There is one thing that is on my mind on this National Aboriginal Day. Particle physics.
Maybe I’ll back up a little.
One of my favourite movies of all time is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In addition to his exploits with Windex, I fondly recall how Kostas “Gus” Portokalos can take a word, any word, and show you that the root of that word is Greek.
Well, today is your lucky day. Just as most things can be explained through indigenous traditional knowledge, I will explain how particle physics relates to me as Anishinaabe and how scientific theory can be explained through indigenous traditional knowledge.
Now… I’m not going to go into depth. I’m sure a future Midewiwin University will graduate their first graduate in physics. Only then will these details be elaborated on.
But my thesis statement for this National Aboriginal Day is simple: the Anishinaabe are incredibly sophisticated people, with a beautiful culture, a wealth of knowledge and have contributed to world society in so many ways.
Anishinaabe people understood many concepts of science. Certainly, our understanding of cosmology and astronomy was well documented. How else would modern science know that today is the summer solstice?
Let’s start with medical science. Anishinaabe people had a full understanding of medicine and the human body. Our oldest teachings of mno-bimaadiziwin (the good life) tell us how we must all live with a mindful balance of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. Sound familiar? This is something that we hear about now more than ever before.
When any one of more of these break down – there are sophisticated healing methods to restore that balance. Physical health, for example, requires a rigorous assessment and understanding of the patient’s condition and background before any combination of medicines can be administered. Not only holistic or homeopathic medicines – but bona fide natural and skilfully prepared pharmaceuticals administered by professional medicine people.
We understand our place in the world and that we are only a small, insignificant part of the greater universe. Through our unique gift of intellect, we took on the role as stewards of Mother Earth. Possible our greatest contributions of indigenous traditional knowledge is through ecology and environmental science.
Our Creation Story tells us that the universe was indeed created with a big bang. This isn’t described to us as a violent event, rather the first thought of our Creator. This thought moves out in every direction, continually expanding outward on an infinite scale.
When it comes to physics – Anishinaabe people certainly understood the concepts. However, this is based on our traditional teachings, worldview and understanding which is quite different from many others.
We indeed had a number of basic understandings of particle physics. We understood there are many sub-elements to even to the basic physical elements: fire, water, air, earth and stone. These sub-elements can not be seen or described.
Our teachings tell us that some of these sub-elements originate in space – the place between the Sky World and the Spirit World. Earth, for example, is made up of up to nine different gifts provided to us from the older brothers of our Mother Earth. At night, a learned Midewiwin teacher can point out the origins of the Earth from those celestial bodies through their path across the sky orbiting our grandfather Giizis – the Sun.
From a more elemental perspective, our intellectuals understood the concept of infinite smallness and infinite bigness. The bonds of mass and energy, whether they are infinitely small or infinitely big, are constantly in motion. This scientific principle, which includes the basic principles of particle physics, is explained through Spiritual Force.
The most fundamental teaching to Anishinaabe is that everything that is living, or is animate, has a Spirit. Even those things that may not be seen as animate (a rock or sand, for example) has a Spirit. All Spiritual entities are connected in an unseen realm, the Spirit World. This exists unseen by those of us who inhabit the physical realm, a concept better explained by Stephen Hawking’s theory of space and time.
At the sub-particle level of any given element is Spiritual Force. A living force, an energy pattern, an electrically-charged movement of matter.
I’m not talking “The Force” here and I’m by no means a Jedi. But perhaps George Lucas had something right.
Unfortunately, science cannot easily explain the Spiritual Force. In fact, modern western science cannot explain “Spirit” whatsoever. And questions remain: What charges various sub-atomic particles? What causes a fertilized reproductive cell to begin dividing? For the Anishinaabe, the answer to these has always been known: Spirit.
First Nations continue to be an untapped source of knowledge. Anishinaabe people have a wealth of indigenous traditional knowledge that can explain much of the unknown – including some of the unexplained mysteries of science and of life itself.
On National Aboriginal Day, we shouldn’t only celebrate the culture of First Nations people that we can see… we should also appreciate the knowledge of First Nations people that continue to remain unseen.