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Right Relations in Rites of Passage: Reflections on a Shared Learning Journey

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It is my delight to share one of Youth Passageways’ undertakings this past winter, a web-based learning journey called Rites of Passage in Right Relations. This six-part series was facilitated by all eight members of the Youth Passageways Cross-Cultural Protocols (CCP) working group and was our first attempt to offer an educational experience to the general public, and translate the written protocols document into a supportive, educational opportunity.

We originally capped the program at 20 participants, but we found that the interest was so strong that we flexed to offer it more broadly, and we had 36 participants that joined us for all or part of the series.

Session One: Introduction to Rites of Passage and Cross-Cultural Protocols
The first session introduced folks to rites of passage, Youth Passageways, and the work of the CCP Group. We opened by honoring our ancestors and the peoples of the lands in which we lived and introducing ourselves. We explored the context of how rites of passage came to be lost by so many cultures, how Youth Passageways emerged to bring together those reclaiming and revitalizing rites of passage in the world today, and the challenges that those building Youth Passageways have and continue to face. We shared what we have learned in our work together so far. We began as a learning journey group to build a quilt of images, weaving our ancestral lines together which you can see below.

Session Two: Cultural Affinity Groups & Ancestral Research
We then dove into our own ancestral lineages, sharing the words for “water” and “moon” from the languages our ancestors spoke. We split into cultural affinity groups, and shared our learnings about these questions: What were/are the coming of age traditions in your ancestors’ lifeways? What was their importance? How may they have been disrupted? How have they survived? Some of us had learned many of the details, and for many, this was brand-new, and overwhelming, questions to explore.

Session Three: Turtle Island and Indigenous Histories of Place
Next, we dove deeply into the history of colonization of Turtle Island, exploring what happened to displace the indigenous peoples from these lands. Again, we split up into small groups and shared what we knew of the histories of the lands we now called home. We discussed where those peoples are now, the challenges learning the history and the similarities and differences in the stories from our various locations.

Session Four: Building Relations with Indigenous Peoples
In this session, we took the learning and themes that had emerged so far, and dove into the question of how we, as individuals and as parts of programs or communities, are building relations with the indigenous peoples of the lands where we live and work. We dove into the nuances of this conversation, like what practices we felt that we had “permission” to use, and what practices we felt were inappropriate. We discussed the importance of moving slowly and building real relationships, which only evolve over time.

Session Five: Archetypes of Gender and Sexuality Beyond the Binary
In this content-rich session, we explored some of the many indigenous ways of understanding those that do not fit neatly into the category of “male” and “female.” We explored how even under the forces of Empire, these peoples have continued to exist, learning about the forms this took in ancient Greece and Rome. Many of our minds were blown in this session! The context of colonialism in based on gender and sexuality-based oppression took on a profound depth, as we considered what it means to initiate young people today, and the importance of learning about gender and sexuality as part of adolescent rites.

Session Six: Accomplices Not Allies
In the final session, we explored the complexity of the questions even further. What does it really mean to engage in rite of passage work in ways that are contributing to deep and systemic change, and moving toward justice in ways that allow indigenous cultures to thrive in their homelands, and others to reclaim their ancestral ways? No easy answers were offered! But a supportive circle was built to continue the exploration. A few final words that folks offered to describe their experience on our journey together:


The success of this journey, for the participants and for the CCP team as guides and fellow paddlers in our collective canoe, affirmed the importance of the work that we are doing. New relationships emerged and are being nurtured and strengthened, The importance of this content became clear, as well as the importance of opportunities to build learning communities to support folks in doing the difficult, painstaking work of internal decolonization, which often feels deeply isolating.

The CCP is learning from this pilot offering and plans to offer a second session this fall.

Ancestor Quilt

Historically quilting was developed as a union of many different traditions. First showing up as a “houseware”, quilting often symbolized a meeting place of various traditions into something new — as a union, rather than a separation, of often contrasting or forcibly separated cultures and traditions. Quilts and quilting are used to convey certain themes of self-expression, union of opposite values or people, the formation of close bonds among women and kin, heritage, history, family, comfort, love, and commitment. Quilting as a medium brings contrasting backgrounds together to create a new meaning from the dialogue of its constituents parts or patches.

Below you can see some of the ‘patches’ of our Learning Journey folk and the objects or images of the places or people we come from.

Click on any of the images to read the longer description [if applicable] [ubergrid id=4867]

About the Author: Darcy Ottey, on Behalf of the Cross Cultural Protocols Working Group

Since her own wilderness-based coming of age experience through Rite of Passage Journeys at age 13, Darcy Ottey has been passionate about the importance of creating intentional rite of passage experiences to help young people mature into healthy, capable adults. The entirety of Darcy’s professional career has been dedicated to the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual growth of young people through rites of passage. She served as the Executive Director of Rite of Passage Journeys from 2006-2011. During her tenure, she successfully supported the organization through 300% growth, building a solid infrastructure, and leaving the organization with a clear strategic plan for the future. She served as Rite of Passage Supervisor for Pacific Quest, as well as Interim Adolescent Program Director. In addition to her role at Youth Passageways, she continues to support and guide rites of passage at Pacific Quest on an ongoing consulting capacity. Darcy holds an M.A. in Environment and Community from Antioch University Seattle.

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