The Early History of Spiritual Unity of Tribes Gatherings

“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

Tlingit elder James Wilbur Walton (Khaalaaxh), the initiator of the Spiritual Unity of Tribes Gatherings, was born March 29, 1923, in Sitka, Alaska to Rudolph Walton (Kaawootk', Aakw'taatseen), of the Tlingit Kiks.di clan, and Mary Charley (Davis), Kaagwaantaan clan. He was a leader of the Kaagwaantaan Wolf House, Eagle/Wolf Moiety, of Sitka.

As a child, Jim received traditional Tlingit training and became an expert in oratory and protocol. He graduated from Sheldon Jackson School in Sitka in 1943, and married Clara Hamilton of Craig.  As a young man Jim struggled with finding the balance between his traditional Tlingit training and living in the modern world. Like many others of this time, he struggled with alcohol for a period of his life when he served in the U.S. Army during World War II and later as a young father when he worked as a fisherman and carpenter.

But Jim’s life began to change when he was introduced to the teachings of the Baha’i Faith in 1953 on the importance of unity of all people. About that time he also read the book “Black Elk Speaks.” He was so taken by the teachings of unity of all peoples and by Black Elk’s vision as it was relayed in the book that he went to the Sacred Black Hills in South Dakota himself to find the family of Black Elk and to determine if the book had accurately portrayed Black Elk’s vision.

Myron Pourier, a descendent of Black Elk, recently confirmed in an email that his grandmother “Olivia Black Elk-Pourier had relayed that her brother, Henry Black Elk, the grandson of Black Elk, had met with Jim Walton” to consult about and confirm Black Elk’s vision.

From that time on Jim would often talk about how that meeting changed his life. He dedicated his life to bringing about a rebirth of traditional indigenous teachings in order to affect the health of his people and in order to help bring Black Elk’s vision into reality.

In the early 1980s, Jim established the International Cross-Cultural Alcohol Program, to create a cross-cultural approach to alcohol recovery. He also traveled across the United States, talking to elders and spiritual leaders of many tribes to learn more about the spiritual prophesies and to garner a better understanding of the meaning behind those teachings. Whenever he spoke with elders he sought permission to begin holding sacred gatherings.

In 1988, Jim consulted with the Saulteaux/Cree First Nations Elders on the Pasqua Reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada, including the family of James Iron Eagle and his son Harvey Iron Eagle. 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 Grandmother Iron Eagle who was the first to recognize that the time had come.

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 Iron Eagle 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.

The First Gatherings

The guidance of the Elders was followed and the first Spiritual Unity of the Tribes Gathering was held on the Pasqua Reserve outside of in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1989. The second Gathering was also held on the Pasqua Reserve in Saskatchewan in 1990.

In 1991, Grandfather Ernest Mirabal and his wife Connie Mirabal of Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico hosted the third Gathering. This was the first Spiritual Unity Gathering held in the United States.

The fourth Gathering was held in the Heart of Turtle Island, the Black Hills, in 1992. The Spiritual Unity Gatherings in the Black Hills are called the "Gathering of Eagles." A Dakota Elder told his people of this Gathering more than thirty years earlier.

Spiritual Unity of the Tribes V was held in Tanacross, Alaska, August 4-10, 1992, with the theme of “Honoring the Grandmothers.” The grandmothers are the image of Mother Earth, giving life and strength. There are many prophesies regarding the importance of the grandmothers, including the teaching “There won’t be peace on earth until the voices of the grandmothers are heard.” The Tanacross gathering was blessed with the attendance of Elder and Medicine Man Yellowhorse, along with many local Athabaskan elders and leaders.

Spiritual Unity of the Tribes VI was held in Mexican Springs, New Mexico, June 21-27, 1993. Representatives of the Six Nations responded to the invitation to come to Gathering VI and accepted the bundle that invited the Six Nations to host Gathering VIII in 1994.

Spiritual Unity of the Tribes VII was held in Tanacross, Alaska, August 3-8, 1993. Benno Cleveland of Fairbanks, Alaska helped organize the committee that hosted the Alaska Gathering.

In 1994, at the age of 72, Jim Walton went alone, and not speaking the Russian language, to Yakutsk, Sakha Republic, Russia, to help establish alcohol-recovery programs. As a result of his work, the republic held several Healthy Lifestyle Summits; the Tundra Women's Center in Cherski, Sakha Republic, was founded (the first domestic-violence center in the Republic); and hundreds of cultural and health care exchanges occurred between indigenous people of the Sakha Republic and Alaska. Members of the Spiritual Unity of Tribes Steering Committee have traveled to Yakutsk, Siberia to coordinate a 1994 Gathering there with the Sakha people. The Siberians were invited to attend Gathering VII in Tanacross.

In 1994 a Gathering was sponsored by the Lummi Tribe in Washington State, coordinated in part by Roberta Charles.

The Gathering of Eagles was held in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the traditional territory of the Lakota Nation in 1992, and 1995 through 2000. In 1995 through 1997 the Gatherings were hosted by Vernon and Emalee Schmidt, near Custer, South Dakota. In 1998 through 2000 the Gatherings were held at Borderlands Retreat Center, on the Pesla, the Heart of the Heart of Turtle Island. Ben Rhodd was instrumental in bringing the Spiritual Unity Gathering to the Black Hills in 1992 and has continued his involvement throughout the period.

The 2001 All Nations Healing of the Twelve Feather Gathering was hosted by the Bear Clan Family of the Navajo Nation near Gallup, New Mexico. The Gatherings returned to the Black Hills for 2002 through 2005. They were held at Canyon Calm, near Custer, South Dakota, and hosted by Garry and Mary Kate Stanker. In 2006 and 2007 the SUT/Gathering of Eagles was sponsored by the Dine’ family of Grandmother Helen Tahe. It was held in her memory on her ancestral grounds in the Chuska Mountains near Mexican Springs, New Mexico. In 2008 and 2009 the Gathering of Eagles was again held in the Black Hills. The location was the Free Spirit Campground at the base of Bear Butte.

As of 2015 there have been hundreds of Spiritual Unity Gatherings held worldwide, including two on the Peaceweavers’ land in New York State, two in Siberia, several in Alaska and 17 in Australia.

Australian Gatherings

At the gathering in Tanacross, Alaska in1992, Jim Walton and a group of elders agreed to ask Don O'Connor to take the gatherings to Australia.

At the time of this writing, November 2015, there have been 17 SUT gatherings held in Australia.

The first Australian Spiritual Unity of the Tribes Gathering in Australia was held at Daylesford, Victoria, Australia during Easter 1999; the second at Hatfield, NSW in November 1999; and the third at Lake Mungo, Easter 2000. The fourth gathering was held at Menindee Mission, NSW in September 2000. The fifth was at Weldborough, Tasmania in January 2001; and the sixth at Wood Wood, Victoria, Easter 2002. The seventh was at Daylesford, Victoria in March 2005; the eighth at Menindee, NSW in November 2005; the ninth at the Coorong in March 2006; the tenth at the Coorong in March 2007; the eleventh at Kangaroo Island, S.A. in September 2007; the twelfth  at Dja Willam, Daylesford, Victoria in April 2010. The thirteenth was at Menindee, NSW in November 2012; the fourteenth at Halls Gap, Victoria in April 2013; the fifteenth at Halls Gap, Victoria in May 2014; the sixteenth at Halls Gap, Victoria in May 2015; and the seventeenth at Menindee, NSW in October 2015.

Visitors to the Australian gatherings have come from all over the world, including Europe, Alaska, New Zealand, the Philipines, and the USA.

Spiritual Unity of the Tribes, Australia is a registered non-profit organization, loved and cared for by Don O’Connor, Sue Ewart, John & Judi Palmer and an ever-changing group of volunteer helpers. The Spiritual Unity website in Australia is

Creating a Loving and Unifying Atmosphere

The Gatherings are peaceful in nature, founded upon the very principles which are imparted to all who gather together. While the Gatherings do not presume to be an answer in and of themselves, each is a prototype and hope for the future, creating a loving and unifying atmosphere as standard. The spiritual compassion, tolerance and equality that have been understood by Native peoples for generations are the foundation of the Gatherings. They have the feeling of a family camp-out and lasting friendships develop among participants who come from all over the world. No fee is charged, but donations are welcome. The Gatherings encourage sharing from all who attend, through a prayer, story, song, teaching, etc. Each person is important to the whole and all share around a ceremonial fire.

Elders have been the guiding influence in previous Gatherings and they have instructed that the Grandmothers should speak. The Grandmothers are asked to come forth and once again share their wisdom and knowledge of the ways, language, and philosophies they have learned for the benefit of all Nations of the Human. The Spiritual Unity of Tribes/Gathering of Eagles is an opportunity for the people of all Nations to rediscover how to live on Mother Earth and with All Our Relations. Unity is our goal. Now is the time.

Black Elk’s Last Prayer

In 1950, Grandfather Black Elk returned to pray on Harney Peak, at the site of his early vision:

“Here at the center of the world, where you took me when I was young and taught me; here, old, I stand, and the tree is withered, Grandfather, my Grandfather!

Again, perhaps for the last time on this earth, I recall the great vision you sent me. It may be that some root of the Sacred Tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds! Hear me, that they may once again go back to the Sacred Hoop, and the good red road, the shielding tree.

In sorrow, I am sending a feeble voice, O six powers of the world. Hear me in my sorrow, for I may never call again. O make my people live!”

The Gatherings Respond

We, members of the Steering Committee of Spiritual Unity of the Tribes Gatherings, and all who have participated and will participate in the Gatherings, coming together in the heart of Love, pray that Black Elk’s vision is being fulfilled-that in joining together we make “one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight,” and in that Heart Center will grow “one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father,” and that it will be holy. The Gathering is a living prayer.



Videos and More Remembrances

From Gathering Participants

Spiritual Unity of Tribes - Gathering of Eagles

When Spiritual Unity of the Tribes was established, six prejudices needing to be addressed were identified.

They are:

  • leadership,
  • racial,
  • national,
  • economic,
  • political, and
  • religious.

Those who attended the previous Gatherings addressed these issues. The intent is to gain greater understanding of these prejudices and ways to turn them around. Understanding will bring empowerment and the ability to advocate on behalf of all people for a better world.