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My journey with the indigenous traditions of the Lakota began almost 30 years ago. As a young teenager, I began a mentoring journey with a traditional healing family of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from Pine Ridge South Dakota.
A few months before my mentoring began, at the age of 15 years old, I wakened to the reality of modern man’s disconnection from nature and the Earth. I was touched by the ancestors who brought a visionary message. They communicated to me the future of humanity and that the Earth would reject modern man’s unsustainable lifestyle. I saw the devastation we would bring upon ourselves. I felt the pain and suffering of the children and of nature in this possible future reality.
In that moment, I made a commitment to do whatever I could to change this potential fate. With all my heart, I begged for guidance and for a teacher to show me the way. Within months I began my mentorship in the traditions and healing practices of the Lakota.
After years of apprenticeship, I entered my next phase of commitment. I went upon the sacred mountain and offered my life in a 4-day ceremony called a Hanbleciya (Vision Quest). During these 4 days and nights, I sacrificed all that it takes to live; food, water, and sleep. I gave myself to the Powers of Creation and to the Creator. I begged for the ability to help this world and all my loved ones. During this ceremony, I was touched by holiness and a song awoke in my heart. After that experience, I started to take my first independent steps in bringing these teachings to all.
Why We Need to Bridge the Divide Between Man and Nature
Now, more than 10 years later, I travel the world and educate people from every walk of life using the tools of modern instruction and the ancient methods of connection to bridge the divide. The Helpers Mentoring Society was formed as an educational organization to be a vehicle for these teachings.
Throughout my experiences, I found that people of the modern world are searching for the connected culture of their ancestors. People are awakening to the realization that humanity must return to a state of balanced relationship to the natural world. The younger generation is recognizing that their well-being depends on the actions we take. Climate change is real and is happening now, and is mainly driven by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.
We now know that carbon dioxide produced from the burning of fossil fuel is changing the atmosphere and the waters. We are witnessing an increase in global temperatures unprecedented in human history. Weather patterns have become more extreme and the signs of human displacement have begun. The shifting environment is effecting those people who are closest to nature, the indigenous people. They are aware of the changes as their cultures and very survival depends on this knowledge. All over the world, indigenous peoples are echoing the same warning, “The earth is in trouble” and the time to act is now. They say our very survival depends on our immediate actions. Modern scientific models are verifying these same predictions.
In the calling of the modern person to return to a healthy relationship with nature, we look to the indigenous people of the earth. Indigenous cultures from the outsider’s perspective is often filled with mysticism and taboo. The thing about indigenous culture that is often overlooked is that their culture grew from the environment. In the natural environment, the traditions are quickly understood to be pragmatic. Their relationship to the land and water created their traditions over time, which ensure the survival of all.
So, we turn to the Lakota people and find the latest struggle of the indigenous people to preserve land, water and life. The struggle against the devastation of the environment and indigenous culture has increasingly become the battle against the fossil fuel industry. This is best illustrated by the conflict that is now raging in North Dakota between my mentor’s people, the Lakota, and the Dakota Access Pipeline.
My Experience As A Water Protector At Standing Rock
What started as a small camp near the Missouri River founded by LaDonna Bravebull Allard in April of 2016 as a center of cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline has now grown into an international movement. People from around the world are now part of the camp, which is estimated to have a fluctuating population between 1500 – 3000 people.
As an ally to indigenous people, a human being of this Earth, and someone who was intermarried into the Lakota Nation, I was called to go to the camp. My body is strong and able. My character, abilities and worldview has been shaped by the traditions and spirit of the Lakota. My capacity to bridge the gap between the allies and the traditional culture could be of service. With all the considerations and the desire to be helpful, I traveled to Standing Rock. On my way, I gathered winter supplies for those staying at the camp. Generous donations were collected and cold weather gear was acquired.
On a windswept and cold evening in November I arrived with my sons to an isolated rural area of prairie along the banks of the Missouri River in the state of North Dakota. I joined the water protector camp located in Standing Rock.
After arriving, my desire to help was quickly met with the current reality at the camp. Winter was coming, and winter in North Dakota is a serious matter! Temperatures are often well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and wind chill factors can drop the temperature to below -50 degrees. At these temperatures, the water in your eyes can freeze, frostbite can occur in 5 minutes, and death by hypothermia is a real possibility with prolonged exposure.
The leaders of the camp know the seriousness of winter in this region, and they are motivating every person to winterize the camp. I was quickly directed toward supporting these efforts. Over the next day’s my work focused on creating insulated shelters for the coming months.
Through the long days of work, I got to experience the reality of the camp and the people there. The camp culture is like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before. The people are not protestors, they are “Water Protectors.” This is not a place of protest or negativity; it is a camp of deep connection and ceremony. This camp is a place of true brotherhood and sisterhood of all people. It is the first time in my experience where people interact and support each other without judgment, prejudice, or the wounds of historic trauma. Indigenous people, modern people, and people of every race, creed, religion, and background are all working together with a common cause. The unity and power of this camp is incredible.
Each morning an orientation occurs for new arrivals, which I estimate to be 50-200 people daily. During this orientation people learn about the camp culture. They are taught that they are entering ceremony and they are required to be peaceful, to pray, and to work humbly. It is explained to both indigenous and allies that this camp is the Lakota’s and their ways are to be respected by all. Everyone is expected to be in service to the goals of the Lakota people in stopping this pipeline. They are taught the conduct of ceremony. A person who is familiar with my teaching said the orientation was basically what we introduce in the teaching of the Helpers Mentoring Society.
Sacred Song and drumming echoes across the camp day and night. There are multiple Sacred Fires burning 24/7. I’ve never experienced such openness and honesty about traditions and cultures from so many people.
The time for letting go of fossil fuels is now. We have the creativity as a people to live in balance with the Earth. New technologies and clean energy are actual possibilities if we make this a priority. We have been given all that we need to free ourselves of the destruction we are creating. The Sacred Stone Camp is a living example of what is possible when we unite our hearts and minds together.
We are united by water; and Water is Life!
Check out the video footage from my podcast on The G & Coletti Show here.
Salvatore Gencarelle is the founder and director of the Helpers Mentoring Society www.helpersmentoringsociety.com, an organization dedicated to supporting the return and preservation of connective cultural practices. For 28 years, Salvatore Gencarelle has been a bridge between traditional cultural practices and the modern world. His experience includes intensive mentoring as a ceremonial guide, creator, and singer under the direct supervision of a Native American healer. Salvatore has written a book about his learning journey, A Man Among the Helpers. His journey continues and he now carries universal connection understanding and healing wisdoms from around the world.