Death of an Indian (Birth of a Shaker)

June 19, 2020

I was delighted to read as part of the Margin Shift series on Thursday, June 18, 2020. Earlier in the day I thought I would rehearse a long poem that is a huge part of the newly expanded edition of my book A Time Before Slaughter. The new section is Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia.

A story I would have told during the reading is that when I first moved to Seattle, in 1988, I had already been seeking a spiritual path and I ended up finding indigenous people and communities, including Beaver Chief, a teacher and friend who served on the Board of the organization that is now SPLAB. Through him and his Red Cedar Circle, which happened for a while at the Auburn SPLAB I learned many Shaker Songs. So when I started researching the history of Cascadia, it was interesting to see the Shaker Church as a uniquely Cascadian thing: not quite indigenous, but surely not in the “monotheistic religion” category. The poem I read below is a telling of the founding of the Shaker Church and John Slocum’s near death experience.

The interesting thing to me about my connection to the songs of the Shaker Church is that I joined Subud in 2004 and when my Latihan practice really caught on, it was as if my deep self was composing something like Shaker Church songs, but as if influenced by the music of the 70s fusion band Weather Report. So “Beaver Chief meets Zawinul.”


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