Journey to Kituwah: Discovering our gifts and how to offer them
Hello all of you who also care deeply about the happenings in the lives of the village children! This is Chelsea, the teacher of the newly created Saplings class at The Village School, writing to you from my current nest in Black Mountain.
Doing this transformational work with young people is my highest passion- I am so honored to be able to serve the community in this way, yet I faced such a dilemma when first offered this opportunity to return to Earthaven as an instructor at the village school.
I of course was overjoyed at the possibility to support this sacred process of growth and learning in the lives of the children of the village- to weave whatever gifts I could offer into the living web of beauty created by this community committed to remembering how to live in harmony with the patterns of the earth.
There was just one problem; I was already doing similar work elsewhere, with young people who “needed” it at a level that I perceived was higher than that of all these incredibly lucky youngsters at Earthaven, who have been holding snakes, running around barefoot in pure waters and breathing clean air for most of their lives. Would I really be able to give them as much as I knew I could give the others? And would this be abandoning these beloved people and places that I knew I could impact so greatly?
With bitter sweetness, I found someone to take on my role with my programs up north and made the move south, back to these sacred mountains.
I can now say with joyous assurance that teaching in the village has opened me up to reconsider my preconceptions about how/where I am “needed,” and how I can best serve to shift those greater patterns of inequity, injustice and harm inflicted on our human and non-human kin. These kids who are living in a lush, forested incubation chamber of alternative living, walking the path of Another Way daily, really have such a radically different baseline way of understanding, caring for and interacting with the beings around them. As a teacher, I can go so much deeper in what I am sharing with them, because they care so deeply. They seem to really understand the “why” of what we are learning and practicing, whether it be writing about the patterns of the weather, learning geography through story, or in the deep stillness of sit spot. They are well practiced in their skills of observation and awareness, of both the environment around them as well as their ripples of impact within it. This foundation established at such a young age is a huge gift to these children and all whom they will happen to impact by living their lives, treading consciously upon the earth, sowing seeds of hope, renewal and healing. I’m always so blown away with the wisdom they already have, and honored to try to impart a little more everyday.
The last few weeks in particular have been deeply meaningful and moving for many of us at the village school. We have been learning together about what indigenous peoples in this country have faced, and connecting directly with our Tsalagi (Cherokee) neighbors out in the most sacred of places, their mother town and place of origin, a place called Kituwa (pronounced Giduwa). We had the deep honor of being invited to this place to work in the garden of Grandma Amy, a Tsalagi elder. After a two hour journey, our four cars full of students, teachers and several adult chaperones arrived with many gifts of plants and seeds. We were able to see the remnants of their once-monumental mound, where, for centuries, a sacred fire burned continuously in the council building.
This image really stuck with the kids; they later recalled that this mound as one of the coolest things they saw, and reflected upon how horrifying it must have been for the Tsalagi when the white people came, destroyed the council site, and put out the sacred fire.
Another highlight came in the form of a spontaneous and meaningful connection with a Tsalagi woman who had come to pay homage to the mound. The week before the trip, we had done some preparation by learning some Tsalagi (Cherokee) words for different animals. As we waited for our host Tyson to arrive and guide us to the garden, the kids loudly practiced all the words they knew. Our commotion drew her right over to us, and she gushed with gratitude for our help in keeping the language alive. With tears in her eyes, she shared a story about Nanyehi, known as Nancy Ward by the whites, a powerful and influential warrior woman who fought for peace for her people.
We also had the privilege of connecting with grandma Amy for most of the afternoon, who has an incredible four acre garden in Kituah, carrying on the land-based traditions passed down via her mother from her grandfather (and so on). She shared her gentle kindness, wisdom, stories, songs, generosity and sweet treats with us in breaks from working in the sun.
Over the course of the day, we planted hundreds of starts into the furrowed ground. The kids were incredibly dedicated to the task, despite the dizzying heat and hard work. Those who were not planting made tortillas on the fire to share with the others, and after lunch everyone was out together in the field, diligently digging, planting, watering and mulching the seedling tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, basils and more. We all exchanged many thanks in English and Tsalagi, saying shki or s’gi (pronounced like ski with a sh) and then celebrated with a well-earned dip in the river.
These last few weeks have really felt like a turning point for me. I’m really appreciating the dedication that the school and families have to forming and maintaining relationships with first peoples, as well as black and brown folks in WNC (we’ve been making some plans for teaching about Juneteenth and volunteering at a black-organized event).
This all feels really important and exciting; I can see more clearly the role that myself and the school can play as a bridge between communities. It also feels critical to give the kids the opportunity to meet people from many different life experiences/cultures and give them the gift of this precious perspective of life beyond the village. In this way I’m feeling SO aligned with this joyful and life-affirming work of being a mentor, friend and educator to this special group.
Thanks for reading y'all, and for all you do to show up in the lives of these kids too.