Decolonizing Indigenous Laws: Does disagreement equate “disrespect”?
“Women are the true jurisdictional authority and title holders of our territories as they are connected to Creator as they give life..but what happens if Women both in grassroots and indian act circles allow policies and land claim surrenders to go through and accept them as in my area…..Do I surrender and jump off the cliff too? and would I be disrespecting Women if I disagree and choose to assert our responsibility as a Human Being/Anishinabek by not given up our tribal sovereignty and protecting lands n waters from resource exploitation….Sometimes I think we forget that the Pipe of Peace has two realities that work together, the Bowl and the Stem” (The above quote first appeared on Johnny Hawkes Facebook page, and it has been used here without Johnny Hawkes permission. Please don’t tell on me.)
When I saw this post, it tickled something inside of me for two reasons. For one is raises the question about accepting leadership from women, but it also indirectly points to the Traditional concept of the Prayer Pipe, and how the stem and bowl work together. The Traditional concept of the Prayer Pipe, is that the bowl signifies the women energy, and the stem represents the male energies. The bowl symbolizes mother earth, and likewise the stem signifies all things on the earth. The way that I was taught, is that the women, who are naturally connected in ways to the feminine energies, (Mother Earth, and Grandmother Moon) speak on their behalf. The men then recieving this direction from the women, uphold those values and essentially enforce them as law. What Johnny is saying is that, “What if the womyn are not following the Spiritual Laws and direction that once guided our people, and are accepting land surrender deals?” Is it disrespectful to disagree with them? Or as Johnny says “Do I jump off the cliff too?” But I’d like to expand on this idea a bit, and include people who self identify as Elders, or who have rightfully or wrongfully been granted the “Elder” status.
When I began my last (and hopefully my final round of sobriety) it coincided with the Coldwater Narrows Land Claim settlement that my community accepted in 2012. In the fall of 2011 I went out fasting for the 1st time, I began going to sweat lodges every week, for several months, right up until two weeks before the vote of either yay or nay, to accept the 307 million dollar offer from the Canadian state as a settlement. (Hidden in the 100 pages of documents was legal jargon that essentially spelled out “extermination”). I went to a few legal advocates to help me understand all the legal phrases and words, and I went to see the Elders and Healers at Anishinabek Health. One of the Elders asked me, “What are the Traditional people of your community doing?” So I eventually made my way up to the reservation to hear mr. Hawke’s take on everything, and at the same time, went to see one of the Pipe Carriers. The message that I got from that pipe carrier was “I hope you aren’t listening to the Johnny Hawk, because we’ve been fighting for this land claim for a long time….” (In case you haven’t been following along, Johnny Hawk was adamantly opposed to accepting the land surrender, and his words, and actions are what inspired me to join the cause that eventually became the Oshkimadziig Unity Camp). Judging by what this Elder and Pipe Carrier was saying, he was hoping for a “yay” verdict on the settlement. But how could this be? This was somebody that everyone looked up to, for guidance, direction and healing. Should I too, unilaterally and unequivocally accept his advice and “jump off the cliff too?”
There was this hollow gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach, something that beckoned for me to listen to what it was trying to tell me. But I was still an infant on my ceremonial and spiritual path, and I needed some more help and direction, so I went back to the city to seek it. I sought out every Elder that I knew, and who ever was available. At least two of those Elders told me to follow my own intuition, and do what my “heart tells me to do.” Another Grandmother told me, that in the Mohawk territory where she came from, the Elders advised the people not to accept the casino deal (and the money), and it turned out negatively in ways of increased drugs, addiction, abuse, gambling, impoverishment, death etc. She warned me from her own experience what might happen when “big money” is handed out to “small reserves”. But the best advice I received was from Grandfather Vern, who reminded me of the true path of the Red Road. He said “Well you’ve been following the Red Road teachings by going fasting, you’ve been going to the sweat lodges, you have been praying. Who have you been praying for, and who have you been praying about?” Grandfather Vern is also the one who taught me to pray, and in that prayer we begin thanking all of Creation for all of the blessings we receive from them). He plainly pointed out to me, “When you die, and you travel to the spirit world, you won’t have anyone with you. You will go before the Great Council of Grandmothers and Grandfathers by yourself. And you will have to account for everything that you have with your life here on Mother Earth. Whether you chose to accept the deal or not to accept the deal, will be something that you will have to atone for. But if you truly understand Our Ways (in reference to the Red Road), you will understand that we do not make deals to surrender anything to anyone for any amount of money.”
Johnny’s quote raises some interesting questions, not only regarding women, but some of those that are entrusted to carry those sacred Prayer Pipes too. Grandfather Vern told me once “There are many people who carry Prayer Pipes that shouldn’t be carrying them. There was a spiritual movement in the 60’s and 70’s where everyone came out of the woodwork, and people began handing out Prayer Pipes left and right. Alot of those people hadn’t earned the right to carry those Sacred Items for the people. I had to earn everything that I carry, my eagle wing, my Prayer Pipes, everything. How did I earn them? I fasted for everything that I carry. And how did I become an “Elder?” It wasn’t like one day, I just woke up with the title “Elder” I earned that right. How did I earn that right? I became a servant to the people.” He went on to say, “There are far to many people hurting people who do not have the right INTENTION of carrying the Prayer Pipe. Some of these people don’t even carry the teachings that go with those Prayer Pipes. That is why I tell everyone that you have the right to question everything. You have the right to question everyone who calls themselves and Elder, who carries a Prayer Pipe and who runs a Sweat Lodge or ceremonies. You have the right to keep yourself safe, and the only way you can keep yourself safe is to ask questions.”
I never questioned that Prayer Pipe Carrier on their teachings, and where they earned that right to carry that responsibility for the people. Probably because Grandfather Vern’s teaching hadn’t sunk all the way in yet. Or perhaps it was because I had put this person on some sort of pedestal, and that I thought that I was inferior to that person, and I didn’t feel like challenging them on their authority.
The Creator has given us a path. Each of our own paths are uniquely and distinctly our own. We can’t live someones else’s life, nor should we expect someone to live our life. The responsibilities that we accept when we follow the Red Road, are our own. Some people are chosen to Sundance, others are chosen to Sweat Lodge. Some are chosen to be Fire Keepers or Water Carriers. Some are chosen to be “Joe the wood chopper guy”, “Or Suzie the cedar picker girl”. Wherever we land on the Red Road, there are teachings and instructions that go with that Red Road. Some of those simplest instructions that go with them are the Teachings of the Two Paths (an ancient story I heard once, that is synonymous about “feeding the two wolves”) These teachings can be simplified into the Grandfather Teachings. There are the common 7 Grandfather Teachings that everyone talks about, but what about the opposite ones? No one seems to mention the opposite Grandfather Teachings, yet we know just about everyone who follows them, including ourselves. Do we speaking the TRUTH, even when it inflicts harms being HONEST to the Teachings? Is eating food that is bad for our health being RESPECTful to our bodies? Do we reflect on all these teachings every single time we make a decision? To do so would be following the direction of the Grandfather of WISDOM. We live in a world, where some of us have 9-5 jobs, and some of these jobs, may actually be hazardous to our health, and the environment in which we live. No one can live perfectly by the 7 Grandfather Teachings, that is why there is the opposite Grandfather Teachings (that no one seems to talk about), to remind us, and to teach us, that no one can live saintly without error, and therefore we should and need to raise questions.
If the community members where you come from, are making a deal to surrender traditional lands, and the women, and even the Sacred Pipe Carriers of that community are saying to go with it, does disagreement equate to disrespect? Absolutely not.
Looking back on everything now, and knowing everything I do now, I don’t blame the people for making any decisions. Nor do I blame myself, or the Oshimaadziig Unity Camp for not being able to influence the outcome the way that we wanted to. I have learned that we have to make our own decision from an objective, critical, analytical, and spiritual standpoint. The Elders keep telling me that the Red Road is the hardest road to walk. What makes it so hard, is the difficult decisions on that road. It means standing up for what you believe in. It means that often times when you do make a stand, you might be standing alone. But often times when you do make that stand, you might find that others will join your stance. If our people never made that stand at Wounded Knee, Alcatraz, Anishinabe Park, Gustafsen Lake, Kanesatake, Burnt Church, The Peoples Caravan, The Longest Walk, would we enjoy the relative freedom we do now? (I say relative freedom facetiously. Until we are fully liberated from colonization, none of us are truly free, but the point I was trying to establish, is that we aren’t exactly outlawed leaving the reserves, or outlawed from ceremonial practice either.)
I thank Johnny Hawke for making that initial stance and inspiring the courage in me to do so too. But I also thank all the Elders who helped guide me, and told me to trust my instincts and reminded of the Original Teachings that govern the world in which we live in.
Almost 3 years later, I’m still standing, and I’m still questioning everything. I encourage everyone to do the same. Question everything, and everyone. Except for this article, I am unilaterally and unequivocally perfect! I follow them opposite Grandfather Teachings to a “T”. Or do I?
None of my Relations.