VisionQuest has adopted many American Indian traditions and ceremonies over the years. These traditions have helped form VisionQuest’s unique fabric and culture over the years.
When youth and staff come together, or when staff have meetings, they often are held on a circle. The Plains Indians believed that circles were representative of life―the sun, moon, and stars traveled in a circular motion; seasons followed a cyclical pattern, as did each person’s life; and a circular perimeter offered more protection in their nomadic camps.
VisionQuest’s Circles always start with the phrase “What goes around comes around,” followed by a hug started by a leader and passed around the circle. This is a reminder that how you act and what you say and do will all come back to you. On the Circle, everyone can see each other, facilitating open and honest communication. Each person on the Circle sees the center and every other person from a different perspective, and each person brings a different perspective to the Circle, all of which are heard. A Circle is always ended by bringing everyone closer together. Everyone joins arms and moves closer to the center as a group.
A Talking Feather Circle is an adaptation of the Circle that gives participants a structured way to discuss a given topic. A feather is passed around the Circle, and only the person holding the feather may speak. All on the Circle must wait until the object reaches them before talking about what has been said. Learning patience is a key component of this ceremony, as each person must wait to speak until they hold the object; even if someone says something that they do not like.
A smudge is a ceremony that uses smoke to symbolically renew or purify. Smudging is the name American Indians give to using smoke to purify, but the basic idea has been around for a very long time. The smoke usually comes from sweet grass, sweet sage, or cedar. The smoke is fanned on a person using feathers. Staff and youth alike learn to smudge on special occasions to purify one’s thoughts and mind to be able to concentrate on a task at hand or begin a healing process.
Plains Indians used medicine bundles as a way to carry objects of symbolic or special meaning. For American Indians it also usually contained roots, herbs, leaves and other natural items used to heal. At VisionQuest, a bundle is a way to carry memories of important events. It is an outward sign of the healing that needs to occur in a youngster’s life.Taking part in the opening of a staff’s bundle is a special occasion.
The pipe ceremony is a symbolic joining of mother and father (parenting) issues. The pipe is passed around the circle so that the person passing doesn’t let go until the person receiving is touching the stone. Contact is never broken between the pipe and everyone on the circle. This collectively builds synergy, which is working together as a group to achieve an effect that each participant is not capable of as an individual. This brings mother, father and child issues full circle within the safety and advice of a collective. The pipe ceremony is clearly symbolic; it is never lit with youth in the program.
A sweat lodge is the American Indian version of the sauna. It is a time-honored cleansing ceremony or renewal traditionally performed to purify the body, mind, and spirit. VisionQuest acquired the right to perform this ceremony from the Crow Tribe. A sweat enables kids to hear suggestions for success. It improves communication and builds trust. This activity helps to develop closer relationships between youth and staff; among youth; and between staff. The sweat lodge is a place to take time out for introspection and reflection.
Senior Professional Staff
VisionQuest’s roots are steeped in American Indian tradition. One of these traditions formed VisionQuest’s Senior Professional Staff (SPS) leadership commitment.
In the Crow Indian tradition, there were members of the community―called “Bishkewalakai”―who were so committed to their community that they would stake themselves to the ground in times of trouble to demonstrate that they would not desert their families and tribe. Following this tradition, the SPS wear a VisionQuest button on their left knee to represent to their fellow staff members and the youth that they are committed to the youth, the program, and the company.
Any staff person in the company may become an SPS. Eligibility requirements include demonstrating a commitment to VisionQuest’s mission and fabric and being willing to make a personal four-year commitment to work in the company. Many staff consider their decision carefully before committing. SPS are also expected to step up when things get difficult, and to work out issues that arise, whether they are internal with other staff or with youth.
This tradition has resulted in a highly dedicated staff, with many staff members who recently celebrated their 20, 25, and 30 year commitments, including members of the Executive Team.
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