Friday, March 11, 2011

Vana Lawson: A Dream in Her Honor

A beautiful Pomo elder I had the pleasure & honor of knowing died on Monday. Vana Lawson was an anthropologist, author, ethnobotanist, jeweler, gourd artist, & invaluable supporter of many, many relatives & friends. Daughter of Kashaya spiritual leader Essie Parrish, Vana was also a medicine carrier, passing the traditional ways of her people into the future. I will always treasure the hours I was so fortunate to spend with her.

Last night I & three others from the Pomo Project--Janey Hirsh, Laura Shafer, & Sterling Hoffmann--attended a memorial service to honor her memory & her life. We were deeply moved by the outpouring of affection witnessed by so many she had sheltered, counseled, and nourished over the years.

In the pre-dawn, I had this dream:

The Pomo have built a homeless shelter near the Sebastopol-Santa Rosa seam of the Laguna. It is called Vana Lawson House. There are five squarish buildings with mansard roofs, painted a warm olive green, with the function of each stenciled in yellow ochre: Sleeping, Feeding, Doctoring, Learning, Playing. The Sleeping house has rows of bunk beds & showers. The Feeding house has tables & a well-equipped kitchen. The Doctoring house is a clinic where modern & traditional medicines work together. The Learning house has shelves of books, a few computers, displays of art & crafts, a circle of chairs for talks on Pomo traditions, job hunting, legal advice, & community life. The Playing house is where children enjoy happiness independent of financial fortune.

In this dream, I saw that this homeless shelter was not built for homeless Pomo, who might better be taken in by relatives. Rather, it served all kinds of people, especially those whose cultures fail at taking care of their members. It was created & run not just by Vana's Kashaya people, but by members of different bands of Pomo acting together for a common good. It was funded by casino money, from several different casinos. These were its benefits:

A warm dry place for people to sleep & rest with dignity while lacking the funds for rental housing.
Good meals eaten in a nourishing atmosphere for families & individuals going through hard times.
Health care & counseling to help people weather difficulties & find their way back to usefulness & prosperity.
Protection for the children of destitute families.
Sharing knowledge & building community for people feeling left out, left behind, so they can be embraced by the world around them.
Cooperation among different bands of Pomo, healing divisions & creating strong alliances.
The Pomo being seen & appreciated by the larger community as innovative, compassionate, effective contributors.
Increased interest in Pomo tradition by the larger community, as well as within the younger generations of Pomo.
Indian gaming seen in a new light.
Modeling Pomo values of caring & responsibility as a positive influence in a culture suffering from misplaced priorities.

This is my attempt to put into words a dream that was brief, vivid, visual & profound. While it was mostly images, all these elements were instantaneously contained in it. It would be amazing & wonderful if such a place comes into being. Otherwise, I understand it to represent some of what Vana held in her heart, for her family, her Pomo people, & the world at large. It was this generosity & hope that led her to work with us fumbling white people to create Sebastopol's Pomo Honoring Month, to trust our intentions to bring forth something good. It was this generosity & hope that ran through the witness of all those who spoke their love of her last night.

We have lost a great one. May we carry Vana's generosity & hope far forward.

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