“A Voice I Am Sending As I Walk” : An Invitation to the Native American Bearing Witness Retreat






By Eve Marko, Grover Genro Gauntt, Rami Efal

“With visible breath I am walking.

A voice I am sending as I walk.

In a sacred manner I am walking.

With visible tracks I am walking.

In a sacred manner I walk.”[1]

Personal healing—experiencing all aspects of our psyche as whole, as one body—takes years. Family healing, a little longer. Healing among communities, nations, and cultures takes generations. And what about the healing among humans, plants, animals, and the earth? How long does that take? If it takes an age, don’t we have to start immediately, persevering step after step, action after action, every day and every year?

This summer the Zen Peacemaker Order will hold its second bearing witness retreat in the sacred Black Hills at the heart of Turtle Island. The first took place last year, in August 2015, but in some way it began in 1999, when Grover Genro Gauntt first went up to the Pine Ridge Reservation, meeting with Birgil Killstraight and Tuffy Sierra, the first of many tender forays into this middlemost nucleus of history, treachery, trauma, and denial. Sixteen years of this culminated in the retreat in the Black Hills in 2015.

Genro went back year after year. Showing up again and again is an important practice for all of us who care about what the Black Hills stand for, historically for us here in America, and worldwide. The Hills are sacred to many native peoples and were promised to the Lakota and Dakota Nation by the United States government according to treaty. The promise was broken for the sake of gold, an archetypal mode of behavior repeated time and time again around the world. Be it lumber, salmon, elephant tusks or metals like gold and uranium, we have plundered the earth and wiped out many of its inhabitants. Now we are paying the price.


The killing of 425 Lakota at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890 marked the last major event of the wars with the Plains Indians. After that massacre, Black Elk, the famous medicine man of the Oglala Lakota, had a vision in which he saw that the Sacred Hoop had been broken: When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. . . [T]he nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.[2]

He had thought it was his life work to make that tree bloom again; it never did. Instead, he saw something else. It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. Hear me, not for myself, but for my people; I am old. Hear me that they may once more go back into the sacred hoop and find the good red road, the shielding tree! Finally, he saw that the mending of the Sacred Hoop would begin in the seventh generation after Wounded Knee.

We are now living in the time of the Seventh Generation. Many of us reading this are not Native Americans but rather wasichus[3]. And if we aren’t directly involved in the continuing degradation and gradual destruction of the native population, we are citizens of a culture that has actively done so, knowingly or unknowingly deriving benefits from those actions. Instead of being discouraged, we can begin to walk step after step. The Buddha said, [b]y the falling of water drops a water jar is filled. The sage with goodness fills himself, he soaks up little by little.[4] It is incumbent on us—for the sake of justice and restitution, for our sake, the sake of our children and grandchildren, and the coming generations that will demand of us what we did when we saw the earth degraded and plundered—to renew the vision of mending the Sacred Hoop.

It is our deep intention and prayer that this Bearing Witness Retreat plays its own small part in this process, and that we all realize wholeness, health and harmony amongst ourselves, the earth’s native peoples, and the earth itself.


It’s a grace and privilege to hold this retreat in the Black Hills, on a consecrated site owned and used for ceremony by the Santee Sioux tribe, with grass, pines, wildflowers and ponds, blessed with prayers from previous ceremonies and Sundances. Located at the geographical center of Turtle Island, the Black Hills is the place of seven Sacred Sites that have been used throughout history by many nations for prayers, petitions, purification, visions and spiritual sustenance. The central Sacred Site, Peshla, or Bald Head, is close by.

This year the retreat will take place earlier than before so that more Native people, especially young people, can participate. Each day will begin with a sunrise prayer ceremony around a sacred fire, followed by sharing councils. In addition to presentations by Native elders, we will also bear witness to the Black Hills, the Place (in Judaism, one of the names of God), in prayer, silence, guided meditation and walks, and ceremony, joining all our hearts in the deep wish for the mending of the Sacred Hoop and cooperation, communion, and community among all peoples and with mother earth.

There will be breakout working groups for those wishing to help hands-on. Last year participants organized a drive to send winter clothing to Pine Ridge. This year we will bear witness to other needs that arise, be it community gardens or home maintenance, in Pine Ridge as well as other reservations, and galvanize volunteer labor and financial support.

One bearing witness retreat, or even a dozen, is but a small step in this long healing path. At the same time, we each have our own role to play, our own silk thread of this flickering web to honor with both intention and action. It falls to us to do what we can, with both humility and persistence, to share in the healing of the Sacred Hoop. It also falls to our family, friends, and community—so let’s invite them. Please join us in this work of few expectations—and an immeasurable future.


Why do we do bearing witness retreats? 

One of the central practices of the Zen Peacemakers is to bear witness to the traumas that have afflicted this planet. Our earth, like the human body, has suffered abuse and fracture, affecting the functioning of the entire body.

Each node of suffering is different from the next: Auschwitz, Rwanda, the Black Hills, Bosnia/Herzegovina, the travails of refugees landing on European shores—these are not the same. What unfolded and continues to unfold at each place, each moment, is subject to its own karma, its own cultural, historical, economic, and political conditions. Coming to the Black Hills is unlike going to Auschwitz. At each retreat we plunge into its specific culture, customs, and language, even as we bear witness to what they have in common, the harm done to those we define as Other. The clothes may differ; the wound is usually the same. Returning to these different retreats year after year, we affirm our oneness as it manifests in unique, local expressions, while ministering to this one deep wound.


[1] Song of the White Buffalo Maiden, as quoted in Joseph Epes Brown’s The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Sacred Rites of the Oglala Sioux.

[2] Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux.

[3] Lakota name for non-Native people.

[4] Dhammapada, Verse 122.

Share :

“A Voice I Am Sending As I Walk” : An Invitation to the Native American Bearing Witness Retreat

9 Responses

  1. Thank you a bunch for sharing this with all people you actually recognise what you are
    speaking about! Bookmarked. Kindly additionally seek advice from my web site =).
    We may have a hyperlink trade arrangement between us

  2. That is really interesting, You are an excessively professional blogger.
    I have joined your rss feed and look ahead to in quest of extra of
    your magnificent post. Additionally, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks

  3. It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly
    donate to this outstanding blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for book-marking and
    adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to brand new
    updates and will share this site with my Facebook group.
    Chat soon!

  4. My hope for the health and healing of the earth our mother to renew and reunite in melodic harmony and sacred trust of the spirit creator, my thoughts and actions of peace for this retreat are lifted up, with the whisps of smoking the calumet in great rembrance to live forever!

  5. I am very interested in the retreat. Are there provisions for food and housing? How many days are included? What is the cost? Is there anything I can do to help from California?

  6. Although my grandmother was full blooded Cherokee, she had to give my father up for adoption in 1929.I have never been able to locate my father’s original birth certificate or find out the name of my grandmother and where she lived. This has been a great loss for me. If I could join your retreat, perhaps I can feel some sense of inclusion amongst my Native American brothers and sisters. Thank you and prayers that you have a memorable retreat.
    Martha Cox

Lascia un commento

Il tuo indirizzo email non sarà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *

Click Subject for Related Content
Our Journal