THE WAY OF PEACE: 500 years from an indigenous perspective
Carleen Elliott is an Anishinabequa who belongs to the Saugeen-Ojibway Band on the Bruce Peninsula. Her Ojibway name is Neepitaypinayseequa which, in English roughly translates to Walking Partridge Woman. The name is a ‘concept‘ about a particular aspect of the character of the Partridge mother. She is a long-time Native rights activist, and was Project Consult for the Native Programming Project attached to CKWR 98.7 FM Community Radio
April / May 1992
The cultures of the indigenous people of North America all share a common basis; that basis is one of absolute respect.
Respect is a word that has many meanings in the English language, but to Native people, respect means that all things have the right to live, and must be treated in a way that allows life. Respect is, also, the basis for the Way of Peace. The Way of Peace was the active philosophical source of the civilization that Columbus encountered when he arrived on the shores of the North American continent 500 years ago. Columbus and the other early explorers were unable to recognize the highly developed civilizations by whom they were met upon arrival.
The inability of the early colonists to recognize such a civilization led to wrong assumptions that have been exercised throughout the 500 year relationship between the indigenous people of North America and the descendants of the early Europeans.
The first wrong assumption was that the population Columbus first encountered, would be easily enslaved. The notion of the enslavement of indigenous people was a result of the belief that since this continent was replete with unspoiled natural resources, it must naturally follow that the people who lived here would be the slaves that would harvest the riches for the benefit of the Europeans. The first harvest was for gold and silver.
Resistance to enslavement led to the practice of genocide against the aboriginal people by the early Europeans. Genocide in combination with foreign diseases that were imported from Europe via sailors and early explorers caused death for many more millions of indigenous people.
The second assumption was that the indigenous culture of this land had nothing of worth, as human beings, to offer. It was that assumption that led to the Christianization of the aboriginal people, and that eventually led to the development of the policy of forced assimilation. The policy of forced assimilation came into full political and legal practice in the mid 1800’s, and affected every aspect of the Native people’s life.
In contemporary time, it is difficult to fathom the depth of the impact of those assumptions on the life of a Native person, but that impact is discernible through a quick perusal of the Statistics Canada numbers on the socio-economic status of this country’s indigenous people. The reason that the numbers continue to indicate a slow death of a people is because of the ongoing interference, by alien forces, in a culture that is inextricably bound to this land.
While it is true that there is an accepted scientific theory that North America’s indigenous people themselves came to this continent from elsewhere, by way of the Bering Straits, it must be kept in mind that that migration occurred many thousands of years ago.
It must also be kept in mind that the history of Native people continues to resist the theory of the Bering Straits and says that the red children of the Great Mystery were placed on this continent, just as other races were placed on other continents.
The Great Mystery that is known as God and by many other names throughout the world.
Given the vast number of tribes that populated this continent in pre-Columbian times, it was crucial that harmony was maintained between the different groups of people; harmony that came to be referred to as the Way of Peace. In contemporary times, the Way of Peace is called, simply, the Way. The Way is applied to every aspect of life, and is meant to maintain peace between all people, not only sociologically, but includes a way of conduct within personal relationships.
Those who practice the Way recognize each person as an individual who has a specific and unique ability to contribute, and from which a whole and positive environment is created for the entire community. But it is only from thoughtful and highly conscious regard for each individual that results in the emotional and spiritual surety of the individual.
The Way was developed in many millennia past, and remains very much a part of Native people’s culture today. A Native person who does not understand and practice the Way is considered to be a person of poor spirit. But the effects of cultural genocide through forced assimilation are recognized by the surviving aboriginal people. There are Native people who have escaped total cultural annihilation, individually, and were raised within the ancient traditions of their people. It is these people who find themselves to be the keepers of the culture, and it is with great compassion that they recognize that those Native people who do not practice the Way were removed from their culture by force through the process of assimilation. It is also the keepers of indigenous culture who continue to practice absolute respect despite an interlude in history that resulted in tremendous loss.
June / July 1992
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue …. and discovered paradise. But paradise was inhabited by a race of human beings who occupied the continent from shore to shore. The race was not a war-making people, and in their tradition of hospitality, greeted the adventurer Europeans. The peaceful manner of the indigenous people was interpreted as ignorance akin of idiocy; that negative regard laid the framework for 500 years of exploitation and threat of annihilation of indigenous culture. The framework continues, and is the basis for a complex, problem-ridden relationship between the North American indigenous people, and successive governments.
The only contemporary defense that aboriginal people in Canada have against purposeful erosion of their existence is International Law, which defines a “People” as those groups who have a land base, language and culture. This definition of “People” provides entitlement to Canada’s aboriginal people to consideration as legal Nations. The Treaties are the legal documents that ensure a land-base for aboriginal people, and the bi-lingual legislation assures freedom from further attack on aboriginal language. Given the successive Canadian governments’ history of a paternalistic relationship with Native people, aboriginal people continue to guard against arbitrary abrogation of those legal standings. In spite of the seeming advancement of aboriginal right to land and language, aboriginal culture remains under constant threat. The reason is that aboriginal culture continues to be regarded as a culture without worth. The belief is a result of the persistent attitude that, upon “discovery“, the indigenous inhabitants of North America were dirty savages who were doing nothing while awaiting salvation from their ignorance.
There are aboriginal people who were raised within the culture and tradition of indigenous people. It is difficult for these people to witness the philosophical and political diminishment of a culture that is truly unique on the continent. The uniqueness is a result of the belief in, and practice of The Way of Peace.
The Way is applied at conception, with the recognition that the child in the womb is a living being, and is conscious. Whatever happens to the mother is experienced by the child, and the experience of birth is the beginning of the child’s ability to make sense of the world into which she is born. Everyone is born into a family and a community. It is the responsibility of the community to provide an environment for the children that encourages a set of philosophical standards and values to follow throughout their entire lives.
Within traditional Native culture, the birth of a child is anticipated with great joy. A child is considered to be a gift from the Great Creator, who is a further addition to the completeness of life, and who represents the eternal circle of life. In recognition of the brevity of childhood, and given the potential longevity of adulthood, a Native child is not told what to do, but is only protected from harm. As a child grows, her particular interests are observed, and thus her individual contribution to the community is noted, and is then encouraged.
The enforced assimilation policy that began in the mid-1800’s, and was a legal manoeuvre against which aboriginal people had no defense, included removal of children from their families and from their communities. This seriously damaged the stability of aboriginal family and community structure. Adoption, in particular, of aboriginal babies away from their communities became a profit-making venture for private groups well into the 1970’s. Such ventures were lucrative because underlying racism was strongly appealed to, and appealing to racist belief was effective. The reasoning was that the babies’ chances of having a good and normal life depended on their being removed from the reserves.
Reserve conditions were deplorable, and pervasive racism prevented further exploration into the reasons for the existing conditions. It was assumed that sub-standard conditions existed because Native people did not know how to
live any other way. In reality, the legislation that was created completely undermined Native economic stability, and set into motion a domino effect that affected every aspect of aboriginal life. The traditional social structure of Native people revolves around family and community. When the children were removed, into residential schools or adopted or fostered out of their communities, the assimilation process had its greatest impact on Native culture.
All youth enter an emotional and psychological phase of establishing self-identity, which is a very normal process. But Native young people who were adopted away, more often carried a double burden, as they also had to contend with a search for cultural heritage. Both of these situations are times of emotional upheaval. Within traditional Native culture, there are ceremonies of celebration around leaving childhood and entering adulthood. The rituals simply have to do with much story-telling for the purpose of developing understanding of the responsibilities of being an adult.
For youth who are raised outside, and so usually have no exposure at all to their culture, the element of racism is a terrible obstacle to be overcome. Racism against, and the perpetuation of stereo-type about Native people is very much a part of this society. Children who are raised within such a negative atmosphere about their own people face a terrible conflict. They want to participate in their culture, but at the same time general society holds aboriginal people in such contempt that the sense of shame at being a Native person is very strong, and the youth who have been essentially isolated from their culture face great personal turmoil.
Intact Native families and communities are able to withstand negatives about their people, and are now beginning to develop ways to heal the social, emotional, and spiritual damage that was brought about by the assimilation process. The healing ways are based solidly within aboriginal culture, and have proven to be the most effective. While it is recognized that the culture has undergone erosion, it has survived !
August / September 1992
North American aboriginal groups are referred to as a “culture”, and that particular reference is political in nature. The cultural reality is that there are as many cultures as there are groups of aboriginal people. There are basic philosophical beliefs and practices across the continent, but the expression of culture is exclusive to each group. There are also cultural similarities between groups whose traditional territories abutted each other. With that in mind, the following is from the cultural history of the people of the Great Lakes.
Turtle Island is the name by which North America is known to the aboriginal people of the Great Lakes. The term “Turtle Island” is derived from a latter part of the Great Lakes aboriginal creation story; the first part of which is
similar to the Christian Book of Genesis. The connection to the land is a source of spiritual practice which enables a consciousness about the precious nature of the land. In that context, the connection is felt for the entire land / continent and not just for pieces of it: a sense of ownership is foreign to this sense of consciousness.
When a connection is felt to Turtle Island, then responsibility for the well-being of the earth is felt – which provides a process for the decisions that are made about what happens to the earth, and then extends to all other living creatures on the earth, including other people. No one person or thing holds all the responsibility; and that is where individual awareness of personal responsibility is incorporated into aboriginal societies. That awareness is one of the reasons that hundreds of autonomous groups of people were able to live side by side, in peace, in pre-Columbian history.
The cultures of the indigenous people of North America all share a common basis: that basis is one of absolute respect. Respect has many meanings in the English language, but to Native people, respect means that all things have the right to live, and must be treated in a way that allows life.
It must also be kept in mind that peace is not a state of truce, but is felt in the conscious. War and war-making have no place within a society that practices such a philosophy.
Present general society believes such a philosophy to be an unobtainable ideal, and cannot believe that a philosophy of peace was in actual practice until the arrival of Columbus, and subsequent unceasing exploitation. Still,
nevertheless, aboriginal history tells of the lengthy period of peace between millions of pre-Columbian people who lived in autonomous groups, side by side.
Aboriginal history dates the complete understanding of the state of true peace to almost 2000 years ago. Up until that time, the groups maintained peace without a true understanding of the Way of Peace and its necessary connection to consciousness. True understanding of the Way of Peace came about when a Being came to live among the people of North America. On reaching adulthood, the Being taught the necessity of the completeness of the philosophy of peace. The Being is known by different names across the continent, but the teachings are the same, and by that, aboriginal people know that the source of the teachings was the same person. The Being was greatly loved, but a day came when the Being’s work was completed and the Being was seen no more.
The teachings about the Way of Peace are complete, and it was the people who lived those teachings that met Columbus on his arrival to the continent that we now call North America. It was other people who lived the teachings of the Way of Peace who met the early settlers along the eastern shores of America, and still others who met the fisherman on the shores of eastern Canada.
These groups of people had lived more than a millenia in complete peace, and they foresaw the future of blood and horror that awaited them and their descendents .. but the Way of Peace guaranteed, nevertheless, a continuation of the race. That is why the aboriginal people of the continent continue to negotiate for the right to ancestral land, language, and culture while in other parts of the world, bomb-throwing and other practices of war continue.
As with any other philosophy, the Way of Peace is a choice, and a complete understanding of how and why to choose such a way is necessary. So it may well be the great, good fortune of the indigenous people of North America
that the teachers of the philosophy of the Way of Peace have survived throughout the purposeful annihilation of the past 500 years. That survival may well be an indication of how deeply ingrained the philosophy and practice of the Way of Peace is. The choices about making war or living in peace, certainly continue to exist, but so do the teachers.
October / November 1992
North American Native people have clung tenaciously to their culture. In spite of intense missionization and the simultaneous activity of a legal system that outlawed Native way of life. The resistance to assimilation has succeeded and the ceremony of the Giveaway continues, the dances exist, as does Native philosophy, sociology and psychology.
Now the existing contemporary problem is how to introduce the reality of a living indigenous culture into an anglo-centric society. The problem arises out of the spiritual consciousness of the Aboriginal sense of connection to the land. In that context, the connection is felt for the entire land, the result of which is an ability to live with the land. Living with the land does not mean on the land, off of it, or from it. Most importantly, living with the land is the means by which the future is ensured because great care is taken in the way the land is treated.
The absence of ownership within Native tradition was necessary to maintain the peace of millions of pre-Columbian people who lived side by side. No one owned the pieces of land on which crops were grown, the game was hunted, or the shores from which people fished. If it had been owned, then the willingness to share would have been absent. History has proven many times that the Aboriginal people who met Columbus and subsequent explorers, particularly on the East Coast of the North American continent, were willing to be hospitable.
Aboriginal hospitality meant sharing resources, and enabled the first explorers to survive in an unknown land. Subsequent colonists not only survived, but flourished through Aboriginal people’s willingness to share. The early explorers and colonists would not have been able to recognize a great many of the indigenous plant foods that the land had to offer. The first North American Thanksgiving was, in actuality, the first colonists partaking of Native generosity.
Approximately a hundred years after the arrival of the first Europeans, Native people began to act on the recognition that the newcomers were incapable of peace. It was from that time the resistance to European settlement came about throughout those parts of the continent now called the United States and Mexico. Many alliances were formed between the various tribes and many of the agreements of alliances continue today. The best known is the Iroquois Confederacy, which is composed of the Six Nations. Just a few of the other alliances were the Three Fires Confederacy, the Seven Arrows Society, and, of course, the greatest of the peacemakers, the ones who became known as the Five Civilized Tribes.
Tragedy lay in the future of all of these great people; the hearts of the Five Civilized Tribes were broken when their people were put on the Trail of Tears in 1838. The Trail of Tears was the forced removal ordered by President Andrew Jackson, of thousands of people from their ancestral homes in and around the Smoky Mountains and the Appalachians in a deadly march to what is now known as the state of Oklahoma. The march was supervised, in the most militaristic fashion, by the U.S. Cavalry, and the old people and children died in great numbers.
Prior to the transmission of European bred disease, the wholesale butchery of large groups of people such as the Wampanoags and the Beothuk, and the subsequent slaughter of the Western tribes with the military forerunner of today’s automatic weaponry, the permanent interment of the indigenous dead was practised at only certain periods of time. The permanent interment of the dead was a formal event, and was held as part of the great inter-tribal gatherings that were once a part of Aboriginal culture. The great gatherings were held for many purposes in a cycle of every seven to ten years. One of the most important parts of the gathering was the council on the matters of peace. In and around those councils, other ceremonies were held, of which the Ghost Feast (the formal interment of the dead) was one.
Contemporary archaeologists continue to discover the mounds of the dead, and they still do not know what the mounds are. The mounds are the places of the permanent interment of the pre-Christian missionary dead. After contact with the early missionaries, the Ghost Feast was outlawed. But the first hundred years of contact with the early Europeans meant the death of Aboriginal people in such great numbers that the Ghost Feast is now a daily cultural practice of the Native people. A Native family somewhere on this continent will have a Ghost Feast today. What was once a cyclical event of community observance, is now a daily practice for Aboriginal families.
All aspects of Native culture remain viable, and Native people have become more willing to let others know the intricacies of the culture that is a part of the land, thus this series of articles.
December 1992 / January 1993
Recent political circumstance has created an unprecedented awareness of the presence of Native people in Canada. The awareness can be interpreted as a long overdue consent to admit Native people to fuller participation in Canadian society. The result of the attention provides a challenge to Native people that requires the development of a means of communicating the intricacies of Native cultures to a majority society that is non-Native. It has become necessary to share cultural information that has been, so far, protected by Native people; isolationist protection made necessary by the prevailing assumption of European superiority.
Any attempts to communicate such information will have to be acceptable to Native peoples’ sensitivity to pervasive historical stereotypes. A translation of cultural tradition from a historical context to the reality of a viable contemporary society will be difficult. Previous circumstances confined Native cultures to the purview of academics who consigned Native cultures to scholarly treaties, museums, and other limited methods of preserving complex cultures. Such preservation was accomplished in only the most esoteric sense, the result of which has been the ‘mythologizing’ or romanticizing of Aboriginal cultures. Popular treatment relegated Native cultures to books, television, and movies, all of which severely diminished the integrity of Aboriginal cultures.
The diminishment of cultural integrity was imposed by an anglo-centric society, and has created obstacles to understanding that general society must become willing to surmount. The presence of historical obstacles will necessitate recognition of the existence of a simultaneous culture that was maintained, with great tenacity, within a hostile environment. The reason for the degree of tenacity is that Aboriginal people are a complete civilization, and have remained unwilling to surrender the culture. Any acculturation that has occurred was an imposition that was ensured by the use of force, and governmental legislation. Even the institution of the welfare system on the reserves in the early 1950’s was brought about through governmental force, in spite of Native resistance.
The welfare system broke the economic tradition of hunting, fishing, and agricultural practice. The institution of the welfare system was one of the means devised to undermine the traditional economic base, and to further increase the rate of assimilation of Aboriginal people into dominant society; assimilation to mean the consent to adhere to the values and ethics of dominant society, because a culture’s existing values are less meaningful. Aboriginal right to a traditional economic base has, once again, been introduced as a legal issue by Native people.
Resistance to Aboriginal tradition is anticipated, and Native people understand that conflict will arise as a result of articulating cultural givens. But conflict in the face of blatant racism and general ignorance, which has and continues to be supported by anglo-centrism, has been a matter-of-course for Native people. The unceasing exploitative colonialism that followed Columbus’s arrival, and which preceded but which was, nevertheless, very much a part of the historical organization of the country of Canada will continue to impact Aboriginal right to culture. The current difference is the growing interest within the Canadian population who are sincere in exploring the possibilities of living with the simultaneous cultures of Aboriginal peoples.
It is also time to overcome the attitude that the right to practice the cultures of Aboriginal people is a “gift” to be given to Native people by a moral people. If a moral country “gifts” Indigenous people with the right to culture, then the right remains an option to be exercised at the discretion of the ‘giftors’. Any country that promotes human rights as a high moral standard is on the correct path to true civility. But given the attempted dissolution of Indigenous cultures through a legalized assimilation policy, such as the Indian Act or the maintenance of culture through esoteric philosophy has created social and cultural problems exclusive to Canada’s Native peoples.
The historical process of the creation of social and cultural problems must be defined by Native people. The perspective of Native people is the only acceptable interpretation of both the process and the impact of assimilation attempts. It may then be possible to initiate an understanding of the importance of the continuation of Aboriginal cultures.
Perhaps the single most important aspect of Native cultures is the completeness of being, in a whole sense, which includes physical well-being, as well as emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health. Separation of the aspects of humanness is globally accepted, but Native people remain unconvinced that that particular view is either a better way or the only way. Thus the necessity for communication between the converging races on North America, and the land’s Indigenous peoples.
February / March 1993
1993 and the FIRM RESOLVE
1993 has been designated as the International Year for the World’s Indigenous People(s) by the United Nations General Assembly. The United Nations is encouraging world governments to develop programs in co-operation with Indigenous groups that will begin to resolve the social, economic, and cultural problems experienced by Indigenous peoples. That resolution also includes recognition of the environmental damage brought about by historical global colonialism, and further encourages a change in managing the environment. It is with great hope that the resolution lays the foundation for the acceptance of the values of the contributions made by Indigenous groups to social and cultural stability throughout the world.
1993 will focus on all Indigenous groups, and there will be an emphasis on North America’s Aboriginal peoples, given the unique legal relationship that groups in the United States and Canada have maintained with the respective governments. The reason for the emphasis is the result of the respective countries’ determination to convince the world that all is well with North American Aboriginal peoples. It is inevitable that there will be comparisons to those countries where Indigenous groups are dying in horrific numbers in the midst of military actions, such as in Central and South America, and the point will be made that the situation does not exist in North America, so everything must be okay. But the cultural annihilation continues.
Throughout the coming year the details of historical cultural damage will surface as Aboriginal groups begin to exercise their right to culture as guaranteed by International Law, and it will be a painful experience. But, it is, nevertheless, an important step in the process that society must follow to attain a more complete resolution to related conflict issues.
In North America, there is a single aspect of the forced assimilation of Aboriginal peoples into euro-centric society that caused the greatest loss of cultural cohesion for Native groups. That aspect was and continues to be the removal of Native children from their families and communities. The rationale for the removal is particularly insidious because it is based on the application of a high moral standard; The presence of which, as interpreted and imposed by euro-centrism, provides the necessary permission to remove Native children from their communities.
The removal began at the time of the institution of the mission schools, the first one of which was established by the Ursuline nuns in the late 15th century. The purpose of the schools was the full-scale assimilation of Native children into European society. Following the institution of the Children’s Aid Society, the removal of Native children from families increased, and the social and spiritual destruction of Native communities neared completion.
Now, any person who is employed in a Native social agency is confronted daily by the social and spiritual damage suffered by Native individuals who have experienced the adoptive and/or foster system. The situation is particularly tragic because the source of the individual pain is the result of having been a victim of racism. Having been raised in a racist society that is particularly violent toward Aboriginal people, Native youth learn, first of all, to be ashamed of the race into which they were born and are a part. A community can withstand racism because support of the individual is inherent within a community. It is impossible for an individual, particularly a small child who is isolated by having been adopted away and/or fostered out to withstand such a negative environment. To add to the problem, they are attracted to the existing beauty of the inclusive philosophy of Native culture. The polarity of emotions is extremely debilitating, and is overwhelming.
But Native people continue to heal the victims of assimilation and overcome the misplaced morality of dominant society. The healing is accomplished through the teaching and learning of the spiritual values of First Nations culture. The values that include recognition of the individual as an entity of great worth and the extended family as the foundation of any viable community.
Within Native culture, the extended family intervenes in the breakdown of parental responsibilities. If a person cannot exercise their responsibilities, then they too are in need of healing. While the healing is done, the children live with their relatives. It is common practice for Native people to care for someone else’s children, unless there is interference by non-Native agencies. Native people assume the care of children with the belief that the parents will one day be well and will be able to resume responsibility for their children. Even if that day never comes, Native people never deliberately attempt to make those children their own, contrary to European standard which appears to view adoption papers as a legality akin to a bill of sale.
The “bill-of-sale” mentality is a result of a social structure that equates ownership with power. Ownership continues to be a source of individual power in contemporary society, and even social justice activism continues to perpetuate ownership as a desirable condition of equality. Encounters with people who have adopted Native children are a common experience for Native social agency workers, as are the encounters with the arguments offered in defense of or by the adoptive parents. The defense is extreme in its racist roots, but because removal of Native children is condoned as an example of good and moral social conscience, the contribution to cultural havoc remains denied. Perhaps, one of the possible resolutions of 1993 will bring about an end to the removal of Native children from their families and communities and, therefore, their culture.
April / May 1993
Since the guarantee of culture as a human right, as stated in International Law, North American Aboriginal people are free to express their cultural viability. The attempted dissolution of Canada’s Indigenous cultures through a legalized assimilation policy, or the maintenance of culture, solely through esoteric philosophy, makes the way long and difficult to future cultural stability for Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. But Canada’s Native people have already proven their generational cultural tenacity, so difficulty may exist, but must not be taken as a sign of despair or surrender.
Forced assimilation has resulted in social and cultural problems that are exclusive to Canada’s Native peoples. Now, the historical process that created contemporary social and cultural problems is being more clearly defined by Native people. The perspective of Native people is the only acceptable interpretation of first, the process, then, the impact of assimilation attempts, and finally and most importantly, the way to bring about the necessary healing of an entire race. A part of the historical process was the creation of systems and institutions that would debilitate Aboriginal social power, a prime example of which is the institution of the reserve or reservation system.
Reserves were designed to contain the Aboriginal population of the country, to count and track the population, and to create easier access for the purposes of assimilation, such as the gathering of children for shipment to residential schools. Later, the Children’s Aid Society, also had easy access to further the destruction of Native communities through the forced removal of children. The creation of the reserves was the first phase of the systematic destruction of the traditional economic-base of Aboriginal people. The death-blow to any potential development of an economic base was the forced institution of welfare within the Band’s administrative structure in the early 1950’s.
The implementation of the welfare system brought personal shame for individuals; shame that developed through the sense of helplessness by the inability to provide for one’s self and kin. There are Native individuals who consider themselves as having risen above it all, and perhaps they did, but at a price; the price was to give up their Nativeness. The word which denotes that particular process in the Indian Act is enfranchisement, which means being given the right to vote, as well as meaning “freed”.
Prior to the reinstatement amendment to the Indian Act, Bill C-31, a Native person could apply for enfranchisement and claim his share of the Band trust fund, thereby obtaining the right to participate fully in Canada as a citizen by being removed from the Band enrollment. The word “enfranchisement” and the attendant concept are a clear indication of the reason for the institution of the reserve system in Canada, and the successive governments’ sort of relationship with the country’s Indigenous peoples. Purposeful planning is evident in the establishment of the reserve system in, first of all, containment in sub-standard socio-economic conditions which would sicken any race of human beings, and second, freedom being accomplished through consent to assimilate by exercising the enfranchisement option.
Removal from a Band List means giving up Treaty Rights, guarantees, and benefits. Prior to Bill C-31, Native women were automatically enfranchised if they married non-Native men, and non-Native women who married Native men became “Indian within the meaning of the Indian Act”. It was this particular aspect of enfranchisement that provided the driving force behind Bill C-31. The possibility for access to benefits through reinstatement began with a single individual who challenged the incipient patriarchy of the Indian Act.
The philosophies of patriarchy, matriarchy, and hierarchy are interpretations of social power that were alien to Indigenous cultures. The conjoint philosophies were introduced through forced assimilation to Aboriginal society throughout the past era of colonialism. Patriarchy was implemented in the Indian Act by designating the male as the head-of-household, with sole decision-making powers. If the male decided to enfranchise, his wife and children were also enfranchised, and the children remained enfranchised, even after attaining adulthood.
Following the enactment of Bill C-31, applications for reinstatement flooded the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, and immediately created a two-year backlog. Reinstatement applications are submitted from one of three situations: one, the spouses and children of men who enfranchised; two, women with non-Native spouses; three, people who were adopted away from their cultures. Adopted people face a particularly frustrating entanglement of bureaucratic red tape.
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THE THREE SISTERS : Beans, Corn and Squash
When you hear Native people speak of the Three sisters, they are speaking of beans, corn and squash. These are the basic foods of sustenance with which the inhabitants of Turtle Island were gifted. (Turtle Island is the name by which the North American continent is known by the Indigenous Peoples of the Great Lakes).
There are over three hundred varieties of squash across the continent. There are over five hundred varieties of corn, and over fifteen varieties of beans. The Aboriginal people of this continent were master agriculturists, and the varieties of basic food were developed to withstand climatic conditions, whatever the variance through time and place. A return to the propagation of the Three sisters will protect the contemporary inhabitants of Turtle Island from the threat of potential drought, famine, and crop disease.
June / July 1993
Summertime is pow wow time for Native people. Pow wows are an Aboriginal social event that is a successor of pre-Columbian gatherings. The original gatherings were for the purposes of trade, business, and ceremonies, all of which a large part was purely social. Contemporary pow wows are week end camp outs for Native families. Participants and traders begin to gather at the pow wow site on Friday evenings, after the family wage earners are free to leave their places of employment. Camp sites are set up, and made comfortable for the two-day stay. The ideal pow wow sites include places for fire pits, simply because visiting around a fire in the cool of a summer night is relaxing, and provides a means to shake off the effects of the past week’s demands on personal energy.
Dancers are expected to be ready for the opening ceremonies that usually take place at midday on Saturday. The ceremony is called Grand Entry during which the host drum sings the dancers into the circle where the pow wow will take place. On both Saturday and Sunday, the Grand Entry begins with the presentation of the community staffs and are usually carried in by armed forces veterans and male elders. The Grand Entry song is then followed by prayers and speeches, usually given by local and visiting elders, to welcome all the participants and visitors. On Saturday, the afternoon dance lasts for about three hours then ends for a dinner-break. The pow wow resumes in the evening for another three hours. Surrounding the pow wow circle are the artisans, craftworkers and food vendors. This is the area where non-participants occupy themselves while other aspects of the pow wow occur, which may be a ceremonial giveaway or, perhaps a naming ceremony.
The responsibility for the organization of the pow wow belongs to a committee whose job it is to see that the necessities of ensuring a successful gathering come together as smoothly as possible. The committee’s responsibility to the singers and dancers are, first, to invite the head dancers and others who are an integral part of the gathering, such as the presiding Grandmothers and Grandfathers, as well as the veterans. Then to have an arbour built to shade the drums and singers. Providing dinner for the pow wow participants is standard practice because putting on and taking off dancers’ regalia requires an extraordinary amount of time. The success of a pow wow depends on how well the dancers and singers feel they have been treated by their hosts.
The contemporary pow wows are returning to the original purposes of the gatherings. Everyone is welcome to attend the pow wows, and there is usually an admission fee to enter the grounds. The Native participants dress in outfits that are individual styles and, for the most part, represent the various eras of dress throughout the past five hundred years. The styles of dancing reflect the diversity of places of origin and kin and clan, as does the accompanying drums and singing.
Native culture is inclusionary, so social songs are sung in chants that have no words. The development of the chants-style of singing comes from time out of mind, and is a result of recognizing the many languages of the indigenous peoples, and also recognizes the importance of including everyone, in spite of language barriers. The chanting is not a specific language and, therefore, allows everyone to participate in the singing. Provision for participation is a very strong social concept among traditional tribal peoples. Songs are sung in languages during ceremonies, because ceremonial ritual has to do with individual groups’ connection to the earth and its place in the overall scheme of things. All of which is an individual consciousness and is more clearly expressed in language.
Songs and dances are expressions of worship of the Great Maker, and express gratitude for all of the gifts that human beings have been given. In the early days of contact of Aboriginal people with Europeans, the songs and dances of worship came under assault by the Christian missionaries as heathen practices. It was necessary for Native people to find ways to preserve their ancient rituals and spiritual customs. First of all, they simply went deeper into the woods or higher into the mountains for ceremonial gatherings, out of the sight of the missionaries. But as European settlement, always accompanied by missionaries, spread throughout the continent, Native worship became more difficult, until finally, the preservation of the ancient rituals became impossible for many Native communities.
A manner of preservation of cultural worship was stumbled upon by the introduction of the Wild West Show in the late 1800’s of which the most famous organizer was the entrepreneurial promoter, Buffalo Bill. Buffalo Bill hired Native people to be a part of his travelling company to re-enact battles with the United States Cavalry. The Wild West Shows were the beginning of performing for the anthropologists, tourists, and those others who may have been and, to this day, remain curious about Native life. The performances did much to create and maintain certain stereotypes about Native people, but the performances were invaluable in preserving the songs and dances that are an integral part of Native worship. The ancient songs and dances of the North American Aboriginal peoples were kept alive through the seemingly demeaning performance for the sake of the curious.
The attitudes about the necessity of performing for the curious came about during the 1960’s with a continental revival of the pow-wow. There are areas of the continent where the pow wow continued, uninterrupted, as a necessary part of the celebration of community life, but the pow wow experienced a larger scale resurgence just thirty years ago. The resurgence gained momentum twenty years ago, and any community that decided to express its pride in being Native and having maintained the practice of Native way organized a pow wow for their area. Cultural expression was taken out of the hands of white entrepreneurs by the organization of pow wows, on a community level, by Native people.
August / September 1993
The Stoney Point Band is a group of Indigenous people who were removed from their land in Southern Ontario during the Second World War by the military. The legal condition of their removal was that the land would be returned to them after the war. The Stoney Point people waited fifty years for the return of their land. With no action being taken or offered by either the military or the government, the Stoney Point Band re-occupied their land in the spring of 1993. The Stoney Point Band’s re-occupation was instigated and led by the Band’s Grandmothers and Grandfathers who wanted to return home.
Although such tactics are questionable, the Stoney Point Band was required to prove their claim to the land. Extensive, unfunded research was conducted by a member of the Band, Maynard George. He gathered all of the necessary documents to be presented to the government. Negotiations are now in progress for the formal return of the land. The negotiations are deemed necessary by the government because there was, purportedly, a great deal of money given to the Stoney Point Band in exchange for use of the land, that with the passage of time is now, apparently, considered payment for the land. Because an amount of money was involved, it does appear that the government believes that a purchase occurred.
The Stoney Point people say they did not sell anything to the government. These existing conditions are omens that the negotiations are going to drag on for some time to come.
The Stoney Point people are preparing to winter on their land. The single permanent structure on the land is the church they erected at the beginning of their re-occupation.
The Stoney Point people are without funds. Since Land Claims are a crucial issue for Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, there will be fund raisers organized on behalf of the Stoney Point Band.
One of the first major fund raisers is a walk from Stoney Point to Ottawa. The plans for the walk are progressing very well. Co-operation from certain important public sectors is being made available and is certainly most gratifying; plans are proceeding for the walk, which is named
The Journey to Reconciliation
The Journey of Reconciliation will leave Stoney Point on the morning of Sunday, September 12, 1993, and is expected to take two weeks to reach Ottawa. The leader of the Journey, who is also the main organizer, is Rick Young. Rick formed the idea after a lengthy conversation with another Native who had just returned from visiting the Stoney Point people. The conversation ended on the note that something ought to be done on behalf of the Stoney Point people to first, show support for the re-occupation of their land, and second, to raise funds for their upcoming winter plans. Rick then approached the Stoney Point Band to gain some sense of their agreement to the plan of those, who are essentially outsiders, doing fund raising on their behalf. Fortunately, the people were amenable to the suggestions. A greater fortune was the presence of an experienced long-distance political walker who was part of a walk from San Francisco to Washington D.C., on behalf of Indigenous rights.
Any and all supporters are more than welcome to join the Journey. Pledge sheets will soon be available, and can be obtained at the Weejeendimin Native Resource Centre as well as at other community centres. No one has to do the entire Journey; Journey makers can join us at any point along the way, and walk for however far they want to or however far they can. Pledges in any amount will be welcome. Straight donations can be accommodated with tax receipts.
The Journey to Reconciliation has been named so to represent the Stoney Point Band’s willingness to talk, peacefully, with the government. The name also represents the plans they have made that they have every intention of doing. The winter camp, for instance, is becoming a reality little by little. The first winter structures that will be built will be for the Grandmothers and Grandfathers to accommodate the warmth required by their age and medical conditions.
The camp is open to visitors who care to support the re-occupation. The site is a pleasant place to visit. The people are warm and friendly. And they are bearing the racist catcalls from the passers-by on the highway with equanimity. They receive hate mail , and each incident is commented on, but the expressions of hatred are accepted as an extension of the conditions that Native people live with as a matter of daily life in Canada.
The Band hosted a feast a while ago to thank everyone for their support. It was a good feast with a variety of old-time foods. The day was pleasant and was conductive to fellowship between the Band and visitors. The military had dug a pond and stocked it with fish many years ago. The fish attracted other wild life: ducks, geese, beaver, snakes, and turtles. So the pond is comparatively clean. It was a good place to have the feast by the water.
Visitors are welcome to set up camp and there are those who have done so. Everyone is self-sufficient in their own camps but their is a common food distribution hut. Donations are welcome. Weejeendimin has a food bin set up, and the food is taken from here to Stoney Point once a week. Non-perishable food items are best, and the donations have been slow but steady.
The show of support is similar to the show of support for the Saugeen-Ojibway fishing rights that were found to be a legal right by a superior court in Ontario in April 1993.
There are people who want to support Native peoples’ rights to land, hunting and fishing, and culture, but for whatever reason, their support cannot be made public. So the support is shown in anonymous ways. Then there are those who are free to voice their support and to walk beside the Stoney PointBand. But any and all support is welcome, and is indeed a great part of building the heart that it takes to go against the powerful segments of Canada, for example, the federal government and the military.
Again, to return to the present Stoney Point people’s situation with racist reaction. It is difficult for parents to see their children subjected to racist ideology, but the children will grow up too, and they will remember their parents unfailing dignity in the face of such awful treatment. The foundation of the Band’s determination is absolute faith in their right to land that remains strong despite years of dispossession. It is an amazing phenomenon because a choice does exist that would ensure the Band a life of peace, but it would mean giving up what belongs to them.
One of the Grandfathers who was born at Stoney Point is a World War II veteran. He was awarded many medals in recognition of his distinguished service in defense of the country of Canada. The removal of the Stoney Point people had occurred very shortly before his return from the battle front in Europe. His home was gone when he arrived; since it was dark, he slept in a ditch the first night back in his home community. Everything was gone and he did not know where everyone had gone. He found them the next day on the Kettle Point Reserve where they had been taken by the military. Some of the houses had been moved to Kettle Point but some were simply torn down. Some of the old people who did not want to move died soon after their removal, and their relatives are sure that they died of broken hearts.
The following generation’s hearts are not broken, but they despise their condition of homelessness so when the Grandmothers and Grandfathers proposed the move back to their land, they were very willing. The military has marked the boundaries of where the Band may set up their camps, and the Band does have access to clean running water. But the military demarcation does exist and the military presence is evident. The military did not use the land for many years, except in a minimal way, but when the Stoney Point people moved back, the military increased their presence.
The Journey to Reconciliation will serve to notify the government that it is expected to re-examine its obligation to the Stoney Point Band. If the support for the Journey can maintain its momentum, it will serve as an even greater reminder that other people are aware of the situation and that the government is expected to meet its obligations to the people it dispossessed so many years ago. The Journey to Reconciliation is only one more way to draw attention to the treatment of this country’s Indigenous peoples. Land Claims are a legal reality in Canada, and all the indifference or active abuse by racists is not going to change that fact. Canada has unfinished business with its Indigenous peoples, and it must be attended to.
Meegwetch ! Ojibway for thank you
October / November 1993
Senior Men’s Traditional – 45 years and over
Senior Women’s Traditional – 45 years and over
Men’s Traditional – 18 to 44
Women’s Traditional – 18 to 44
Men’s Grass Dance – 18 to 44
Women’s Jingle Dance – 18 to 44
Men’s Fancy – 18 to 44
Women’s Fancy – 18 to 44
Junior Men’s Traditional – 13 to 17
Junior Women’s Traditional – 13 to 17
Junior Men’s Grass Dance – 13 to 17
Junior Women’s Jingle Dance – 13 to 17
Junior Men’s Fancy – 13 to 17
Junior Women’s Fancy – 13 to 17
Boys’ Traditional – 6 to 12
Girls’ Traditional – 6 to 12
Boys’ Grass Dance – 6 to 12
Girls’ Jingle Dance – 6 to 12
Boys’ Fancy – 6 to 12
Girls’ Fancy – 6 to 12
Tiny Tots – 5 and under
The above are standard categories at competitive pow-wows, and are usually distributed into three places with the first place being worth from $500 to as high as $ 5,000. The regalia and the dance-styles are from the various eras of trade and economy spanning the last five hundred years.
Personal dream objects are very much a part of all regalia. Dreaming is one of the ways that Native people make sense of their place in the universe. Dreams have continued to be recognized as a valuable connection to reality and an individual’s sense of belonging to a positive community. Dreams are extremely private and are only shared in an atmosphere of absolute trust. That is why to pose questions about regalia is considered very bad manners. But because public display is considered public domain in the British-based Canadian values structure, dancers’ privacy is constantly violated. The general public is warmly welcomed to attend pow-wows; what is not welcome is touching regalia because ethno-centric arrogance is so prevalent in contemporary relations between Anglo-Saxon and Aboriginal peoples. If a dancer cares to share the story of personal regalia, they will do so, because that too is part of the pow-wows.
The traditional men’s dance is an exhibit of ancient but nevertheless ageless provider life-styles. In keeping with the provider status which provision came through hunting and fishing, the dance includes offerings of prayer, and then stalking methods. The components of the dance are intricate and, while it is true that understanding of the specific movements require some knowledge about bush-crafts, the style of the dance is nevertheless greatly appreciated by everyone, no matter the degree of their knowledge.
The women’s traditional dance has its roots in ancient female ceremonial expression and social responsibility. Women are recognized as the beings most closely connected to the earth, and their social responsibility is expressed in kindness, generosity, and gentleness in the use of the earth and the respectful treatment of all its beings. The traditional dance demonstrates the grace of responsibility through easy times and hard times.
The grass dance is a recognition of the value of the earth beings who provide the unfailing sustenance for human life. The dance is done to a slower tempo than the other dances because the dance is about the quietness of the natural world, as well as its beauty, grace, and particularly the earth’s stability. The dance is specific to a very certain mind-set, and is the result of dreaming. The jingle dress dance is also dreamt, and the dreamer designs her outfit according to the dream. The jingle dress dance represents the Aboriginal peoples’ willingness to share Turtle Island with the world. The willingness is demonstrated through the incorporation of colonial trade goods into Aboriginal social life, thus the use and transformation of tin and, later, aluminum into decoration to be used in celebratory gatherings.
The fancy dance is the descendant of the old-time war-dance and demonstrates the energy and exuberance of encountering challenges. Of course, Aboriginal notion of war in pre-Columbian times had nothing to do with mass death and destruction. War was about making and answering challenges and demonstrating superiority in strategy and general all-around willingness. Death, blood, and gore was introduced along with scalping, iron knives, and gunpowder, as was the concept of exploitation, at any and all costs, for the purposes of trade. A part of the war-dance is the celebration of the blessings of the Great Creator, and the attendant evidence of such blessings. For instance, that it is possible for a human being to be like the wonderful and beautiful flying creatures, in desire and appreciation.
The Junior and Children’s categories of dance are a recognition of how natural people model themselves after their elders in both lifestyle and spiritual expression. The presence of the young people demonstrates the inclusion of cross-generational representation within Aboriginal cultures. Since it is only recently that pow-wows are experiencing a revival as an important social aspect of Native cultures, not all parents are of the mind-set that pow-wows are of value to their children and do not take the time to make sure their children attend the pow-wows. It has become common practice that children adopt pow-wow families. That adoption is an amazing phenomenon but it is another demonstration of the traditional practice of the Aboriginal extended family.
Being a judge of the competitive dancers is a very specific job. The competitors are subject to a points system that includes completeness of regalia, dance style, and participation, to name just a few considerations. Judges are usually people who have been competition dancers or who are experienced with pow-wow organization. Some pow-wows have one set of judges for the entire competition, but there are pow-wows who have judges for each category of competition. It is the decision of the organizers whether to have one panel of judges or several. The decision is usually made according to available funds, because at the very least, judges are billeted and fed. There are pow-wows that have been organized for years as an annual event and are able to provide judges with stipends in exchange for their knowledge of dancing and singing.
The drums and singers are usually invited. First of all, a host drum is chosen, and their responsibility is to keep the rounds of songs going. An additional responsibility is to sing the songs chosen by the dancers in the competition categories. There are a great many styles of songs, and the host drum is required to know as many of the styles as possible. The Master of Ceremonies works in conjunction with the drums, and is usually a singer, too. The M.C. is the public voice of all the pow-wow business from housekeeping items to introduction of traditional aspects to general announcements. The M.C. is the general all-around facilitator whose presence and sense of organization keeps everyone informed of the necessities attendant to such a gathering.
An important aspect of the pow-wows is the inter-tribal cohesiveness that is a part of Indigenous cultures. All tribal peoples come together in the spirit of respect and honour, and have a good time in being together. Not all Native people are pow-wow dancers or singers, but there are those who enjoy being around the dancing and singing. Those people are the entrepreneurs who set up craft stands or food booths, and they, too, are a part of the pow-wows. Their presence provides great comfort to the hungry and thirsty dancers and singers.
Then there are the pow-wow organizers. They bear the responsibility of ensuring that all visitors are made as comfortable as possible and that the event progresses smoothly. They answer all inquiries, direct people both participants and audience members to required places, and keep refreshments available for the dancers and singers. The organizers pour all their energy and enthusiasm into the two-day event, usually on an annual basis. They do it for the love of the gathering, and to use the opportunity to express great personal pride in the cultures of their people. The pow-wow, whether it is competitive or not, is again an expression of the uniqueness of the Indigenous cultures from the land that is now called the North American continent.
December 1993 / January 1994
The Aboriginal community in Kitchener-Waterloo and surrounding area, which includes Cambridge and Guelph, is organizing a major cultural event to be held in June of 1994. The purpose of the event is to provide the community-at-large with information and education about contemporary Native people. It is the experience of K-W’s Native community activists that the demand for public speaking engagement and presentations is greater than their availability. It is also the pubic-speakers’ experience that groups and individuals who make such requests actually become perturbed that their request cannot be accommodated. This specific situation is only one reason for the need for education about Native people.
According to the latest Statistics Canada figures, the Native population in Canada is 4% of the entire population. That makes the Aboriginal population very much a minority, and it stands to reason that Native community workers would also be very much a minority group. Native community workers are under heavy pressure and demand from the non-Native community, specifically, because they are expected to be articulate and knowledgeable about Aboriginal experience, history and politics. Most Native people are knowledgeable about their personal experience as indigenous peoples, but not everyone is a public-speaker. Again, those who are public-speakers are stretched to the limit, in terms of existing workloads plus the drain on personal energies, time, and availability. Of course, it is very gratifying to have such interest expressed in Native cultures, but again, patience please, while Native communities adapt to all this attention after five centuries of indifference from the colonial descendants.
The cultural event will attempt to make information available on a scale that will, hopefully, reach the greatest number of people possible. The event will also be advertised in Europe. The European advertising will be done thanks to non-Native friends who have expressed their willingness to post flyers on their overseas trips. It is a problem that so little information about the realities of the complete Aboriginal cultures is made available. Contemporary Europeans, for example, honestly believe that Canada’s Aboriginal peoples live in teepees or igloos. When Europeans visit Canada, that is what they expect to see, and they are conspicuously disappointed to find that that is not the condition.
Not only is there a dearth of information, but so much o f the so-called information that is available is wrong. There is an over-extension of misconceptions that goes beyond stereotyping, as far as the realities of Aboriginal social, political, and economic life is concerned. Socially, Native people are not recognized for the contributions they have made to the stability of this country, particularly, in their insistence on maintaining cohesive communities that recognize the importance of inter-generational respect, i.e. youth and old people have an equal contribution to offer. Politically, that they have a special and unique relationship with the government that no one else has, and that relationship is crucial because history has proven that there would not be any Aboriginal people today were it not for this relationship. Economically, that the Aboriginal stewardship tradition may be the last stronghold against the total depletion of natural resources when sane management of natural resources may well keep Canada’s economy viable during actively changing global economics.
Historically, anthropology and other social sciences have wreaked havoc on the dignity of Aboriginal cultures. But dignity has been maintained by Native people simple because Indigenous peoples are tenacious, but more importantly, any complete and viable culture has no other alternative except to continue. Only physical genocide has any absolute impact on dissolution of culture. It is such havoc that will be absolved through active support for the dissemination of information from the Native perspective that will begin to outweigh the fallacies and misconceptions that perpetuate stereotypes and racist ideology toward Canada’s minority Aboriginal population.
One of the pressing misconceptions experienced by urban Native people is the assumption that all organizations are eligible for federal program dollars. Only urban organizations such as Friendship Centres are eligible, but not organizations such as Weejeendimin Native Resource Centre. Native Friendship Centres serve the purpose of assisting in the adaptation of Native people to urban life when they move from the reserve. A reserve must be in close proximity to an urban area. The closest reserve to K-W is the Six Nations Reserve, and the government believes that the existing Friendship Centres in Toronto, Hamilton, and London are sufficient to the criteria. Not only that, but he Six Nations Reserve has long been self sufficient. The Native population of K-W and surrounding area is very inter-tribal, and falls into every legal category of status and non-status that the federal government recognizes or not. In short, the federal government does not recognize Weejeendimin Native Resources Centre.
Weejeendimin operates on a minimal staff and program budget through the provincial Ministry of Community and Social Services. When Weejeendimin desires to implement a project or program that does not fall within the program budget (and many do not, particularly the cultural-maintenance endeavour) the staff and community as a whole does fund-raising, just like the other agencies and organizations in the Waterloo Region. But because the fallacy continues that all Native organizations have access to generous federal dollars, the non-Native attendance at K-W’s Native community fund-raisers is low, so the K-W Native community, essentially supports itself. The other solution to the funding conundrum is extremely frugal management of available dollars, which has been so effective that Weejeendimin continues to serve the Aboriginal population of 11,000 in the Waterloo Region after seven years, plus fielding an average of five daily inquiries from non-Native population on any and all matters pertaining to Canada’s indigenous peoples. All that is accomplished and maintained by the staff, directors, volunteers, and membership despite being belaboured by the “lazy, no-good, drunken Indian standing-in-line for a welfare hand-out” stereotype. Thus the need for a cultural event that will provide a forum for the dissemination of information about Aboriginal people.
February / March 1994
“you assume that because YOU do not know what WE are talking about, that we do not know what we are talking about”
~ Sandi Way, President, KW Urban Native Wigwam Project ( July 1993)
The occasion for the preceding quotation was a question and answer period following a request by representatives of the K-W First Nations community for official support from the City of Kitchener Finance Committee for the K-W First Nations Cultural Event ’94. The remark was made when it became obvious that the committee was having difficulty visualizing the form of an Aboriginal Cultural Event. The quotation is significant in its attitude of frustration and impatience with the ever-present marginalization of Native cultures. The quote bears greater significance because it clearly demonstrates the lack of consensual communication between Native people and others. It is a major existing barrier to Aboriginal participation in Canadian society.
Aboriginal people in Canada live within cultures that occur simultaneously with Canadian society. Aboriginal cultures are smaller societies within the larger Canadian structure. The simultaneous cultures of Aboriginal peoples are not recognized for many reasons. The major reason is euro-centrism which has always been the foundation for the annihilation of Indigenous cultures. Cultural annihilation occurs in many forms but one of the constant and most effective is through the practice of marginalization.
Marginalization of Native cultures is supported by many aspects of contemporary general society. Blatant stereotypes, active racism, and ignorance bred by disinterest aside, the finite obstacles to full participation in Canadian society, by Native people, are deeply entrenched. Another five hundred years of association between Aboriginal people and the European descendants may be required to undo the damage to the relationship between the two groups. A basic obstacle is communication.
Native people communicate well. English has become the common language between all groups of Aboriginal peoples from the various linguistic stocks. When Native people speak with each other, as groups of people, the groups comprehend each others’ ideas. But Native people are attempting to communicate with representatives of society who are confined to a single operating sociological philosophy that does not admit the existence of other social philosophies. The continuing refusal to recognize and affirm this existence stops the organization of the effective work that could lay the groundwork for not only a peaceful co-existence, but a co-existence that would greatly benefit every single citizen of the country.
When Native scholars attempt to communicate cultural values and standards, particularly those of social organization and structure, the attempts are minimalized as ‘ideals’. Ideals said in such a tone and manner that clearly demonstrates a belief in the unattainability of a better life because the ‘ideals’ cannot possibly be real. So the greater society continues to live in its dire social circumstances. What euro-centrism fails to consider is that the ‘ideals’ existed in this land 500 years ago as everyday life.
Language groups existed with an universal communication available, if necessary. Tolerance of differences made it possible for diverse cultures to live side by side, in peace. Roads existed because communication with distant peoples was important to the state of peace. Scientists constantly developed medicines and treatments for physical fallibilities. Individuals practiced their right to speak and be heard on prevailing issues. The ‘ideal’ was a way of life on this continent five hundred years ago.
When Native people talk about ‘going back‘, those social conditions are what they are talking about. No one means wearing hide clothes or living in teepees or birch bark wigwams. The past five centuries of the exploitation of lumber has made birch bark extremely difficult to obtain anyway! Please pardon the facetiousness, but it is no less facetious that contemporary white leadership continues to believe that Aboriginal people yearn for yesterday.
Native people know the physical paradise that the early European explorers found here is gone now. But what Native people have managed to hand on to is a philosophical paradise, which has resulted in emotional and spiritual well-being. It is true that that well-being is barely recognizable and appears to be only tattered remnants, but North America does remain the last stronghold of peace in the entire world; And that is because the very ground that we all walk upon today was saturated, imbued with an unequivical tolerance of differences.
One of the timeless ceremonies of the Great Lakes Aboriginal people is the sweatlodge. Anyone who participates in the sweatlodge reaches a point of realization in their spiritual maturity that they, like all the rest of the sweatlodge participants, are waiting. The wait is based on a pre-Columbian prophecy that foretold the great and devastating changes in store for this continent’s original people. One of the changes would be the absence of peace, but that peace would return. A sign of that peace would be when all the races of the earth who converge on this continent would have a representative in the sweatlodge. There are four colours of people on this planet: black, white, red and yellow. There are now three of those peoples participating in the sweatlodge.
Native people understand that it is only a matter of time before all the races live in harmony with each other. But impatience seeps through occasionally. So, in spite of the obstacles to communication, Aboriginal people will continue to attempt to induce others to come to terms with the reality of this continent, this Turtle Island.
April / May 1994
It is ironical that the following article was nearing completion when tragedy struck a Native family in Kitchener-Waterloo. The family was expecting a child. They were joyful and delighted in their anticipation of the child’s arrival. The child was carried to term, then something went wrong. The baby died before the delivery.
The family experienced greater emotional hardship in that the mother was required to continue on with the pregnancy until modern medicine induces the baby to be delivered. The mother opted to remain in hospital until the delivery. The process required days of waiting for the medicine to take effect. The father remained at the mother’s side, so the hospital set up a cot for him in her room.
The Native community experienced a sense of great loss for the family, as well as for themselves, at the death of this child. Friends of the family, and there were a great many of them, made sure that someone was with the family at all times, as they waited in the hospital. The loss of the little life is felt with heart-wrenching sorrow. But of equal sorrow is the suffering of the family while they awaited the delivery.
The funeral home provided the family with the necessary undertaking services as well as a coffin for the infant. The gesture is immeasurably kind and will be remembered with deep respect by the Native people in Kitchener.
Our hearts have broken for the family, and for ourselves, and we will carry them in our prayers while they heal from their suffering and pain.
Native humour functions within the realities of human fallacy. Human fallacy is ironic and absurd. Native people do not laugh at horror, tragedy, or individual misfortune. But laughter does definitely occur often; as often as the ironies and absurdities that occur in abundance in everyday life. Consequently, Native people laugh a lot, but only within our own company. We have learned to be sombre in our faces as we walk through the white world.
We learn to laugh very early in life. We learn to tease and be teased. The teasing has little to do with ridicule so it is not hurtful. If teasing does hurt someone, then that individual is in need of healing. The source of the hurt is determined, and a healing process begins. An individual is considered healed when the ability to laugh returns.
The individuals within solid communities know each other personally. It is within the personal proximity of communities that individual emotional boundaries are a constant consideration and those boundaries are respected. The new-comer, the young, and the immature learn quickly which personal boundaries cannot be violated by simply observing the collective reaction to the things they may say. If there is no reaction, collectively, then they have overstepped established boundaries. Stern words or a stern manner are not necessary; silence is sufficient correction.
Perhaps the source for the stereotype that Native people do not look others in the eye is that a part of the silence of correction is that no one looks at the person who has committed the social gaffe. It is necessary to add to the existing atmosphere of embarrassment because to look at the person is construed as encouragement to go on with whatever is being said. Even the offender’s feelings and dignity are treated with great consideration within Native social structure.
Life is hard. Everyone experiences loss and deprivation. The aspects of pain are emotional and spiritual, as well as physical. There are degrees of loss but life’s greatest losses each hold great pain, no matter the aspect. The burden of life’s realities and difficulties is relieved by the ability to perceive the humour in human interaction that is rife with ridiculous happenstance.
Within Native cultural, psychological structure, laughter is the embodiment of the spirit of the clown. In pre-Columbian times and in some Native communities today, the spirit of the clown is acknowledged and incorporated into gatherings and ceremonies. Certain gifted individuals are disguised in clothing that is appropriate to the event, and turned loose to wreak havoc on the seriousness of whatever may be occurring. The clothing is perverse, extreme, and slightly askew, and is in itself a mockery of the occasion. The clowns are anonymous, and it is a favored game to attempt to discover the clown’s identity, but stories have it that identities have never been discovered. The favorite targets, and more frequently than not, the sole target of the clowns are the persons who may be officiating over the event.
The clowns are weird, scary, and hilarious entities who simply represent the paradoxical nature of human beings. They serve as reminders of two important aspects of the Way of Peace. First, that no one is superior to anyone else, and, second, that to be too serious endangers the common good.
As with the rest of Native culture, the clowns almost disappeared. And evidence of the clown is slow in returning but the return will happen as Native people reclaim the parts of their cultures that is in keeping with the Way of Peace.
Europeans once practiced the tradition of the clown. The clowns were called ‘fools‘ or, more romantically, ‘jesters‘. Their existence and participation were, more than likely, for the same reasons that North American Indian clowns were an integral part of Aboriginal ceremony. But the contemporary ascribed humour of the European descendants may be too narrow and constricted to permit the re-emergence of the ‘fool‘. Or maybe not.
June / July 1994
My mother was one of many Mishomsuk / Nokumsuk (Grandfathers and Grandmothers) from throughout the Great Lakes area to be invited to serve as resource at the National Assembly of the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The conference was a week-long event in June of this year, and was held in Kinross, Michigan. The National Assembly was called by the Tribal Chairperson and the Board of Directors, or as they are known in Canada, the Chief and Council. The assembly is a unification strategy on behalf of the entire Tribe that has been scattered, over the years, throughout Michigan and Ontario. (*for the purpose of this article, the Tribe will be referred to as “community’s” given the widespread location of its settlements and villages). The administrative body of the Tribe has its headquarters in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan on Shunk Road.
Since federal recognition was secured by Proclamation of the Secretary of the Interior, on December 31, 1974, as directed by the U.S. Congress, the Tribe has established economic independence. In the U.S. federal recognition is very important to tribes because the specific relationship overrides all other authority: state, municipal, etc. The specific relationship guarantees the absence of accountability to myriad authorities which have been proven to only bog tribal economic efforts. Tribes who are federally-recognized are accountable only to the federal government.
Very few Congresspeople actively supported the Tribe’s claim, so the recognition was effected by the powerful case presentations of their Congressional supporters. One of the winning arguments was that the Tribe’s right to recognition had been legally established in 1927, and that a representative delegation had been meeting intermittently but with absolute tenacity with the government since. If nothing else, the Tribe had proven it had no intention of giving up and going away. In the meantime, the lack of Congressional action condemned the Tribe to Third World economic and social conditions.
The Tribe’s first order of business was to organize the projects that would alleviate, with singular immediacy, the conditions of poverty on Shunk Road. At that time, the conditions were so appalling on Shunk Road that the community was one of ten that was featured by the major national American newsmagazine in a pictorial entitled “Poverty in America”. The Tribe upgraded and stabilized the communitys’ shelter and nutritional needs.
The the Tribe built a casino. The Keewandin Casino is the basis for the communitys’ economic independence. There are many negatives that have been attached to the development of the casino, but none of the negatives have appeared so far. The evidence of savvy management of the casino’s cash flow is in the administration of the money within the communitys’.
The enrolled membership as well as the Tribe’s extensive association with non-members from throughout the continent, have benefited in the most positive way.
The 1994 National Assembly offered informational presentations on the progress of the social and economic issues, as prioritized by the Tribe. There was a vast display of the Tribe’s present endeavours in entrepreneurial business as formed by individuals within the Tribe side-by-side with the information displays about the community organization projects. Two of the most interesting community project displays was bout Child Welfare and the Tribe’s historical documentation and archival processes. All of the Assembly’s workshops, displays, security, housekeeping, and meals were done by the Tribe’s two-thousand employees and departmental staff.
The presence of the Mishomsuk / Nokomsuk was a deliberate reminder that the Tribe is culture-specific and all of its business, decision-making processes and conduct is culturally oriented. In contemporary time, the old people are recognized as the Keepers of the Language. They know the language and pass it on. Their knowledge and willingness to teach ensures the North American Aboriginal peoples’ claim to protection of Nationhood under International Law. The old people whose hearts have been gentled by time and a life of reflection also provide an atmosphere of warmth and security to their descendants who are emotionally and spiritually battered by the era and society of harshness and violence in spite of which Aboriginal culture is maintained. The children are the proof of hope and the old people are proof that hope succeeds.
A Sacred Fire was lit on the first dawn of the Assembly and kept burning throughout the week. The Fire was attended by a Bod-Wad-Mi (Keeper of the Fire) representative and his helpers, who came from the Bod-Wad-Mi, Ojibway (Keeper of the Faith), Lenni Lenape, and Tuscarora Nations. The FireKeepers all came from north of the Bahwating (great white rapids), and is called by the European descendants, the American-Canadian border. The FireKeepers were not only the keepers of the spiritual side of this Aboriginal gathering, but also the reminder that the border that separates Aboriginal people is not of the Turtle Island peoples’ making.
The Assembly was not without its cultural glitches and gaffes. The assimilation factor reared its ugly head on occasion. To recount a few incidents of assimilation: a family wanted to set their camp in the eastern door of the gathering’s circle, and became angry when asked to move. Also, the overnight security checked with their supervisor before allowing the night-time FireKeepers access to the coffee pot. But the entrenchment of assimilation is beginning to erode, and is a wonderful thing to witness.
Mother and I left the Assembly with a sense of admiration and respect for the Tribe. They have incorporated into the Tribe a complete agreement that the cultural values of their ancestors must be applied in all of their tribal business. None of the tribal business is exclusionary. The Tribe is increasingly successful in the development of a relationship of reciprocity with state and local governments, and the public sector. They are well on their way to out-stepping the results of assimilation into euro-centric society, and are truly an amazing phenomenon. It is communitys’ like the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians who are leaders in the re-surgence of the Way of Peace.
December 31, 1994 will be twenty year anniversary of the federal recognition of the Tribe. The Annual New Year’s Eve Pow-Wow is sure to be an exceptional event. All are welcome to attend, participate and observe.
VOLUME 5 #1 1996
Gilbert Oskaboose is a regular columnist for the First Perspective, which is an Aboriginal publication. In the most recent issue, he points out that cliches remain with us simply because they contain socially-applicable truths that are constant. The cliche about religion and spirituality is an excellent description of what Native people have come to believe since contact with the European derived institutions of missionaries and missionization. The belief is not held by all Native people, of course, but by those whose lives are dedicated to bringing about the re-institution of the precepts of pre-Columbian sociology.
Native cultures revolve around ancient beliefs of rightness and wrongness. If people conduct themselves with a consciousness that contributes to the rightness of the world, (the “world” as each individual understands it), then the world will continue to regenerate its necessary stability. For each of us, awareness of our world begins with our kin which expands naturally into our communities. And, of course, within the context of the late twentieth century, the world that has developed a global connection.
There is no word for sin in Aboriginal languages. Words for the wrongs that human beings commit have more to do with self-hurt and how that self-hurt impacts others. Native people also have no word for hell. If a person does not live right, then the consequence is that he hurts himself. Life is hard, and the minimization of rightness in one’s life compounds the difficulty. On an individual basis, it follows that if a person lives in such a way that he hurts himself continuously, then he lives in his own hell.
Native cultures are organized in such a way that social interaction is imbued with tolerance and patience. When a person seeks to change his life from wrongness and hurtfulness, he is guided by those who can assist him in how to make the transition. The people who can lend such assistance understand the obstacles one faces in changing for the better. The reason for the understanding is that they once did not live right.
Not living right occurs in varying degrees, and the judge of the damage that results is the individual himself. When the individual is responsible for self-judgement, he is also forced to reflect on his conduct and the consequences of his hurtfulness. It follows that reflection on personal wrong conduct and subsequent consequences creates a formulation of serious and appropriate reparation. Within Native cultures, assisting others where one can is considered apt reparation. The result is one achieves the ability to provide guidance to those who request it. It is a self-perpetuating social support system.
Spirituality is an intrinsic aspect of an individual, family, or community that perceives itself as responsible in assisting others in assuming their place in the rightful course of the world. Determination of a rightful course comes about through experience with wrong, actual or potential, active or through observation only. The ability to interpret, through verbal expression, one’s own experience empowers one to help others. Since time immemorial, Native people have understood that being well-balanced, physically and meta-physically, hinges on their contribution to the well-being of others.
And, if we are free to help others, that freedom ensures an all-encompassing fearlessness that requires no concepts of sin or hell. The fearlessness occurs because we understand that the Great Creator made us part of the world, and although we are part of the larger scheme, nothing occurs that we must face alone. For the literal-minded, yes, we all must be alone at times, but when we live with the consciousness of the spirituality of being, then isolation becomes a solitude worthy of reflection.
Aboriginal Grandmothers and Grandfathers tell us that what exists in that reflection is the truth of who and what we are. A life well-lived, and in some cases, well-mended, will be apparent when we reflect. Those who change their lives to a better way and are successful, never again feel the need to hurt themselves. They have developed a consciousness that their very existence has meaning, and inherent in that meaning is a sense of individual responsibility to the well-being of the world. They have been in hell, now they are free to exercise those feelings of their connectedness to everything around them. That is the spirituality of North America’s Aboriginal peoples.
VOLUME 7 #1 1998
Carleen is currently the Station Manager of CHFN 100.3 FM at her home First Nation, Cape Crocker (Neeyaashiingnigmiing) on the Bruce Peninsula. The radio station is owned and operated by the Chippewas of Nawash
The news is Aboriginal peoples have always had their own social scientists. Further, contemporary Aboriginal social scientists work within a philosophical conundrum. The impact of which forces their reluctant presence in the larger society.
The conundrum is Aboriginal cultures’ philosophical foundation as it is being interpreted by Native people who are greatly influenced by euro-centrism, but who will attach the term‘cultural’ to their work, and which is then accepted by the larger society as valid truths. All of which undermines the vast existing Aboriginal social sciences which must be protected from further erosion by those Native people who can differentiate between the reality of pre-assimilation values and ethics, and those brought to North America.
The source of the reluctance to facilitate a greater presence in general society is the emotional difficulty of having to generate the extraordinary persistence that is required to keep attempting to communicate with a society that is locked into one form of thought and process. The attempts at communication are diverse, and include such forums as organizing university courses that try to introduce the myriad aspects of Aboriginal cultures to whomever may be interested.
Another forum of course, are Native writers who have begun to document the precepts of Aboriginal moral and ethical values. The formal documentation has proceeded because the results of assimilation into euro-centric conduct and thought is evident in the serious erasing of Aboriginal cultures. The written documentation is itself a departure from traditional oral interaction, but it is a measure of the desire, and perhaps, considerable desperation, to communicate with the majority population.
Native social scientists understand what Aboriginal cultures have to offer to society-at-large, but time has become a pressing issue. We continue to die at an alarming rate. Our deaths come about through disease, accident, suicide, and domestic or social violence. The causal factors for our high early mortality rate have been proven by non-Native researchers, such as Thomas Berger, time and time again to be the results of forced assimilation. The continuing interference in the social processes of Aboriginal cultures is a guarantee of our complete annihilation.
How is the interference perpetuated within the seemingly inclusive atmosphere of human rights for all? Aboriginal peoples are forced to appear to have assimilated in order to participate in the available social contract. One incident that comes to mind, and it is only one of many incidents, but it is an excellent example of what is commonplace for Native people who function within the larger society.
The story is as follows: there was a federally-funded project whose sponsors were a non-Native group. The project itself was formulated and submitted by Native people, but the sponsors were the administrators. The project was designed in such a way to contain the necessary flexibility warranted by the unrecognized obligations of Native employees who consciously maintain their cultural responsibilities. One of the employees was an Eagle Feather Staff Carrier. He received a request from a Band (“Band”: within the meaning of the Indian Act) to bring the Staff to be with them during a particularly difficult period of federal land claims negotiations.
Although the Eagle Feather Staff’s home was with a community other than the Band, the community cultural mentors gave their permission for the Staff to accompany the Band. The Staff Carrier believed he was secure in his position with the project, given the structure of the project’s policies and built-in latitude to enable meeting one’s cultural responsibilities. So he gave oral notice that he would be away, and began preparing the Staff for the upcoming events.
Another factor was that the trip would, in reality, have been an extension of his job, so he could receive his pay.
Two days before he left, the sponsor group’s on-site supervisor requested a meeting with the employee. The supervisor said the lack of formal notification made his leaving impossible but that there was an available option. The option was that the Staff Carrier could remain in his job if he applied for unpaid leave-of-absence. Rather than continue his experience of the interminable justification of his cultural responsibilities to the non-Native-in-power, the Staff Carrier quit his job.
There were other very unpleasant factors involved in the preceding example, but the essentials are included in the story.
The point is that there are no facets of Aboriginal peoples’ cultural responsibilities that are recognized as inherent in North America’s general social system. The air is rotten with verbal support of Aboriginal peoples’ right to culture, but the right to actual practice continues to lie at the mercy of a euro-centric society. So, although cultural responsibilities are a reality for Aboriginal people, those responsibilities are practiced within a vacuum created by the unremitting inability of general society’s social issues leaders to listen to, and hear what Native people are really saying. The horror of the continuing situation is that it is one more source of frustration and despondence for Aboriginal peoples that only compounds the historical practice of genocide by European colonialism.
In the meantime, the cultural responsibilities of the Eagle Feather Staff Carrier will remain those individual’s priority.
Each community has its own process for choosing the person who is most suitable to carry their group’s spiritual flag. The more important aspect is that the Eagle Feather Staff re-assume its rightful place on behalf of indigenous peoples. The Staff represents all of this continent’s First Nations, but is carried mainly as a reminder that the spirit of the eagle oversees how well Native peoples are maintaining their awareness of the Great Mystery, and how well they are proceeding with the attendant commitments of such recognition.
VOLUME 9 #1 2000
This article is being written after thirty-two years of personal experience singing with big drums from all around this continent. From the first time I ever heard the big drum, I have loved the sound of it. As I stood at that very first drum, listening and watching, I wanted to sing too.
Over time, I learned the rules of the big drum, as practiced by the Anishinabek of the Great Lakes.
In my early days, I was taught the difference between the social and the ceremonial drum: it is the social drum that I chose to sing with. The social drum songs are sung in chants, rather than words, and the reason for it is another example of the vast wisdom, generosity, and kindness of the people from whom we are descended.
There was once over six hundred tribes on this continent before the European explorers brought disease and deadly violence to us. Each of those tribes had their own language, but they all inter-acted with each other, doing business and socializing; all were welcome to dance or to sing at the drum. There was a language barrier, so a way was devised that everyone, who wanted to, could sing. That way is a melody and a chant .. (yah hey yah way yo); the chant is easy to pick up, no matter what language one may speak. Our ancestors, wise, generous and kind, found ways to include people rather than leave anyone out.
The melodies and chants are easy to pick up, but it takes lengthy training to become a good singer. At the big drum, there are two measures of a singer- One: the Head Singer should be able to indicate to anyone sitting at the drum that it is their turn to lead a song. Two: during a song, the Head Singer should be able to indicate to a singer that it is their turn to lead.
The Head Singer of a big drum has many obligations and responsibilities. The first is to know the songs and be able to sing all the types of songs .. flag songs and honour songs are just two of many sorts of songs that may be required.
The Head Singer may also feel the strong personal obligation to pass on the songs, and that means being able to teach. These days, Head Singers have the additional responsibilities of transporting or providing gas money to their singers; making make sure that the singers do not go hungry, and that they have shelter. A Head Singer is able to lead for a two-day pow-wow.
He is also responsible for distributing any money that may come to the drum, based on his judgement of how far along a novice singer may be in their learning. Finally, Head Singers compose songs.
Neyaashiinngnigmiing’s own Mark LaVallee has composed big drum songs, one of which is sung throughout this continent.
My whole family sings at the big drum. There is nothing to compare to sitting behind my brother and his sons, following their songs, singing with his wife and daughter and with my Mother and my daughter. Singers love to sing, this is what fulfills us.
VOLUME 10 #1 2004
During the past year, one of the family’s young women decided to accept the marriage proposal of her longtime friend. When the wedding invitation arrived in the mail, I knew that I would enjoy a pleasant, refreshing weekend with the many relatives and friends of this youthful, enthusiastic couple. Just as importantly, the wedding would bring the family together for a much anticipated joyful event; a gathering for other than the usual reason where, as one of the less tactful nephews put it, “no one is laid out”.
The wedding ceremony would take place at a campground that was designed by a local Aboriginal entrepreneur who wanted to showcase various eras of Native life from pre-Columbian time up to the present. The location of the camp is on a highway that is considered to be one of the major thoroughfares through the tourist area on the Bruce Peninsula; the actual location being a few kilometers south of Tobermory. Visiting the camp was a personal new experience and again, an event to be anticipated. Having passed the camp with its narrow highway frontage many times and only noting its location in a most casual manner, it was a pleasant discovery that the camp itself was large and very well laid out. Before my departure from home to the camp, the mother of the bride informed me that all the young relatives and friends would be expected to camp out or make themselves comfortable in one of the many teepees but that cabins had been reserved for all the older relatives including me. That was very good news and I accepted the circumstances as a wonderful gift because having had major surgery at the end of March, I was still struggling with minor post-operative inconveniences and being provided with a sense of privacy was very much appreciated.
Packing for the weekend included not only personal luggage but cooking utensils and the ingredients for my contribution to the wedding feast which was a venison and wild rice soup. My nephew’s wife had given me a large venison roast as their contribution to the feast and while my mother and I usually have a cache of wild rice, this was the last of our rice that would be used in the soup. But since it is summertime and is the visiting season we expect lots of company who always bring gifts, I expect the jar in which we store our rice will fill up again soon.
On my arrival at the camp, friends of the groom who had travelled for the wedding from the state of Indiana greeted me with smiles and welcome.
All of my bags and various accoutrements were sorted, this to the cabin, that to the kitchen or refrigerator and were carried off. Whenever I encounter such eager youthful helpfulness these days, I feel nostalgia for the days not too long ago that I was one of the ones who lent my energy and physical well-being to helping others. Now I find myself on the receiving end of fabulous graciousness.
The cabin was located in a cedar grove; it was tiny and beautiful with a very comfortable double bed, a bedside bench, hooks on the wall, and a small heater for the cold nights. Right outside the cabin door was a picnic table and a fire pit and at the end of that was the path to the outhouse. The camp does have a central building that has flush toilets and showers but my cabin was located in an area of the camp that was a bit of a distance from that building. Because I had been told about the somewhat rustic conditions, my packing had included a washbasin, washcloth and towel for my early morning rising and I had brought a large jug for my own water. I planned to avail myself of the modern facilities after my much loved cup of coffee.
When nightfall came about, everyone who had arrived were all settled into their accommodations and campfires were lit and the serious visiting began. The night became chilly but the campfire and company provided all the warmth necessary.
As usual when the company is pleasant, I stayed awake past my usual bedtime. But when I thought of the large venison roast I would have to start cutting up early next morning I decided to leave the fire to go to my cabin for a rest. Since I had forgotten to bring a flashlight, one of the young people with a torchlight escorted me back through the cedar grove. Settling to sleep was very nice, then a middle of the night trip to the outhouse brought an earlier than planned adventure; just a small adventure. The cabin had an outside light but the cast of the light ended at the far side of the picnic table and the outhouse was about four metres beyond that in pitch black. I was very gratified to discover that my bush skills were as good as ever, how to protect my face and keep my footing and just generally get to where I need to go in the dark without injury. Needless to say the walk back to the cabin was much easier because the outside light was visible. I told my little story a few times the next day and the following night the light outside the outhouse was turned on.
On rising the next morning, the camp was very quiet as I strolled to the kitchen to make my coffee.
Other visitors were up and about by the time I was ready to go to the showers. Then it was back to the kitchen to prepare the soup. The camp kitchen was fitted up with all the pots, pans and utensils I could use, including a large soup pot. But I did indulge in one very modern convenience when I planned my packing; I took along my food processor. Speedy preparation of the soup was necessary because other cooks were coming in and I had planned to have all my cooking preparations out of the way and to have the soup on to simmer by the time other cooks arrived. My preparations went very smoothly then it was back to the cabin for a short rest before dressing more formally to meet the newly married couple.
The bride and groom were scheduled to come out of the promises circle at noon. Their best friend met them and carried their marriage pipe for them while they greeted relatives and friends as a newly married couple. Everyone had seen the couple’s ceremonial wedding clothes beforehand but the sight of the couple dressed in formal regalia was breathtaking. The bride wore buckskin with fringes from her shoulders to the ground. She had decided that the lacing was so beautiful that beading was not necessary, instead she wore a bone breastplate, a necklace and, for her braids, a hair rosette all of which were made for her by her future husband as well as carrying a beaded purse also made by him. She wore beaded earrings made by her mother and carried a fan given to her by a loving friend. In the old time way, the bride and groom wore beaded moccasins that they had made for each other. The groom was dressed in a buckskin shirt with a decorated fur mantle, breechcloth, and antique felt leggings that he had beaded himself. He wore a decorated fur turban and carried his dancer’s fan. They walked out of the teepee and came to meet all of us and to come down the line to receive congratulations. At the end of the line, they encountered a surprise. That was the presence of my mother whose attendance was uncertain given her medically frail condition.
She was seated in the car of a friend who had driven her to the encampment. The bride and groom were delighted and honoured that their elderly aunt travelled so far for their special day. There were affectionate greetings all around then my mother and her friend left to return home. Following the Pipe Ceremony, the couple invited everyone to begin the feast. As always, the feast provided a huge amount of food. al the old time foods were available as well as barbequed goodies for the children and whoever else also like hamburgers and hotdogs. The feast ended with the modern tradition of the dessert and wedding cake. The formalities concluded with the bride and groom’s gifting all who were in attendance.
Following the formal part of the ceremony, most of the guests left to get a rest before playtime and the singing and dancing began, all of which went late into the night. The next morning there was a gathering for breakfast before the visitors from the North Shore had to get in line for the Chi-Cheemaun and the long distance travellers from the States including the groom’s brother from Colorado had to begin their journey home.
It was a beautiful weekend spend with the dearly beloved of my lifetime and the new friends I met on this very special occasion. The bride and groom will make their home in Indiana.
VOLUME 11 #1 2006
The following story is about the loss of one of the people that I loved with all of myself and everything I had to offer at the time. My beloved suffered a horrendous death. It was a time of soul wrenching grief for the family and friends who lost one who made such an important contribution to our living circle. His death was accidental but the knowledge of the course of life did not ease the pain of loss for me.
He was only forty nine years old but he had married young and by the time he became a widowed person his children were grown. When he and I joined in our marriage according to the ancient ways of our culture, he took in my own daughter as his own. His children welcomed and loved my daughter as their baby sister. He decided that he would like to retire from his long time job and we should move up north and we did that. When it became apparent that living in a semi-remote area was more than my daughter could manage given the one hundred and twenty mile round trip to High School in Parry Sound, his oldest daughter took our girl to live with her in the States. A friend offered to have us live with him during that winter until we built our own house in the spring time. Our life had fallen into a certain order and we were happy. The accident that took his life occurred in April of 1980.
“Pining away” is the old fashioned phrase that used to be used to describe my condition. I have not heard a contemporary term for what I experienced. When he died, I ate less and less and slept very little. When he died, my mind was in turmoil and I was only able to take care of myself on the most basic level. I then went to live with my brother and his family. Everything I might need was provided for me in my life with these kind people; there were no demands that I was expected to meet and no decisions to make. It was my sister in law who first commented on how thin I was becoming then she also commented on noticing that I went to bed after they did and that I would rise before they did. It was a few days later that she told me she thought I was in serious trouble and, in her gentle way, she suggested that I had better get some help for myself.
When I agreed that I was definitely in pervasive emotional and spiritual disarray, only one person came to mind that would know the help I would need. I had known the man for years and he was the one who led the interment ceremonies for my lost love. I called him and told him I wasn’t doing too well and that actually I thought I might be dying and I didn’t have enough interest in the fact to even care. He said he had been to visit my brother a few times and that he knew where I was and that he would see me in two days. I gave my brother some tobacco and told him that our old friend was coming to do a ceremony for me. I also wanted my brother to understand that although I knew he was capable of doing this ceremony for me that I wanted all of us to be relieved of our sorrow for our loss, including him. Also, on the more practical side, my brother would be the one who could show our visitor from down south the places nearby that would be most conducive to the ceremonial environment.
Our friend arrived and set to work and since it was his work and my brother would help him I don’t know what all was done. I stayed in the house to make the feast for the closing of the ceremony. It would be a ghost feast and the foods were those favored by the dearly departed. For him it was corn soup, roasted turkey with stuffing and giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, corn kernels, turnips, baked scone, fried bread, jello with fruit cocktail and whipped cream, butter cake, apple pie and lemon meringue pie.
At dusk there was a final tobacco offering after which the feast was served. Following the feast, there was a pipe ceremony for all who attended then my brother led everyone out of the room, leaving me and our visitor alone. I knew this was the part of the ceremony when I would receive my instructions on how to break the bindings that were dragging me to the next world and that were interfering with my living in this world as it was meant to be. My instruction was that when everyone had gone to bed that night and I was alone that I was to smudge myself with sweetgrass then verbally recount the sequential events of the death of my beloved from my perspective. My final instruction was that I was to face each direction with my burning sweetgrass braid and say that I would be alright and that my beloved was to go on without me and that both of us would be at peace. Then my friend left to return home that night.
When I heard the family settle down for their night’s rest, I sat in a comfortable easy chair in the living room, lit my sweetgrass, cleansed myself with the smoke then I told my story out loud. I talked about the conversation we had that day over our morning coffee and toast. I said ‘.,You told me you were going on the trapline then you said you weren’t feeling too well. I suggested that you stay home but you said your friend needed you to help gather the catch and that you didn’t want to let him down. A few hours later I heard him come rushing into the house and I could see that he was soaking wet as he ran to his room. When he came out of his room in dry clothes I asked what happened. He told me the canoe had capsized and you both got dumped in the water. I asked where you were and he said he was going to look for you. I waited in the house and he came back and said he couldn’t find you and that he thought you were drowned. He also said the police had been called. As we waited for the police I asked if there was anything he wanted to tell me before the police came. He said when he made it to shore he looked back at you and he could see you struggling in the water close to shore and that you were grabbing for the overhead branches but the water was so rough and you were being dragged downstream then he couldn’t see you anymore.
After the police talked to me I walked to the Chief’s house and made all the necessary phone calls. I couldn’t bring myself to tell your children that you had got lost in the water so I had your brother-in-law do it on my behalf. Your children and my family all arrived the next day and stayed by the water all day to watch the divers search for you. Then that night the old man of the village came to speak to my mother in Ojibway to tell her when the river would give up your body. I waited three weeks for your body to surface. But the day after your children arrived, there was another traveler from down south. He was the person who came to call you out of the water; he was the person who took away the rage and the fear and the pain and the violence of that day in the water. The coroner also reported that you had suffered a massive coronary.,” I relit the sweetgrass and to each direction I said, “I’ll be okay now. Go on.”
After the ceremony, I became again a person with a future. I moved to another city where I was able to find work and my daughter came to live with me again. I learned a great deal during the episode of tremendous loss in my life. But one of the most important things that I learned was the vast distance between what the intellect knows and what the emotional self will accept. I had been taught that life follows a certain course, tragedies might happen and life goes on. But when it happened that I suffered a great loss I needed my family, friends and cultural community to pull me through. During that bad time, I did not have enough strength to help myself and it was my great good fortune that the people in my life saw what was happening to me and were able to guide me to a resumption of the future that was intended.