Vice President of Academic Affairs & Dean, Southwestern College
In a number of different but related indigenous cultures, there exists the practice some call the Give-Away. This Ceremony is undertaken whenever an individual or family or clan group experiences a sense of great abundance, of plentitude and joy. Then it is appropriate to share the abundance with others in the community.
As an ancient celebration of redistribution, it flies in the face of Euro-centric and American ideals concerning private property and the manufactured desire to accumulate wealth. In fact, this Ceremony suggests the opposite. It honors the desire to give away one’s abundance. Historically, many of these give-away ceremonies were outlawed by the U.S. government, including the Potlatch of the Pacific Northwest. Yet despite the imposition of a strange value system concerning foreign ideas of object-centered property and personal possessions, the Give-Away Ceremony has persisted. I learned it from the elder Keewaydinoquay, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) mashkikikwe (medicine woman). I thank her for teaching me this spiritual technique for keeping balance.
Today on the Southwestern College campus during new student orientation, I had the pleasure of doing a modest Give-away for our SWC community. Most of the students had not heard of this or participated in a Give-Away before. I did it to celebrate my feeling of joy as a new member of SWC. I feel that this entering class is my entering class. We are beginning the new school year together.
I had spent the week preparing. I went through my kitchen cupboards, dresser drawers, jewelry boxes, closets, bookshelves, herb garden, and assorted special stone, shell and art collections asking which things wanted to be shared. A special woven rattle was ready to go, but did I want to share it? Lose it forever? Then I realized it had been sitting on a shelf unused and untouched for at least a year. Things want to live as we do. Everything around us is made from nature. Even petroleum products and nuclear bombs are the stuff of the living, breathing, natural world. The Give-Away itself is an act in imitation of Nature. The sun gives away its light. The clouds release their rain. The fruit trees let go of their apples and peaches and pears. The corn shares its many ears. If they did not, they would cease to be. To give is to live. My little woven rattle with the tiny brass bells inside was ready to go back out into the world and be of use.
To receive is also necessary for the Ceremony to be complete. Giving necessitates receiving. Just as we receive the fruit of other’s labor, the skill of the surgeon or the farmer, we find purpose in giving who we are in the circle of life. This is what sustains the great balance of all being and becoming. The Give-Away Ceremony shines a light on this abiding truth, our ancient equation: to give is to receive; to receive is to express gratitude. This is the persistent dance. The Give-Away Ceremony invites us to notice as holy the perpetual cycle of giving and receiving.
Last night I packed the car with four grocery bags. I unpack them early this morning placing them on a table beneath a cloth in the large Art Therapy classroom. They remain covered until the end of our morning session. Then I explain my heart’s true purpose in doing a Give-Away Ceremony. I want to share my joy, my feeling of abundance, with all of the new students as it is also my first year here.
As is tradition, I call up the veteran’s first. Warriors who are willing to place their lives in danger for others are the first to be honored. Next come the elders. They approach the table and select the single item that calls to them in a special way. After that we go row by row as the nearly fifty new students approach the table and select a single thing to carry home with them. Then the Graduate Assistants and other members of the staff and faculty approach the table.
The Chair of our Counseling Program, Dr. Carol Parker, picks up the rattle. She tells me she collects rattles and uses them in her classes. She says, “This rattle will get much use.”
I smile. I am happy. It is good to give your things away.