UNITY Joins Forces with NICOA to Promote UNITY Fire Ideals
The National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) will now have a “UNITY” Fire burning at its conferences for spiritual and community building purposes. NICOA liked the idea of the UNITY Fire so much they invited UNITY youth and others to take part in a ceremonial lighting of the fire to kick off its conference earlier this month in Niagara Falls, New York.
UNITY’s Lead Fire Keepers, Sleepyeye LaFromboise, Seneca/Dakota and Kevin Bonds, Tule River Indian Tribe, and UNITY’s Executive Director, Mary Kim Titla, San Carlos Apache, spoke of the significance of the UNITY Fire. About 1,350 Native elders attend the NICOA conference. Many gathered at the fire to pray and share stories.
What is the UNITY Fire? The late Warren Skye, a Seneca elder, introduced the concept of a UNITY fire in 1995 at the National UNITY Conference for ceremonial and spiritual purposes. Each year since then, UNITY has kicked off its National UNITY Conference with the “Lighting of the UNITY Fire.” It burns continuously through-out the conference. The UNITY Fire is considered a safe space for youth. Stories are told, songs are sung, prayers are offered and it is at the UNITY fire, where youth feel the safest to share what’s on their hearts. The UNITY fire allows youth and adults to connect, communicate and promote healing.
“We’re using medicine from this area (New York) to pray for everyone back home. Many communities, like mine, don’t have many elders left. This is a way for our young people and elders to work together. That’s our hope for UNITY and NICOA to join together, the largest Native elder organization and the largest Native youth organization,to work together to make a difference,” said LaFromboise. The late Warren Skye is LaFromboise’s grandfather. A commemorative 40th Anniversary UNITY Pendleton blanket was presented to the family of the late elder.
Rory Wheeler, Seneca, 25 Under 25 UNITY Youth Leader, and Eshtakaba LaFromboise, Seneca/Dakota/Sac and Fox/Kickapoo/Potawatomi, a member of the Many Nations Youth Council, both took part in the lighting and maintaining of the fire at NICOA. “It was an honor to be able to speak and assist with the UNITY Fire at the National Indian Council on Aging Conference,” said Wheeler.
For the first time since 1995, a container of water was made available next to the fire. The elders introduced the added element for those who wish to pray with it. Fire and water are both used for spiritual purposes in Native communities. UNITY’s hope is that UNITY youth councils and tribal communities will consider hosting their own UNITY-Fires as a way of providing a safe place for community members to connect, communicate and promote healing.
UNITY and NICOA signed a Memorandum of Understanding many years ago with both groups pledging to work with the other and support the efforts of both organizations.