Posts tagged ‘Anishinaabe teachings’

Toronto’s Jewish Community supports the homeless


Kathleen Wynne attends the community sader organized by Ve’ahavta. Photo by Bernie Farber

Please help Aboriginal Homeless.  Find out how.


In my efforts to support the Aboriginal homeless, I was delighted to see the caring, kindness and Spirit of giving shown to me by our friends and allies in the local Jewish community to help our people.

We had an amazing time last night at the Starry Nights gala in Toronto. Deborah and I were so thankful to be invited by our friend Hanita Teifenbach who works for an inspiring organization called Ve’ahavta.

Ve’ahavta is a Canadian Jewish humanitarian and relief organization founded by the indomitable Avrum Rosenweig. Our friend Bernie Farber is the Chair and among the most outspoken supporters.  The organization and their initiatives are guided by Torah’s commandment of Ve’ahavta L’reacha Kamocha – to “love your neighbour as you love yourself”. Moreover, it is guided by two fundamental values tzedakah (justice) and tikun olam (repairing the world).

Tikun olam was a recurring theme throughout the evening and it is indeed a spiritual virtue, something that we Anishinaabe can really relate to. To dedicate a piece of your work, your volunteerism, and your generosity toward repairing the world – by supporting disadvantaged and marginalized people – while advocating for social justice is absolutely awe-inspiring.

During the evening, we had a chance to chat with Dr. Michael Dan. We chatted about his visionary health research initiative with the University of Toronto for a while and got onto the topic of First Nation’s own concept of good health. We talked about the Anishinaabe philosophy of Mno Bimaadiziwin, to live a good life. That teaching is not only about ourselves and good healthy living, but it is about our relationships and contributions to the world around us. Living a good life is about being a good person and supporting our family, our community, our Nation and all those around us. That’s also what Ve’ahavta is all about.

Two inspiring speakers spoke about their experience with the Ve’ahavta Street Academy, an eight-week course that provides support and skills development for individuals wanting to rise from the streets, and consider post-secondary education. A video acknowledged the work of the Ve’ahavta Mobile Jewish Response to the homeless, whose outreach vans provide food, supplies and necessities for those homeless living on the streets. Incidentally, the Ve’ahavta mobile response was started in partnership with Native Men’s Residence in 1996.

It is absolutely a pleasure to support and give to this incredible organization. Their work with the homeless, including the Aboriginal Homeless shows the kindness of their founder Avrum, their staff, volunteers and the generosity of the Toronto Jewish community.

Nimoosh, the Spirit of our eldest Companion

pennyNimoosh (dog), the cousin of mayiingan (wolf), is our closest companion of the four-legged.  At the time of Creation, Anishinaabe and mayiingan walked Mother Earth together, learning new things, supporting each other, and experiencing life as companions and individuals. Some dogs had very bad situations when they grew up due this they are carrying psychological traumas, you can notice this when they bark all night. It happened to my dog, we were able to solved it reading an article where it teach you how to get a dog to stop barking at night.

Gzhemnidoo, in his wisdom, separated the paths of Anishinaabe and mayiingan by encouraging them to develop their own relationships and to follow the original instructions provided by the Creator to each species.


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Much later in our history, with great kindness, Gzhemnidoo gifted us with the domesticated nimoosh.  Nimoosh carries that same unconditional loyalty, Love and kindness that was first shown Anishinaabe by mayiingan.  We continue to walk our own paths, different but parallel, but we share much with each other.  They share our joy, elation, pain and stress.

Nimoosh will never leave your side.  Nimoosh seeks nothing other than the attention and Love, reciprocated by their masters, their chosen companion.  They flourish with your caress of their fur and return that affection with a gentle nuzzle and wet, whiskered licks.  You can be gone for a few minutes and they’ll greet you at the door like they haven’t seen you in years. They have long memories and will never, ever forget you.

Despite being different species, they are considered our brothers and our sisters and an important part our families.  Best of all, the Creator said that Anishinaabe and Nimoosh will never be separated again.  Even in the Spirit World, they will continue to walk that parallel path and we will see them again when they greet us when we reach the Western Door.

  • In Loving memory of Penny, the beautiful and long-time companion of the Richardson-Fontaine-Metallic-Janvier family.
  • In Loving memory of Sadie, the frisky and loyal companion of my brother Dennis Jr.
  • In Loving memory of Dixie, the red-haired best friend of Shawn and the Anderson family.

Inherent Kindness Benefits Fire Evacuees

We as Anishinaabe people know exactly how kind we can be.  Whether it’s individual kindness or our collective goodwill, kindness is one of those qualities that are inherent in all of us.

This may not be apparent on a day-to-day basis.  Some might have to dig a little further down than others to show that kindness.  But when emergency situations arise, especially those involving our people, inherent kindness is so flippin apparent, ‘init?

Case in point, the past two weeks and the forest fire situation in northwestern Ontario.  Over 2000 of our fellow Anishinaabeg have been evacuated to communities further south, including Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay, Timmins, Ottawa, Mississauga, Smith’s Falls and Belleville.

Those of us who pray have been in active emergency tobacco mode since the first evacuation from Deer Lake over two weeks ago.  But once evacuations were announced, and we found out evacuees were coming to our south-central Ontario hometowns, the social media chatter was almost deafening.

The Toronto Aboriginal community kicked into high gear with volunteers greeting Anishinaabeg evacuees at the airport.  Almost immediately, donations were being sent to Nishnawbe-Aski Nation.  Responses for volunteers in and around Rama was overwhelming whether or not evacuees actually made it there.  Either way, Rama First Nation was ready and willing to receive people in need.

Our First Nations leadership have also been responsive.  Communites almost a thousand kilometres away in southwestern Ontario were ready to take in children, families, Elders and even their pets.  They were motivated with nothing more than kindness.  The response has been overwhelming.

Even if only ten percent of the social media chatter was acted upon, those kind words, thoughtful prayer, legitimate concern and action are enough to make us all proud.

I feel that part of that inherent kindness is almost genetic.  When our Anishinaabe-kwewag see others in need their materal instincts kick-in.   For us ininwag, it’s that overwhelming urge to protect, give and serve.

Much of this stems from our original instructions given to us at the beginning of time by the Creator, G’zhemnidoo.  Although many of our families and communities have long forgotten about those teachings and the Creation Story, these strong urges, as well as our communal and clan-based nature are instinctivly rooted in thousands of years of history and way of life.

Although some community members are being repatriated home, there is still danger.  Our thoughts continue to be with the Anishinaabe people who are away from their homes while their homelands are ravaged by wildfire.  Our prayers and kindness will continue to be with you.

Day 24: Supporting the Mother Earth Water Walk

Josephine Mandamin in a scene from a documentary called Waterlife. John Minh Tran Photo

I’m feeling kind of helpless today as I see the various Facebook updates  from the Water Walkers.  They’ve been humbly calling for assistance as they make their way from the Pacific Ocean, ascending through the Rocky Mountains, en route to Anishinaabeg territory in the Great Lakes.

The least I can do is send them some much needed money and write them a blog post of support.

For those of you who don’t know, the Mother Earth Water Walk has begun a journey from each of the four directions, raising awareness of the state of water and the need to protect and speak up for the most precious natural resource on the planet.  Led by Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, the walk began its first and longest leg, from the Pacific Ocean, culminating in early June at Lake Superior.  The Mother Earth Water Walk began in 2003 with a 36-day walk around Lake Superior.  Since then, almost every spring, the water walkers have walked around each of the Great Lakes and down the entire length of the St. Lawrence River.

Unfortunately, the environment is not being seen as a priority issue in this election campaign.  But for Anishinaabe people, nothing can be more important.  People of all nations, backgrounds, and political stripes need to be aware of the state of the water and the environment.  We all need to make positive decisions with respect to the health of our environment and fresh water sources.  Unsustainable development and recklessness cannot continue without appropriate consideration of these factors.

Government needs to play a central role in holding industry and consumers accountable.  Officials ought to work with First Nations and factor in our tremendous traditional knowledge when making decisions that affect water.

The Liberal Party of Canada has committed to an innovative Canadian Freshwater Strategy that will do just that.  It will be the first national strategy on water in the past 20 years.  The goal of the strategy is to preserve Canada’s freshwater for the generations to come.

That’s why Josephine and these women are doing this walk.  With the support of men, Anishinaabe-kwe have committed to walking across Turtle Island (North America), carrying a copper pail full of water.  The water from each leg of the walk, the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Hudson’s Bay and Gulf of Mexico will be intermingled together with the Great Lakes water when they reach their final destination.

In our culture, the water is considered our life-blood.  It not only flows through our bodies and provides us nourishment, it is said to flow directly from the Spirit World in a beautiful river that flows forever.  As Anishinaabe people, we should do everything we can to honour this deep spiritual connection.

We may not be able to join our Grandmother Josephine and the other Midewiwin women on the walk.  But we can be a part of the broader message, send our prayers, donations and support as they climb through the difficult mountain passes in Washington state.


E-mail Money Transfers (Can & U.S.):

Cheques may be made out to:  Mother Earth Water Walk and mailed to:

Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig
Attn: Joanne Robertson, WW Coordinator
1550 Queen Street E
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
P6A 2G3

Direct Deposit:  Northern Credit Union
Acct#: 14492 828 0161405641


Waving at Pigeons

I saw a little girl waving at a pigeon today.

The toddler, in a bright red bonnet, holding her mommy’s hand, couldn’t have been more than two. Her mom, and everyone else for that matter, were oblivious to the cute little gesture that I felt fortunate to observe.  The brownish, red-marbled bird didn’t pay much attention either.

But for little Bonnie Bonnet, it was just one of a hundred little gestures and actions that mean something to her.  I’m sure she goes about her life without a care in the world.  When she does have a need, hopefully her mom and family are there to care for her… to tie her hat on, get her sippy cup or change her Huggies Pull-Ups when she isn’t quite able to make it to the loo.

She has air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat.  She has a beautiful, bountiful Earth all around her – evident from her visit with the curious looking city bird.  She has a life to be thankful for.

We all have the same things that little Bonnie has.  We have Loved ones who care for us.  We have air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat.  We all share in this beautiful Mother that sustains us.  Most of all, we have our own life to be thankful for.

We all know that life isn’t that simple.  Some don’t have food to eat or a roof over their heads.  Others are unable to earn a living or can’t find work.  Many live with illness and disabilities.  We have challenges in our relationships, sometimes with our spouses or our kids.

But despite our challenges, we all have life.  Everyone has something to be thankful for, no matter how big or how small.  Above all, we all can choose to have a positive outlook, live life to it’s fullest and be good, productive people.  Everyone can follow this path of life that’s called Mno-Bimaadiziwin.

Sometimes, we need to clear our schedule, set aside our money problems and the other challenges of our day-to-day lives.  Those things will always be there to deal with.  But sometimes we just need to take some time out of our daily lives and wave at the pigeons.

Restoring Anishinaabe Culture takes Faith

There was a time, in the relatively-near past, when Anishinaabe people knew exactly who they were.  This was unquestionable.

As early as the early-1900s, we had our language.  We had our systems of governance.  We had our own Spirituality.  We had our own way of life – from how we were born to how we died.

We had so much that was inherently Anishinaabe…

How we raised our children.
How we healed our illnesses.
What we learned and how we were taught.
How we earned our living.
What we harvested and what we ate.
How we lived our lives. How we Loved.  How we laughed.
How we treated our Elders.
How we sang, created art… how we entertained and socialized with one another…

The sum of all these things is culture.

“Native Culture” isn’t just a band office program.  It isn’t just our annual pow-wow.  It isn’t an evening language class or even the summer pow-wow trail.  It is the sum of all those things that make us uniquely Anishinaabe, including our traditional teachings, our way of life, how we talk to each other and how we pray to the Creator.  Culture is our collective identity and how we see ourselves.

And, it’s sad to say, much of it has been lost to history.

But the loss of culture was not our fault.  We have no reason to be ashamed.  There is good reason why we lost our way.

It is a well-documented fact that Christianity was forced upon the Anishinaabe and many other First Nations across North America.  Early missionaries, including that of the jesuit mission in Garden Village (later the Holy Spirit Mission) were established with the sole purpose of converting the heathen, soulless Indians into good Christians worthy of heaven.  Later, the establishment of residential schools, like those in Spanish, Chapleau and Sault Ste. Marie, tore apart our families and community with the forcible removement and systemic abuse of our children.  All in the name of assimilation, intolerance and the Lord Jesus Christ.

But this was done so subtly, so systematically, and so successfully, that our people have come to accept that they were Christian and that very little was done to our people as a whole.  I’ve heard some survivors say they were grateful for their education at residential school and thankful that their Christian faith guided them through those tough times away from their families.

As a result, we have a whole lot of mixed-up Christians singing pow-wow and hand-drum songs, dancing their hearts out, taking Native language classes and marching for Treaty Rights.

I’m not writing this to discourage those like-minded individuals, who are working to raise their families as Anishinaabe.  There are many people out there that have shed their colonial outer garments for an AIM t-shirt.  They know the challenges of living a life in search of something more.  Trying our hardest to give our children what was kept from us.

We try our hardest, but we don’t think Anishinaabe anymore.  In reality, very few Anishinaabe people can actually speak Anishinaabemowin.  Those that speak Anishinaabemowin, can think in their language…  but mainly about Jesus and their shame of being Indian.  Original Sin is something far more profound when you have dark skin.

We need to turn the corner on re-establishing our nationhood and re-defining our inherent, indigenous culture as Anishinaabe people.

I have said many times, we need to gradually assimilate into our own culture.  This is something my friend Brian Loukes calls “acculturation”.

This begins through education. We must have the courage to transform our entire education system into a truly Anishinaabe institution.

We need to restore our language.  This can only be done through language immersion programs in Anishinaabemowin – the official language of our people.  Our children need to be able to think in Anishinaabemowin once again.  This doesn’t mean we turn our backs on English.  This is the 21st Century.  We do have to be proficient in both languages.

Nor do we need to sacrifice principles of good education to find our way back to Anishinaabe culture.  We still need to read and write, learn mathematics, science, geography, biology and chemistry.  We can all do this in Anishinaabemowin and being mindful of our own world view.  We do, however, need to be taught our own history, philosophy and way of life.  We need to be educated about our Treaty and inherent rights.  We need to be educated in the traditional ways of protecting the environment.

Most importantly, we need to have Faith.  We need to have Faith that we, the Anishinaabeg, are as important as any other nation on this Earth.  We must have Faith that our language and culture is just as valuable as any other.  We have Faith in our abilities to govern ourselves and teach ourselves.

We have to give up our reliance on others, including the government.  We can indeed be self-sufficient and prosperous, economically, socially and culturally.

But Faith is one of the problems.  With the dominance and influence of Christianity in our communities, we won’t be addressing Faith anytime soon.

You see, the Anishinaabe people have our own Faith and spiritual way of life.  For all intents and purposes, we have our own religion.  Our entire society, including our language and culture, are deeply rooted in Spirituality.  These are the original teachings and way of life of our ancestors, Gte Anishinaabeg.  We have a society expressly dedicated to living and protecting this way of life called the Midewiwin.  This beautiful society keeps many of the most profound teachings of the Anishinaabe, including our Creation Story, the philosophy of Mno-Bimaadiziwin and the Seven Grandfather Teachings.  These teachings are only the tip of a very immense iceburg that is the full expanse of Anishinaabe belief, custom, Spirituality and culture.  Much of it remains totally unknown to 99 per cent of Anishinaabe people.

Many Christians, Anishinaabe or not, are not willing to trust in their own inherent belief systems.  The teachings of the Church are so ingrained in our society, so well instituted in our families and communities – it may never be shed in favour of traditional Anishinaabe spirituality.

Assimilation and Christianity has been so subtle, so systematic, and so successful that we no longer see that there is anything wrong.  We can go about our lives, sending our kids to school.  We do our best to learn about “Native Culture”, taking Ojibwe language classes and drumming and dancing on the weekend.  Come Sunday, after confession, we can settle down to our nice family dinner with the confidence that we will go to heaven.  Confident that St. Peter, will meet us at the Pearly Gates and welcome us with open arms.

I wonder what pow-wow weekend is like in Heaven and if Jesus is the Emcee?

Everyday should be Earth Day for Anishinaabe

According to Anishinaabe teachings, at the time of Creation, human-kind was given a number of sacred and indispensable gifts from the Creator.

We were all given the sacred gift of life providing us the opportunity to live life to the fullest in a good way – mno-bimaadziwin.  We were all given the sacred gift of water – our lifeblood – which nurtures us even before we are born.  Our teachings tell us this beautiful, clean water is forever flowing to us directly from the Spirit World.

One of the most sacred gifts that was given to human-kind – intellect – was given for a specific purpose: so we can be environmentalists.

Let me explain.

God created heaven and earth in seven days.  This is a Christian metaphor for millions and millions of years of evolution.  Our teachings tell us that Creation is ongoing and will never complete.  The Creator who we call G’zhemnidoo, will always be a creator.  At one point, the Creator felt the need to create human-kind and place us on the physical Earth.  To which there was a specific purpose and a specific instruction:  To look after Earth and all her bounty.  To speak for what needed speaking.  To be stewards and caretakers of Mother Earth.  This formed part of a sacred covenant between G’zhemnidoo and human-kind.

Sixty-five million years later, through many stages of mammalian and primate evolution – the hominid species emerged.

However, something made us different than other animals.  We were able to adapt and survive with more than just basic instinct.  We were able to work collectively.  We were able to make and use tools.  We were able to develop complex language and communication.  This sacred gift of intellect was the means in which human-kind was to abide those sacred instructions to be stewards of Mother Earth.

From the time when were able to dance around a fire, or keep warm by wrapping ourselves in animal skins – it didn’t take much longer to become the most dominant species on the planet.

However, that same gift of intellect ultimately made us the greatest enemy of Mother Earth.

It began by using our abilities to wage war with one another.  To hunt animals to extinction.  To burn, cut down and develop entire forests.  To live collectively in cities and eliminating our waste on the land and into the water.  It has only be in the past two hundred years – which started by burning coal to create steam – that we’ve hurt our Mother in the most grievous way with little to no accountability and thought to long-term consequences.

We’ve celebrated the gift of intellect with progress, innovation and industrialization leading to unsustainability, pollution and climate change.

As citizens of the Earth, we need to return to our original instructions.  We don’t need to turn in our car, go back to living in a wigwaam, dance around a fire or keep warm by wrapping ourselves in animal skins.

However, we do need to celebrate the gift of intellect with progress, innovation and industrialization of our sacred duty to be stewards of the Earth.

We must take our great minds – within our Nation and around the world – and use our intellect to achieve progress towards environmental sustainability.  To find more innovative ways of protecting our Earth.  To industrialize the protection of Mother Earth through corporate responsibility, significant reductions in carbon emissions and sensible and effective environmental legislation and regulations.

For the Anishinaabe, everyday should be Earth Day.  An important part of our original instructions were to speak for what needed speaking.  We need to be role models for the rest of society by taking our environmental responsibilities and sacred duty seriously.

We also need to take personal responsibility.  Environmental activism begins with ourselves and in our homes.

Take water for example.  Anishinaabe women teach us that protecting the water begins with protecting ourselves.  Nourish your body with plenty of water beginning with that first drink to break your fast in the morning.  Stop filling our bodies with chemicals and processed foods and nourish ourselves with organic and sustainably-harvested foods.  Return to eating traditional foods that are harvested in a responsible way.

I don’t want to preach, but there are plenty of things that we call all do.  Reduce, reuse and recycle.  If your rez doesn’t have a recycling program – demand one.  Develop your own recycling regimen.  Buy products with less packaging.  Reuse various household materials.  Use less energy.  Walk to the corner store instead of taking the truck.

To make a difference, all that is required is some personal motivation, some common sense and a little intellect.