Local faith leaders gather at prayer pole

The seasonal Red Earth Descendants Storytelling Solstice event on Dec. 21 included an interfaith gathering at the downtown prayer pole/We Are Here statue.

Local Jewish and Christian leaders gave prayerful support to local Native leaders, including Siletz elder Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, for the protection of their religious freedom in Ashland.

In August, the sacred eagle feather was stolen from the We Are Here statue. In September, a new eagle feather was gifted by Southern Oregon University Professor David West and attached to the statue by Native sculptor Russell Beebe.

Focusing on the "uniqueness of the sacred" in religious celebrations this time of year, Rabbi David Zaslow of the Havurah Synagogue led the interfaith service with a prayer in Hebrew which translated into, "How good it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together."

Honoring Native elder Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, he offered "full support" to the "blessed Native people of this land," expressing gratitude for their culture, while expressing empathy for the suffering of genocide against the tribal peoples in the Ashland region over the past 150 years. Agnes Baker-Pilgrim was also commended for urging all to be more "holy" and to honor all "tribal peoples and all faiths" in the Valley.

Christian Pastor Ron Timen from Rivergate Church, specifically asked for forgiveness from the Native community for the past genocide "inflicted on the tribal peoples of this land." Emphasizing the need for communities to monitor "wrongdoings in the world," he extended a special blessing to the Native community in Ashland because of their suffering of a "violation at this prayer site" due to the theft of their sacred eagle feather in August.

Rev. Anne Bartlett, of the Trinity Episcopal Church, also added her "prayers for goodwill" to Grandma Aggie and the Native prayer site.

Robert Greygrass, Native storyteller, thanked local supporters who choose "inclusiveness and acceptance" urging them to go deeper than "just tolerance."

Rabbi David Zaslow, focusing on the previous desecration of the We Are Here statue in August (with the theft of the eagle feather gifted by the Dan Wahpepah family), expressed concern that even today Jewish sacred cemeteries are "defaced" and offered understanding of the pain of those kinds of abuses.

Referring to sacred Hebrew texts, the Rabbi explained, "The texts say 'You can't steal' and its real meaning could be applied to the issue of the previous eagle feather that disappeared from this statue. The interpretation would be applied that the sacred eagle feather is now a witness to that person, and the eagle feather is not his to have, and one day it could be returned. I pray for that person's soul who has it now."

Dan Wahpepah, founder of Red Earth Descendants and Keeper of the Whistling Elk Drum stated "In this season, all people around the world are now sharing their voices to honor Creator in their own ways. We really appreciate the amalgamation of the different religions today, and give thanks for this interfaith support."

Brant Florendo, an instructor with the SOU Native American Studies Program, talked about the importance of community voices being heard, and "that our concerns be voiced from our hearts."

Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, holding her eagle feather fan, cried over the blessings of the interfaith community, and referred to "spiritual healings" that are given by the eagle feather on the statue "to all in downtown Ashland who go by it." She emphasized that the prayer site is for "everyone, not just Native peoples."

Grandma Aggie is head of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, who are all coming together in 2009 at the Siletz Reservation in Lincoln City.

Rabbi Marc Sirinski of Temple Emek Shalom also sent his support via phone call, due to being called away on an emergency on the way to the interfaith Service.

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