Spencer Martin: In this universe, all things are connected

Spencer MartinSpencer Martin, whose Indian name is Se Olum, has survived virtually every tragedy that can befall a human being.  His people, the Methow, were driven from the valley named after them less than three months (July 2, 1872) after the United States government officially granted them the right to it (April 9, 1872).

Martin was born to an alcoholic mother and a father he never knew, and was raised to the age of seven by his grandparents, who taught him the old ways—until sending him to a Catholic boarding school where he was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused.  That same year he also lost his grandparents, without even the chance to say goodbye. By the time he was a teenager, he was so angry and bitter he rebelled into a life of drugs, drunkenness, drug-dealing, and other crimes—a lifestyle that ultimately resulted in the deaths of his closest friends. Years later he also lost four of his five children—to accidents and other violence. Finally, after 30 years of living hell, Martin returned to himself and to the traditional medicine that has sustained Native peoples for centuries: vision quests, sweat lodges, purification, and—above all—prayer.  “I thought I had beat my abusers,” he says, “but the beginning of my recovery was realizing that they had won. They put hatred in my heart.” 

Martin is free of hatred now.  For the last 30 years he has led many of his people—as well as non-Natives and members of other tribes—to spiritual, physical, and emotional health.  He teaches the spiritual ways of his ancestors: leads vision quests, conducts initiations, and helps the dead cross over.  He has worked to reconcile whites and Natives in the Methow Valley, creating with sympathetic whites an annual Reconciliation Pow-Wow that features Native dancing, drumming, handcrafts, food, and council circles.  In 2007, that reconciliation work resulted in a film, Two Rivers—A Native American Reconciliation, an award-winning PBS documentary. Martin now works with the Methow Valley Interpretive Center to include Native American history, rituals, and rites of passage in its programmatic offerings to the people of the Methow.

I met Martin when I was looking for a Native American to bless the land my husband and I had purchased in the Methow Valley. There was no listing under “spiritual leader” in the Okanogan County yellow pages. I had to find my way to him by asking around. Before conducting the ceremony, Martin sat with me and asked why I was interested in blessing the land. I said I had recently become aware that humans could help to heal the Earth simply by raising their consciousness. I said that I’d like to learn how to do that if I could find someone to teach me.

Martin laughed.

Slightly offended, I asked, “Why are you laughing?”

“Because you’re sitting next to someone who could teach you,” he said.

I took him up on the offer and, over the course of the following three years, had the opportunity to conduct numerous interviews with him.  He often laughed at me for being “such a European,” while I would get impatient with him for being “so Native.” The Native reliance on humor vs. the European default to impatience was one of many lessons Martin taught me.

– Leslee Goodman

(Continued…)

 

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5 Responses to Spencer Martin: In this universe, all things are connected

  1. Dana Visalli January 20, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    Excellent, meaningful conversation. Thanks Leslee for making it happen and thanks to Spencer for being so forthright. Something there is about the process of ‘abstract thought’ that creates seperation, but interrelationship seems to be the deeper channel.

  2. Theresa Ratzer February 23, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    Spencer Martin

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I believe it’s people like you and me who hold in their mind how we would like this world to be more loving, caring and sharing and know that the greatest cathedral in the world is our in nature or in the middle of a forest. Though it is difficult at times to overcome your earlier conditioning, believe we must all do this and realize we have a choice in all we think or do.

    My prayers go out to the planet every evening and I ask all those who have left this plane of existence and have mankind’s best interests at heart to help us help ourselves.

    It will be wondeful when the time comes that we become conscious of all we do and say and know it is each one’s choice.

    By the way, one of the finest books I’ve ever read (and I gave it to my father to read when he was approaching 100 and he said he agreed with everything this man had to say and that he was sorry he wouldn’t live long enough to see it happen) was Fools Crow, Wisdom and Power by Thomas Mails. Another good one is Black Elk( has a white cover and a black photo of him on the front.

    Again, thank you for all you are trying to do. Would be interested in knowing when “events” are taking place and if possible, would like to attend.

    Love and Light
    Theresa Ratzer

  3. Jim Kistner July 9, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    Leslie and Spencer:
    Thank you very much for sharing your questions, insight, and wisdom with us. These are critical conversations to have at this time in our history. In fact, they are long overdue, Our future and the future of this planet depends on whether or not a critical mass of human beings can open themselves to a deeper experience of the interconnectedness of all things and then bring that awareness to everything they do. I applaud Spencer for the long road he has traveled and for the powerful work he continues to do in the Methow and around the region.
    Jim Kistner

    • Leslee July 9, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      Thank you for writing, Jim.

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