Getting to the Roots of Transformative Healing
LM – Welcome to everyone who is joining us here today. My name is Lauren unions. I am the newest program manager here at Sachamama. We are so happy to welcome you here today in this amazing conversation with a truly incredible being that’s joining us here today. Reverend Houston Cypress. I really don’t have enough words in my heart to share the deep gratitude that it is to be able to have this conversation with you. I know I’ve started a million times prior to this conversation, but this being has been doing incredible work to really rethink our relationship with the planet and to start creating accountability for clean energy, setting frameworks for what that could look like. So truly from the bottom of our heart here at Sachamama I want to thank you for joining us here today and we’re so excited to get to know you and without too much more, I really just want to open up the space for you to share with us how you arrive here, What brings you to this work? Who are you? How do you identify and how do all of these things now begin to inform this work and how you see, thank you for being here.
R.HC – Thank you Laura and thank you to all our friends that are enjoying this podcast. It’s really an honor to share a little bit about who I am and how I got here. I would like to start off by saying that I’m from the Otter clan, which is one of the families that make up the Miccosukee tribe of Indians of Florida. And so, the way that we look at our sense of family is that it’s a gift from our mother’s side. So down on my mother’s side of the family is the Otter family. And then my other side of the family are from the Bird clan, the bird family. And we have about seven or eight plans today in the community. and I say like seven or eight because we have a few more clans that are becoming a part of our community from the Seminole tribe, but there used to be more families, more clans within the tribe. But because of the history of colonization and all of that, some of these families are no longer with us. So I like to talk about my experience of my time on this planet as being a part of a living narrative, a living story. And the way I think about that is because all our stories as Miccosukee and Seminole people, Seminole tribe are extended family and friends that are just to the north of us. I live in the area just west of Miami Florida in wetlands that’s called the Everglades and my indigenous community came to south Florida a couple of 100 years ago to hide and to survive in the Everglades, in recent history, in the past few 100 years, my community has survived a lot of conflict with the United States, and we found refuge here in south Florida in the Everglades. There are three islands that are out here that support all the different species. And it also was a refuge for my ancestors. So, these places kept us safe and they still keep us safe by offering us to plant medicines, by freeing as the fruits and vegetables by providing support for the animals that we that we care for and that we hunt and eat. So, this place does so much to take care of our people in our community. And when I was growing up here in the Everglades, it was a place to play in a place to enjoy. But as I grew up, I realized that it was so much more, not only a place that supports us, but it also is a place to learn.We can interpret our experiences here, but sometimes if you just listen deeply to the land, into the water, into the animals, then you can use your intuition to interpret the message of what nature is telling us. So, these are the things that I’ve been learning and practicing deeper as I grew up and became a young man. And when I was a young man, I realized that my uncles and my parents were doing very well and speaking up for the Everglades and these natural places and it inspired me to do that in my own style. And so that kind of inspired me into an artistic practice that engages poetry, I think the way I live my life more as a poet and that extends into the other ways that I have express myself through the arts. I do that through video and photography and filmmaking and I’m starting to get into performance arts as well. But I think my journey here has been one of activism for demand and also, learning more about what it means this phrase of gender diversity, as I was growing up, I realized that I was a gay man and I also had this critique of the different gay communities because it seemed to be that they were taking their inspiration or celebrating a lot of whiteness, a lot of capitalism and I didn’t really identify too much with those things. And so,I was looking for communities that will affirm and support me as an indigenous person.
That took me to visit with people that are in the two Spirit Movement. This to Spirit Movement is about restoring the indigenous and traditional understandings of gender. So, depending what community you’re from, maybe you have a different idea of gender and what your duties and responsibilities are. I guess there was a way for me to stay connected to my cultural roots. And also to embrace other notions of gender and responsibility to the community. So I brought some of these teachings and these sense of joy back to my community because here in the Miccosukee world, it’s a very binary situation with a lot of opportunities for men to contribute to the community, opportunities for women to contribute to the community. But what about the people that are in between men and women or outside of these binaries? I’m trying to support more and more of the young people in my community who are finding joy in being nonbinary or finding joy in being trans. So that has become a big part of my life these days. And so I like to do that by supporting this nonprofit here in south Florida.It’s called Unity Coalition, Coalicion Unida, and one of South Florida’s longest active LGBT organizations that serve Hispanic and LatinX and indigenous communities. So that’s been a part of my journey. And also, there was a community here in South Florida, a spiritual community that was a Universalist organization, I appreciated that perspective because when I was growing up in the Mekoosukee world, I was always taught to respect the other plans to other families because each plan or each family has their own ceremonies and their own special words that they use. So I was always taught that if somebody from another family or something does something different to respect that because we might do our own thing a little bit differently. And so there’s Universalist community, I kind of felt that it was the same vibe, but in a broader embrace like to respect other religions to respect the other faiths and other practices. So like that’s why I appreciated it and studied a little bit more and that’s where I got my ordination, the sense of ministry and for me ministry is not necessarily about standing in a church or in the building, but helping people to connect with the earth, creating events where people feel happy and welcome. I think that’s my sense of ministry, like bringing people together and then bringing them to nature and letting them be inspired by nature. Sothat’s the kind of feeling that has helped me to serve, these different organizations and create my own organization with my friends. And so we created this organization called Love the Everglades movement and I’m still trying to stay connected to my roots because I like to visit communities, I like to travel and explore the world, but always about staying connected to the Everglades that loves me and that I love back. So that’s a little bit about my journey, the arts, the spirituality and my roots. And then just to remind people that my first language growing up is Miccosukee, you have to speak Miccosukee if you want to talk to the elders, and now as I make more friends in different communities, I’m learning to speak Spanish and I did get better at that and I think communications technology has its own language too that’s where I’ve been experimenting with the films and things. That’s a little bit about who I am.
LM – wow, thank you so much and what a range of experiences and identities and knowledge and deep wisdom, you know, the realm of the work, right? And really you can tell how it is so directly tied to your own experience and how from that place, as you said, really connecting from within you are bringing out a work that is so transformative and you know, as you were speaking, I felt so called and I felt so drawn right? Sometimes his work of transformation of and the work of survival, right? How the land has allowed your peoples to survive during moments of such terrible colonization and harm, right? and now this invitation that you have this beautiful, even though there are these histories, this approach that it’s bringing so much joy but centering really healing, healing the communities and creating a space for the rest of this world to step into that same energy to step into that same invitation to connect and to heal the relationship that we have with our planet because, you know, that same energy and that same idea of stripping of un sustainability of looking at land like objects to use rather than, you know, this beautiful ecosystem of believing beings has continued to decline our planet and we’re seeing so much harm that it might be waking us up, right? And I guess that’s another thing we want to here right? We’ve recently had the U. S. Federal government acknowledge indigenous peoples day right? For the very first time in history in 2021. So there’s a lot to say about that and there’s a moment where we see climate change, tearing our ecosystems, harming our natural world and us as part of this natural world also being harmed. And so there are many folks that are waking up to this reality and looking to the deep knowledge right in our indigenous communities, what how do you see this shift right? That perhaps there are some steps forward but we know that there was folks at the White House right? on indigenous peoples days also asking the administration for new steps and you know, the response was not the one that should have been. And so there is this conflict, how do you see it from your perspective, right? With this wise hope that you have but also the acknowledgement of the realities that we live in what are the ambition that you see for sustainable futures and also this moment and the way forward?
R.HC – Well I definitely like to see and learn from how young people are taking the technologies and the communications equipment that’s available for us today and using that to inspire action. So, when I saw some of my community members from Miccosukee going to Washington D. C. to stand with other indigenous communities. And alsoI saw her in The Guardian publication and I was very proud of what she was doing.And so like there’s a lot of hope in the young people to kind of lead the way forward. So much of the theory and the practice of the principles and concepts that I am inspired by, like gender diversity, like communications and social media has been advanced by the youth. So that’s great. And if we can still stay connected to the wisdom of people that are older than us, I think that’s a powerful force in the world. When I think about this recent proclamation in the United States, about indigenous peoples day, I think that’s a good thing. But I’m also critical of the political situation in general because of my experience advocating for the Everglades. When I was when I was growing up out here. I was watching my grandparents and then my parents’ generation struggle with the long term process that political change is about here in the United States anyway, maybe things are different in other countries, And I’ve seen that in my short time doing this advocacy as well, there is one issue that took us about eight years to find progress on in the meantime, the pollution still flows into the canals and into the waters. But through eight years of persistence were able to find solutions. So here’s a sense of understanding that um some things take a long time if you’re going through the political process. But I think there’s hope in finding leadership from the communities directly. I think let’s talk about this indigenous people stay very specifically because here in the United States, back in 2009, the United States actually apologized to the indigenous nations of the country for all of the atrocities and harm that the US committed during the colonization of this land. Not many people knew about the apology. it took a poet to bring it to my attention. Miss Daily Long Soldier in her book called “Whereas”she did a poetic response to that. And so that’s how I learned about the apology, like about eight years later, not even recent, not even after the apology back in 2009, I learned about it much later. So what I’m saying is let’s not rely too much on political leadership for reconciliation because that’s part that’s about the healing work that still needs to be done between nations and communities, like let’s look to the communities themselves, let’s look to the people themselves to do that kind of work. And I think when the people and the communities are prioritizing this, then then the politics will prioritize it too, because it looks like the political situation tends to prioritize corporations and we’re spending the money, but people still have the power if they stand up and speak up for themselves. And so that’s why I’m hopeful about this communications technology these days, because we can use these tools in our own way. Even though these tools were created in the capitalist system in a corporate system, I think we can bend the tools and use it for how we need to use it.
When I was growing up, I would see my grandfather do woodcarvings, but what he did was he there was no tools that were appropriate to do the correct kind of carvings that he needed so he would bend his own tools sharp knife and turn it into a hook by heating it up and bending it. And so I think that’s a way to de colonize the tools that are appropriate. They’re available for us. Or like I think that’s what my community is doing, even with the scientific tools that are available, and that’s why Miccosukee tribe, my community has been such a leader in protecting the environment because when we’re using these scientific tools that were created by Western civilization or other processes, maybe they have to rely on being objective or being empirical for decision making, but not with our community when it comes to make decisions, using the scientific tools we put the decisions to the elders and so they have a different philosophy that they’re using to make decisions. They’re looking at how do they uphold the circle of life when they make decisions not being objective, not being empirical, but from a philosophy that says, we’re a part of a greater community of species and how do we maintain that harmony? So that’s how we’re bending the tools of science for our own and for the purposes of the circle of life. So that’s why I’m hopeful for people using their own voices and using their own traditions and using their own understandings of their relationship with the natural world. So that’s what was there some of the ideas that I’m thinking about when I think about the indigenous peoples Day and that apology that happened about 13 years ago. Let’s look to the people and let’s look to the communities for leadership and let’s keep reminding our elected officials that we have the power even if that means we have to stand up and make it colorful ruckus.
LM – Yes, beautiful. And oh, I am digesting, I am digesting. But I as you were speaking right now, as we’re thinking about communities engaging, right, working communities across the world that are saying this is this land, we see this and looking at, you know, some of the research that has been coming out social, you know, social studies about how people feel, I know that people of the Latin American diaspora that are here have been coming out saying that they have such deep care for the planet, right? They care so much, but because they’ve been looking for too political leadership often, right, as the only path forward, then there’s a solution and there’s lack of action because it’s like it seems so far away, it’s like all the way out there with the big power players who me being the little person, right? That I that I can feel thatI am, how can I ever make a difference? And so this approach of saying, look, you don’t look at this resilience, look at this land and the knowledge that I have looked at this way of approaching it and remember that yeah, maybe alone, we can feel like the small little person, but collectively, right, looking to the community is looking to their direct experiences, Do we have so much power to really shift this happening? And so, you know, that the invitation to remember that just really resonates so much with the needs of this moment. And you know, I guess my next question is for so many folks that right now, I believe might be starting to turn and say, okay, you know, there has been this harm done to indigenous communities across the world colonization, imperialism, right? The range of violence is that have happened. And yet now we are turning to the same communities, right? And saying, teach us how do we survive now? You have done it, you know, amidst all this violence. Amidst, you know, everything that’s happened in great part and you know, there’s a diverse range of what indigenous communities look like across the world, but you know that we are as a collective right, turning back and saying there is so much knowledge, but at the same time we’re still fixing right? And in the in the process of reconciliation as the peoples. And so as we do that, how do we not recreate those same harms? Right? How do we honor and decolonize and look to the community? Right. What what do you see as a step forward for the climate movement? That is heavily white right? That is American, European northern right? Because that’s where the resources, that is where we look at working people of the world, you know, that have been the most impacted. And yet the movements don’t really reflect the impact of those, people that have been impacted. What do you see with all of these playing out and, and the way that we can start approaching the sacred knowledge, right? In a way that is respectful and regenerative and that create healing for both are planning for our peoples and communities?
R. HC – Well, I know that there’s some indigenous nations that are asking for a slower process regarding big meetings. For example, the cop 26 meeting, some indigenous communities wanted to have that rescheduled so that they could participate fully in that process. So I think that there is a sense of urgency at some levels to stop the extractions or to greatly reduce or slow it down to keep the minerals in the land. Like those things are urgent, but we also have to find a way to respect different people’s calendars and different people’s sense of time because for me, in my community, we have obligations, spiritual obligations that sometimes require us to slow down to start to reflect and rest and then go back into the process of community engagement. So sometimes we just have to respect that communities need a little bit of extra time to plan. And so whatever people are asking for, let’s do what we can to accommodate them so I’m asking to, to work at two different timescales, one that is urgent for corporations and for nations and one that is a little bit slower or more open to nuance for the people that need that too. I don’t know that’s probably t asking a lot, but I think it’s possible. And I mean overall whatever we can do to increase the autonomy that indigenous people have over the lands that they care for, because indigenous communities being so close to the land, having such a strong local relationship with their ecology, know what’s best for their areas.
Maybe that means listening to this movement that says land back.And if that’s not a possible situation, give them the environmental rights or conservation authority to protect those places how they see fit. I think that’s some ways that we can move forward because indigenous people are at the front lines of the situation. They also have a lot of knowledge that they may or may not be willing to share because and that’s where the work of the reconciliation is so vital because it helps us to clear some of the obstacles that are still lingering in the conversation. For example, when I was growing up out here in FloridaEverglades, I was hearing stories about how some of our elders still think that they’re at war with the United States because there has never been, any agreement to stop the war. And so a lot of times they think that there’s still fighting, but just in a different setting instead of with guns in the field, maybe it’s with lawyers in the courtroom or with money in the media and things like that. So, that is something that’s going to get in the way of the invitation that comes to share knowledge. So why would I want to share knowledge with somebody who still treats me badly. I think if we can do more healing work along those lines, that, that will help us to be open to share more knowledge with each other. And my new phrase is, how can we share the joys of our gardens with each other? And that kind ofreminds us to stay connected to the land that kindof opensthe opportunity to share a good meal. And when people are happy with food in their belly, it’s a good time to tell stories. Also play some music and dance as well. So I think those are some of the things that I think about in terms of this climate movement, but really I think that so much of the damage is being done on a larger scale, corporations and nations, than people can, because sometimes I hear that people need to make changes in their lifestyle and that’s true too, but so much more can be done by bigger entities like nations and corporations. I’m also very skeptical here in the United States of corporate influence because legislation a few years ago gave even more power to the corporations acknowledging their personhood, but they’re not people. They’re not people, it’s a money making venture and we have to be very, protective of our rights, of our natural rights or spiritual rights rather than giving these over two to money making ventures that corporations are. Those are some things that come up for me.
But I also want to balance this notion of the traditional ecological knowledge that indigenous communities have with contemporary notion of the queer ecological knowledge because I’m always looking for ways to bring gender diverse people, LGBTQ people into the circle and so that’s my way of respecting what queer and LGBTQ people have to offer because with the different sensibility that they have, they can also perceive nature differently and I think create art differently. So I think these are ways that we can embrace our friends and family in the LGBTQ community too. So those are some priorities that I have and I think that that would help us move forward in doing this climate work.
LM – thank you so much. Thank you for everything that you shared for, you know, even though these histories exist yet, here you are so generously sharing, you know, this this knowledge this way, you know of thinking about time, an urgency and priorities and community and joy and the diversity of human expression and so truly well provided such deep knowledge for me today. And I’m sure to so many of the people listening and spaces for us to inquire and to really think about what healing could look like, right, what healing could look like with our communities, um, what
healing could look like for communities that could further, you know, take us to another level and holding accountable the systems, you know what has brought us to this moment so that we can truly help and be able to have a deeper connection.
So thank you already, you have imparted so much knowledge and you know, before we are right out of time, like I just wonder if there’s any other final words that that you would like to share with the audience here today, any action step, you know, if there’s one thing that you said, okay, you know, maybe you took some of the things from the conversation, maybe you’re still processing some things, right? But what is one thing that you would say, step into this today? An invitation, you know, for the folks listening that are saying, yeah, I want to heal our relationships with our planet and our communities. I want to start taking these actions, but maybe I feel so small that I don’t know what to do. What is one thing that you can say, perhaps this is this is an action that you can take as you leave this conversation and go to the rest of your life.
R. HC – Well, I think something that is pretty simple for people to do is to remember that the urban matrix that people live in is one situation, but there is a reality that is more natural that we can engage with and so do what you can to go to the woods more often, maybe there’s places where you can find the trail or nature center or something like that but really just do your do your best to make friends with these places. And that, that does, that sounds like a very simple action, but it can also be a very radical practice if you do that more often and put these places to listen deeply. We know that when we have our gardens at home, that if we talk to our plants that they grow better and stronger and taller. So imagine how these places will feel if you come and present yourself as a friend. So introduce yourself to these (natural) places as a matter of protocol. Maybe you might want to share something of yourself that is intangible like a poem or a dance or a song or prayer and just become better friends with these places and be open to the message that they have to give you. And wherever you are, I think you can practice that. If you’re lucky enough to be living much closer to these places, then maybe you have an opportunity to share the intuition or the message that you receive and then that way you can share your message from nature through your art or through other communications but feel empowered to tell your stories of these places. I’m sure there’s something that’s going to be special that’s just for you and that’s private from these places. That’s okay. But if there’s something that you feel that it’s open to share with the public, please feel free to be more open about sharing nature’s message with your communities.
LM – Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you is all I can say R. HC -So I just wanted to remind folks that I have a website called Love the Everglades dot org. and in the blog section we created some tools that’s available to download. It’s called an accountability framework and there’s also a guide that goes along with it. So, we tried our best as a group because there was a group that made it. We tried our best to include advice from different communities and different movements to center communities of color, indigenous communities, black communities in the process so that they could, advance, in this work but really, it’s an opportunity for communities to do their best and to hold themselves accountable as they transition to using clean energy or renewable energy.1So,I wanted to let your friends know that this is available to download. The majority of it is in English and I think we’re going to work on a translation in other languages soon. But that’s something that I wanted to share with you all.
LM – Thank you so much and I’ve had a chance to review that framework. It is phenomenal. So,I encourage everyone listening to check it out and we’ll definitely include links so that you can connect and you know, before we finish up. Is there anything else that as Sachamama or the listeners that we can support the incredible work that you are leading, that you are doing to, to restore this land and our community with our relationship with them. Anything else that you would like to share for, for folks to get like them?
R. HC – I guess it’s really an invitation to share your stories because I would like to learn better about what is happening in your local vicinity. So whenever you find the message that you want to share from your, from your local natural places, feel free to share it with me as a poem or online or however you feel you want to express yourself, as a dance or a song or a story. I want to learn, what your vicinity, your location has to say. So I look forward to hearing from you and what your stories are.
LM – What a beautiful way to close our space here together. And once again,thank you so much, I mean, this conversation has deeply touched my heart and I am taking the invitation. I very much enjoy dancing in the woods. I, you know, I invite everybody else to just take this invitation. Go ahead and connect, so deeply, because I I agree that from that place we might be able to show a better for the work that’s ahead. So thank you once again for being here with us today. Thank you for taking time to share this knowledge and for trusting and for guiding us. We’re really, really so, so grateful. And it has been a total pleasure to be able to have this conversation today and to everyone listening, um, share, Tell your friends, tell your family, we need you all and each and everyone of you listening and the power that you have to take this invitation, connect with nature, share your stories, move into advocacy, create community to protect the lands around you. It’s an invitation connect to a community, connect within and this this work continues. Thank you so much for joining us.
R. HC- Thank you. A beautiful afternoon