It was a long steep descent into the valley to the Onondaga Indian tribal land. I arrived in the evening with my dog Petey. Although I feel deeply connected to indigenous peoples by my lifestyle and respect for the environment and animals, I was still unsure how to approach what was sure to be at the minimum a superficial cultural rift. I found a lone empty teepee in the town, and decided to pitch my tent next to the teepee as an invitation for an Indian to come stay in the teepee to talk to me. No one did. Perhaps what they saw was, “white woman comes, no Indian in teepee”. The Great Spirit did send an Indian dog in the middle of the night, and he did circles around our tent communicating our presence to the tribe. Later, I learned the words for invitation: “We swe ongwahangwah” in Onondaga – a language that is being lost. This literally means “Everyone is invited.” That is what I was trying to communicate with my tent across the language and cultural divide.
We swe ongwahangwah – Everyone is Invited
The next day Shaman Andy came by. He explained to me that they were a nation of long houses, not teepees. We talked about diabetes, and when he found out that I was diabetic, he encouraged me to climb back up out of valley the same way that I had come in. I thought to myself, there is no way I could do that with a 70 pound pack. Another woman showed me an easier way out. I hate having to retrace my steps. He was a good shaman though, and right about what was best for my health.