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Joanna Iwata speaks on Hawk Medicine

Hawk medicine. The power of perspective. The messengers of spirit. It has been said within most native cultures that “hawks have the power to soar high above the earth, giving them a perspective previously only available to the inhabitants of the heavens above.” As they bring wisdom from the heavens and the value of their higher vision down to earth, they remind us that there is a bigger picture to be seen. Hawks are most often viewed as visionaries, as they use their keen insights to focus on what needs our attention in order to accomplish our goals.
They see clearly what is not visible unless sought. Hawks also teach us how to interpret and then follow our personal vision. Hawks also remind us to consider a larger perspective, one that inspires us to move through the world we inhabit with “strength, certainty, and grace.” In Avalon’s interpretation of hawk medicine, she also speaks to the hawk’s ability to look directly into the sun and see what is not visible to the rest of us.
She goes on to speak to the spirit of the hawk that resides within each of us in our capacity to operate from a more expanded frame of mind, wherein we can access and follow our own personal truth and vision.
A wonderful illustration of a communal application of hawk medicine at Mills recently revolved around the important culmination of dedicated planning and coordination of the Pow-Wow at Mills via the efforts of the Native American Sisterhood Alliance, their faculty advisor, our community coordinator and many other student and staff volunteers who worked together to ensure the success of this event. This was no ordinary occasion for us to celebrate together but an extraordinary one!
For those who are new to Mills, the tradition of the Pow-Wow existed at Mills well over 15 years prior to it being canceled last year. Thus, for many of us, a miracle occurred after a year-long hiatus and community discussion about this project. The application of hawk medicine tied into this event revolved around a shared vision a smaller group of us had over a year ago (students, faculty, staff and administrators) to actualize through some intensive perspective-taking and creating sessions throughout the year with different groups all over our campus.
There were many challenges we had to overcome to move this initiative forward, that without our individual and collective capacity to “operate from a more expanded frame of mind,” this event could have simply become a relic of the past at Mills. Thus, our collective ability to rise above the past issues associated with the Pow-Wow entailed enlisting the support of many other groups to restore this event which again served as a powerful demonstration of hawk medicine. When we can effectively and mindfully exercise “what needs our attention to focus on our goals,” we can accomplish more together as a community than by ourselves alone.
As we take a moment to reflect on our different herstorical moments at Mills which frames who we are today, perhaps we need to remember that the College (the village) in which we interact and teach our students (our hawks) serves as an important launch pad for our students to learn how to literally spread their wings and exercise their voice and vision in order for them to enact their personal truths related to their own empowerment in their learning which extends beyond the classroom.
Thus, the significance of college-sponsored events such as the Pow-Wow, Convocation, Academic and Service Awards, Commencement and other campus-wide activities which bring us together as a campus community takes on new meaning as they become even more significant celebrations or rites of passage for our students.
By our ability to harness our attention individually and collectively as a community to remind us that our strength and wisdom comes from (what Avalon speaks to) “communing regularly with the spirit and bringing the guidance received into earthly affairs,” we then rediscover the significant roles we all play within the life of our village no matter who we are: students, faculty, staff, adminstrators, alumnae and Trustees.
By understanding the value of hawk medicine, it is important for us to note the power of perspectives which our students and community members do bring to Mills, which provides us not only with a powerful mirror of who we are but who we can be, as a distinctive liberal arts college for women (and men in our graduate programs) committed to multiculturalism and social justice.
There is also another important reality we must all consider: that without our students, there would be no college at all. There would be no need for any Convocation or academic awards or Commencement, alumnae reunions or community events such as Pow-Wows. There would be no need for our administrators or Trustees to govern us, there would be no need for special services, there would only be empty classrooms and buildings in this village without our hawks.
Thus, in my mind, there exists a moral imperative of institutions of higher learning like Mills which then becomes even more important for us to enact in the preservation and care of one of the most precious resources we have at Mills: our students (and their traditions).
As I also graduate with the Class of 2007 and leave Mills, it is my hope that at Mills, we will continue to empower our students (as our messengers of spirit) with the support and tools they will need to “move (successfully) through the world we inhabit with strength, certainty, and grace,” as the rest from there will be ourstory to shape and celebrate with them or forever hold our peace.

Joanna Iwata