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.