Photo and interview by @martinschoeller
Religion: Nuyagi Keetoowah Society
Ray Evans Harrell: I grew up in the O-Gah-Pah Nation in the current state of Oklahoma. Indian religions were banned in 1883, so I grew up in the Indian Baptist community of Picher, Oklahoma, directed music in churches and ended up studying in New York. In 1978 President Jimmy Carter signed the Freedom of Religion Act for American Indians and so for the first time we were able to "come out", so to speak. We started having prayer circles on a roof down on White street in Manhattan.
I became the apprentice to a Cherokee Medicine Priest and am now the Priest for the Nuyagi Keetoowah Society. Our job is to uphold and bring back the knowledge of our culture. We obviously are not farmers and hunters, we are urban people, I am an opera singer, we're developing something in the present to live in this tradition.
Our worship is meant to acquaint you with how to sense the environment in non-visual ways because one is really tied to whether something exists, by whether they can see it. Our religion is holistic in that it involves all seven senses.
We meet at a Stomp ground and light three fires. We build a cornmeal circle and there are seven directions that we include because they represent the front, the back, the left, the right, the up, the down, the center. And then the eighth direction is to the universe. We call it a Medicine Wheel.
It symbolizes that individually we are inadequate, we are limited. But when we put the circle together we can conceive of the whole of the reality, discover a greater truth for ourselves.
Our message is that you are responsible for yourself and nobody escapes responsibility for what they do. The world is your teacher and you are to understand that you are a part of the Creator.
Everything is a part of everything.
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