Indigenous voices to grace Paganicon stage

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ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn.. — When the doors to Paganicon open next March, attendees will have the opportunity to hear from two important representatives of native peoples, Sharon Day and Arvol Looking Horse. What makes their attendance particularly unusual is that the cost of bringing in these speakers was raised directly by members of the community, and in relatively short order. Headliners at Paganicon are usually selected a year in advance and have their expenses paid for by the convention budget, but Looking Horse and Day were only confirmed within the last few weeks.

Becky Munson, who oversees programming and entertainment for the convention, was kind enough to answer some questions about how it all came about.

The Wild Hunt: What makes these two guests, in particular, exciting enough to rally funding?

Becky Munson: Paganicon received two separate pledges for restricted giving related to bringing in these specific guests. This is a first for our organization, but clearly members of the community really wanted to have these folks at the event, and we do everything we can to meet those requests.

TWH: How much money did you raise to bring them?

BM: Collectively we raised about $1,200 to bring in both guests. More than half of that was the initial commitments, the rest was money raised during my call to the community for support.

Sharon M. Day [courtesy photo]

Sharon M. Day [courtesy photo]

TWH: Who did you rally to raise the funds, and how did you do so?

BM: The long story is that we got the request for Sharon [Day] with a pledge for her full honorarium. The request for Chief Arvol [Looking Horse] came with a pledge for half his regular fees. Paganicon books our guests for each convention close to a year in advance, and this came up late in the fall. We had already committed all the funds available for guests from our normal budget; so the only way to come up with the second half of the cost for Chief Arvol was to ask the greater community to pitch in.

I put a personal request on behalf of Paganicon out to all the Pagan leaders I know in our local community. I asked if they could request support from their respective groups in the area. Every single person stepped up, and we raised the needed funds in a couple of days. It was so great to see the broader community join us in bringing such a special guest to the event. I was blown away at the response, and truly grateful for the support we have in our community.

TWH: Paying for headline guests is standard at some Pagan events, but not all. What expenses are being paid for these two, and how exactly does that differ from the support usually offered for your headline speakers?

Paganicon has paid our guests of honor since the beginning of the con. We work every year to balance compensation of guests and ticket pricing. We also have generous sponsors who assist with the costs of bringing in our guests. Llewellyn has sponsored a guest every year, which allows us the ability to have more than one guest of honor. Weiser has also contributed toward hosting a guest of honor in previous years.

For the sake of presenters, the contract details are confidential; we work with each desired guest as to their requirements to speak, and negotiate with them individually based on what we can afford.

These contracts differ in that they were requested specifically by members of the community, with contributions pledged to offset the cost. The donations were toward bringing in only these speakers. That meant negotiating with the speakers to pay their normal requested speaking fees, and fundraising to meet the difference in pledged funding. If we had been unable to raise the remaining funds, we would have had to turn down the original offers.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse [courtesy photo]

Chief Arvol Looking Horse [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: Why should Pagans be concerned with indigenous topics, when many people from indigenous cultures do not identify as Pagan?

BM: As chair of the programming committee, this has been a priority of mine for a number of years. I’ve worked very hard to diversify the content at Paganicon. We strive to host difficult conversations, to lean into controversial topics as a catalyst for change, and to give a platform to all facets of Paganism. Indigenous topics are really important because it is one of the areas where appropriation in Paganism is still quite pervasive. There are many overarching themes in indigenous practice and Paganism. That makes it easy for Pagans to overstep into appropriation and not realize, or understand the issues. It is important that we give a voice to the conversation and educate Pagans as to why this is something they need to be mindful of in their own practices.

In addition to that, there are many topics that span the priorities of both groups. Environmental issues are one major commonality. This is an area where, despite our other differences, we can team up and be stronger together. I think bringing us together in that conversation can allow us to assist each other in the fight to save the earth. The overwhelming interfaith support for what is happening at Standing Rock further supports that the community longs for this kind of cohesion.

Lastly, I think the more we can foster conversation between all cultures, the better off we all can be. Broader understanding helps eliminate prejudice, study after study has proven this. By bringing groups together who don’t interact regularly, we can help chip away at inherent bias and prejudice that affect many minority cultures and religions. It’s my hope that Paganicon is an opportunity to do that every single year. If we can open the eyes of others to the broader shared experience we have on this planet, then we’ve succeeded. That only happens if we are able to bring in a wide array of teachers and give them a platform.

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Arvol Looking Horse is a Sioux chief who is recognized as a spiritual leader in all three branches of that tribe. He wrote White Buffalo Teachings, and has been a guest columnist at the news outlet Indian Country Today. Looking Horse has opened numerous United Nations sessions with his prayers and has been interviewed for several films about Native American spirituality. He lives on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota.

Sharon M. Day, a member of the Ojibwe, is executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, a Minnesota-based group that she helped found in 1987 to assist Native Americans. A follower of the spiritual path of the Anishinabe people, Day has led five “water walks,” a ceremony performed to save the life-giving force of water, through multiple states.

As Munson has shared, the two leaders will be attending Paganicon 2017. Hosted by Twin Cities Pagan Pride, Paganicon takes place in the Minneapolis-area and has been staged annually since 2011. Along with Arvol Looking Horse and Sharon Day, other guests include Laura Tempest Zakroff, Michelle Belanger, The Nathaniel Johnstone Band, and Wendy Rule.