Amy Walker is a Tribal Elder from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Her mother was Cherokee and her father was Lakota from the Rosebud Reservation. Her father, prior to attending boarding school, was known as Lone Wolf and passed away when Amy was 10 years old. Amy’s mother, who also attended boarding school, raised eight children on her own. Amy’s life has been committed to breaking the cycle of fragmentation from her traditions. She dedicates herself to healing through a daily prayer practice to Creator, as well as ensuring that her children and grandchildren are learning the Cherokee language. Amy is also a strong advocate for nature and has been an active voice in protecting the rights of endangered bears.
Amy will share her words at Voices of Wisdom, an event sponsored by the Sacred Fire Foundation, taking place just north of Asheville at the Sacred Fire Council House on August 26-27. Her teachings couldn’t come at a better time. Here at home in our region, lately it seems that different viewpoints between people may be leading to separation. For WNC Woman’s “Coming Home” edition, local poet and photographer Tracey Schmidt asked Amy about unity.
Tracey: We were hoping to talk about unity today, since there seems to be so much disconnection and strife in our world. What can you tell us about that?
Amy: I have to speak just personally, because I can’t speak for anyone else. My tribe has not given me permission to, anyway (laughs). The values that were taught [long ago] would be just as powerful and wonderful today, if we lived them. An individual needs to do work on themselves: internally, emotionally and spiritually. Spirituality has to be at the center of emotions and intellect. We could still drive cars, we could still watch TV. In the case of our people, we could still speak English instead of our own language. But the values that Cherokees lived back then would work today just very beautifully. We would be in a place where there was great respect and honor for all creation.
For example, people wouldn’t be allowed to frack. We wouldn’t be allowed to dump toxic chemicals in the water. We wouldn’t have to have agencies that would adopt our children out to different parts of the country. We would be able to take care of our own children. In fact, if we lived traditionally, then we wouldn’t have the problems of addiction and all those things that create situations where children have to be removed from their own culture.
And so, this is what I look at whenever I am talking about all things being interconnected. That circle of life can be like the circle of the earth. When all of the ice melts, what’s going to happen to where people live? Is it going to be all salt water? Are we going to have water to drink? Is it going to have to come to that before our leaders, and people who have businesses that depend on fracking and putting pollution out into the air, see? What’s it going to do to our water? Because water is one of those things we have to have in order to sustain life. Not only us two-leggeds, but practically everything else that’s on this earth. It’s taken me all these years of my life to truly get a glimpse and an understanding of what we need to be, to bring that back into focus. Standing Rock, for example. Standing Rock was talking about the value of water.
Tracey: Can you tell us more about those values?
Amy: In my life, it’s been impressed on me I should not do or put anything harmful in this physical body because it carries that spirit that gives life. I have that spirit that carries life; I have to honor it. I have value. That’s how our teaching goes. When I talk about values: what is it that we’re doing here?
I talked to a young lady about two and a half months ago, and one of the therapists sent her to me to take her to the water (special Cherokee healing ceremony) to do treatment. I knew a little bit about her family, and how hard it was for her. Something, the Creator, nudged me into asking her, “Did anybody ever tell you that you have value?” And I saw that question go through her body like a thunderstorm. I saw it, emotionally, go through her body like a thunderclap. There were big tears running down her cheeks, and she said “No.”
I said, “Well you do. You’re alive. You have lived through all that growing up.” I’m going to guess she’s close to fifty years old, but the people who raised her didn’t know how to value her. They didn’t know how to value themselves. And that’s a big part of what I talk about when I speak about what has happened to us, to our people, since the coming of other people from other countries. A lot of them came here because they didn’t have value: they were emptied out of jails, they were homeless people.
We have to go back to understanding what value is. It doesn’t make sense today, in the way a lot of people think about it. But that’s the bottom line. Value nurtures the spirit of what we carry inside of us. It nurtures that Creator God or Jesus, or whatever name different people have. That’s what nurtures who we are today, if we understand and know how that works.
Tracey Schmidt’s poetry and art, including her beautiful Native American museum exhibit photographs, can be seen at traceyschmidt.com. Learn more from Amy Walker at Voices of Wisdom, featuring tribal elders Amy Walker (Cherokee/Lakota) and Wanbdi Wakita (Dakota) August 26-27, 2017. Please visit www.sacredfirefoundation.org/voices-of-wisdom/ to register.