New book “Sounding Thunder” honours a true Anishinaabe hero

soundingthunderMy good friend and Midewiwin brother Waabishki-makwa (Brian D. McInnes) has written a new book about his great-grandfather The Late Francis Pegahmagabow.  I’ve spoken with him over the years about this book, probably when it was a mere idea, long before he was writing it.  For him, it was much more than a literary work but a labour of Love, respect and rightful acknowledgement of a true Anishinaabe hero and Canada’s most decorated indigenous soldier.

He isn’t just a hero because of his medals or his actions in the military, Francis Pegahmagabow was truly the embodiment of what it means to be Ogitchidaa.  He wasn’t just a warrior who stood up to protect his people during war-time, he was a role model and true public servant in many ways.  He used his bravery and courage far beyond the battlefield for the benefit of his community and all Anishinaabeg people.

The legacy of Binaaswi-ban, Adik dodemun has been celebrated by our local Anishinaabeg communities for many years, but only recently shared by all Canadians.  We remember him through the stories of his family, including my uncle Baimassige-ban (the late-Merle Pegahmagabow), many Wasauksing Elders, political and spiritual leaders, academics and writers like Brian, Waub Rice and Joseph Boyden.

I’m looking forward to reading more about this man I’ve heard so much about.  Sounding Thunder: The Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow is published by the University of Manitoba Press and will be available on September 16.

Congratulations, Waabishki-makwa.  You make us proud, my Brother.  Chi-miigwetch for keeping his stories and memory alive.


Sounding Thunder:
The Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow

By Dr. Brian D. McInnespegahmagabow_statue

Francis Pegahmagabow (1889-1952), an Ojibwe of the Caribou clan, was born in Shawanaga First Nation, Ontario. Enlisting at the onset of the First World War, he served overseas as a scout and sniper and became Canada’s most decorated Indigenous soldier.

After the war, Pegahmagabow settled in Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario, where he married and raised six children. He served his community as both Chief and Councillor and was a founding member of the Brotherhood of Canadian Indians, the first national Indigenous political organization. In 1949 and 1950, he was elected the Supreme Chief of the National Indian Government.

Francis Pegahmagabow’s stories describe many parts of his life and are characterized by classic Ojibwe narrative. They reveal aspects of Francis’s Anishinaabe life and worldview. Interceding chapters by Brian McInnes provide valuable cultural, spiritual, linguistic, and historic insights that give a greater context and application for Francis’s words and world. Presented in their original Ojibwe as well as in English translation, the stories also reveal a rich and evocative relationship to the lands and waters of Georgian Bay. In Sounding Thunder,  Brian McInnes provides new perspective on Pegahmagabow and his experience through a unique synthesis of Ojibwe oral history, historical record, and Pegahmagabow family stories.


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Dr. Brian D. McInnes

Brian D. McInnes is a professional educator and author dedicated to diversity education, youth engagement, and organizational leadership. A member of the Wasauksing First Nation, McInnes has a deep interest in the preservation of Indigenous cultures and languages and is an accomplished speaker, presenter, and writer in English and Ojibwe. Brian is a descendant of Francis Pegahmagabow, and writing Sounding Thunder was an important opportunity for him to contribute to the legacy of his great-grandfather.

We are not the children of the 8th Fire… Far from it.

“We have to learn today what it takes to be better tomorrow.”

 

I don’t like to write anything pessimistic. When you start off your column with “I don’t like” you know it’s going to be one of those days.

Nanaia Mahuta.  Photo by  Radio New Zealand.

Nanaia Mahuta. Photo by Radio New Zealand.

This morning I was trolling through Facebook, eating my veggie omelette and drinking my decaf coffee. I offered congratulations to my friend Nanaia Mahuta, MP from the Waikato River region of New Zealand. Nanaia became the first Maori MP to wear the moko mauae, the traditional Maori chin tattoo. She said: “I wear my kauae tehe (moko) proudly… to bring the most positive aspects of what we have as a Māori culture, our mātauranga (knowledge) Māori, our world view, into New Zealand.”

It’s so good to see that Indigenous people from around the world, including many Anishinaabe, who are taking steps to make our language and culture a priority.

A good day, so far.

I scroll further down my Facebook feed only to get a punch in the gut. I put my omelette down.

Anishinaabemowin_stats

According to Keith Montreuil:

“In 1996: 36000 people identified as first language speakers (mother tongue) half of which were using the language everyday in the home. 65% of those speakers are over the age of 60 (in 1996). Fast forward ten years and we see the amount of first language speakers has dropped to 19000 (a drop of nearly half) and this is ten years later.. So that group of 60 year olds are now a group of 70 year olds. It’s predicted that the amount of first language speakers (mother tongue) will drop to less than 10000 by this year, 2016. “

These are stark and troubling statistics.  It makes me so sad, almost hopeless.

I scroll down a little further and up pops an ignorant photo posted by Janet Gretzky, the wife of my hockey hero.

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Fuming, I started to share and write a call to action. But it occurred to me that this isn’t supposed to happen this way. We were to be the children of the 8th Fire.

The Anishinaabe, through our 8th Fire Prophecy, were predicted to thrive. We were to become equals, to come together with our other brothers and sisters in our territory and contribute towards becoming one great nation. Our language and culture would be sought after. The colonizers would realize the folly of assimilation, value our ways of life, and seek out our advice and traditional knowledge for the betterment of society and Mother Earth.

We are not the children of 8th fire. We are far from it. That’s as pessimistic as it gets.

It’s time to turn it around.

We have to realize that a prophecy isn’t just going to magically happen on it’s own. It isn’t karma, destiny, fate or the will of God. The Midewiwin certainly can’t influence midichlorians, as the Jedi do, to impose our goodwill over the Earth. There will be missteps and setbacks along the way.

We must learn from our Anishinaabe prophecies. We must act to avoid those missteps within the prophecies. For example: The prophecies tell us that “the rivers will run with poison and the fish will become unfit to eat”. That’s precisely why Anishinaabeg women are standing up for the water. We must learn and adapt in order to take ourselves, our families, our nation in the right direction to ensure we lead the Anishinaabeg into that eighth and final fire of glory.

We must continue to take action. This action must be personal action.

  • Only I (only you), can work towards learning Anishinaabemowin.
  • Only I (only you), can take political action that makes our language a governmental priority for our First Nations governments, political leaders and our federal and provincial government by demanding programs, funding and support to our priorities.
  • Only I (only you), can stand up to those who act inappropriately by furthering negative stereotypes and trivializing our culture and it’s sacredness.
  • Only I (only you), can say something when you see an act of racism or someone who is treated disrespectfully.
  • Only I (only you), can contribute personally towards the goals of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The 8th Fire is coming. We all need to be ready for it whether it’s this generation or the next. We have to learn today what it takes to be better tomorrow.

Never give up. Never succumb to statistics and social media pessimism (even if it is mine).

Our Momma has Dementia. But she’s still our Momma.

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“I don’t know that guy over there,” she says with a curious smile.

The tiny, seemingly good-natured Elder motions to another Elder seated at the end of the lunch table.

We remind her of who he is – as some family members shift in their chairs. My aunties, also seated around the table, politely do their best to keep the rest of the conversation going. They’ve all seen it before.

“That’s Larry, Mom. He’s your brother,” my sister Phyllis says. She offers a brief nod of acknowledgement. Less than a minute later, the scene repeats itself.

“I don’t know that guy over there,” she points even louder.

She’ll repeat herself nearly a dozen times that afternoon.


Some time later, our mom is visibly agitated as we take her back to her room. Fortunately, she was pleasant for much of the lunch organized by Phyllis. But clearly she’s tired and out of her comfort zone.

Her routine has been changed.

She’s quite abrupt to her daughter who she sees as a figure of authority. She murmurs abrupt commands along the way.

“Turn on my TV,” she says, slightly under her breath.

We take her to back to her room and comply. But TVO is only showing cartoons. Really, it doesn’t matter what’s on because she doesn’t watch television.  It’s all background noise for her comfort.

We tell her we have to go now, which seems to set her off even further.

“Where am I going to sit? Where are you taking me?”

As usual, she like to walk us out to the central hallway where she sits with her fellow residents at Cassellholme Home for the Aged.

We sit her down in an empty chair nearby her friends. She doesn’t know their names. But she doesn’t know our names, for that matter.

“Okay, Mom. We’ll see you again soon.”

“Turn on my TV, I said,” she says gruffly, no longer under her breath.

“We left your TV on, Mom. You’ll see when you go back to your room,” says Phyllis. She hugs Momma as we head for the elevator.

“TO HELL WITH YOU,” is her departing job.

We smile, reflective, that her sisters and her brother aren’t here to see this part of their brown-bag luncheon.


I’m not writing this to embarrass my family, or hurt my Momma’s dignity. I’m writing to open up a dialogue about the realities of dementia.

Dementia is a brain disorder that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.  Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia.

My mom, Dwyla, began experiencing symptoms of dementia about ten years ago while she was still living at home. It began with gradual, but noticeable memory loss. She adopted a number of complex rituals, involving the layering of tissue paper, organizing and obsessing with garbage and washing single items of laundry several times a day. She began talking to herself. Soon after, complicated further by several transient ischemic attacks (TIAs or “mini-stroke”), she was unable to care for herself including going to the toilet or taking a shower. She wasn’t able to make herself a ham sandwich or open a can of soup.

One terrifying incident involved her rituals around garbage. She got it in her head one day to take her bag of trash and throw it in the bush behind the house. She somehow made her way further and further back into the bush.  Yes, she’s an Anishinaabe woman. But she’s certainly not the trail-seeking, hunting, trapping and scouting type Indian. She wandered around for some time in the bush, alone and scared.  Luckily, she followed those voices out of the bush, only a few hundred feet down the Garden Village Road.

Most of her brothers and sisters and many of our cousins certainly were not aware that this was all going on. We kept it a private matter for so long, respecting her privacy and attempting to preserve her dignity. Many in our extended family probably wondered why she was in an old-age home. Some may have even second guessed our decision to place her there. After all, she was always the woman who took care of others. Why couldn’t we take care of her ourselves? My brother Dennis Jr., with the support of Phyllis and a host of personal care nurses did so for a few years. But the sad reality is that it was just not possible. Our Momma needed professional care.

I hope that this blog might raise some awareness about dementia and how it impacts our Elders, their families and Loved ones. Dementia not only inflicts Elders, but young Elders too. If you start to see these types of symptoms and behaviours, seek diagnosis, medical treatment and advice from health care professionals.

In our case, there was not much that doctors can do. Still, we are eternally grateful for the 24-hour care she gets at Cassellholme. We’re thankful to the many personal support workers, nurses and doctors who make life comfortable for Momma. They all call her by her name, offer her a smile, kindness and good care.

We’re also happy to see that Momma is quietly entertained by her many nameless friends who look out for her. She also genuinely enjoys her twice-a-week manicures.

Not everyday is filled with hostility or disruptive behaviours. She may not know our names, but she still lights-up when she sees us arrive for our regular visits.  Somehow she know who we are.  Those days are filled with her polite smile and genuine pride when she introduces us around the facility.

“This is my Boy,” Momma says to each and every staff member, resident and passer-byer.

An Invitation to our Pow-Wow family. Brampton’s first ever Indigenous Festival & Pow-Wow

More and more urban communities across Turtle Island are hosting traditional gatherings.  In the Greater Toronto Area, we’ve seen one-day gatherings spring up in Orangeville, Aurora and Pickering on top of the successful pow-wows put on by the Native Canadian Centre, Native Men’s Residence and Native Child & Family Services.

Now it’s Brampton’s turn.

The Oneida Circle is hosting the first annual Akweni Ki Indigenous Festival, on Saturday, September 24.  The festival includes their first ever traditional pow-wow and an evening gala featuring Anishinaabe recording artist Crystal Shawanda and Oji-Cree Miss Universe contestant Melinda Henderson.

This gathering is gaining a lot of momentum and excitement.  It is turning out to be the fall pow-wow that you just can’t miss.  I personally would like to invite all my pow-wow family…  all singers, dancers, hummers and limpers to add this to your calendar and plan on attending.

1st Annual Akweni Ki Traditional Pow-Wow

Saturday, September 24, 2016
Brampton Fairgrounds, 12942 Heart Lake Road, Caledon, ON

MC:  Bob Goulais
Arena Director:  Earl Oegema
Host Drum:  Black Bull Moose
Grand Entry:  Saturday, September 24 at 12 noon. 

AkweniKi_poster

 

Love, Respect, Kindness are integral to eradicating Racism

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“We are all brothers and sisters in Creation.” – Bob Goulais

 

Opening Remarks to the first Public Meeting of the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate held in Toronto, Ontario on July 15, 2016.

I want to offer some words to start off this important gathering in a good way.

As indigenous people we look to the guidance from the Spirit World and from our great and kind Creator, G’zhemnidoo, to provide us with direction in times of difficulty.

When our lives are burdened and our spirits are hurt through our collective and respective experiences with racism.

That numbing and gnawing grief we feel when we see our brothers and sisters torn down as a result of that racism.

And this is a particularly difficult time for many of our brothers and sisters facing such adversity and who are working hard to get across the message that Black lives matter.

We need to support and reinforce the message of those who are experiencing the worst that racism, discrimination, hate and intolerance brings.  We need to support our brothers and sisters and stand by them during their time of need.

We also have to look to the teachings of humanity – those original instructions and sacred law that were given to us all at the time of Creation.

Our eldest ancestors were put on Mother Earth together, at the same time, and in a very real way as brothers and sisters. We can all trace our ancestors back to our Creation Story – back to our respective creation stories.

The very first thing that we’re told when we learn our Creation Story is that “all creation stories are true“. That meaning, we must respect and believe in each other’s creation mythology and origin stories. To Love and appreciate one another’s culture, history and Spiritual ways of life.

For the Anishinaabe, when humankind was first put on the Earth, we were lowered down in a gentle, kind way from the Spirit Realm. Our feet touched the Earth for the first time in a physical way.

We’re told that there were four original brothers, the Yellow, Red, Black and White. At that time, we were all given original instructions and sacred law from the Creator.

We were given two very important gifts that were not given to any other living being on the face of the Earth. Those gifts where the gift of intelligence – to be able to think and reason; and the gift of freewill, to make choices based on what is needed for ourselves and those around us.

Sometime later, in a time of great need, the Anishinaabe people were given seven sacred teachings to show us how we are to interact and relate to one another, and the world around us. These Seven Grandfather Teachings don’t solely belong to Anishinaabeg people. These teachings were given to all of humanity, for us as Anishinaabe to share, teach and reinforce to all God’s creatures.

Those seven teachings are the teachings of Love – to know Love is to know peace. Respect – to honour all of Creation is to know respect. Humility – to know that we are just a small part of Creation.

The teachings of Bravery, Honesty, Truth and Wisdom were given to us to to reinforce our instructions to be the best people we can be. To live a good life – a philosophy we call Mno Bimaadiziwin.

To live a life of hate, to live a life of hurt, to treat each other without that Love and Respect is painful to us all. It’s contradictory to our original instructions. It’s contradictory to Sacred Law.

How do we begin eradicate racism, discrimination, hate and intolerance?

It takes a lot for us to get out of our heads. We tend to want to overthink things, to analyze the issues and risk factors and come up with a good public policy response.

But when it comes to emotional and the spiritual, we have to get out of out heads and into our hearts.

We need to bring back ourselves to those original teachings that we are all brothers and sisters in Creation.

We are expected to Love, Respect and Honour each other. We need to offer each other kindness and gentleness.

That’s what I’m going to ask for during this prayer. That’s why I smudged this room with our sacred medicines prior to our meeting this evening. I asked the Spirit to provide us with a place where we can have a progressive, sensible and respectful dialogue. Where we need not succumb to anger or frustration.

Every one of us in this room, are advocates for change and believe in this a world without racism, discrimination, hate and intolerance.

We, in this room, are all going to be part of the solution.

And I’m a firm believer that Canada, and the vast majority of people that make up this beautiful multicultural mosaic, truly embody the Seven Grandfather teachings.


 

With much credit and Love to our teacher, Bawdwaywidun Binaise. Gchi-miigwetch, gchi-gimaa ni ge’kinoomaaged.

Premier Wynne issues apology over residential schools

A recording of the historic apology this morning in the Ontario Legislature.

Please Mr. Trudeau, I want some more

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Let me get this straight!?!

The Trudeau government commits $8.4 billion in the federal budget towards indigenous communities, infrastructure and social programs.

They’ve restored the full Kelowna Accord fiscal commitment of $5 billion plus over $3 billion dollars more!!  The Kelowna Accord was brokered by First Nations leadership themselves.

That’s somewhere north of 21 times of any commitment made by the previous Harper government.

Is Kelowna your benchmark?  Or is Stephen Harper your benchmark?  Take your pick.

Even if you factor in the criticism that much of these commitments will be pushed out beyond the next election, that’s still way more funding ever allocated in the federal budget in the history of Canada.

Yet, for some of our leaders, it’s still not enough.  Some have even criticized Justin Trudeau over it.

Dependant anyone???

Surely, there must be some way that First Nations leaders can work with this puny morsel of funding?  Maybe we can’t all give Prime Minister Trudeau a headdress, but maybe, just maybe, he earned one this week.

How about a pat on the back? A handshake of thanks?  Any semblance of appreciation for going above and beyond any other Prime Minister has ever gone towards helping and working with our communities?

No way.  That’s not our style.

“Please, Sir.  I want some more.”

Why The Revenant is not so endearing to Indigenous people

Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio and Grace Dove in The Revenant.

I’m sorry, readers and movie goers. I really don’t like to rain on anyone’s parade. But The Revenant is just not very endearing to indigenous peoples.

Like many indigenous people, I was so excited to go see The Revenant. Recently, my wife and I had a chance to spend some time with Duane Howard, the hard working Nuu-chah-nulth actor and stuntman who stars in the Oscar-winning film. He spoke about his experiences acting in the movie, and his interactions with mega-star Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio befriended a few First Nations people during it’s filming.

DiCaprio’s shout-out during the Golden Globes was heart-felt and honourable. He said: “I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognized your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”

Finally, we found ourselves an outspoken hero in Hollywood! Someone who can replace the voice and noble action of the Late Marlon Brando, another superstar who was a friend to First Nations people.

The Revenant stars a whole bunch of indigenous actors, including Melaw Nakehk’o, Grace Dove, Isaiah Tootoosis and Forrest Goodluck.  In a year where the Academy Awards was being criticized for it’s lack of inclusion, an indigenous cast like this one was to my liking.

Not to mention, Leo is one of my favourite actors, playing the lead in my favourite movie of all time, Titanic. Needless to say, I had a lot of great expectations and was so excited to see this movie.

The Revenant is beautifully shot. It had incredible acting. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Best Actor Oscar was well earned. As was Tom Hardy’s Oscar nomination. It is a gripping, yet dark story.

But did The Revenant showcase indigenous people and accurately portray our culture? Did it make me proud to be Anishinaabe? I’m afraid not.

The first thing it did was showcase the stereotypical period violence doled out by indigenous people. It showed how eager our people were to wage war against non-native interlopers. There were plenty of arrows, brutal beatings and even some scalping. All in the first ten minutes of the film.

Leo’s character, Hugh Glass, is portrayed as a tortured and weathered guide who brings along his half-Pawnee son on the doomed fur trade adventure. The son, played by Forrest Goodluck, had the best potential for a good role in the film. That is until he is killed in the first third of the movie. But not before Leo’s character slaps the boy around making sure he knows where his place is among the filth around him.

Hugh and his son do speak Pawnee in the film. But not enough for the audience to embrace and appreciate any actual indigenous culture.

I was anxiously awaiting to see the part of Elk Dog, portrayed by Duane Howard. Surely, he would redeem the slow start of this indigenous anthology I was expecting.

Elk Dog is the leader of the band of warriors. Occasionally, he rides up on horseback overseeing the plundering and violence. But I can’t recall if he had any worthwhile dialogue. Apparently, the motivation for his vengeance is the kidnapping of his daughter by another group of fur traders. Alas, these Indians are on the warpath, just like other Indians in many a historical western. There is nothing really for First Nations people to latch onto or be proud of from Elk Dog and his men.

Ironically, my second favourite movie of all time is Dances With Wolves. Costner’s story is also guilty of furthering violent stereotypes. Sure, it’s ripe with the noble, white saviour theme. But it also shows, quite eloquently, the beauty and compassion of Lakota family and culture.

Such is not the case with The Revenant. In fact, there is nothing appreciably redeeming about the motivation of these characters nor their story. This movie is about vengeance and violence, plain and simple.

Between The Revenant, and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, there are 5 hours and 43 minutes of spilling blood and guts. But at least Quentin chose not to portray the spilling of any First Nations blood in his movie.

How to keep your Poppy from falling off (& Beaded Poppy Advice)

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Offering my support to Drake Morin

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My son Griffin Assance-Goulais and his Bulldogs teammate Drake Morin.

From: Bob Goulais <info@bobgoulais.com>
Date: Monday, October 5, 2015 at 5:19 PM
To: OFSAA Executive Council
Cc: OFSAA Football Advisor; OFSAA Transfer Advisor

Subject: Appeal of Mr. Drake Morin, North Bay, ON

Dear OFSAA Executive Council:

I am writing to express my support to Drake Morin, a Grade 11 student of St. Joseph-Scollard Hall in North Bay, Ontario.  He and his family are appealing a ruling that makes him ineligible to play senior football in the Nipissing District Association (NDA) this school year.

Having been raised in a small First Nation community in northern Ontario, I know and appreciate the challenges faced by students in the north and in rural areas.  There isn’t always the same opportunities and programs afforded students in more prosperous areas of Ontario.  Our students are faced with difficult choices and sacrifices.  Sadly, this often limits their potential.

In this case, Drake has made a choice to change schools that meets his academic need while also allowing him to pursue opportunities in school sports, to become a better football player and student athlete.  His former school, Chippewa Secondary School, did not offer a comparable academic program nor did it have a senior football program.

This rule, that prevents students from playing following a school transfer, may be appropriate in larger centres where nearly every school has diverse academic and athletic programs.  Such transfers may very well create issues of competitiveness.  But in northern and rural Ontario, such a rule is unfair and punitive given that there are really few, if any, alternative choices for a student to pursue their goals academically and athletically.

Further, this issue has created a growing movement across our region, as parents and the general public are showing enthusiastic support for such a dedicated student athlete.  Drake Morin is an knowledgable volunteer coach and mentor to many in our local youth football program.  Over the years, my sons Griffin and Miigwans have learned much from their camaraderie as teammates with Drake.  In my estimation, Drake exemplifies the kind of student athlete that OFSAA was established to develop and support.

I offer my support and encourage OFSAA executive council members to allow the appeal for Drake to play senior football this season.  Further, I recommend that this rule be evaluated to take into account circumstances such as these that may unfairly exclude students from First Nations, rural and northern Ontario.

Sincerely,

Bob Goulais
170 Gerald Crescent
Nipissing First Nation
Garden Village, Ontario P2B3J8

Cell: (416) 770-8567
E-mail: info@bobgoulais.com