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Walking a Sacred Path with

Black-Native American Women

By Edith Billups


When more than 100 individuals turned out in July 2010 for a Black-Native American pow wow in Virginia, the event was touted as the first of its kind held on the East Coast.

Attracting tribes from North Carolina to Alaska, the event honored a cherished Black-Native American elder who had symbolized the embodiment of the Divine Feminine and who had a walked a sacred path for more than 60 years.

Held on the ancestral land of a Black Chickahominy family and featuring drumming, dancing and song, the 1st Annual Mountain Eagle Place Intertribal Pow Wow honored the memory of Mountain Eagle Woman, (Mama Binta Hasan), a Cherokee Choctaw Sacred Medicine Carrier. Born in 1922 in Mississippi, the revered elder, affectionately known as “Mommi,” transitioned in 2000 after being injured in a car accident.

Those attending came to pay homage to the elder whom her family called “the full walking embodiment of Divine Womanness.” The elder dedicated her life to teaching the power, beauty, and grace of the divine feminine in the indigenous woman. Mountain Eagle Woman also was known for her deep connection to the Creator and to the Earth and Nature. She stressed the importance of women using their hands and songs to nurture and heal the Earth and bring forth herbs for healing the family and the nation.

I met the beautiful, silver-haired elder in the late 1990’s, having traveled with her and her family to build a Native American sweat lodge in Cape May, NJ. Along the way, Mountain Eagle Woman would always say a prayer each time we crossed a body of water. While building the sacred purification lodge, I learned from her how to honor the Earth with each shovel of dirt. Prayers and offerings of cornmeal were always placed in the holes where we had disturbed the grounds.

The memory of those sacred teachings would stay with me when I began meeting other females with Black-Native American ancestry who would teach me how to offer prayers and ceremony for the Earth. These women included Shri Natha Devi Premananda, a Black Native-American spiritual leader from Los Angeles who is the founder of Eagle Wings of Enlightenment Center dedicated to peace and non-violence. The great granddaughter of Black Wolf, a Cherokee Native elder, Mataji, travels the world offering ceremony and prayers for the healing of the Earth and her waters. The universal teacher for world peace also teaches meditation and how to use ceremonies for self-purification.

Other women included Penny Gamble Williams, a Maryland resident and radio host, whose lineage includes Wam-panoag, Alabama Creek, African and European. Williams, the former sunksqua (chief) of the Chappaquiddick of Massachusetts, and her husband, Thunder, presented the concept for a Smithsonian traveling exhibit, “Indivisible,” that describes the history between Africans and Native Americans in the western hemisphere. To learn about relationships forged between Africans and Native Americans, visit www.nmai.si.edu/exhibitions/indivisible.

On my journey, I developed a deep connection between these sacred women who embrace their Black American and Native American ancestries and honor their indigenous ceremonies and wisdom teachings. I find them unique, mystical and highly spiritual. “It is because of their faith and the blood lines from their ancestors,” says Mataji.

According to Gamble Williams, in ceremonial and healing rituals, wisdom teachings can be powerful tools, “because one connects with the land and the water and the power of their ancestors.” When participating in a sweat lodge purification ceremony she notes, “You are at one with the elements. You feel the intensity of the steam, and the heat and power of the grandfather stones. It takes you to a whole other consciousness.”

The impact of Mountain Eagle Woman and Mataji continue to resonate with me deeply, as I discover my own ability to be used as a facilitator for healing. Although I am a long-time journalist, media relations consultant and travel writer, recent work with a transformative healing modality that uses spiritual energy to bring the environment and individuals into balance has led me to my Soul’s Purpose.

In hindsight, I now realize that a gift for healing is in my genes. In my family, I’ve been told stories of my paternal grandmother, Frances Billups, a very gifted healer. The Swainsboro, Georgia native was a humble housewife gifted with the ability to heal individuals who had been burned in fires. She is said to have used scripture to “talk the fire out of” individuals.

Therefore in this powerful year of 2012, I will celebrate women like my grandmother, Mountain Eagle Woman, Mataji and Sobonfu Somé, an African ritual teacher whose wisdom teachings from the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso, resonate with my soul. They have helped me to embrace my Soul’s Purpose and to relish the sacred teachings entrusted to my care.

These include learning that all women, when joined together in ceremony, have unbelievable power. I have learned that their prayers are even more powerful during the time of the Full Moon and when Spirit calls, by surrendering, your Soul’s Journey will be miraculously revealed.

Additionally, I have learned the power of connecting with the world’s water and its ability to heal. I have learned the power of fire, and the power of one’s own breath. All of this I have learned from sacred women, and continue to learn daily as my Soul evolves.

Finally, I will remember, and am grateful to, all young women who are embracing the wisdom teachings. At the pow wow, Zena Duze, a South African filmmaker, noted that the day was important “because it is about women being called to be catalysts of change.”

She pointed to 29-year-old Mahatara 3 Buffalos Hasan, Mountain Eagle Woman’s granddaughter, and pow wow organizer, who joyfully danced the crow hop and an energetic round dance.

As a teenager, Mahatara had walked away from the teachings of her grandmother. Now, she looks forward to organizing the annual event. “It is a hard job, but it has humbled me a lot, along with the role of being a healer and carrier of the medicine. I have an obligation to walk with spirit and to help this event continue to grow,” she said.

She is determined to pass her grandmother’s legacy down to her own children. According to Rabiah Al-Nur, a Fairfax, VA resident, “If you look at the way that her 18-month-old daughter came in with the procession, led by the Eagle staff, and smiled and danced the whole time we prayed, it exemplified her great grandmother’s spirit being there.”

And for this continuation of the lineages of my Black-Native American ancestors, I am grateful and honor this special sisterhood.

Edith Billups is a long-time journalist, media relations consultant and travel writer who has traveled the world over the past 12 years offering prayers and ceremony for the healing of the Earth, She works part-time as a Biogenesis practitioner, using her healing gift to assist individuals and the environment. Contact her at eybillups@thegabrielmediagroup.com