science became unbraided, the divine stayed with myth and science has been devoid of a spiritual component ever since. But science has created its own mythological text, which influences how we see the world as thoroughly as other cultures’ myths do theirs.

These are some of the questions that panelists identified as they set in motion some of the activities and relationships that will find answers.

“This has been one of my dreams,” said Black Mesa Trust Executive Director Vernon Masayesva. “I have planted the seed with hope that this group of people will form the nucleus to carry on the work of finding the proper respect for and relationship with water. This work is not for the benefit of us, the elders; it is for our grandchildren and all the grandchildren to come.”

The dialogue and discussions were led by Leroy Little Bear, former director of Native Studies at Harvard University and 2003 Canadian Aboriginal Person of the Year.