CROSS-CULTURAL PROTOCOLS IN RITES OF PASSAGE: GUIDING PRINCIPLES, THEMES, AND INQUIRY
Youth Passageways has adopted these principles to guide its operations. It is our hope that this document may support affiliated organizations in creating their own working agreements, standards, and relations capable of addressing and caring for the needs that arise through their good work. This is a living document, which will be regularly updated. Please submit feedback, comments, and stories about how this document is being used to: email@example.com.
These protocols and approach outlined in this document can bring difficult dynamics to the surface, within individuals and communities. This document came into existence through a painful process, involving the blood, sweat, and tears of many. Navigating it may similarly require difficult soul-searching for you and your community/ organization. We are still learning how to best support others as they navigate this process. A couple of considerations we suggest: 1) assess investment/buy-in from members of your team, and their relative level of power and influence, before starting the work of unpacking this document. Don’t go it alone! 2) consider the social positioning (both within the organization and in a broader societal context) of those leading the process. 3) Take stock of your resources (time, money, emotional energy, expertise) before diving into these protocols. Realistically consider if now is the right time, as exploring the document is likely to bring core issues into the light before it helps resolve them. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like more support in this process.
Rite of passage ceremonies are both old and new, and can be learned, inherited, gifted, created and experienced, in many contexts. It has been the experience of many in this network and beyond that there is a tremendous gift and beauty in this, and also that disputes can arise in the construction, use, and sharing of ritual practices and language.
Many of these disputes have their roots in the centuries of violence, genocide, and intentional cultural destruction. Continued inequities reinforce deep wounds within and between cultures. These dynamics occur between indigenous and settler cultures, and diasporic communities and “dominant” cultures. In unique ways, each of these groups has suffered from uprooting and historical trauma. The circumstances by which each of us have lost or been ripped from our indigeneity constitutes a specific history, and carries specific wounds and responsibilities. Because of the complex fabric of history we may play the roles of both colonizers and colonized, the under/over privileged, depending on the context. All of these factors influence what is possible and what is challenging in the delivery of rite of passage ceremonies and processes.
The contemporary rites of passage movement stands indebted to many cultural traditions which have in best-case scenarios gifted practices and in many cases suffered theft or appropriation. Particularly important to acknowledge are indigenous societies for their centuries- and millennia-long cultural practices in human development. They have provided a formative influence on contemporary movements theoretically, aesthetically, and in terms of actual ritual practices. We also recognize that human beings, regardless of cultural background or connection to tradition, have painstakingly fought to reclaim lost cultural traditions, and by direct communion, inspiration, and intuition, have created new forms of initiation and other cultural rituals and ceremonies that have validity for their communities and beyond. The intersection of these truths needs particular care and attention, especially for a national youth rites of passage network. With discernment, we respect both established and emergent practices with all of the attendant complexities that this entails.
Our movement exists because the “THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!”, and our young people are in a state of desperation on an international/global scale. Working through and learning from the inter-cultural conflicts in our movement and building toward reparations and restoration is an integral part of creating the ceremonial processes that allow communities to be renewed by the fires of transformation crossed by their youth. It is also an integral part of the world of justice, peace, purpose, mystery and abundance into which we seek to initiate our youth. Many well intentioned people do unintended harm when they mean to do good. Our hope is that through learning from one another and through practice, our intentions, actions, and effects as a movement can be aligned.
Our goal is not to offer an exhaustive document or settle issues once and for all, but to provide context, background, starting points for consideration, and a deepening and softening into the issues and questions. We recognize what we propose to do here is many lives’ work and we enter with humility and desire to learn. May these principles and questions draw on the wisdom of our ancestors and teachers, serve as a next unfolding and point of reference, and support future generations.
We enter with a spirit of goodwill. We strive to trust that others are doing the same.
Historical Context, Healing & Reconciliation
We acknowledge historical context and historical relationships of peoples and place, recognizing that many cultures have been subjected, and continue to be subjected, to deep violations. This context affects access to power and justice and is embedded in relationships between peoples. We strive to educate ourselves and others about these dynamics, open ourselves to the pain, help sensitize others to it, and contribute to healing and reconciliation.
The Right to Earth and Spirit
We recognize the rights of all people to deep relationship with Earth and Spirit, and that we all have the right and innate ability to receive information from the more-than-human world.
We commit to a practice of cultural humility and cultural self-awareness. We strive to increase skillfulness communicating across cultures and deepen awareness of our own and other’s cultural norms. We take responsibility to deepen our understanding of our own cultural and ancestral practices and ritual forms, and those of others. When we share teachings/artifacts from cultures other than our own, we do so with discernment, and provide context. We strive to become aware of and name the lenses through which we see the world, and recognize that others may see things differently. We ask rather than assume as much as possible.
Relationship to Place
Both in our home communities and when entering into a new place, we strive to educate ourselves about the land, the historical and contemporary and political context of the peoples of that land, build relationships with the people of that place, and follow local protocols as best we can. This includes seeking permission to conduct ceremony or other activities in that location.
Addressing and Growing through Conflict
We are committed to ongoing Cross-Cultural relationships, and strive to develop and support mechanisms and processes for working with conflict, reconciliation and forgiveness. We believe that justice and healing are central to each undertaking, rather than secondary benefits or distractions.
Sexuality & Gender
We recognize the essential nature of sexuality and gender in the work of rites of passage, and openly explore the dynamics of masculinity, femininity, and queerness (as archetypal energies, social dynamics, and deep cultural wounds) in our work together. We recognize that binary thinking is a product of patriarchy and colonization, and seek to bring balance by honoring and making space for all genders inside and outside of this binary. We strive to create inclusive spaces where LGBTQIA+ folks (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Aasexual, plus) feel seen, heard, recognized, and honored, and to recognize and mitigate our own privilege in order to create safe spaces to center the voices of those often marginalized.
Different Perspectives/Perceptions of Time
We strive to become sensitized to different perceptions of time within and between different cultures. We recognize that ceremonial time differs from linear time and our work and schedules are designed with that awareness. We strive to set and keep to agreements of time and space, including agreements that at times, time will be fluid and processes will last as long as required. We commit to holding a long view of time, which holds in our awareness many generations of ancestors as well as future generations to come.
Legal Considerations and Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)
We recognize that many aspects of culture, including dress, symbols, ritual and language, may be subject to intellectual property laws. Additionally, some indigenous peoples have their own norms, customs or legal systems associated with the use of their cultural ways. We strive to become aware and abide by these norms, customs and laws and practice Free Prior and Informed Consent.
Exchange of Money/Commodification of Rites of Passage
Many issues exist around the commodification of spiritual traditions and cultural symbols of indigenous and diasporic peoples. We strive to educate ourselves on these issues, and to act with consciousness and transparency around the exchange of money in our work. We support practitioners having sustainable means as they assist communities and pursue right livelihood in these transition times. We strive to make initiatory work accessible and equitable for all that need it.
We honor our teachers and seek blessing to operate alongside of our mentors, teachers and elders in the use of ceremonial and ritual processes. Our work is inherently inter-generational, therefore we seek out participation from all generations. We are accountable to future generations for what we model by what we teach and how we teach it – today.
Gratitude, Generosity, and Celebration
We celebrate, acknowledge, and give thanks for every step toward right relationship. It takes courage to face these conversations directly; even having them is cause for celebration. We water the good along the way.
Submitted for review and comment, April 15, 2015
Submitted by Youth Passageways Cross-Cultural Protocols Working Group:
Ramon Parish, Darcy Ottey, Pat McCabe, Sharon Shay Sloan, Sobey Wing, Mark Robinson
Special thanks to Sharon BearComesOut, Orland Bishop, Miakoda Collins, Khepe-Ra Maat Het-Heru, Lyla June Johnston, Joshua Gorman, The Ojai Foundation, Kalliopeia Foundation, and Kailo Fund.
Cross Cultural Protocols by CCP Working Group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Further Questions & Concepts for Consideration and Exploration
Attitude & Goodwill
- Can we assume goodwill? If “Yes” then commit to this premise.
- Heart to heart exchange through relationship building can distinguish co-creation from appropriation.
- Invite “the other” in.
- What role might historical trauma play in a given dynamic or relationships between peoples? This could apply to diasporic groups such as African-Americans, Indigenous groups or even settler or colonizing groups. Have these traumas been brought into the open and grieved or do they remain unacknowledged and un-metabolized?
- Because many cultures have been subjected to deep violations of their right to exist, to practice their culture, or to have access to power/justice (economic, political, social, ecological), there will necessarily be a social justice aspect to cultural exchange. As rite of passage practitioners, we strive to name these underlying causes and gear our work to help undo and heal them.
Just & Unjust Exchange between Cultures
- If using some practice that is not “yours” (or even if it is “yours”) explain how you came to use it, give its history, original purpose and as much context as you can (Example: Use of “aho”).
- We commit to cease stealing practices—and we are honest about those that we may have stolen. We are uncertain if we can stop “stealing” but we pledge to name it and bring it into the open. How do we rectify this moving forward?
- In some cases, individuals receive cultural traditions other than their own through direct transmission or even become part of another culture. In general however, the goal when examining and receiving inspiration from another culture is not to try to become a member of that culture, but to gain perspective on one’s own cultural placement.
- We acknowledge in the beginning of encounters between cultures and individuals that mistakes will be made and there will almost certainly be conflict. We also accept that without conflict, healing is unlikely. We are committed to investigating the underlying issues/structures driving these conflicts and the role ROP/our movement has in perpetuating and addressing them. We strive to become aware of the reality and presence of historical trauma, of ancestral wounding and voices of cultural injustice calling for witnessing: the wound that is not witnessed does not heal.
- Whose protocols rule/lead in cross-cultural meetings/ceremonies?
- Who opens & closes the common space?
- Practice mindfulness of “we” language, differentiating between what is “we” when it may be “I” or “my”.
- Don’t assume a universal. Rather than assume a universal story or ritual we strive to create “shared story” by listening/inviting perspectives.
- What is the role of women? Men? Elders? Children?
- What is your stance on cultural practices that do not honor basic human rights or practice inequity (e.g. female genital mutilation)? Is culture an absolute unit of rights (like for example “the individual”)?
- If ceremony is part of maintaining social order, lineage & heritage, who & what are we becoming when we enter into cross-cultural ceremonies?
- Does one lineage trump another, spiritually (in thought or in practice)?
- When might it be more powerful/appropriate to draw on your own ancestral background(s) rather than that of another?
- We do not practice glamorizing people by age, race, culture or gender.
Relationship to Place
- What are the are specific responsibilities and differences for those who are tending lands that they have historically tended and those who are coming into/onto those lands as newcomers or “guests”?
Develop or discover existing protocols of entry into territory-acknowledgement of traditional territory/Requesting permission.
- Have you made efforts to share your work when conducted in a traditional territory (example: dance and music festivals)?
- Have you checked in with any concerns that long standing communities may have about holding ceremonies in those places? (ie. sites where ungrieved tragedies occurred)?
- Learn the traditional name of traditional territory you gathered/operating upon.
- What is the pre-colonial history and history of resistance in the area? What current struggles are being faced by the original people of the land?
- As a possible exchange help raise awareness about current struggles and issues facing the indigenous people on the lands you may gather/operate upon.
- If you are invited into the space of another culture consider “playing on their terms” and as invited share those of your home culture.
- Seek community leaders and elders in a new community where one is working and seek their blessing to operate there. Also ask for the blessing of the land itself. If you do not have blessings consider not operating there.
- As appropriate Consider bringing gifts & offer them to the peoples/places where you go.
- Cultivate compassion and curiosity for those who don’t feel they have a culture, home territory, established ceremonial practices, or deep relationship with place.
Addressing and Growing through Conflict
- Call on Guidance (God, Spirit, Earth, The Ancestors or centering) when entering into conflicts or potential conflicts. Incorporate some moment to do so into conflict resolution processes.
- Adopt or develop processes for naming and working with conflicts as they come up- Examples: “oops” and “ouch”. Mindfulness bell.
- Use non conceptual means for conflict resolution and transformation including song, sound, movement, art etc.
- Normalize making mistakes about “me and/or my group” while striving for greater levels of integrity.
- All parties need to hear of mistakes made and any attempts at restitution.
- Create space to be able to state what you are “tired of hearing” usually about yourself or your group; and ask for agreements from the whole (inter-cultural) group as to ways of moving away from that thinking.
- In conflicts we can use personal stories and experiences, as well as step out of the personal and into the greater context.
- Acknowledge the role of recent historical trends of Eurocentric destruction and the move from that into restoration (never act like the European has no authentic spirituality or indigenous heritage).
Search for ways of creating a space where contradictory points of view can coexist.
- Consider that it may not only be “your call” as to what may do harm among your proposed activities – the peoples themselves might need to determine for themselves whether what you propose is harmful to them.
Any research done upon “human subjects” and on Indigenous Peoples specifically (this would include their cultural practices), requires that the People be informed that the research is taking place, by what method, how it will be used prior to it being done.
- The People have the exclusive right to decide for themselves whether or not the proposed research will cause harm and may bar the proceedings. Even when use of cultural aspects do not fall into these categories – e.g. museums or academic research – they are solid indicators of general protocols to consider.
- We recognize a tendency to pathologize “youth” as a condition that has to be dealt with by professional or therapeutic institutions. Simultaneously many of us do not live in intimate societies where exchange can take place directly, rather in a culture where currently money is the medium of exchange and the life energy that one puts into the rite is supported by it.
- In different ways these two trends commodify and institutionalize what has traditionally been the purview of communities, including rites of passage.
- Many questions exist about the exchange of money and the deeply personal, even sacred nature of ROP, requiring inter-cultural conversation, professional consideration and personal discernment. These issues are deeply entwined with the commodification of spiritual traditions, including those of Indigenous Peoples and diasporic cultures, largely by euro-americans.
- How do we relate finances within our work as well as the larger movement?
- To safeguard youth ROP from some of the more the deleterious forces of capitalism, how might we define certain best practices for integrating money, compensation, nonprofit status, and funding in the world of youth initiation?
- How do we work with/minimize the profit motive in ROP considering non-profit organizations and the need for compensation/right livelihood?
- Are we looking at providing our basic sustenance through backdrop funding instead of upfront costs to participants?
- Should youth be charged at all for ROP’s? Does some form of exchange keep the process healthy?
- What about tithing and circulation can we put money in service of decolonization & reparations?
- With all of these complexities how can begin to step outside of the paradigm of scarcity or of greed?
- How do we affirm though our actions and exchanges that abundance for all is possible and convey this to the youth with whom you work.
- What is our ideal?!!
- We seek out right relationship with the peoples from whom the traditions originate, as well as seek within our own traditions and cultivate direct inspiration.
Gratitude, Generosity, and Celebration
- We strive to gift first peoples of the land with traditional gifts when we request aid/teachings/assistance.Related Resources for Further Exploration:
Related Resources for Further Exploration:
Decolonization and Anti-Oppression:
Conventions on the rights of the Child: http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:
UN Declaration on Human Rights: