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Confluence of the Waters

Multnomah Falls, Oregan, USA - Photo by Caroline Robinson of Cabal
Caroline Robinson of Cabal with Carlos McNair and Native American Youth and Family Center dancers at Living Future 2014, Portland, Oregan USA - Photo Cameron Browne
Caroline Robinson of Cabal pouring Columbia River water at Living Future 2014, Portland, Oregan, USA - Photo by Cameron Browne
Kauri branch with water bowl by Michael O'Donnell, Taraariki, photo by Laura Forest
Tui - photo by Laura Forest
Caroline Robinson co-creates Living Future 2014 opening ceremony, taking leaders of the green building movement on a water journey back to the source.


Nau mai, piki mai, kake mai.
Homai to waiora ki au.

Draw nearer, come closer.
Your coming brings life-giving waters.

There is an optimistic movement stirring on our planet. In the face of crisis, many people are shifting away from a world-view ruled by separation and domination, into our true nature, a world of interconnectivity, reciprocity and wholeness. It’s a time of radical action.

It’s a mighty big challenge to ‘walk the talk’ of ‘wholeness’. How do we do that while we’re ‘on the job’ within our complex projects and processes, often within limited time and financial resources?

The Living Future 2014 unConference in Portland, Oregan bought together many of the leaders of the ‘green building’ movement, with the theme of how ‘beauty and inspiration’ shape this journey to wholeness. The International Living Future Institute up hold a vision of a world that is socially just, culturally rich, ecologically restorative. There we all are, inside the Portland Hilton Hotel, facing the growing enormity of our local and planetary world of challenges. It is dense and overwhelming. It is personal and disturbing and incomplete. Yet we are committed to improving our efforts, with regenerative design and construction of the built environment our vehicle, and beauty our beacon.

This is a story of how gifts of Aotearoa New Zealand were bridged into the heart of this aspirational gathering. And below the surface of this story is a call to action, for each of us, no matter what, to make true beauty our taskmaster, and our benchmark for success.

Photos by Laura Forest, Cameron Browne and Caroline Robinson.

Te karanga a te Tui
Tui, tui, tuitui-a
Tuia i runga, Tuia i raro, Tuia i waho, Tuia i roto.
Ka rongo Te Po, Ka Rongo Te Ao.

Calling in the weaving wisdom of the tui bird, stitching above, below, without and within, the dark of the night, the light of day.

Only 40 minutes before the opening ceremony of the Living Future 2014 event is due to start, NAYA Native American Youth and Family Center dancers and drummers and I meet for the first time. Between them, they represent a number of local Pacific Northwest tribes. I am carrying a fusion of celtic kiwi culture and Te Ao Maori from our Deep Pacific, Aotearoa geneologies.

Stepping into our shared dressing room, I am washed by the delicacy and preciousness of this idea of our collaboration here. Tears roll down my face as we greet each other. It is surreal, face-to-face, in silent recognition of all of the separations and dis-integrations our peoples have experienced along the way, and the daunting improbabilities of a truly unified future. Here we are though, grief in one hand and optimism in the other, building confidence to dwell in the dis-harmonies, holding the space open.

With a suite of drums and song and dance and story, our ‘indigeneity’ of colors and feathers and treasures are alighted. With just a rough sketch plan, we step out onto the edge. Our fresh partnership is now leading 1000 conference delegates into a gesture for a ‘culturally rich’ ‘Living Future’.

In brilliant ‘kiwi’ style, Michelle’s shrill farm whistles and airline steward style ‘kia ora everybody’ gets in behind the stray delegates to herd them out of the bar into the Hilton ballroom.

NAYA beat the pow wow drum. Raw and ancient Native American sounds boldly occupy the walled-in space. The dancers whirl. I sound the conch shell, and further spin the atmosphere with the purerehua (bullroarer). In the room are chemists, manufacturers and suppliers, engineers, architects, designers, planners, property developers, accountants, artists and craftspeople, builders, facilitators, students and more; such a diversity of belonging, to place and profession and culture.

On a small table, a woodfired vessel crafted by local clayworker, Careen Stoll, and a collection of bottles holding waters collected from Canada and USA by members of the ILFI leadership team, and our New Zealand spring waters. In a moment that causes a round of laughter from the crowd, Colin Fogarty, Executive Director of the local NGO, The Confluence Project, unexpectedly delivers his late arrival bottle of local Columbia River water, passing it up to me where I stand on the stage.

With the NAYA children’s help, these potentised waters mingle into a poetic confluence, touched with the light of flower essences of Aotearoa and the breath of everyone present. The amplified song of their trickling and pouring fills the ballroom.

The house lights go down to black. ‘I’m going to tell a story now!’ The children’s faces light up in genuine surprise, drawing the room full of adults a little closer in. A landscape of recorded music gently pulses, and Carlos adds to it a heartbeat rhythm on his drum, as my hand drips with sparkles of water:

‘Deep inside your mother, nestled safely in the darkness, was a tiny droplet of water. This jewel was passed to her from her mother. And your grandmother had been passed this jewel from her mother. Passed down through generations over hundreds and thousands of years. Deep inside your mother, this tiny droplet of water.

One day, an incomprehensible miracle unfolded. A teeny tiny fish swam upstream and crossed the threshold of light, into the darkness. He carried a gift of gold to deep inside your mother. A spark of the sun. And when he kissed your mothers water, that teeny tiny droplet of water, a primordial flash of light, love and unity cast the blueprint of you.

Your earliest memory is the unity of water and light. You were born out of the darkness. The unknown. You and I were born out of an incomprehensible, unbelievable miracle. Against all the odds, you and I came into being on this earth. Do you remember? Do you remember?

We are 1000 people, gathered together for 3 days. We are aligned to a shared purpose and a common culture of restorative design. Each one of us carries the memory of unity. And we carry the experience of HOW to bring forth, from the dark night, true miracles of beauty.’

Striking the drums of celebration, the final song of NAYA gives the dancers one last chance to fly, and they disappear through the darkened sea of people.

Everywhere I go for three days, I hear different languages spoken to express the same theme: that our attention to ‘beauty’ can no longer be seen as merely a surface design. Beauty is a deep, soulful relatedness with life. It is a way of being. Beauty is at the heart of our very survival. Beauty is life and death, and an imperative for us all.

Photographer and filmmaker, Louis Schwartzberg says it like this: ‘We protect that which we fall in love with. Beauty is natures tool for survival.’

Someone else said to me, if we are to create beauty, we must also be willing to risk losing it. Falling in love takes courage. It is risky to give our heart.

So what are we fearlessly standing up to protect? I'd say, with where we want to be moving as a civilisation, it calls for nothing short of falling in love with 'total abandonment'.

It makes our New Zealand team proud to see our kiwi version of this gritty truth come alive through the powerful story of Te Uru Taumatua, Tuhoe’s ‘Living Building’ at Taneatua, conveyed by Jason McLennan (CEO, ILFI) in his keynote address. This building is an expression of Tuhoe’s deep relatedness with the spirit of their people and place, and their deep commitment, their willingness to fight for, total wellbeing. Kia kaha Tuhoe. All power to you.

David Trubridge, kiwi designer, delivers his ‘15mins of Brilliance’ presentation, inspiring us with the depth of his personal connectedness, and his rigour as expressed through his refined, wholistic design work.

More kiwi pride as Jo Woods and Shay Brazier are acknowledged for achieving Net Zero Energy certification for their Zero Energy House in Point Chevalier, Auckland. Theirs is the first ever ‘Living Building’ certificate issued outside of North America, and a fine example of kiwis putting themselves out on the edge, carving up a better way of doing things.

The final session of the conference draws people into the ‘architecture of wholeness’, a circle. The space is activated with the spiraling breath of the conch shell, a steady drum beat and the waters carried through from the opening. It evolves naturally into a practice of ‘choir’ voices, as we hear each other’s stories and dance a little in a playful unison. There’s that one sweet spot moment, when I sense that our tribe has taken a risk, and is tapping into an experience of our swelling collective intelligence.

Finally, laughter settling, all of us standing in absolute presence, Carlos opens out into a powerful chant. Through his cultural gift, he draws everyone into a deep, still unity. Completion.

And ignition.

Later, a small group of us pour the remaining ‘confluence of waters’ into the ground and the receptive roots of a large oak tree near the river, connecting and nourishing, and thanking for the treasure of our time together.

It was an honour to represent Aotearoa as a part of this event. Thank you everyone who supported the mission.

The ritual of mingling our waters is an ancient one. And I think it speaks to where we are headed. We are coming together, joining forces, in a confluence of nourishment for people and place. We are practicing brave wholeheartedness and fierce generosity, in simple, soulful ways.

Nothing short of radical, love pumped action is needed on the fronts lines of 'regenerative design'.

Tihei Mauriora

Behold the Sneeze of Life


Caroline Robinson of Cabal

Special Thanks to our Living Future 2014 collaborators

Native American Youth and Family Centre
Theresa Smith

James Smith, Yankton Sioux
Carlos McNair, Klamath and Modoc
Irvin Wilson, Klamath and Modoc
Jeremy Barney, Burns Paiute
Jasmine Barney, Burns Paiute and Navajo
Sun Hawk Barney, Burns Paiute and Navajo
Harrison Smith, Siletz
Dean Smith, Siletz

International Living Future Institute

Jason McLennan, Amanda Sturgeon, Mona Lemoine, Richard Graves, Julie Tonroy, Murray Cizon and staff.

Jack Gray (early concept development)
Russel Walder (soundtrack)
Rose Marie Lambert Pere (composer, waiata)
Michelle Johansson, Jasmax
Tricia Love, Tricia Love Consultants
Careen Stoll (clay vessel)
Colin Fogarty and Meaghan Stetzik from The Confluence Project

Special thanks to my New Zealand whanau of support

NZ Strong Ltd

Michael O’Donnell and Trish Waugh (Taraariki), Haare Williams and Te Haerenga whanau, Alastair and Rachel Sorley, Kiri Schumacher, Shona McCullagh, Jerome Partington (Jasmax), Franchelle Ofsoseke-Wyber, Jamilia Crankston-Buckley, Wiremu Diamond, Laura Forest, Bev Sylvester-Clarke, Gary Cook, Reihana Robinson, Elaine Dyer, Caroline Jackson, Tiffany Singh, Miranda Brown, Brian R Richards, Amanda Hookham, Tamati Patuwai, Terri Ripeka Crawford, Veda Austin, Danae Etches, Saphira Walder, Mum and Dad, Craig Jarvis, David Trubridge, The Big Idea team especially Elisabeth Vaneveld, Cathy Aronson, Margaret Lewis

USA whanau

Dwight Konman, Michael Whitson (Yuba Libre), Cameron Browne Photography

The International Living Future Institute deliver the ‘Living Building Challenge’, the world’s most stringent programme for true sustainability and regenerative design in the built environment, building a global movement in pursuit of a future that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.

Written by

Caroline Robinson

17 Jun 2014

Interests : ART WITHIN LANDSCAPE AND ARCHITECTURE personal and collective mythology