Earth Wisdom Tarot Sacred Art

Becoming Native to Your Place

in 0-Library, Nature, Place, Spiritual Practice

komo kulshan sunrise

komo kulshan sunrise(I wrote a version of this article in 1998, before I started the creation of the Gaian Tarot. It was published in SageWoman in the Spring of 1999. I think the ideas are just as important and pertinent today as they were then. In fact, mindful nature awareness has become one of my core practices, intrinsic to who I am and what I believe.

And this essay is all the more meaningful to me now that I am getting ready to move back to my beloved island. I took all the photos in this post on the island sometime between 2000 and 2009.)

“For the non-Native American to become at home on this continent, he or she must be born again in this hemisphere, on this continent, properly called Turtle Island. . . . Europe or Africa or Asia will then be seen as the place our ancestors came from, places we might want to know about and to visit, but not ‘home.’ Home — deeply, spiritually — must be here.” — Gary Snyder, Practice of the Wild 

“But can non-indigenous people really presume to become native? . . . What kind of nativeness is possible and to what extent can we become native to the land?”
— David Landis Barrett, At Home on the Earth 

beach glassThe idea of becoming native to your Place is one that I have considered for many years. I first came across the idea when I was enrolled in the Kamana Naturalist Training Course back in the 1990s.  The Kamana course teaches us to “see with native eyes,” as Jon Young puts it. He emphasizes that this ability is not for Native Americans only but is a learned skill. Once introduced to the concept of “becoming native,” I seemed to find it everywhere.

Using the word native can be tricky, because of the relationship between indigenous peoples and people of European ancestry, which can be difficult at times.  There are many First Nations peoples who strongly object to any non-native person learning traditional spiritual practices.  And for many of us, out of respect and acknowledgement of the wrongs done to them by our ancestors, we have turned away from studying Native American spirituality.  Instead many of us have studied the practices of our own ancestral lines.

My studies of the Celtic goddesses and myths of my own ancestral heritage have been rich. But a problem arose for me when I realized the obvious: that I don’t live in the land of my ancestors. I live here, in North America. More specifically I live in the Pacific Northwest, the Cascadia Bioregion, on an island in the San Juan archipelago, the Salish Sea.

Salish Sea

As I fell more and more in love with the land where I lived, I learned the stories and myths of the first peoples who lived here. At the same time I began my naturalist studies. It became very meaningful to me to compare the myths of my Celtic heritage with the myths of the Northwest, especially the stories of the plants and animals who live in both places (like the magical hawthorn tree and the salmon of wisdom).

wild rosesSo what was happening for me was a marriage of ancestry and place.  I studied my Celtic heritage, but also learned as much as I could about the land, and the ways that the original peoples first interacted with the land and the waters.

But there is another, more important reason for becoming native to your place: the earth needs it.  European-Americans have been incredibly destructive to the land in large part because we don’t believe we are native to the earth.  We’ve been taught to believe we transcend it.

If we each fell so deeply in love with the land where we live, we would defend it with our lives, and the whole world would be covered.

How then does each one of us become native to the Place where we live?

It has to do with listening, and connecting. Getting to know the Place where you live so intimately that you identify with it. Gary Snyder says, “. . . if you know what is taught by the plants and weather, you are in on the gossip and can truly feel more at home.”

So I’ve learned to be in on the gossip of my Place.

gardenI watch as the Steller’s jays squabble over the sunflower seeds I set out for them and notice the towhees and juncos who quietly await their turn at the feeder.

I wait for the red-flowering currant to show up in bright pink and magenta on early spring days, when the landscape is otherwise still brown and grey.

I know where the chickaree (Douglas squirrel) hides her stash of seeds and nuts in the autumn, and what part of the woods holds the most luscious mushrooms.

I know the slough where the great blue heron lives and when the tree frogs will begin their chorus in the spring. 

I know where to harvest wild onions in the summer and where to find nettles in the earliest days of spring. 

I know how far north the sun sets at midsummer, and how low in the sky it rides at noon in midwinter.

This, then, is how we become native to the land: by loving her well, first of all. By observing, being aware, studying, and participating in the life cycle of the land instead of dominating it.

island breakfastWe do this by keeping nature journals, by learning about native plants, by gardening, by sitting so still the birds forget we’re there. By relishing meals made from the bounty of our local landscape. By creating beautiful artwork and contemplative photography that is inspired by the natural beauty all around us.

We do it by sitting under a Grandmother Cedar tree and allowing our consciousness to sink deeply into its roots. By introducing ourselves to the tree and asking “May we have a conversation?” then listening with the inner ear for a response.

We do it by holding ceremony and welcoming the powers of Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Above, Below, and Center; by calling upon the Powers and Spirits of this particular Place. By honoring the genius loci and listening to anything s/he has to say.

By going on a Praise Walk, and noticing everything there is to see, and singing or speaking or dancing our gratitude and praise.

By listening. By listening with our inner ear and our outer ear, to what the Earth has to say to us.

By opening our hearts and loving Mama Gaia in her particular incarnation in one particular Place.


Journal Prompts

Choose a random Gaian Tarot card to spark an answer, if you like, and set down your thoughts in your journal. (Please share in the comments if you feel so inclined!)

  1. How might I become native to my Place?
  2. What is one way I can practice awareness of the natural world in my own backyard?
  3. How can I offer healing to the Earth and the Other-Than-Humans that live near me?


Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • cate Tue - Jun 03rd 2014 1:41 pm

    So glad you are back on your beautiful island, a sacred space if there ever was one!

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Tue - Jun 03rd 2014 7:11 pm

      Thank you dear Cate! Not quite back yet . . . we’ll be moving in July. XO

  • Eithne Wed - Jun 04th 2014 8:29 am

    What a lovely perspective! I am also living in North America, although my ancestors did not – I have often wondered how to feel more at home. I love this point of view. Thank you.

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Thu - Jun 05th 2014 7:56 am

      Thank you Eithne!

  • Bronwyn Wed - Jun 04th 2014 10:34 am

    Thank you for this beautiful article Joanna. I grew up in a wild and beautiful place on the East coast of Canada, and as a quiet only child, spent a great deal of time alone in nature. I learned lifelong skills of connection and communion, and set the foundation for my spiritual life and practices. My internal sense of home wasn’t based on a certain house or even on family life, but on meadow, forest, and ocean. As an adult, I lost much of this connection, and found urban life difficult, although there was always the ocean. It wasn’t until I moved to my little island ( so similar to yours!) that I was able to deeply experience that sense of home again, through connection to the wild. The question of cultivating this feeling as a settler is a difficult one, with which I wrestle almost daily. We need much more dialogue about what it means to be a settler on native land, and dialogue that begins with the sacredness of our connection to the land is starting in the right place. Thank you.

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Thu - Jun 05th 2014 7:57 am

      Bronwyn, I love hearing your thoughts on this, and would love to keep dialoguing about it. Maybe at another gathering sometime! 🙂

  • Beth Wed - Jun 04th 2014 12:38 pm

    Thank you Joanna, your words always are such a welcome voice of balance and sanity.

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Thu - Jun 05th 2014 7:57 am

      Thanks Beth, what a kind thing to say!

  • Maree Cree Wed - Jun 04th 2014 1:09 pm

    I was very moved by your article. Thank you for allowing us to share with you the connection you have to your going home to the island.

    I am A Cree Indian and my heart has been moved in understanding your thoughts of honoring the earth and all she has given us. Even the simple part of gratitude as to where and how we live upon her.

    Thank you for sharing

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Thu - Jun 05th 2014 7:58 am

      Maree, deep appreciation to you for your words. Blessings.

  • Dana Zia Wed - Jun 04th 2014 1:51 pm

    What great good news! Congrats! Love the way you wrote this and where it took me. Lovely. Go get em lavender woman.

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Thu - Jun 05th 2014 7:58 am

      LOL! Thanks Dana! 😀

  • Kym Thu - Jun 05th 2014 5:04 am

    I wholeheartedly agree that the earth needs us to fall in love with the land where we live. But what if you live in the city? I am surrounded by sprawling suburbs, shopping centres and tall buildings. There are still trees around and sometimes birds and I love the sky but I have to seek out parks and gardens. I don’t love all the buildings,

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Thu - Jun 05th 2014 8:02 am

      Kym, it’s either a matter of blooming where we are planted, or finding a way to move to a place that better nourishes our soul. There is nature in any city. You can find a garden or park to bond with — or even just a tree.

      I know how you feel though. I lived in suburban southern California back in the 1980’s and just found myself disliking my neighborhood so much — especially the manicured neighborhood parks. There was a nature center not too far from me that I visited often, and of course the beach. But I ended up leaving and moving to Bellingham, Washington, in part because I wanted to live closer to nature.

      I do believe if you look for opportunities to experience nature in the city, you will find them.

      • Kym Thu - Jun 05th 2014 3:05 pm

        Thanks Joanna. I definitely do. I’m always looking. I’m just always very aware of how much more concrete and bricks there are too and how the space that is left is more valuable as residential property to most. I will end up moving. 🙂

        • Joanna Powell Colbert Fri - Jun 06th 2014 7:00 am


  • Jana Jopson Thu - Jun 05th 2014 1:46 pm

    This beautiful post challenges me to deepen into my “place” … a locale I never expected to call home, the southeastern United States. You’ve sparked something in my heart that feels important: to learn more about this land under and around me. I love it more than I ever expected to. Thank you, once again, for speaking the language of sacred, Joanna.

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Fri - Jun 06th 2014 7:03 am

      So glad to hear this, Jana. Blessings!

  • Kat Thu - Jun 05th 2014 5:08 pm

    Thought provoking article, thank you for sharing this invitation to go “native.”

    Someone I know shared about an upcoming “Faery Doctoring” workshop she is attending and I immediately thought of you:

    You may be familiar with this practice but new to me. I am going to poke around his website more.

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Fri - Jun 06th 2014 6:59 am

      Thanks Kat. I do know about Tom Cowan’s work (have read his books though never taken a workshop) and I have a friend who does Faery Doctoring and has studied with him. Very intriguing!