Trampling on Native Heritage

DSC_1882For the times I’ve volunteered at the Thorpe First Nation Family Farm, I’ve been aware of the Thorpe’s struggle to keep their land from getting sold. This past August a sign announcing an auction for September 16 was planted in the farm’s field across from the parking lot. The auctioneer–Max Spann–notified the media with a press release for two dates when interested parties could travel to the farm in order to walk the land and tour the family’s farmhouse.

Thursday September 3 was the second and final opportunity for speculators to check out the property. I went to the Farm to take pictures and get a sense of the people who were there to gain information about this 143 acre piece of land that has been in the Thorpe family for 5 generations. As a friend and supporter to the Thorpe’s it was unsettling to observe strangers strolling around the property, peeking inside the farm’s outbuildings (strictly off-limits for this preview) and watching as other strangers were greeted by a realtor at the door of the farmhouse before showing them through the comfortably warm rooms of the Thorpe’s home.

October will mark three years since two disasters hit the farm. On October 13, 2012 a suspicious barn fire destroyed the building where all the machinery, tools and Native American artifacts were stored. Then seventeen days later–on October 30–Hurricane Sandy tore off the roof of the Market.


A few months ago, as some supporters gathered at the Market, one remarked to me, “I feel Louise is here today,” She was referring to Louise Leckner, a hands-on healer who volunteered her gifts at the first Farm event held in February 2013. It was organized by a newly formed group of people whose goal was to Save the Thorpe First Nation Family Farm. Although a section of the Market’s roof was covered with tarp, the Thorpe’s decided to keep the doors open to bring in needed revenue. On that day, besides Louise, there were Native American drummers, storytellers and crafters bringing awareness to visitors about Native culture and heritage. Sometime during the middle afternoon Louise experienced a feinting spell that rendered her unconscious. 911 was called staying on the line to give instructions over the phone to a First Aid trained person. Almost half an hour passed before the ambulance arrived. Louise never regained consciousness and several days later on February 16, 2013 she died in the hospital.

A month later the Market was served with notice from the Township to close. Renovations began and the Market was approved for reopening in September 2013,.

picture one

Louise Leckner (photo from Bucks County Courier Times)

A lasting result of Louise’s death was Upper Makefield Township government’s approval to place an EMT Station in their Fire Department. Through Louise’s passion as a healer and her sudden death, citizens of Upper Makefield would live because an EMT was now in their community.

My first post of 2015, Takin’ it to the Court recounted the last two years of supporters’ efforts and the Thorpe’s struggle to keep the bank from the door. The post also mentioned a Civil Rights lawsuit filed by the Thorpe’s attorney on October 28, 2014 in U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Upper Makefield Township. The suit details the excessive zoning violations wrongfully placed against the Farm.

While walking the grounds two days ago, taking pictures and observing the ‘lookie-loos’, I  felt the presence of Louise. It gives me hope that the Thorpe First Nation Family Farm will not be lost.


Cecil: “Simba”

“Did you ever kill a lion?”

That question was always asked by children wherever and whenever our Kenyan Maasai friends spoke at presentations on behalf of the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project’s visits inside numerous Bucks and Montgomery  County schools. I was reminded of their curiosity when the outrage blew up after the killing of Cecil the lion by that big game hunter.

Those children’s innocent pursuit for knowledge led me to contrast the tortuous slaughter of Cecil the Lion  with the Maasai’s decision to disband their ancient tribal custom of killing lions. Years and even generations before big game hunting in Kenya was banned in 1977, this indigenous tribe killed lions to establish their bravery as Warriors. However, after diseases such as rabies or canine distemper and the rise of unlawful poaching, the Maasai began the practice of olamayio, the Maa word that means ‘Group Hunting’. Now the Maasai hunt to kill lions only when the animal suffers from those diseases which could threaten their cattle, goats or sheep.

This piece of Maasai jewelry is called 'issurri'. It is a special ornament worn only by mothers whose sons are going through the Rite of Passage, also known as Warrior-hood (moranship)

This piece of Maasai jewelry is called ‘issurri’. It is a special ornament worn only by mothers whose sons are going through the Rite of Passage, also known as Warrior-hood (moranship)

Olamayio, is also practiced in the Maasai ‘Rite of Paasage’, the cultural ceremony where young males become adults through their transition to Warriors. The ritual no longer ends with the killing of a lion. Instead whichever boy in the group runs the fastest to reach out and grab the lion’s tail receives the honor of Warrior, thereby representing all the other boys in the olamayio who  complete their ‘Rite of Passage’ with him. More importantly the Maasai don’t eat the meat of lions or any wildlife, limiting that aspect of their diet to goat and beef.

The NGO we partner with–Simba Maasai Outreach Organization–is committed to preserve wildlife in the land surrounding their Olosho oibor village. The Lioness–the identifying name for females–is never hunted because her role is to ensure the continuation of the species. The Maasai’s reverence for the lioness is reflected in a true story that occurred several years ago in Olosho oibor: A lioness protected a lost child until found by the villagers. In time I believe this incident that is already a legend throughout Olosho oibor will become a Maasai folktale the elder women will tell over and again to their grandchildren.

The outrage since Cecil’s death remains loud and worldwide.  Researchers at Oxford University in Great Britain had for over ten years observed Cecil through a tracking device on his neck as he roamed the terrain in Zimbabwe’s National Park. Now that’s lost. Positive reactions include more awareness about the threatened loss of wildlife in Africa and around the globe. Some airlines will no longer transport carcasses of killed wildlife in the belly of their planes. Zimbabwe is attempting to extradite dentist Walter Palmer to their country to face charges for his “illegal” kill. The dentist remains in hiding since his hunt/kill of Cecil.