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Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education

Remembering Oannes

 
 
The Center has created a tribute page for Oannes Arthur Pritzker, a beloved friend and Center Advisor who passed away on April 17, 2010.  We invite you to send us your reflections on Oannes’ life and activism.  Email them to us at cese@fgcu.edu and we will post them on this webpage.

Oannes with FGCU President, Wilson G. Bradshaw at the Center's 2007 Fundraising Celebration on Sanibel Island.

Your Remembrances:

"His great Spirit will always be part of this earth, walking amongst us.  A true Warrior.  He will be missed.  He taught me many things and I am honored to have known him."

-- Rosie Emery

 

"Oannes honored us with his wisdom and commitment and love for the Earth.  I will always remember him telling us that we were fireflies and recalling how these small luminous presences guided him home at night as a child. I am so nourished to have these words again from him now that he has left his material life and entered into the great mystery.  He did light our way and remind us of the deeper values and traditions we need to guide us.  My love and embraces to all as you hold Oannes close in mind during the these days.   Thank you for writing and sharing the sadness of this loss.  My love to all."

-- Alison Hawthorne Deming, Center Advisor

 

“I found myself inexplicably drawn to him as a gentle and wise spirit. I really enjoyed listening to him, and I will miss him.”

-- Tom Bevins, Center Faculty Associate



“At our last Board of Advisors meeting of the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education, Oannes blessed our gathering with these words: ‘...as always, many native peoples all over the world, especially my particular tribal nation, when we speak, we are reminded to try to speak with truth, sincerity, respect, without judgment, and one of the ways we do that is through holding a prayer feather...’  He held a red-tail hawk feather because in the Wabanaki tradition, the red-tail hawk is the women's bird, and his clanmother always wanted him to represent an indigenous perspective.  The feather was a reminder not to speak for himself alone.

Oannes said, ‘Traditional peoples – and we were all at one time traditional peoples – had a connection to nature, but many people have lost that connection, that sense of reverence, that inadazewin, has also been lost or dissipated…while all cultures have been pretty much contaminated…indigenous peoples are somewhat less contaminated than the so-called Eurocentric cultures.  And I think if we’re going to protect the planet and make sure that there is justice and equality - not just for human beings but for all life – we’re going to have to somehow bring in this concept of reverence, and I think there are still enough wisdom-keepers there that this philosophy can be understood…’

Earlier the day of the board meeting, a student had asked:  How do we reach people and get them to think about the planet and to think about the future?  In his answer, Oannes spoke of the ethic of the seventh generation, to think of how our thoughts and actions will affect the next seven generations.  Within that philosophy, reverence is that basic spiritual connection that reminds each person growing up to have reverence for all life.  ‘When you have that sense of sacredness, of spirit, both on a personal level and on a community level, then there is a whole different mindset of how we live and relate to each other and how we live and relate to Mother Earth.’  To restore a sense of reverence for all living things, we must ask two questions: how do we develop a sacred space first in our heart and then in our mind, and how do we project that sacred space out to the world?

Oannes re-activated our collective conscience through honest and respectful reflections.  He reminded us that diversity is essential to cultivating that sacred space: ‘…the curriculum and the faculty of all institutions of higher education need to be much more culturally diverse…I’m at the point where I really don’t need to be politically correct anymore because of my health and all that…I’ve been with FGCU as a community friend since its beginning, since its actual conception, and yet I still look around and without being disrespectful I will say it is still pretty much a white institution, especially the curriculum.  Until that changes, there’s not really going to be much change.’

Oannes expressed a final hope that we will share this concept of reverence with our students:  ‘I want to just again bring up this understanding of inadazewin, this concept of reverence for each other, reverence for Mother Earth, and I hope that we as a Center and all of you…can help develop that, especially in the students, to help make that planetary citizenship also a spiritual one, and with that I say thank you.’ He said he had stopped trying to change the world through institutions, but placed his faith in young people.  Oannes respected and guided all young people, especially those resilient and courageous enough to speak up for freedom, justice and equality.

Oannes was a wisdom-keeper. Let us honor his great spirit by diversifying our community and our teachings. Let us adopt the seven generations principle in our own lives and in the activities of the Center and the University.  Let us honor him by holding a prayer feather as we speak – remembering to speak not only for ourselves but for our ancestors and descendants, for all of Earth’s creatures, and remembering to speak ‘with truth, sincerity, respect, without judgment’ always. Let the next five years at the Center – and at FGCU - be the time to create and preserve sacred space first in our hearts then in our minds, and to project this sacred space out to the world.”

-- Anne Hartley, Center Assistant Director



“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Oannes. I was one of those early students of course who got to sit and listen to Oannes share stories with us and tell of the magic of fireflies. It was captivating. He will be sorely missed.

If one has to look for silver linings I suppose I always suspected given his soaring spirit and active mind it must have been very frustrating to struggle with the chains of physical ill health. Perhaps he now soars without chains.”

-- Jake Scott, Center Advisor

 

"Three weeks before his passing, Oannes spoke to our Environmental Education class. I think back on how fortunate we were that he took the time to share his thoughts and wisdom with us. During his talk, Oannes emphasized the importance of combining the heart and the mind when making decisions that affect our environment. Each and every student walked away that day with a greater sense of reverence, compassion and appreciation for 'Mother Earth.' A little part of Oannes will live on through all of us and his message will continue to blossom. The world is a better place because of this wise, kind, gentle spirit."

-- Emily S. Porter

 

At the beginning of each Center Board meeting, Oannes would in his own eloquent way remind us that our very being was grounded in Mother Earth. As he brought stories from his personal tradition, one could not help but reaffirm the importance of the basic mission of the Center and the Earth Charter as we began our deliberations. There was no question that he was challenging each of us an individuals ... and that challenge remains.

-- Armand Ball, Center Advisor