Posts tagged ‘Culture’

The Eighth Fire

Wab Kinew host of CBC's 8th Fire.

The Anishinaabe were guided in history by stories and teachings known as the Seven Fire prophecies.  Long ago, certain individuals (prophets) had visions of the future which came in the form of chapters or “Fires”.

In these seven prophecies, which came long before the first arrival of European settlers, the Anishinaabe were told of the coming of the “light-skinned race”.  The prophecies also stated that the Anishinaabe ways would be lost.  One eerie line from the prophecy states: “The rivers shall run with poison and the fish would become unfit to eat.”  The prophecies speak about a great migration of the Anishinaabe, how their original spiritual way, the Midewiwin, would be depleted, and how they would find their homeland in the Great Lakes region.  It also speaks about the struggles the First Nations would have stating: “The cup of life will almost become the cup of grief.”

In the last prophecy, the Seventh Fire, the story speaks of the renewal of the Anishinaabe people.  Many contend that the current generation are the people of the Seventh Fire.  It speaks of a great peace and reconciliation between the First Nations and the settlers.  It speaks directly of a re-kindling of old flames.  If these good choices are made, this will light the Eighth and final Fire, an eternal fire of peace, love brotherhood and sisterhood.

Beginning tomorrow at 9 p.m. on CBC, Manitoba Anishinaabe Wab Kinew will present a four-part mini-series entitled “8th Fire”. The documentary will examine the ongoing relationship, current issues, stereotypes and Aboriginal history.  As a First Nations rapper and filmmaker, he will be sure to present these subjects in an interesting and humorous way.  As the Anishnaabe prophecy goes, this Seventh Generation now has the opportunity to reconcile with the “settler” community and together build the “8th Fire” of peace, justice and harmony.

8th FIRE
A Four Part Mini-series
Beginning this Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 9 p.m.
on CBC

The Four Roots

It occurs to me that very few people have a true frame of reference of what it means to be Anishinaabe.

Certainly, I don’t.  For me, I was born in a small French-Canadian town.  Sure I lived on the reserve, but only a five minute drive from town.  We weren’t taught our ways of life or our language, despite both my parents being able to speak Anishinaabemowin.  I didn’t grow up thinking or living as an Anishinaabe inini.  Being Anishinaabe, for me took work, study and proactive choices.  Today, I’m proud to be Anishinaabe-inini.

Our brothers and sisters who live in the far north are a little closer to their roots.  Many still speak their language and practice their way of life.  However, their cultural and spiritual sense of identity has been obscured by Christianity.  Poverty and isolation also work against them.  As a result, addictions now run rampant in most small communities.

We may know what the problems are.  But why can’t we move beyond these challenges?

The answer is complex, but to me, it can be traced back to what I call the “Four Roots”.

Picture, if you will, a large noxious weed in your backyard.  It’s ugly, thorny and it gives off a bad odor.  You had some success getting rid of it last year but it keeps growing back.  You cut one, two, even three roots from the plant – but it continues to take hold generation-after-generation.

The Four Roots:

  • Multi-generation trauma; from systemic racism and residential schools.
  • Isolation from Canadian society;  Not just physical isolation, but social, cultural and economic as well.
  • Dependancy; mostly on the Crown
  • Most fundamentally, a serious Lack of Identity.  Many of our people struggle with having brown skin and a chronic inferiority complex.

Today, Deborah and I watched a film called The Life You Want.  It featured a young woman from Eebametoong First Nation battling her addition to prescription drugs.  Like many, she knew what the problem was.  She knew what she needed to do to overcome that problem.  She needed to take action.

Along the way she learned how to ask for help.

We have to ask ourselves some tough questions.  How can we move from trauma to healing?  How can I move from dependence to independence?  What does it mean for me to be Anishinaabe?

But we can’t wait for our Chiefs to answer these questions for us.  Nor can we wait for the government to do this for us.  We have to take action as individuals and as families.  Over time, the answers to these questions will enrich our Spirits and make us better people.  The answers may rescue some from additions.  The answers may even provide us with unknown opportunity.  Most of all, it will move us from victims to self-assured Anishinaabeg again.

In short, with a little faith in the Spirit, that’s what it means to be Anishinaabe.

Day 16: First Nation’s Priorities, Culture Should Be Supported

For Anishinaabe people, there are important cultural considerations to keep in mind during the federal election campaign.

I’d take you back to better days.  When government was far more open to First Nation’s priorities.  When we were seen as partners, not just stakeholders or a thorn in the back side.  The budget was balanced and the government could make good fiscal decisions to support the economy, Canadian families, and First Nation communities.

The Liberal government with Jean Chretien in the driver’s seat and Paul Martin at the financial controls had a plan to support the development of indigenous languages in Canada.  A national task force was formed and a $179 million budget was set-aside. Fast-forward a couple of years, and Stephen Harper unilaterally clawed it all back.  The vision of Paul Martin, including the $5 billion Kelowna Accord, were sent for permanent Conservative recycling to make room for mega-jails, jet fighters and the G20 debacle.

Sure, Anishinaabemowin may not be important to Jim Flaherty.  Knowing Aboriginal history, teachings and our songs many not be important to John Baird.  And without a doubt, our role as stewards of Mother Earth and our women’s role as caretakers of the water as not important to Peter Kent.

But it’s important to us!

For us, that means some kind of baseline funding for First Nations language and culture.  Perhaps this can begin by restoring the $170 million commitment to indigenous languages and the national task force.

This also means supporting the Aboriginal Healing Foundation whose sole purpose is to address the multigenerational impacts of the residential schools.  Surprise, surprise, Mr. Harper is putting an end to that too.

Fundamentally, we need a government that can see benefit from investment in language, culture and healing.  Just think, what would it meant to restore our cultural identity?  Perhaps our young people would develop a strong pride in themselves and their nation.  Graduation rates might just rise, while incarceration and additions may decline.  More and more of our youth would be getting degrees, raising their children in a healthy way and making real change in Canadian society.

We need a federal government that supports First Nation’s priorities.  We need a Prime Minister and a Minister of Indian Affairs that see us as partners in addressing, not only our difficult issues, but things that mean so much to us – like language, culture and healing.

Barring a significant change in their thinking, that’s just not possible under the Conservative government.

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?

It’s all Good


Today is my third day as Manager of the Strategic Policy and Planning Unit at the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.  I’m comfortable in my office, except I need a house plant and my own artwork on the wall.  I’ve got a pretty good staff that always seem to be smiling and in good spirits.  Everything seems to be going well.

I’ve been giving leadership on a couple of files, including aboriginal consultation and archaeology.  My main priorities are to develop the economy, protect sacred objects and sites as well as work in collaboration with First Nation and Métis communities.  I can’t write in detail about that given the nature of government, but I am giving it my all.  I will always serve my community and Nation in a good way, as well move forward on the government’s agenda.  It takes a skilled person to be able to balance all that. 


I’m so happy that it’s March Break.  My Boyz have been doing great in school.  My Katherine Faith always does well in the end.  They deserve a nice break.  Deb is taking some time to spend with Jasmine and Fiona.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join them.

Nipissing is all set to kick butt in the Little NHL hockey tournament.  I never played in the Little NHL as I only played a year of organized hockey.  But it’s always fun to cheer on your First Nation and check out all the rinks and rekindle old friendships.  There’s no event quite like it anywhere.


It sure does feel like spring out there.  I left my winter coat at home in favour of a spring jacket.  It’s much better for the short ride on the subway too.  I’ve been venturing out into the street with no jacket the past two days.  I’ve explored the new neighbourhood around my office a little… and Baskin Robins is way too close.


My brother Dennis Jr. has been jamming and recording with my extended brother, Keith.  They’ve recorded a bit of a demo that they are going to send around with proposals to the Ontario Arts Council and various funders.  They hope to add some production and distribution value to their recording.

I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Keith and he’s always been passionate about his song-writing.  The demo has a couple of catchy tunes: Broken Arrow and O’Canada.  I hope he’ll bring back a few original songs from the past like Aboriginal Man and the one with the lyrics “It’s enought to make you stop and wonder why.  It’s enough to make you, hang your head and cry.”

What I’d like to see is the Crane Clan play…  Perry, Keith and Scott.  All are talented singers and players.


How did I get sucked into watching American Idol?  It started by watching as a family, either on the couch or in the family bed.  But I’m the only one who watched whole TV shows.  Now I’m the only one in our household following the progress of the contestants.

I started out liking Katie Stevens and Casey James.  I Love Katie’s tone and she’s a real cutie.  Casey can really rock out and plays a great blues guitar.  But both haven’t really wow-ed me in recent weeks.

Crystal Bowersox is clearly the best of the girls.  She’s got an amazing voice and a great edge to her.  From what I’ve seen, no one is in her league on the girls side.

Michael Lynche has been consistant and the best of the men.  He’s been impressing the judges and has been the best over the past couple of weeks.  Andrew Garcia was amazing doing his version of Straight Up and I would have picked him as a favorite a few weeks back.  But he’s gone downhill.