Posts tagged ‘Midewiwin Lodge’

My Life in Retrospect, 2009

Well, here it is – my life in retrospect, 2009.  Happy New Year!

THE LOVE OF MY LIFE – It’s been a wonderful year with my partner, the Duchess of Thornhill, Deborah. She’s taken me in and we’ve built a beautiful life together so far. Everyday, I truly feel I’m the luckiest man in the world. I’m thankful to the Creator everyday for her. Her daughters are really great little people. They get along great with Katherine Faith, obviously… and the Boyz as well. We’re having our first mega-family holiday get-together on Friday. Fifteen people in all.

MY CHILDREN – They’re growing up to be wonderful people. My Boyz are so kind and generous. My Griffin is such a good-deed do-er. My Miigwans is as smart as a whip. My daughter is equally an wonderful young woman, whose grades are good. She just Loves spending time with her friends. And they are all so good to their Dad. But it’s hard being away from my kids so much.

CHANGE IN CAREER DIRECTION – 2009 marked quite a change in career direction for me. After 10 years with the Union of Ontario Indians, I’ve moved from the front-line of First Nations politics to the machinery of government. It’s quite a different pace moving from a 24/7 job in the Grand Chief’s office to a singular responsibility within government. But the objective is still the same and I’m working just as hard for our people.

JOHN BEAUCAGE CAMPAIGN – In 2009, I had the career highlight of my life. I had the pleasure of managing John Beaucage’s campaign to become National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Unfortunately, the best man doesn’t always win. Despite running a campaign on the best platform and the best values – the Chiefs chose to elect Shawn Atleo to succeed the great Phil Fontaine. They’ll be looking for something else next time around, I’m sure. John is an amazing man, and a great leader. Who knows what the future will bring him. He will be running the Olympic torch tomorrow in Parry Sound.

LIFE IN THE LODGE – I’ve written this year-end journal over the years, but I rarely include any references to my true life – as a Midewiwin man. This year was the first time I’ve had my Boyz in the Lodge with me as Midewiwins. They are still very young and have lots of time to discover what it means to be Mide. The Three Fires School looks great with the new addition. Lots of new space. It’s also great to see the young people from Shingwauk attending ceremonies each time. They are a great group.

MY BLOG – This year, I had more of a chance to write. It is something that I really enjoy. I’ve been able to write about human rights, First Nations issues even the environment and the economy. I hope I’ll be able to write more and more.

NUMBERS – It seems people are reading my stuff on my website too.

• I had more visitors to my website than any other time in the past 14 years.
• Although I won’t reach 1 million visitors before December 31, I’m pretty darn close: 969,414.
• From 1997 to 2007, I had only 304,351 visitors;
• Web traffic numbers went up substantially when I started marketing my website.
• 93,445 page views in 2007.
• 262,844 page views in 2008.
• This year I’ve had 308,774 page views so far.
• That number will go up by a few thousand once I post this new blog entry.

NEWS STORY OF THE YEAR – To great fanfare, Barrack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States took office in 2009. He inspired many of us. But for the red-neck majority in the US, his message was met with skepticism, boycotts and measures of racism. In his first year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize and dealt with health care reform – head on. Now can he address middle-east peace and terrorism?

CLIMATE-GATE – The biggest non-news story of the year was “climate-gate”. The Copenhagan climate summit that wasn’t. No commitments by the major governments of the world. No carbon reduction targets. Absolutely, no leadership from Canada whatsoever. In fact, it should be an embarrassment for all Canada. Canada – the fossil of the year! Lots of good will in the agreement but nothing binding. I seriously doubt that the agreement that was signed in Denmark will lead to any drastic changes needed to address climate change.

FILM – I Love the movies. In 2009 I seen 48 movies in the theatre. Definitely, the most ever. The best film of the year was Avatar. Another James Cameron epic blockbuster. This year there were a lot of similarities between the film world and indigenous peoples. It began with District 9, a film about an oppressed alien race forced onto “reservations” in South Africa. On the surface, District 9 may seem to have more ties to apartheid than indigenous people. But what most people don’t know is that apartheid was based on the Canadian Indian reserve system. It is another of Canada’s great contributions to world history. The message is clear in Avatar – protect the environment and the world’s indigenous peoples. This movie had the best ending of the year. Sometimes I wish we can turn back the clock and reality, climb aboard our dragons and march the oppressors, at machine gun-point, onto space ships bound for another world.

MY HEALTH – Well I’m apparently in a holding pattern. Spent the first half of the year in the gym and just gave it up. I thought my diabetes was under control, until I had to miss Christmas dinner on a fast to reduce my sugar-induced diabetic episode. I must avoid sugar, especially home-made ice cream, as well as eat in regular intervals. I don’t believe in new years resolutions – but I’ve got to take control of my own health. No one will do it for me.

VACATION 2009 – Went to The Bahamas in May and snorkelled with sharks on the continental shelf. Spent the summer in Saskatchewan and Winnipeg with Deb’s family. Lots of good memories. In October, we spent a long weekend in New York City. Ate at Nobu and seen The Lion King.

LONGEST DRIVE – 1,286 kilometres between Toronto and Cedar, Wisconsin for Fall Ceremonies.

LONGEST DRIVE – Laurentide Golf Course, Hole 6, about 290 yards.

GOLF GAMES – 4. The most in five years. I hope I get to play a lot more in 2010. My game is really, really rusty.

FEWEST NIGHTS IN A HOTEL – In 2009, I spent fewer nights in a hotel than the previous 5 years. I averaged about 100 nights in a hotel in 2007 and 2008. I may not reach Delta Privilege Platinum this year. I miss the Delta Chelsea and their cherry jello with the canned peaches in them.

POW-WOW TIME – This year, because of the campaign, career and family obligations – I wasn’t able to enjoy time on the pow-wow trail. It’s difficult to balance so many things in life and pow-wow has had to fall by the wayside. I want to thank the Taabik Singers for allowing me to sing with them for the past few years. I hope to catch up with them as often as I can, and perhaps MC a few pow-wows from time to time.

I CHEERED IN 2009 – …for Barrack Obama. In 2008, I actually cheered for Hillary Clinton.

I JEERED IN 2009 – … over the goofy paranoia and sensational media coverage of the H1N1 Flu pandemic which was a little stronger than the usual seasonal flu virus.

I LAUGHED WHEN – … we all make fun of Nicole, who seems to move like Eeyore to the bus-stop in the morning.

I CRIED WHEN – … I lost my uncle Henry.

MEMORABLE MEAL – Definitely, the Chef’s Choice at Nobu in New York City. I also really liked the spiducci at Joe and Fiona’s house.

MEMORABLE MOMENT – The Longest Date: March 27-29, 2009. Beginning at Peter Pan’s on Queen West and A Haunting in Connecticut. The long walk from Queen, up Bathurst, across Bloor and down Yonge Street. Late night sweets at Just Desserts. In the morning, up to John Street and into Thornhill to the Duchess’ residence. Another movie (I Love you, Man) then back downtown again.

What do you mean you’re going to Ceremonies?

Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge Grand Chief Eddie Benton-Banai

“I’m going to ceremonies.”

If you work for an aboriginal organization or around First Nations people, chances are you may have heard the phrase.  You may even know a few people that take time off every few months in order to attend ceremonies.

But what does that mean:  “going to ceremonies?”

Here’s the answer from an ethnographic, socio-anthropological point-of-view.

But please understand that this article is a plain-language, nuts and bolts overview of a very rich and diverse way of life.  It certainly does not depict the intense spiritual and intellectual traditions of the Midewiwin way of life.

The Midewiwin is holistic in it’s being.  Meaning that birth, formal education, higher education, family life, marriage, parenting, value systems, vocations, governance and leadership, laws, the clan system, social structure, healing and medicine and even our social life… they all exist within Midewiwin Lodge.  Even more specialized societies and ceremonies, like the Sundance, Sweat Lodge, Ogitchidaa, big drum, shaking tent – they all exist within the Midewiwin.

Today, much of that has been assimilated by broader society.  Sadly, most communities have long forgotten about the Midewiwin society.

But for the Midewiwin people, our lives are dedicated to living this way of life and our central concept of mno-bimaadiziwin, or the Good Life.

In case you haven’t picked it up already, my family and I belong to a traditional society called the Midewiwin.  If you Google Midewiwin, a whole world of Ojibway sorcery opens up on your screen.  Grand Medicine Society, Secret Society, Shamanism, Mysticism…  These are just colourful, spooky words to describe our traditional spiritual way of life.

Midewiwin simply means “way of the heart” in the Ojibwe language.  Our society existed long before European contact and is one of the oldest spiritual movements in North America.

THREE FIRES MIDEWIWIN LODGE

There are only a small number of functioning Midewiwin Lodges across Anishinaabek territory, mainly centred in northwestern Ontario and Minnesota.  Our Lodge, called the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge is probably the largest Midewiwin community.  The Eastern Doorway of our Lodge is centred in Ontario and central Michigan; the Centre Fire is located in Wisconsin and Minnesota; and the Western Doorway is centred in southern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.

Historically, the Midewiwin consisted of the Algonkian people of the Great Lakes area:  the Anishinaabe.  Linguists thoughtfully sub-divided the Anishinaabek nation into the Ojibway, Odawa, Pottawotomi, Algonquin, Mississauga and Chippewa.  Today, many other nationalities have found their way to the Midewiwin including the Lene Lenapi, Ho-chunk, Haudenasaunee, Cree, Mik’maq, even a Mayan and a couple of Choctaws and Cherokees.  You can call us the United Nations of traditional societies.

Our gatherings take place each season usually on the Full Moon.  Spring Ceremonies take place in June, Summer Ceremonies take place in August, Fall Ceremonies take place in late-October or November, and Mid-winter ceremonies take place in February or March.

MIDE-WIIGAAN

The ceremonies themselves take place in a beautiful, spiritual place called the Midewiwin Lodge or Mide-wiigaan.  The Lodge is an elongated framed structure made of maple saplings tied together in a special configuration.  In school, you might have been taught that this is called a “wigwam”.  Our Lodge has been known to be as long as 140 feet to accommodate greater numbers.

There is special meaning to each part of the Lodge itself including it’s doorways and the four levels of supports that enclose the sides of the Lodge.  For example, the “path of life” is set of parallel poles that reach out from the earth forming the Eastern Doorway.  They run along the highest part of the roof, right across the length of the Lodge and back down into the earth at the Western Doorway.  The fireplace is at the centre and heart of the Lodge.

People sit along the edge of the Lodge, both inside and outside the Lodge.  There are special placements for drums, leadership, Elders, initiates and special guests.

Ceremonies usually last at least four days beginning with Fire Lighting Ceremony.  Fire Lighting is done by the men, who have the traditional responsibility to provide and look after the fire for the full four days.

Lately, to accommodate the needs of the Lodge – ceremonies have been known to start on the Wednesday and last five days.

THE MIDE SPIRIT & CEREMONIES

The most essential part of Midewiwin Society is our belief in the Creator, the Spirit World and in our special caretaker Spirit, called Mide-mnidoo.  The Midewiwin Spirit is called into the Lodge and is present throughout the duration of ceremonies.  The Spirit is embodied in the sacred Grandfather Water Drum, who presides over the Lodge.  The Grand Chief and the Doorway Chiefs of the Lodge sit at the Grandfather.  There are also several Little Boy water drums, who are the helpers of the Grandfather.

The term ceremonies is plural for a reason. There are many diverse ceremonies that take place in the Midewiwin Lodge.  Following fire-lighting, there is a daily sunrise ceremony that takes place.  This consists of a tobacco offering, sharing of the sacred pipes, a water offering conducted by the women and sharing some food, usually berries.

The tobacco offering takes place a number of times during the day.  During a series of songs, each man, woman and child offer tobacco in a bowl that goes around the Lodge.  The tobacco is gathered by tobacco dancers who fill pipes and offer them to the Spirit.  The Pipe is first smoked by the Elders on behalf of all those in session.  The tobacco is spoken for in prayer and brought around for everyone to smoke.  Most just touch the pipe stem to acknowledge the Spirit.

The Water Ceremony is a beautiful ceremony conducted by our women.  The Midewaanikwe hold the water up in copper vessels while a beautiful water song is rendered by the women.  The water is spoken for in prayer and a small amount is shared with everyone attending the session.  The water is no longer just nbi – it is then considered sacred medicine water, Mide-waaboo.

After the mid-morning tobacco offering and water ceremony, the mid-day feast takes place.  The feast is a ceremony into itself, consisting of a number of protocols, then sharing of a great traditional meal.

INITIATES

The afternoon session typically have a number of purposes.  Usually, during the early days of ceremonies, the afternoon is used for meetings. The Lodge leadership meetings or conducts workshops on occasion.  The Grandmothers council also gets a chance to meet.

During the time, the Road People begin assembling the Midewiwin initiates – those who have declared their intentions to join the society.  In recent years, between 45-60 people are initiated annually into the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge.

Preparing the initiates is an important job and requires time.  For example, the evening session on the first day is set aside for Sweat Lodge ceremonies for teachers and initiates.  Throughout Summer, Fall and Mid-winter Ceremonies, the initiates receive their four sacred teachings – which is solely for the Midewiwin people.  They also receive four songs to help them in preparation for the initiation that takes place over the course of two to three days during Spring Ceremonies.  A special initiation Lodge is built for that purpose.  It is the most beautiful time for Midewiwin people, to welcome new brothers and sisters into the Lodge.

There are many levels, or degrees of the Midewiwin.  In our Lodge, our leadership and teachers do their work as Fifth Degree and Fourth Degree Chiefs.  During the height of Midewiwin history, Midewiwin priests (as they were called in the history books) attained levels as high as Eighth Degree Midewiwin.  Each level of learning requires further intense commitment and level of understanding.

FELLOWSHIP

One of the most exciting part of ceremonies are the Ogitchidaa Dance, the Buffalo Dance and the Jingle Dress Healing Dance.  These are special ceremonies that usually take place in succession on the Saturday of ceremonies.  There is a lot of dancing, singing, feasting and fellowship.

The Ogitchidaa Dance is a lively session of singing and dancing led by our veterans in our Lodge and it’s a means to re-enlighten our pride and tradition of the Ogitchidaa Society.

The Buffalo Dance is done by those who are just developing into adolescence.  These brave Buffalo Dancers give a four year commitment to abstain from drugs and alcohol, boy-girl relationships and go through this time as a role models for other youth.

The Jingle Dress Healing Dance is a time of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing for the participants.  The Jingle Dress dancers do their work during this sombre, yet powerful ceremony.

THE ROLE OF LANGUAGE

The Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge has a unique history, in that it was envisioned the Midewiwin Society would need to bridge the gap between the old ways and the young people.  That involved the controversial decision to allow English to be used in the Lodge for those who could not understand.  Today, ceremonies are still only conducted in the Ojibway language, although individual interpreters assist those who are unable to understand the language.  Learning the Ojibway language is a crucial commitment to being a part of the Midewiwin Society, as the work of the Spirit can only be done in Ojibway.