Camp Auschwitz and an Ancient Women’s Peace Center (Chicago)
February 28, 2021
KEYWORDS: Camp Auschwitz—Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol—Northeastern Illinois University—Peace Fire Circle—Ice Wisdom—Lake Michigan water–Lewis & Clark—bicycle trip—Evanston, IL—1960s peace movement—Great Law of Peace—peace art—Irish shaman–antisemitism–monetary & banking reform–ancient women’s peace center in Chicago
On January 15, 2021, I posted these Tweets as part of a longer Twitter thread:
2/ On Jan. 6, 2021 the world watched as U.S. white supremacists–fascists, neo-Nazis, ?–attacked the U.S. Capitol hoping to disrupt the U.S. Congress from making the final legal affirmation that the 2020 presidential election had been in keeping with the ideals of our democracy.
3/ Every Jew (incl. myself) saw the photograph of a man inside the Capitol, among the violent crowd, in a black shirt emblazoned with the words Camp Auschwitz. Four days later, on Jan. 10, the Yahrzeit (anniversary) of my father’s 1979 death, I came across this 2015 diary entry [on the internet].
4/ Day 23, July 13
Rest day, Glendive, MT
“Today, we repack and clean our supplies. Tomorrow, we have two new riders join us, Pat and Mark Cleveland. Pat brought us more coals from the International Peace fire that was struck at Northeastern Illinois University
5/ that was brought down by the Three Fires Nations, Potawatomi Kansas Prairie Band elder, Nowaten Dale Thomas. This international peace project was begun at Northeastern in 1996 and since then, spirit of healing has gone out across the world.
6/ Recently, coals were brought back to India by [Sir Ajit Telang, a Reiki master and keeper of their Agnihotra Sacred Fire, the ancient Fire of India] and also recently placed at the sites of the camps in Auschwitz. In addition to marking our route with survey markers, in key locations,
7/ we are going to share in the Peace Fire Project by placing these coals at key sites to mark a gesture of healing at locations throughout the American west.”
Week 4 Crossing the Great Divide
(The complete Twitter thread: 9 Tweets + a subthread: Jan. 15, 2021.)
PEACE AS ACTIVISM
To be clear, the diary quoted in Tweets 4-7 is not my diary nor does it belong to anyone in my immediate circle of family or friends. Nor did I read it in a book form. I found it on the internet as I was web surfing.
I was not searching for references to Auschwitz. But I was searching for references to something of equally personal significance—the International Peace Fire at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).
I had, in fact, been intermittently researching the Peace Fire since I first heard about it in 2015. I had been following a shaman from Greenland, Angaangaq, whose website is called Ice Wisdom and who had first visited Chicago in the 1980s. On his first trip to Chicago, in his 20s or 30s with his parents, they of course had gone down to the beach, to Lake Michigan. The young Angaangaq tasted the lake water and advised his mother not to drink, it was bad. This was just the beginning of his worldwide travels to warn the world of climate destruction and war. He frequently reminds people that there has never been war on Greenland.
This time, in October 2015, according to a flyer posted in my neighborhood copy shop, NEIU was bringing him to Chicago to lead a Peace Fire Circle on campus. I wasn’t able to attend, but NEIU’s group was now on my radar. More importantly, although I still didn’t know it, peace became an active word for me.
I felt immediately connected to the Peace Fire Circle because my childhood home and neighborhood was not far from Northeastern Illinois University on the far north side of Chicago. In fact my mother attended NEIU’s precursor (Chicago Teachers College-North) attending classes at a nearby high school (Amundsen) before the NEIU campus was even built (1961) or the name was changed to its current one (1971).
Once I learned about the Peace Fire at NEIU in 2015, it kept popping up on my radar in surprising ways with surprising connections—connections to people I knew and connections to my activism work. But I had never identified “peace” as an activism goal, largely because the peace movement during my lifetime had always seemed “anti” as in anti-war, more specifically, anti-Vietnam, anti-military-industrial complex. I never knew what the peace movement was for and I had a strong instinct that whatever we put our energy and attention towards—for or against—gets reinforced. So I stayed away from the anti-war movement.
I see now that I also stayed away from the “swords into Plowshares” movement. I think there are three reasons why I was never attracted to that movement:
—Making plowshares from weapons sounds like a second-hand level of manifestation, a male version of manifestation. I was looking for the original, the female version of manifestation, of birth.
—The plow seems a symbol of serfdom, of industrial agriculture, of bending nature to man’s will, not humans living as relatives to nature.
—The Plowshares movement is a primarily Christian pacifist movement. I prefer a more secular approach or an inter-faith initiative.
Likewise, I’ve not been attracted to the peace as “civility” movement, now extremely current among people and officials who don’t want to think deeply about the U.S. “democracy” or to lose their place in the power structures.
By 2019 I had begun to make “peace” an activism goal of my own:
—I had been studying the Great Law of Peace, the constitution of the Haudenosaunee League.
—I had learned and identified positive terminology for peace: restorative justice, women’s peacekeeping authority, women’s nurturing authority (birthing paint – Kay Cordell Whitaker), humans as grief animals (Martin Prechtel).
—A local artist, Indira Johnson, kept creating beautiful, evocative projects all with the theme of peace, beauty, and spirituality. Here are two of my favorites: Peace Offering and Conversations Here & Now (permanent installation in Raymond Park, in Evanston, IL).
NEIU’S International Peace Fire: Ancient Women’s Center
And the NEIU Peace Fire kept popping up at unexpected times and unexpected places, with unexpected connections, reinforced by some new material on the Peace Fire website, including this breathtaking story:
“An Irish Spiritual leader…is another Peacekeeper who has visited the campus on four separate occasions to present seminars at the annual Teacher’s of Experiential and Adventure Methodology (T.E.A.M.) Conference. Near the end of her third visit on Saturday, February 22, 2003, [she] shared a vision/dream she had about Northeastern with a small group of people who had gathered at the fire.
“It was 5:30 pm, the darkness had settled in from the setting sun, the wind picked up to 30 miles per hour, and the heavy tarps on the fire lodge were waving parallel to the ground. The bone-chilling cold cut through us like a razor knife as [she] called us to the Fire Circle.
“She shared the following to those who were present:
“‘The Winds of Change have started. I had a vivid dream about Northeastern, but I had to come here three different times to walk the land to confirm my dream. Three is a sacred number in Ireland. I also had to walk the Fire ring barefooted to let the land also confirm what I knew as the truth. A long, long time ago before there were written records people would travel here to this place. It was a Peace Center. It was a Peace Center where people would ground themselves and then go back to their homes. It was a place where the women were at the center of the circle running the community and making the important decisions for the future. The men would stand as Sacred Guardians on the outside of the circle of women to protect them but to also demonstrate their support for their wisdom and leadership. When the women were in the center making the decisions for the community, there was never any war. The women did not want their sons to die in misguided battles by misguided leaders.”
“‘When the Sacred Fire was relit here in 1996 it reactivated the ancient energy that was in the land. People will travel here from all over and not even know why they have shown up, but they will feel something special, something very old they cannot put into words. All the gatherings that involve the Sacred Fire reactivate that cellular memory in all those who visit the Northeastern Campus. They will feel like they are at home, reconnected to their Divine Natural Ability as Northeastern is a powerful sacred site. With gratitude and compassion, I am honored to have been invited to Northeastern.'”
CAMP AUSCHWITZ, NEIU PEACE FIRE: What’s next?
And so it was that on Jan. 5, 2021—the day before the breach of the U.S. Capitol, I decided to contact the leader of the Peace Fire initiative, a retired professor Dan Creely. I wanted to make a personal connection, to find out about current plans, and to see if I could learn more about the NEIU Peace Fire site as an ancient peace center led by women. He responded immediately in a welcoming way, suggesting that I connect to a colleague of his about my questions. I thanked him immediately, but was moved to wait a few days before contacting the colleague to make sure of my questions and intent.
And so it was that on Jan. 10, 2021 I had been Googling the Peace Fire in connection with the man who first struck the fire, Nowaten Dale Thomas. I learned that he had died in 2010 and had been a great healer. And then I stumbled upon the diary, Crossing the Great Divide. It documented a bicycle trip, roughly following portions of Lewis & Clark’s 1803-06 journey and retracing “the frontier paths of American immigration onto the Great Plains and on to the Pacific Ocean, beginning at Rogers Avenue in Chicago or Indian Boundary Line 1816” — i.e., just blocks from my hometown (Evanston, IL).
In fact, the Pat Cleveland mentioned in the diary entry is a long-time food & farm colleague of mine, a teacher at Dewey elementary school here in Evanston, known for her environmental activism with students. I had not known about her cross-country bicycle trip and only recently, about a year ago, had I learned of her connection to the NEIU Peace Fire. The website has a statement from one of Pat’s classes: Voices from the Children (2018). It sounds like Pat has been working on peace with her classes since 2002.
And so I learned that coals from the Northeastern Peace Fire on the north side of Chicago had been placed at the camps at Auschwitz c.2015. As I wrote in an earlier blog, BELARUS to U.S.: 1920-2020, a family story, 46 members of my Belarus (maternal grandparents) family were killed in the Jewish Holocaust.
I haven’t learned anything more about NEIU’s Peace Fire or about the ancient women’s center there. Nor have I had a chance to visit the site or attend an event. But thanks to Google Maps, I know what the site looks like. And I did come across this recent framework for “reconstituting the peace movement” along feminist principles: Feminist Peace Initiative. It’s a very readable 19-page document published in Oct. 2020.
My most immediate concern (in February 2021) is:
— growing antisemitism
— Israel’s increasing oppression of Palestinians
— how the growing success of the monetary and banking reform movement that I am a part of — The Money Question and The Money Power — might exacerbate both
— Trump’s ratcheting up of violence in the U.S.
— the emptiness of so many well-off American adults that seems fillable only by violence and tantrums
Plus I’m looking to make PEACE an election issue in our local elections. We have a month more of the campaign season (April 6 is Election Day). Any suggestions are welcome.