A New Model for Self-Governance

In 2004, our board adopted "the Council Way," an old and living model of natural law for democracy and governance from the Iroquois Confederacy.  By establishing a non-hierarchical structure married to "enlightened" business strategies and governmental law, we have embarked on an experimental adventure to nurture our leaders to serve and guide the community.  In Council Way strong leadership is supported as we learn to work with the qualities of trust, loyalty, respect, and honour for the Earth.  Each member must be willing to sacrifice their personal ego in order to serve the greater community.

Council of Directors

Jim Milligan and Steven Vaccaro bring us their expertise, guidance and financial wisdom to support us to reach our potential.  We offer deep gratitude to our resigning directors, Bev Hunter, for her laughter and steadfastness in guiding the vision and Marilyn Struthers, for her courage and conviction.


As our community grows, so will our board and membership.  Eventually, the Council of Member will form to oversee the everyday living for the Center.  At present, Angie & Andrew fulfil those roles until positions such as Program Directors, Volunteer Coordinator, Fundraiser, Office Manager, etc. are hired.


A New Map for Leadership and Community in Harmony with Purpose

Angie and I are grateful to so many who have cultivated and supported the dream of Gitche M’Qua, whose heart is deeply connected to the Earth and to the medicine ways of the people of the Earth.  This vision of community does not belong to any one person or any one group, it arises from deep within the Earth, beyond individualism and beyond collective institutions.  To support us we have formed the Council of Spiritual Elders to guide us.  At this time they include, Ven. Dhyani Ywahoo, Cherokee & Buddhist Spiritual Teacher & spiritual director of Sunray Mediation Society, Roshi Joan Halifax, Buddhist Teacher & Founder of Upaya & the Project on Being with Dying, and Ohki Simine Forest, Mohawk teacher & Shaman rooted in Mayan Ways & founder of CIMA a non profit supporting the Indigenous Maya.  We believe this vision is in alignment with Sacred purpose and that it is being called forth by the people of the Earth and is returning to the Earth in these powerful times. 

We are calling on each of you to find your wisdom fire and spiritual strength to join us in this blessed undertaking.  Community building is a wisdom that belongs to the people of the Earth, when we are connected to our hearts.  When our egos rein, we become lost in competition.  We are deeply thankful to Ohki for her contributions found in her book, Dreaming the Council Ways, and for her guidance and support to Angie and I in walking this path.  We strongly urge you to read her book.

What follows is an experimental, community building work-in-progress.  It is built on the vision rooted in the Iroquoian Confederacy as a method for democracy and harmony with the Earth.  The Mohawk prophecy spoke of the time when the Ancient ways of their people would return as the medicine to heal the Earth.  According to Ohki, it would happen after the desolation of their people, yet this ancient method of community and government would still remain.  We believe that these times are now and that we have so much to do, quickly, to prepare for the changes coming. By using direct material from Ohki’s book and by drawing from Angie and my vision, (as Earth Keepers of the Dream), we want to present our best version to date of the vision & how the model looks for the Gitche M’Qua Centre for Healing & Dying. 

We will outline theoretical, visual and personal views for what road we are walking on.  Our hope is that this work inspires the Spiritual Warrior/ess within you and that it supports you to bring forth your purpose.   We pray that the work of Gitche M’Qua serves the Earth and the people unto seven generations.  The model for Gitche M’Qua is based on “Council Ways” and its principles for self-governance and democracy.  Please refer to Angie’s drawing as a visual map of a living model for leadership and community.  We have numbered each element and below descriptions follow:


In understanding our intention it is important to become familiar with some concepts and terms that originate from a Native perspective. These are not fixed perspectives or definitions, but rather experiential dimensions to become familiar with; many of you are already connected to these Ancient perspectives from the traditional peoples of the Earth. Council Way is an organic model that also changes with the times and needs of the people.  Angie and I are listening deeply for the means to be both in alignment with the Ancient ways of the Earth and to be living in a post-modern Western culture with all its wisdoms and its attachments.  While terms like Medicine Wheel and Council are important to define, we want to begin with exploring the focal point of Council Way, the Central Fire.  The Central or Sacred Fire represents our unity; it is the heart of our community and all our activities because we can all agree on it.  If we do not agree on the intention and truth of the Central Fire, we will never experience harmony or true democracy.  We begin from the place of 100% agreement, the basis of harmony.  So it is important to connect to the fire and how the fire is such important medicine for the people.

In the fire we have 100% harmony, we live beyond separation or division, and we understand: that we breath the same air, swim in the same water, walk on the same ground, and contain the same fire within us that is constantly warming our bodies.   Ohki describes the fire as the heart of the people this way:

The central fire of the Council is fundamental.  Without it, there is not unity, no focus which the chiefs and the people may gather their spirit.  In the central fire of the community, people find the faith, regeneration, and power to stand together in one harmonized body.  The central fire in the teepee [or in the Long House], whether as the heart of the people or as the great central councils, symbolizes the council fire of the Earth, the great fire within her womb, at her very core, at the center of our mother planet.  These fires are aligned in an indivisible link and, when the chiefs attune to the center fire of their teepee, they commune with the fire of the Earth core.”

Having just returned from the 21st Annual Gathering of Indigenous Elders in Vermont, Angie and I have been steeped in these Ancient ways, and we have danced for 4 days around the Sacred Fire and listened to the Elders as they remind us, rattle/drum us and encourage us.  Grandmother Margarita from Mexico reminded us that we are 100% fire and that this fire is spark of the Creator, the spiritual fire that arises from Heaven.  This fire is life and from it comes great power and responsibilities.  And the Earth too has this fire in her womb; it is her spiritual source from Creator. 

What is this fire?  Every Elder said it the same way without exception.  The fire is Love:  it is the glow of spiritual truth from which Unity and Oneness arise.  Grandmother spoke of how we all have this “fiery heart of love” inside us that beats with warm blood, with the warmth of our love.  Then she spoke of the fire as the co-creative power connecting us with the infinite power of the Creator.  So this fire of love is what we agree on, what we respect, and what we hold most sacred.  It is beyond ego or religion or race or culture because it embraces us like the Earth embraces all her children.  It originates from the Mystery of our original Oneness when we were inseparable from the Universe.  And many say this is where we return to when we die.  Yet the Elders remind us that we are not separate from this place today, that we do not need to wait for death to know bliss.  By knowing the power of love to transform us we tend the sacred fire and we ensure these embers are always burning in our hearts.

Angie said it this way:

The fire is spirit, so that everything I do is in alignment with spirit, such that the words that I speak and my thoughts are in alignment with spirit.  And therefore the actions I take are also in alignment.  To be in alignment, it is more than me, my individual self; it includes everything. Then I am able to recognize when my ego is involved. Or someone else can let me know when my ego is leading because ego isn’t always in alignment with spirit.  So being in true alignment brings me to the Earth, the wind, the trees, the mountains and the stones, to the crawlers, the flyers, the swimmers, and the walkers, to the rivers, lakes and oceans, to all living beings and then even beyond to our Ancestors, the Sky beings and those speaking to us from other dimensions.  So when I tend the Sacred fire, these too are the things I am tending.  I tend my prayers, I tend my mind, and I tend my heart.”

So by knowing that we are first spiritual beings, we can look to the fire as love and as love of the Earth who gives us shelter and life.  We can look to the fire and see our unity and we can see our community growing out of a shared purpose. Next, we need to investigate how the fire ignites visions and dreams arising from the Earth.  The Native culture believes that we receive this from the Earth and that when it arises from the Earth it serves all.

Alido Di Iorio, Angie’s late husband, believed in this.  He was deeply connected to this land, to spirit and to Native tradition.  Even his name, Gitche M’Qua which means Great Bear, was given to him by an Anishabeojibiway, who recognized bear medicine in his being.  Gitche M’Qua  had a vision.  It arose from his surrender to Spirit, to his illness, and to his healing.  So the Central Fire is fed from below by his dream.   He came to Angie and I asking for us to co-create it and we held our first meeting Thanksgiving Day 1997.  Later, the Earth showed Angie and I that we must continue with his dream, even though he had passed into the Light.


Below the Central Fire is the Sacred Vision Council, the Keepers of the Dream.  When Angie and I first met the shaman Ohki, she gave us our place in the community.  She gave us our power totems and explained to us that our true place was in the Earth, under the Central Fire.  This is where you must listen deeply and be true for it is from here that you guide the community.  She said that because we heard Gitche M’Qua’s call for his vision and because it too was our vision and purpose that we were to lead Gitche M’Qua.  We are the dreamkeepers for the vision of Gitche M’Qua and we ask the community to honour and respect our place.  We are supported in this position by the Council of Spiritual Elders (3) who reside above the Central Fire, and they too can take this position away from us.  For no one can be outside the laws of Council Ways.  Everyone must be in relationship to another and in relationship to the fire.  Our role is to guide the vision into the future and to prepare Gitche M’Qua for the future generations, because we understand that we too will die.  So our thoughts and actions include those yet unborn and our vision serves those in this time and beyond.

Gitche M’Qua had a vision:  He saw people gathering together on the land to heal.  He saw those in need of healing and those who possessed healing skills joined together as one.  The land too is one of greatest healers, and he believed that we needed to go to the land for healing and transformation.  This is the Sacred vision of community he gave to us, where we could be aligned with wholeness, with healing and with our hearts.  He saw his fortune to know so many gifted healers and he believed that all should have access and support during crises and transitions of body, mind, and spirit.  

At this time, Angie and I are the legal custodians of Gitche M’Qua until the full structure of Council Way is in place.  So we not only oversee the vision, we have the power to invite board members into their roles.  In the future when the Council Way is completed for Gitche M’Qua Angie and I will release that legal power, and we will assume our place within the circle. As long as we serve the Central Fire and vision of Gitche M’Qua,  we will be supported by the community.  Council Way laws state clearly that any one not in true service of the community will not be protected.  So with the support of the Elder’s above and the Earth within us, we turn towards the flames of fire to understand what the vision and dream has become for Gitche M’Qua.


We are deeply connected to bear medicine as “M’Qua” means bear, and it is important or spiritual medicine as “Gitche” means great or connected to the Universal.  Bear is the totem animal for the Western gateway in many Indigenous traditions.  The West door opens us to the cycle of transformation, to our Elder years in life, to the portal of death at the Northwestern door, and to the powers of Earth medicines and healing.  In the Cherokee tradition bear is the shaman/healer who is dancing around the Sacred Fire saying, “Throw your ignorance, your fear, your shame, your hatred, and your guilt into the hot flames, throw all your obstacles, throw anything that prevents you from seeing and living a spiritual life, throw it into the fire now so that your inner light will shine.”  Then bear does her dance around the fire, stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp………….and she prays, “May all be freed from suffering, may all be healed and Know their original instructions that are encoded within us.”  So bear is the healer, the medicine teacher of healing ways, of the ways towards wholeness, of sacred ceremonies returning us to Oneness, and of the knowledge of our Oneness.

Gitche M’Qua began his true healing after his 2nd diagnosis with brain cancer, and he healed himself.  Even though he died, it is important to know how he healed himself, and how spirit guided him and showed his community that healing was possible.  All of us in his community learned that there really isn’t any death, there is only healing and our return to wholeness and Oneness with Spirit.

Gitche M’Qua made a decision to heal.  As he followed this path, everything changed.  He even walked away from a career as a land developer and the company he had built.  He committed himself to spirit and prayed everyday.  He traveled up North with Donato, a dear friend and guide, to make his drum.  He continued to work with various healers and traditions:  meditation, sound healing, psychotherapy, naturopathy, allopathy, Chinese Medicine, Continuum, Reiki, cranial sacral, etc.  For him, it wasn’t about death or dying, because he would hear nothing of it.  It was about living, healing, and being in a new, unknown, and dedicated way.  Those of us close to him felt his passionate commitment.  Thus the legacy of his life and his death are profound teachings into the power of healing and that death could be a healing journey.

As living revealed to him the need for change, Marie & Lorie Waisberg, good friends in the community offered him 100 acres of land in the Owen Sound area to create his dream.  As a full-bloodied Italian this might have meant the beginning of a new winery and a fabulous new vintage, but he saw the land as a place for healing.  He envisioned a place on the land where people could live during some kind of transition that arose from a physical, emotional or spiritual crisis.  He saw a community of healers and caretakers of the land living in harmony and drawing strength from the land.  For support to build his dream he turned to Angie and I.   “I am builder,” he affirmed, “you are connected to the healing, spiritual and alternative communities.”  For Gitche M’Qua’s journey and vision, we have so much to be thankful for, for now his vision lives on in us.  His death, profound in every way, opened the door for a community to fulfill his vision.

Near death and at the door between the worlds, Angie intervened after receiving a message from Alido who was in coma. She asked the Waisbergs if they would continue to support his vision even if he died, and that we would carry his dream.  Just after Marie and Lorie had agreed and his dream was renewed, he slipped into the Light in a dazzling display of wonders.   Many moons had passed since his death.  Angie and I were visiting the Waisberg’s land, which is adjacent to the Gitche M’Qua land.  We arrived there during the nighttime in a snowstorm.  Early in the morning in a snow-covered wonderland we discovered bear:  She was a snow-formed bear sitting with her arms wrapped around a teepee-like structure, the burlap wrapping around a small tree.  Our hearts pounded as we felt this message deeply within us: spirit was telling us to go forward with the dream.


So as Keepers of Dream, Angie and I have cultivated the seeds, and we have spent the last7 years laying a strong foundation as a non-profit and now a charitable organization, committed to education and community development and dedicated to consciousness and awareness in the fields of healing and dying.  This journey has had many incarnations already; once we were the Gitche M’Qua Healing Centre and had a small board.  At that point we had no real foundation, only threads of the dreams and powerful signs that we were to continue.  We had no clear idea how to guide or lead the Centre, just our good hearts and intention. I, Andrew, had known different styles of communities since I was 12, and I knew those experiences that community “could be” nothing but trouble.  I knew we needed a clear structure, a model that would guide into clarity. And through the amazing blessings of the Mystery, I stumbled upon the book, Dreaming the Councils Ways, in the Indigenous Teachings section of Omega Bookstore. The contents sent riveting shivers throughout my body, for I knew we had found an answer to our prayers.

We folded our first attempt as a non profit and invited 3 remarkable people—Paul Chan, Bev Hunter & Jim Milligan—onto our board to guide us.  Then during a remarkable visit to Brazil when we meet John of God a famed healer, I learned from spirit that our work must include healing & dying, that there was no death, only another transition.  Spirit said you must have both healing and dying in your name!!  Thus we became the Gitche M’Qua Centre for Healing & Dying.

As Angie and I began to delve into field of death and dying at the 2000 International Conference on Dying in New York, we began our work with Roshi Joan Halifax.  Her work at Upaya in Santa Fe and her Being With Dying Training for Professionals became the foundation of our work with the dying.  In her training manual, she presents a remarkable model for honouring not only the spiritual life of the dying, but also the need for the whole careteam around the dying to work together in mutual respect.  This work resonated deeply within us and has become a core part of development.  During our first visit to Upaya, we told Roshi the story of Gitche M’Qua and that we were committed to following and developing this dream.  We knew that we couldn’t fulfill this dream without the support of wise beings, like her self, who have traveled these roads before us.  We asked her to be one of our spiritual advisors, and to be there to advise us on the long road ahead.

In October 2003, we sponsored a workshop with Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo, a truly gifted human being, wise chieftainness, teacher of Native and Buddhist ways, and a shape-shifter to other dimensions.  Angie and I have long been connected to her meditation and spiritual practices that have formed a core of spiritual support in our lives.  She lovingly agreed to become another of our spiritual advisors.  And then after a series of email communications and a final meeting in spring of 2004, Ohki Simine Forest became a third in what has become the Council of Spiritual Elders.

Above the fire is heaven, the vast Universe, Great Mystery, the unconditioned state, the realm beyond ego.  We look above us for support because we recognize that we return to the Sky, to Spirit one day.  However, we are never separate from that spiritual source, although we feel separated at times.  So our Council of Spiritual Elders represents the voice of “highest” wisdom to connect us with that source within us.  This council has no fudiciary or legal responsibility or power, like the Board of Directors, nor will they be performing any duties within our organization structure.  Their role is to guide us when asked and to be willing assist our community should conflict, dischord, or unresolvable issues arise and to offer their guidance in our general and spiritual evolution.  Eventually, there will be on this council.  Regardless of numbers, their presence reminds of those who are ahead of us, like our Ancestors, and of those who wisdom and experience nourishes us with knowledge we don’t need to learn the hard way.


So in brief the central axis of the organization is expressed by the interpenetration of Sky and Earth, like lightening which penetrates the ground with powerful energy.  So the core is the Central Fire with the Council of Spiritual Elders above and the Sacred Vision Council below.  Both feed into the  Central fire from above and below to support the organization.  But where are the people?  Gitche M’Qua has no meaning without those that are committed to its vision and those to whom it serves.  This has been the most exciting aspect of our evolution.  Some we have asked to join us, but gradually others are finding us. More people are arriving and deeply interested in this vision.  We believe that this vision belongs to the Earth and to each of us: it is our shared collective dream of community and healing. 

The cycle of life is expressed through the Medicine Wheel.  It is the circle of life—birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, elder, death, rebirth—and it informs the many expressions of the whole. In Council Way each direction in the Medicine Wheel represents an aspect of the community.  In ancient times these would be the clans or families and would be represented by different totem animals, i.e. bear clan, turtle clan, deer clan, etc. Gitche M’Qua may choose a similar form.  Each point represents collective energies expressed by that direction.  For example, the West is the direction of transformation, while the East is the direction of illumination, the new light of the morning sky.  These qualities are expressions of those energies seen in Nature, and thus all principles of Council Way are built on “natural law,” meaning that it pertains to life on Earth, the ways of the Earth. 

For Gitche M’Qua we have adopted the principles of Council Way and we are enlivening these principles for our times.  In ancient times, the basis of all action and decision originated within the realm of the “clan mothers,” who chose the male chiefs and always had the last vote.  They represent the way of the Earth of 52% females and they also hold the voice of the children.  Therefore, they hold the final vote and voice in the community.  We have defined this as the Council of Clan Mothers or Members Council.  Currently that is Angie and Andrew, so already this is a modern structure where it is not a council of women, but rather a council that honours the male/female within each of us.  This Council chooses the Council of Chiefs or Board of Directors.  Together these two Councils form the laws and guide the vision of Gitche M’Qua, like mothers and fathers nurturing a child.  The inner or internal workings of the Centre are those who run the organization, the Clan Mothers, while the outer or external functioning of the Centre are those Board members who bring their gifts to bear upon the greater community.

Thus these two east-west councils form the basis, and the north-south council complete our organizational structure by representing the fundraising and volunteer functions respectively.  The four non-cardinal points on the Medicine Wheel represent the four programs/services that Gitche M’Qua offers as follows:  Being With Our Dying, Spiritual Living, Earth Healing, Healing Medicine Ways.  While a great many seeds have planted and germinated, many more tasks lay ahead.  Let’s look more closely at each council in more detail way to understand the particulars of roles, responsibility, and function.  In a later document, I will outline more details on decision-making and the methods for communication within Council Way.  Council Way provides us with clear instructions on how to stay aligned with the Sacred Fire and how to honour conflicts that necessarily arise as the means of growth:  the lessons learned from the oyster, the sand, and the pearl.

Briefly, I will outline each council and its functions/role:


As a new organization the clan mothers are a new lineage or tradition with Angie & Andrew as the guides of the dream.  The Member’s Council will be the heart for the work for Gitche M’Qua. Marrying modern business practices with a strong spiritual core, we have identified a potential format for this council that relates to the overall structure of Gitche M’Qua.  The positions in this council as the working body would be represented by traditional positions.  From a business model the Member’s Council could consist of President, Vice-President, CEO, Executive Director, Programs Directors, etc.  This may be eight or more positions that are responsible for accomplishing the activities at the Centre.


With fudiciary and legal responsibilities for the charitable status of the organization, the Board is a guide and leader for Gitche M’Qua.  These leaders act as bridge to all the functions at the Centre, including fundraising, volunteer, and program functions.  As chiefs their role is to speak out into the community and support the many levels of healing, spiritual living, and dying services.  They too oversee the development of the community by nurturing spiritually, strategically, and financially.