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  Sunday, November 1 2:46pm PST

Saatchi & Saatchi
Thunder in the Cathedral
'Dramatic' gathering highlights plight of indigenous peoples

Santiago Kawarim
Wrathful winds and howling rains lashed the interior of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, high in the city's scenic hills. Outside the Gothic doors of this landmark Episcopal church, though, the sun continued shining, the day remained still and blue.

Hundreds of delegates from the State of the World Forum were gathered this morning (28 October)for one of the Forum's keynote sessions, "Honoring the Sanctity of our Rainforests and Respecting the Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples." While its name may have been slightly cumbersome, the tone was dramatic enough - a fast and passionate presentation of the various ecological plights facing parts of the planet's indigenous peoples. For good measure, a film that opened the session featured highly-amplified sounds of the natural elements.

It is safe to say that the mood of many attendees was suitably drenched.

Abby Napeahi

A half-dozen tribal speakers were introduced by Lynn Twist, a co-founder of The Pachamama Alliance, a U.S. organization that seeks to build cultural bridges between the industrialized world and leaders of remote indigenous groups in the Amazon region of Ecuador - a relationship initiated by the region's indigenous elders and shamans. Ms. Twist spoke of her own travels to the Amazon. She talked about her initial encounters with the region's indigenous peoples, and castigated what she described as being the "unconscious assumptions" of many in the West that its way of life was in any way superior to that of the tribal communities with whom she works.

"The endless judging that plagues our way of thinking is entirely absent in theirs," she said, in a speech that was long on feeling but perhaps a little short on specifics as to how the Anglo-American world might find a way out of its suggested torpor.

Berito Kuwar U'wa

Among the featured guests - all in native garb - were Santiago Kawarim, a tribesman president of the Ecuador-based Achuar Federation. After living "for centuries in harmony with nature," he said, the region's tribes now faced the real possibility of extinction. Another speaker, Berito Kuwar U'wa, a Colombian Indian, sang a portion of a song dedicated to describing the way of life currently under threat by the destruction of the rainforests by multinational companies in pursuit of oil.

Attendees listened intently to an octogenarian native Hawaiian elder, Abby Napeahi, as she described the Polynesian lifestyle's sometimes nettlesome relationship with mainstream American life in the nation's 50th state.

Also of particular note was Leonard George, an Aboriginal American chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, located near Vancouver, in Canada. He inveighed against the Canadian government's recent moves to cut a highway through native lands.

He offered a personal message, as well: "How do you bring healing and health to the world?" he asked. "You start with yourself."

Alas, a telltale sign of how far some of the attendees might yet have to go in this quest was suggested during the messages of Mr. George and others who came before him. On a number of occasions, the aboriginal song and dance was interrupted by the slightly surreal sound of delegates' cricketing cellphones, which, in the context of the gathering, probably cut even more of a presence than the morning's special weather effects.


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