Cultural Relationships by Gigi Coyle

The School of Lost Borders began offering Rites of Passage (ROP ) ceremonies in the Owens Valley/Inyo Mountains in 1982 to any and all peoples. The ceremony was and is based in our deep ongoing relations with Nature. Meredith Little and Steven Foster, the founders, came here to live with respect for those who are here and those who have gone before, and early on began a relationship with elder, Grandpa Raymond, of the Paiute Tribe. As part of that they asked his “permission” for what they intended to offer, and began the School with awareness and respect for the land and people here. This included the Paiute people, the land agencies, ranchers, and local business.

In order to acquire the necessary permits and insurance for a training center, a place for many to learn how to be guides in their own communities, there were and are monies raised and fees charged. Specifically, the funds cover expenses needed to run the School and are not payment for the days of actual ceremony. The School, never a profit-making business venture, is today registered as a 501c3 non-profit, and perhaps is best named as a ‘social profit.’ As such, many guides work elsewhere full-time, and many work two or even three jobs in addition to being a guide in order to do what they do. Many offer hours, if not years, of volunteer time as they believe this work is part of being a member of any and every community, what is needed to be healthy and whole. We at the School are dedicated to offering the ceremony to any and all and to never let $ be a constraint or barrier to someone participating. Many come and participate through the generous gifts, donations, and scholarships. (See our website- link to money )

Over the years, we have looked to educate our students and trainees in the history of this land and the important history of all indigenous cultures, including First Nation peoples from many places, as well as the Owens Valley. We strongly encourage people to learn about their own ancestry and roots, and teach them that ceremony comes through that deep connection with people and place. For many of our courses that allow more time than the 10-day rite-of-passage ceremony, we have a community service project. We look for ways to say thank you, not only to the land, but to the community. In the past 10 years this has included working in the Big Pine Paiute Tribe’s garden, clearing water ditches, picking up trash, and planting trees.

In addition, many of our guides pay their earnings forward, contributing with time and funds to efforts focused on social justice, healing, and the restoring of relations. This means being involved with and including in our educational sessions, the difficult story of genocide and cultural appropriation. Activities in this arena have included sharing both money and time with such groups as the American Indian Institute, 7th Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, Standing on Sacred Ground, The WILD Foundation’s Native Lands Council, Bioneers, Beyond Boundaries, and Walking Water.

We are aware of many sensitivities and the importance of cultural preservation as well as the import of supporting traditional ways. We suggest if people find any artifacts during their time in the valley that with respect to the Paiute peoples , they leave them where they found them. When people of any age come to us from a specific lineage or culture we explore with them what it is they’re seeking. We ask them to make contact with their community, with their land, with their elders, and support them to find the ceremony that is right for them. This may be one at the School wherein all traditions are honored or it may mean finding something for example within African American, Jewish, or Native American communities. Given that some communities have been so devastated, it may be that this seeking is part of re-awakening the import of ROP, something we all are deeply dedicated to.

While all programs at the School of Lost Borders are inclusive to all people, we have also found it powerful to have programs focus on particular communities such as the Queer Quests which are offered for the LGBTQI community. In this space, there is often a strong container of shared experience which can provide added safety and be very healing. Ultimately, our work is focused on offering all people, especially youth, an opportunity to experience belonging to this earth, being part of, not separate from, Nature. With that relationship deeply marked and celebrated, with that experience of shared common ground, all cultural identities and traditions can perhaps co-exist a bit more peacefully in the circle of life.

At the School, participants have their own experiences and connection and ceremony, within a very old, simple, challenging solo fast. With that, their connection to all life, to ancestors, lineage, culture and community becomes ever more deeply embedded. We have also through our direct experiences in Nature, with intention and prayer, been gifted by the universal teachings and ceremonial life of care that thus emerge. We at the School continue to learn through this kind of time on and with the land. That, coupled with a listening to and respect for all in this valley, in the best ways we know, will continue to guide us in all of the School’s offerings.

Gigi Coyle with and for SOLB

The real ceremony begins where the formal one ends, when we take up a new way, our minds and hearts filled with the vision of earth that holds us within it, in compassionate relationship to and with our world.

Linda Hogan