Elders of the Prayer Vigil for the Earth

The vision of the Prayer Vigil for the Earth and its shaping over the years have been graced with the prayers, guidance, intentions and participation of many Elders of a diversity of traditions and faiths.  Some of them are still active in bringing the Prayer Vigil for the Earth forth each year and some have passed on.  Here are some of the wisdom keepers who have been our friends over the years.

Grandmother Grace Smith Yellowhammer, Dine (Navajo) Elder, Founding Mother of the Prayer Vigil for the Earth. Grace has represented Indigenous issues to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, at the United Nations and with Congressional representatives in Washington, DC. At the conclusion of the first Prayer Vigil for the Earth in October 1993, Grace insisted that the event go forward encouraging the co-founders, Betsy Stang, David Berry and Sharon Franquemont, to carry on the annual work. She offered deep thoughts on the event's purpose and suggested we gather together to become One Mind, One Voice, One Heart, One Prayer.
Grandfather Harry F. Byrd Grandfather Harry F. Byrd, Lakota Nation, Founding Father of the Prayer Vigil for the Earth. Known for his humor, love of people, dedication and wisdom, Harry Byrd was a Sundance singer, radio announcer on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, hard worker, and clear spokesperson for peace and unity. Prayer, the Peace Pipe, and spirituality were the foundation of his life. Grandfather Harry passed on to the ancestors in June, 2002. On Unity: “If you prick the finger of a black person, the blood flows red. If you prick the finger of a yellow person, the blood flows red. If you prick the finger of a red person, the blood flows red. If you prick the finger of a white person, the blood flows red. This proves it--we are all ONE.” On the Power of Prayer: “A sincere prayer is more powerful than an atomic bomb.”
Thomas Banyacya Thomas Banyacya, Hopi Elder. Thomas has been interpreting for his people since 1948. At that time, in Shungopaavi village, Hopi leaders, Chiefs and Religious men met for two days and went into many of the Hopi prophesies and knowledge that has been kept within the religious societies ever since we came here many, many centuries ago. Since 1948 he put all of his time and effort into helping his people to explain their position, their religious lives, their traditions, their warnings and their prophesies. They tell that this is the time of world events and troubles to which the prophecies refer. Things that bad been prophesied are now being fulfilled, and they felt that it is time that this knowledge be brought out to all people, not only to the Hopis and to other native people of this land, but to all people who are here on the continents called North and South America. The Hopis believe that we are now facing a severe day when severe punishment may be meted out to those of us who have not been following the instructions of the Great Spirit. Grandfather Banyacya passed to Spirit on February 6, 1999. He was much-loved and is missed by many.
Grandfather William Commanda Grandfather William Commanda, Keeper of the Seven Fires Wampum Belt of the Anishnabe (Algonquin) Peoples and often called “The Gandhi of the Indian World.” The Seven Fires Prophecy of the Anishnabe is spiritually encoded in the belt. The belt is sewn with thousands of tiny, polished, cylindrical purple and white sea shell beads woven together with leather strips. This Wampum Belt has been handed down among the Algonquin for hundreds of years. It has seven Diamonds which represent the Seven Fires. Grandfather Commanda and other Traditional Leaders believe that we have entered the time of the Seventh Fire, which is the time of decision between the two roads of materialism and of spirituality. If the light skinned race chooses the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth and final Fire, an internal Fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood.

Grandfather Commanda passed on to the spirit world early on the morning of August 3, 2011 at his home on the Kitigàn-zìbì reserve, Canada.
Grandmother Mountain Eagle Woman Mountain Eagle Woman, Choctaw/Cherokee Elder. Grandmother Mountain Eagle Woman was the full walking embodiment of Divine Womanness. Her smile was like sunshine, lifting up the life of anyone blessed enough to pass by her. She was delicate and sturdy, funny and prophetic. She showed us by example that you don't have to lose your sweet to become your strong. “Mommi” as she was affectionately called by everyone, showed us that life is a cycle of movement. She said, “If you face each day with joy and openly welcome your lessons, however they show up, the bitter and the sweet, you will begin to grow into Eldership with grace and beauty.” Mountain Eagle Woman passing was on May 11, 2000.

Clyde Bellecourt, (Thunder Before the Storm), White Earth Anishinabe-Ojibway Nation. Clyde is a founder and director of the American Indian Movement (AIM). He was a major figure in the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 and played a founding role in an ongoing Indian School System, Legal Rights Center and the International Indian Treaty Council. He is also directing the Peacemaker Center for Indian youth. He is an organizer of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media. He is founder and currently Chairman of the Board of American Indian OIC, an innovative job program that has moved over 14,000 people from welfare to full-time employment. Clyde sees a bright future: "This generation of little children is the 7th Generation. Not just Indian children but white, black, yellow and red. Our grandfathers said the 7th generation would provide new spiritual leaders, medicine people, doctors, teachers and our great chiefs. There is a spiritual rebirth going on."

2010%20TWR-PV%20Gathering%20213.jpgHoly Sultan, Shaykh Abdul Kerim al Kibrisi, Sufi Elder,
"Ours will be the generation that will welcome the Holy one, the Mahdi, the Saviour, who will come to dispel darkness and bring the Light of Truth everywhere, to every believer. That will happen in our lifetime, insh'Allah, together with the second coming of Isa al Masih, Jesus the Messiah." Grandshaykh, Shaykh Mevlana Muhammad Nazim Adil al Hakkani al Kibrisi. Osamanli Naks-i'bendi Hakkani Dergahi is an Islamic center for the worship of ALLAH. The Dergahi (pronounced der-ga-ha) was built and is maintained according to Islamic principles and practices.

"On June 30 2012 Sahib-us Sayf Sheykh Abdul Kerim el-Kibrisi passed away from this world in Lefke, Cyprus. He was laid to rest in the Ottoman cemetery of Magosa. Sheykh Abdul Kerim leaves a legacy and mission of standing for Truth and Justice. We, his students, will continue his mission. Sheykh Abdul Kerim has appointed Lokman Efendi to lead and continue his mission. This appointment has been approved and blessed by Sultan el-Evliya Sheykh Mawlana Muhammad Nazim el-Hakkani. May Allah (swt) raise our Sheykh to the highest stations and may we continue his mission so that he is pleased with us."
Leon Shenandoah Leon Shenandoah, Peace Maker, Chief of Chiefs, Six Nations Iroquois (Onondaga) Confederacy. “It is no longer good enough to cry ‘Peace.’ We must act peace, love peace, and march in peace in alliance with the people of the World. We are the spiritual energy that is thousands of times stronger than nuclear energy. Our energy as the combined will of all people with the spirit of the Natural World will make us be of one body, one heart, and one mind for peace. Look behind you. See your sons and your daughters. They are your future. Look farther and see your sons’ and your daughters’ children and their children’s children even unto the Seventh Generation. That’s the way we were taught. Think about it: you yourself are a Seventh Generation.” He passed on to the ancestors on July 22, 1996.
Chied Arvol Looking Horse Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota Nation, Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, Nineteenth Generation and Founder of the World Peace and Prayer Day, June 21. “We gather so that our future generations may survive through peace and balance. In our circle of life there is no beginning and no ending. The process of mending the sacred hoop continues. Our Prophecies tell us that we are at the crossroads. We are faced with either chaos and disaster, or we can unite spiritually in peace and harmony. It is time to bring the message of the need for peace throughout the world.”
Diane Sherwood Diane Sherwood, PhD, was the Associate Director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington DC (IFC) for five years until her death in 2003. She was a devout Catholic in touch with mysticism and esoteric teachings who was very ecumenical in her outlook. Diane was a prominent and tireless presence implementing IFC’s mission of deepening understanding among faiths. Diane brought a Christian perspective to the Prayer Vigil and sometimes brought young people to participate in the program.  She received the 2002 World Peace Flame award for her inter-religious leadership from The Life Foundation.
Tazio Ihara Tazio Ihara, Sensei, Shinji Shumeikai Spiritual Elder. Shinji Shumeikai is a Japanese-based spiritual fellowship dedicated to the enhancement of life. The essence of the Shumei philosophy is expressed in its vision of the Divine Light underlying all creation, Light that can be tapped both for personal strength and growth so that one can better address the problems intrinsic to life, as well as healing the Earth herself. "The Shumei founder, Mokichi Okada, emphasized the importance of HODO--maintaining balance in all things."
Baba Ngoma Baba Ngoma, Father Drum. As mentor, model and teacher to youth and young adults in Washington DC, he was an inspiration to many young people and drummers of all age. Baba Ngoma exposed children to the language of the drum, bringing out their God given genius expressed through rhythm and dance. Baba was a faithful contributor to the Prayer Vigil for well over a decade. Committed to interfaith experiences, Baba Ngoma traveled to Pipestone, MN to offer his drumming to Native American sun dancers. He sadly transitioned on March 15, 2008.
Nana Euferia Cholac Chicol and Tata Aolinario Chile Pixtun Nana Eufernia Cholac Chicol and Tata Aolinario Chile Pixtun, Mayans from Guatemala. “What happen to the Mayans? Did they build great civilizations and VANISH? WE ARE MAYA! STILL KEEPING THE TIME..........…”  “When Indigenous Peoples are respected and their wisdom honored, Mother Earth will heal and flourish.”

Phra Arry Akinjano Phra Arry Akinjano, Thai Buddhist Monk, Bhavana Society, Meditation Center. Namo tassa Bhagavato, Arahato, Samma-Sambuddhasa." "Aspiring to the Blessed, the Fully Purified, the Complete Awakening" A Theravada opening dedication to a period of meditation or prayer. "Here Bhikkus (monks), gone to the forest, or to the root of a tree, or an empty place, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out." From The Breath of Awakening, Namgyal Rinpoche, Ananda Bodhi
Larry Cloud Morgan Larry Cloud Morgan, Ojibway Nation. “At the September 2000 Vigil I spoke with Larry Cloud Morgan about my deep concerns for the City of Washington DC. The city had long been devastated by corruption; its infrastructure was in ruins and whole sectors of the city still showed scars of riots in the 1970s. I told Larry of my concern that there was so much negativity directed towards the city from the media and political figures that it was heartbreaking for those of us who loved this city and its place in the world. Larry sat quietly for a moment. Then he said: "Washington has a sacred mission to accomplish, not only for the nation but for all the world. But it must be protected from negative energies directed towards it. The people must surround the city with prayers. They should gather at the points of the Four Directions to create a protective shield around the city. The shield should dissolve negative thoughts but let through, the positive thoughts of love and caring for All Mankind." by Anne Drissel. Larry transitioned in July, 1999.
Babatunde Olatunji Babatunde Olatunji, West African Drummer and Elder. Babatunde Olatunji preached the gospel of the drum around the world for over 40 years.  Known as an ambassador of African culture, father of African music in the United States, and visionary leader for peace, he is revered as one of great cultural leaders and African grandfathers of our times. He electrified the world with his 1959 album release of "Drums of Passion." Forty years later, the sacred sounds of his West African drums and songs still call the people to the heart of healing, joy, prayer, and unity. Hope rings universally as audiences around the world join his drums, his chants, and his inspiration. He passed on to the ancestors on April 6, 2003.
HH Swami Parnanand Marharj Ji

HH Swami Parmanand Marharj Ji, India. Swami Parmanand is the recognized reincarnated highest spiritual leader in his sect of Hinduism. He is a Vendant Yoga Scholar and Master. His numerous books and writings are published in over seven languages. He was a speaker at the United Nations for the Millennium Peace Summit of World Religious Leaders. He has since returned to America for a few months each year to continue sharing the teachings that his thousands of devotees and students ask for.

In Appreciation:

There have been a number of individuals who have been integral to the breath and depth of the Prayer Vigil for the Earth, who had an impact of the lives of those who participated in and attended the Prayer Vigil, and who, sadly, have passed on. They were not considered to be Elders, but rose to a spiritual height that gave them understanding and wisdom of Elderhood. We honor and value the contributions these individuals made to us, to the Prayer Vigil and to our world.

2009%20Prayer%20Vigil%20155.jpgDave Wilson, Ojibway, St. Paul, Minnesota,
gary Smith Dawana/Gary Smith was Wolf Clan of the Oneida Nation. Dawana had a ready smile and joyous laugh. His heart was as big as his stature. He was very proud of his Native American heritage, which became the basis for his deep spiritual beliefs. It has been said that we come into this world with a destiny and a purpose and sometimes, if you are blessed, you and destiny end up in the same place at the same time. In that place you meet your purpose and so it was with the Mayan Staff and Gary. Gary walked in many worlds where he worked tirelessly to bring healing with understanding to the many people he encountered. He made friends in almost every walk of life. Gary Robert Smith made his journey to the Spirit World on Thursday, August 29th, 2002.
haRabaia Rayford KhaRabia Rayford came to the Vigil full of prayer, singing and excitement. She has always come that way, bringing along her children and an assortment of musical instruments. She was a light that moved from place to place infecting all in her wake. You would find her in the center dancing, drumming and laughing as she pulled folks into the circle and took them on the journey of joy and Spirit. She was thoughtful and kind prompting from Habiba this comment," I didn't know her very well but she always greeting me as if I were an old friend". That is what all people were to her. She was a powerful force who's ceremony at the water brought healing and peace to the waters and those who passed by. She met her partner, Baba Yemi, at the Vigil bringing forth a love that will continue to inspire. Her voice can be heard on the Vigil song, her pictures will continue to make us smile and when we are at the Vigil in succeeding years, she will be with us dancing to the drums and sprinkling us with love. KhaRabia died on April 16, 2007.
Craig Lavender Craig Lavender, as a young man, had a vision of "helping" Native American people. He even had a thought about working in a Native American school. Over the years he came to realize that he was the student. He opened his heart and soul to the teachings and the wisdom of our Native brothers and sisters. His humility and perseverance won the hearts of some of the Vigil elders, like Clyde Bellecourt. Craig served the Prayer Vigil many years as a van driver. His selfless contribution and pure intentions touched the hearts of many, and, true to his vision, he helped build a bridge between cultures. Pancreatic cancer took Craig from us on Sept 16th, 2005, on the eve of the 13th Annual Prayer Vigil for the Earth. His Spirit was helped on it's journey by a special ceremony given by Jimmy Anderson, a personal friend of Craig's. Our collective prayers guided Craig's spirit on it's journey, and he remains with us today - one of the few who, in the utmost humility, accomplished his life's mission.

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