Sanctuary Steward: Cindy Bloom
The Cherokee people say there is a place in the Smokey Mountains where the animals go to be healed. The Creator warned the people not to follow the wounded animals to this magical lake or the wild game would vanish forever. The animals guard this place and keep it invisible to the human eye. It is said that if we continue to respect and protect the animals as the Creator has asked, that we, too, one day may be able to see these healing waters. This story is ancient but its lesson is consciously modern. Our Creation stories, culture and world view are based on our inter-relationship with all life. Our behavior is dictated by Natural Laws. This way of life is reinforced by the Creator’s message in the story.
Being of Cherokee heritage, this story has a special place in my heart. A2.5 acre lake/pond abounding with plants and wildlife is the center of 50 acres of woods, wetlands, and prairie. It is this “Place”, (the pond) that is central to all the teaching that take place here. A private road leads you through a wooded area where wild geranium, trillium, yarrow, mayapple, and many other plants hug the road. The property opens up into an old oak savannah. It is here that 150 to 200 year-old oaks, 50 year-old shagbark hickory, wild cherry trees and the lake exist. This area is surrounded by 10 acres of wetlands, 10 acres of prairie, and 30 acres of woodland. Two years ago when we purchased the land, we began clearing invasive species from the woodlands and planting endangered and at-risk native plants. The McHenry County Conservation District is assisting us in the restoration of the 10 acre prairie. They estimate that in 3-4 years we will have restored it to its prior condition 200 years ago, with over 300 species of plants, grasses and sedges. The Conservation District has also donated over 50 trees that have been planted at the edges of the woods. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Joliet, Illinois, has provided us with over 100 native plants through their annual plant sale. Friends at Wildlife Prairie State Part in Peoria, Illinois, have gifted us with a variety of native seeds, so that we can grow corn, beans, and squash. A Cherokee friend who works for the Department of Agriculture in Springfield, Illinois, has supplied us with white sage, sweetgrass plugs, and native tobacco seed for many years now.
In the short 2-year time span that we have owned the land, students and teachers (kindergarten through college levels), professionals, social workers, Elders, community members and friends have shared their experiences here. Numerous experiential classes taught by myself and others, have been held at this 50-acre sanctuary. My extensive library includes books on herbal, alternative and traditional healing. There are numerous books on Indigenous cultures, Pre-Columbian history, ancient plant medicines and art from around the world, with many on a child’s level. This library has provided a “place” where students and teachers have come to engage in research, papers, projects and self-enlightenment for over 20 years.
Safe Haven Wildlife Refuge Center in Marengo, Illinois, has released wounded or orphaned animals onto our property after they have been rehabilitated. The turtles (box, painted, and snapping) have reclaimed the sand volleyball court, built by the former owners, as their rookery for the laying of their eggs. The American Indian dog roamed the Americas for thirty thousand years. Threatened with extinction after European contact, the breed has been kept alive by only a handful of dog breeders. To enhance the dog’s preservation and increase dispersion, I have become an owner and certified breeder myself, and the new pups with make this sanctuary their home, too.
The environmental holocaust has impacted not only the health of indigenous cultures through disease, but has decimated the plants used for ceremony and medicine, as well as those used by traditional weavers for dyes and fiber. Some of these plants include bloodroot, walnut, sumac, nettle, milkweed, and dogbane, and these all grow on the property. In our Origin Story, four woven cords hold the Earth in place and connect it to another world in the sky where the Ancestors reside. Our basketry traditions tell a story of social and ecological change as well as adaptation to new environments. To hold a split river cane, white oak, honeysuckle or red maple basket in your hands is to know the ancient knowledge, inseparable from the times of removal and assimilation that transform into patterns of the future.
For centuries, the land has been a source of misunderstanding, abuse and power. The desecration has stopped at nothing, not even ancestral burial grounds. Most important in my life has been my work protecting existing burial grounds, as well as facilitating the return of over 200,000 of our ancestral remains and sacred objects. My efforts and the efforts of others in the Midwest has not only resulted in the protection of burial and sacred sites but in the restoration of these sacred places with native plant habitats. It has taken us 11 years since the passage of the federal law entitled The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to finally have land donated in Illinois for a burial site near Wildlife Prairie State Park. The site is being restored with native vegetation. Only then will it be fit to bring over 12,000 of our Ancestors home for reburial.
Our ancient prophecies tell of a massive destruction of human, plant and animal life on this Sacred Land. They tell of a people without conscience who defy the Creator and Natural Laws. In a world that truly does not recognize all people as equal or related, we have a monumental task. It will take a collective global consciousness to deal not only with the catastrophic rates of extinction of plants, animals and indigenous cultures but with the pervading threat to all human existence as well. Breath is life, given to us from the Earth’s bounty. Our breath, the words we speak, what we teach takes on a power all its own. Through words we can seek to shape “all that is.” In the dynamics of prayer, ritual, ceremony, healing wholeness, and beauty, humans, plants and animals share an intrinsic role in the collective transformation of creation. This sanctuary is a magical “Place” where tomorrow’s children have the opportunity to learn, teach and reweave the consciousness of generations. It is a Place where humans, plants and animals are safe and nurtured, and where they can heal their wounds.