The very first glimmerings of the Gatherings started as far back as 1959, when a gentleman named Angus Cowan spoke with Grandfather James Ironeagle and Walter Gorden, a Councilman and the Chief of the Pasqua Reserve, in Alberta Canada, who shared with Angus about the conditions on their Reserve. These two tribal leaders were sad and depressed as they told Angus that they wanted a better life for their children and youth. Angus shared a prayer with James and Walter, as they stood on the shores of Pasqua Lake, near the village cemetery, “Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home.”
By the mid-1960s, Jim Walton and Harvey Ironeagle were part of the group, together with Harvey’s parents, Grandmother Veronique and James, to start the first Council Fire on the Pasqua Reserve, with others to follow in Haines, Alaska and Yakima, Washington, and at the Baha’i Temple of the West in Willamette, Illinois. This Gathering was named “The Unity Drum Calls.” The Native elders, Harvey Ironeagle, together with his parents, Grandmother Veronique and James, plus Jim Walton and Angus Cowan headed up these Gatherings to discuss unity and what could be done to give a better life for the children. They had been started through the prayers and encouragement of the Baha’i Faith, however with the teaching of no proselytizing, it was important these Gatherings proceed as non-denominational, combating the seven prejudices plaguing mankind, to name a few: racial prejudices, religious prejudices, educational prejudices, and so on. Grandmother Veronique Ironeagle had been given a vision of the Gatherings, and encouraged her husband and son to speak for her to promote the unity so needed in this world.
The third Continental Indigenous Council took place near Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada on the Blood Reserve in August of 1982. In December 1982 the Elders held a Unity Gathering on the Pasqua Reserve.
In 1988, Jim Walton, a Tlingit elder, consulted with the Saulteaux/Cree First Nations Elders on the Pasqua Reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada, including the family of James Ironeagle and his son, Harvey Ironeagle. He spoke with them regarding the many prophecies of the indigenous people and the time of their fulfillment. Harvey’s grandfather was Chief Strong Eagle. But it was Harvey’s mother, Grandmother Veronique Ironeagle who was the first to recognize that the time had come. She was the initiator of the S.U.T. Gatherings.
It was first believed that only the Medicine People and the Elders would gather together to consult, and then teach and lead others. But Grandmother Ironeagle and the other Elders consulted on the Pasqua Reserve in 1988 were filled with urgency. They felt there wasn't much time remaining, that there had to be Gatherings now. Understanding must be given to all mankind, and as many as possible must be included. The Elders said things must be done "in a good way" so that the prophecies could be fulfilled as they had been revealed.
By 1988, the movement was well underway, and Jim Walton brought the message of unity to the Continental Indigenous Council hosted by the Baha’is of the United States on the Standing Rock Reservation near Mobridge, South Dakota on the Missouri River. At that time, Ben and Juanita Rhodd became involved as coordinators in the Lower 48 States through the encouragement of Jim Walton. In 1989 and 1990 the Ironeagle family on the Pasqua Reserve promoted and held the first two Spiritual Unity Gatherings on their Reserve on the shores of the very lake where the Unity Prayer had been said back in 1959 by Angus Cowan.
Ernest and Connie Mirabal became involved and hosted the third S.U.T. Gathering at Nambe Falls Pueblo, New Mexico in 1991. Ben and Juanita Rhodd hosted the fourth Gathering in the Black Hills in 1992, as the number four is sacred to the Lakota and other tribes of the Northern Plains. Benno Cleveland became the coordinator of the Gatherings in Alaska, also because of the encouragement from Jim Walton. The fifth Gathering was held in Tannacross, Alaska later in the summer of 1992.
Back in the 1960s, Jim Walton had read the book, Black Elk Speaks. When the Gatherings came to South Dakota, the story of Black Elk was shared more deeply.
“I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.”
- From Black Elk Speaks as told to John Neihardt
Jim Walton had been encouraged to visit the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1988 to meet the Black Elk family, as he was very intent to discover if the story told by the Elder was true. He traveled to the Pine Ridge following the 1988 Continental Indigenous Council, and met with Henry Black Elk, Nicholas Black Elk’s grandson, who did confirm Black Elk’s vision as stated.
For detailed information on Jim Walton, the messenger of the Spiritual Unity of the Tribes Gatherings, click on this link.
Others became involved in hosting and promoting the Gatherings such as Don O’Connor and Sue Ewart in Australia, following the first Alaska Gathering, who took the message “Down Under” in 1999. When they were sadly killed in an untimely car accident in 2016, their dear friends, John and Judi Palmer kept things going. In 2000 Clay and Mary Ellen Uptain took the reins in the Lower 48, with help from Richard Weathers, who began helping with the Gatherings as a young man in Alaska. Ben Rhodd became more involved in his work as a Native American archaeologist and anthropologist on the Northern Plains, and Board Member of the World Archaeological Congress. Benno Cleveland has continued as coordinator of the Alaska, Canada, and Siberia Gatherings.
Over the years many people have attended and supported the Spiritual Unity of Tribes Gatherings. Now more than ever the world cries out for Spiritual Unity of all peoples and all nations. We are so very grateful for all our relations that have been a part of these S.U.T. Gatherings. We invite you to join us as together we pray for and call forth the mending of the Sacred Hoop.