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A delegation of teen leaders and counselors from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota are traveling to Brattleboro to join a mixed-age group of locals for a multi-cultural ‘Gathering in Gratitude’ workshop led by drama therapist and musician Luz Elena Morey, director of the Brattleboro-based Mahalo Art Center.

The eight Oglala Lakota teens and two counselors will participate in the week-long intensive, a nature-based creative exploration of the concept of gratitude that culminates in a unique brand of performance art where each cast member’s contribution is woven into a modern, mythical pageant described by past audience members as “a feast for the soul.”

Public performances are Friday June 26 at 7:00 pm and Saturday June 26 at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm, at The Space at 118 Elliot, 118 Elliot Street, Downtown Brattleboro, Vermont 05301. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for those under 18 with no one turned away due to lack of funds.

Tony Ten Fingers, an Oglala Lakota elder, counselor and author of “Lakota Wisdom” who works with young people at Pine Ridge, organized and leads the delegation largely in response to a recent wave of adolescent suicides at Pine Ridge. This sad fact reflects a US Native American youth suicide rate 2.5 times higher than the US national average. The US Congress unanimously passed a bill on June 2, 2015 forming a Commission on Native Children to study the unique burdens inordinately carried by Native American youth.

Ten Fingers will discuss his book and the reasoning behind the delegation’s visit on Sunday, June 21 at 7:00pm at Mahalo Art Center, 972 Western Avenue, Brattleboro, Vermont (behind 974 Western Avenue: The Jeremiah Beal House). A $10 suggested donation will benefit the delegations’ travel expenses.

Nationally acclaimed musician and Emmy nominee Bill Shontz is Gathering in Gratitude’s musical co-director. Rupa Cousins, actor, Alexander Technique master and co-founder of the Northeast Psychoneuroimmunology Center will co-direct. Student photography from In-Sight Photography’s ‘Exposures’ exchange with Pine Ridge will be displayed for sale at the performance, as well as other thematic items of interest.

“We are traveling a long way to attend the Gathering in Gratitude because it is a process that fosters community, creativity and healing,” Ten Fingers said. “When young people gather together to share information and experiences, learning takes place and healing happens. When they create something together that belongs to them, it impacts many levels. It creates medicine. With this medicine, they can heal themselves and each other.”

“We are honored to have the delegation visit,” Morey said. “Brattleboro and Pine Ridge have been fostering a special relationship for years. Here, we have our own challenges with poverty, violence and drug abuse. At Mahalo Art Center, we empower visionary solutions through creative community engagement. I believe this cross-cultural Gathering in Gratitude will help us all survive and thrive from a place of heart, spirit, vision and grounded support.”

The Brattleboro Area Interfaith Youth Group​ will welcome the Oglala Lakota delegation at the Guilford Community Church’s Strawberry Supper on Saturday, June 20 and participate in a special teen leadership training and exchange on Sunday June 21. This training is open to teen applicants who have a connection with Pine Ridge youth. Applications are available via the Mahalo Art Center website. The Center for Health and Learning and many others are also playing a supporting role.

Inspired in 1997 by an ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) practice of giving thanks for all of the natural world, and in 2007 with the encouragement of the late Mohawk Chief Tekaronianeken, Jake Swamp, Luz Elena Morey developed the ‘Gathering in Gratitude’ process, which is the subject of the documentary film, “The Source”, and is featured in the book, The Heart and Soul of Psychotherapy. Each presentation is created completely anew by a multi-generational ensemble and naturally addresses salient modern cultural issues.

Mahalo Art Center has raised about half the funds needed for the Pine Ridge students’ participation and is seeking in-kind food donations and help of various kinds. Sponsors will be recognized in a performance Program, on the Mahalo Art Center website and on a short film that will document the event. Your tax deductible donations to support the delegation may be made to Mahalo Art Center, a 501(c)3 corporation, via checks sent to Mahalo Art Center, 972 Western Avenue, Brattleboro, Vermont, 05301 or via PayPal at Partial proceeds from all performances will go to Project Feed the Thousands.

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