Posts tagged ‘Indigenous Traditional Knowledge’

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


A Scientific view of National Aboriginal Day

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.

Anishinaabe Teachings are within reach

What are “teachings”?

It’s a simple enough question that has a vast array of answers.

Some Anishinaabeg people think a teaching is a form of unsolicited, mystic wisdom. You sign up for a weekend event or conference, someone will no doubt provide you with some teachings.

Some think teachings are what a knowledgeable speaker says at a pow-wow. Some think it is anything that is said in a ceremony. If you go to enough ceremonies – you’ll have your share of teachings. While many others think it is history or individual knowledge given in the “oral tradition”.

Some will go so far as saying that teachings are anything that an Elder says. Well, there are just as many definitions of “Elder” as there are for “teachings”. Some think The Elder is KISS’ worst studio album.

The teachings that I’m speaking of don’t come from any unsolicited, mystic wisdom. The teachings that I’m writing about don’t come from individual knowledge or someone’s life stories.

The teachings that I’m speaking of are a specific set of indigenous knowledge. In this case, Anishinaabe indigenous knowledge.

These teachings have specific wording in the Anishinaabemowin language. These teachings don’t change. Sure, words can evolve over time and can be translated; and companies will even certify your translations – but their meaning is always the same when they are given. These teachings have an origin and a specific story of their own. They also have corresponding traditional songs. Beautiful songs. Each teachings has a specific place among a multitude of places. They also have innumerable specific purposes. The teachings that I’m speaking of don’t come at random.

Believed me, these are quite different from the teachings you receive from your local Elder around the pow-wow campfire.

I’ll draw a parallel from Christianity.

Jesus Christ has teachings. Those teachings come from the Holy Bible – which is the source of Christian wisdom and contain a specific set of teachings from the Christian Lord.

But if I were to say that: Jesus came to me in a dream last night – and said that we must all wear yellow socks in honour of the crucifixion. In that dream, Jesus himself lifted his golden robe and showed me his yellow socks – which were soothing his sacred wounds. He said: “Wearing these yellow socks should be part of your ritual stigmata.” He spoke to me in ancient Arimaic, which I fully understand and speak in my dreams.

Most Christians would say “B*llsh*t!” – no matter how believable I am while I testify with my arms to the sky. And rightly so.

But when an “Elder” comes forward, honourarium paid for by the band office, and provides our communities with “teachings” – we gather in droves, like he or she is distributing loaves and fishes.

No matter how many “Elders”, “teachers”, “shamans”, “mystics”, “traditional people” and “consultants” you consult – there is only one true source of our original, Anishinaabeg teachings. The Midewiwin Lodge.

The Midewiwin, the “way of the heart”, is a society that was given the role to teach, practice and preserve the traditional knowledge and original spiritual way of the Anishinaabe people.  The Midewiwin is the source of our Creation Story, the story of Waynaboozhoo, our Clan System and the Seven Grandfather Teachings.  The Midewiwin hold these teachings in trust for all Anishinaabe people. In fact, our teachings tell us that the Spirit of this Lodge, Mide-mnidoo, was provided to the Anishinaabeg by the Creator to look after us and provide us with a sense of closeness and kinship to G’zhemnidoo.

We have something else in common with Christians. Anishinaabe teachings are indeed written down – contrary to the many people out there that think everything Indian people are taught comes down in the so-called oral tradition.

The wigwaas (birchbark) scrolls are an incredible record of Anishinaabe indigenous knowledge. I’ve seen these scrolls with my own eyes, and held them with my own hands. They are an incredible record of our Creation story, our history as well as our vibrant, Spiritual past and sacred teachings. Some scrolls, corresponding teachings and songs are a record of our original instructions given to us directly from the Creator. We may lack a Moses but we have our very own Anishinaabe ten commandments! Well actually, a great deal more than ten.

The Anishinaabe are no different that any other indigenous nation. Many other nations have traditional societies that look after their traditional knowledge and teachings. The best example is the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) people. The source of their knowledge is the Longhouse. No one can purport to provide Mohawk teachings or Oneida wisdom without being a sanctioned member of the Longhouse. If they did, they’d be quickly called on it: “B*llsh*t!”

Unfortunately, for the Anishinaabe, our traditional knowledge is very old and is long lost in almost every single one of our communities. Our history and prophesies tell us that the Midewiwin foreseen what would happen to our people and our ancestors chose to hide our ways and keep them secret. Unfortunately, that also worked against us. Our ways and knowledge were simply were forgotten. Our indigenous knowledge and traditional societies have long since been taken away from us and labeled as devil-worship. The Midewiwin have been replaced by more civilized values and Christianity.

However, as more and more Anishinaabe people are regaining their identity – they are seeking to learn more about their traditional ways. Some are choosing to return to those ways entirely. Sadly, a great many people – confused by the melting pot of “Aboriginal” knowledge – are swept up by new age and pow-wow spirituality. Other Anishinaabe people choose to live a hybrid life attending a plethora of ceremonies, fasting, sweat lodges, sun dances, rain dances, and round dances belonging to other nations. However, this makes them quite healthy and happy and it provides many people with fulfillment in their lives. Many are oblivious to the fact that their practices are borrowed from other nations.

However, within reach – and right under their noses – is true, Anishinaabe knowledge.

Still, many people simply don’t want to put in the work it requires to earn this knowledge. Many feel the Midewiwin are a secret society, or a selfish, protective cult holding this knowledge for themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.

All Anishinaabe people are entitled to this knowledge and are welcome to study all the Spirit will offer. However, it requires time, effort, a commitment to the society and a commitment to living a good and just life. As our Grand Chief Bawdwaywidun has always said – if you want to know: “Come to the Lodge.”