Heart of the People, Spirit of the Land, Thoughts from an Anishinabek Man
“Thats where the people are”
“There is a way to live with the earth, and there is a way to not live with the earth. We choose the way of the earth.” (Quote from the movie Thunderheart)
“Do you know who you are? What I mean is, is your heart and your spirit in the same place? Let me explain…my heart is with my kids. My spirit is in the bush. When I am with them in the bush, I am whole and I know who I am.” (Jacob Wawatie)
I understand the first quote fully and completely. It means you live with the original instructions that have been given to your Nation, whether you are Black, Red, White or Yellow. Each nation in the beginning was given their instructions, languages, cultures, medicines and ways to live with the earth. I myself, like many Native peoples have been colonized, and our way with the earth has now been co-opted into mainstream.
The second quote from Jacob, is a little more complex for me to figure out. Let me explain first, by understanding what it means for me to be Anishinabe. I was told, that the literal translation of this word means, “The good being, lowered from above.” When I heard Jacob Wawawtie explain the creation story, and how every single creature offered a piece of their life to Anishinabe so that we could exist. I understood fundamentally what it meant for me. This is why we are instructed to walk with Love and Respect (and all of the other 7 Sacred Teachings) for we are a very much a part of everything else in creation. I’ve also come to understand that we don’t “own” anything. We don’t even own our bodies. We have to return them when we go home to the spirit world. We as Anishinabe are only stewards of Mother Earth, and our instructions are to maintain the sacred balance of all life cycles. We are to care for the earth, so that the next Seven generations can have the same quality of life we enjoy. Our way of life is destroying the land reserved for future generations.
Now here comes the confusing part. Do I really know who I am? I know who I am, as an Anishinabek man, and what my role in this nation requires. But under the core, do I really know who I am?
In trying to understand this, I’ve had first learn and understand what my roles and responsibilities are to my clan and my spirit name. I am from the bear clan, and I’ve come to comprehend that this animal represents the Sacred teaching of Bravery. Bravery can be aptly described as “Doing the right thing every single time, even if it means you have to stand alone.” Bear Clan members are instructed to be the police/security, and also to hold the knowledge of foods/plants/medicines. According to our original instructions within our own Governance system, we would be out patrolling our territory, keeping the people, plants and animals protected. While out doing this, we would ceremoniously familiarize ourselves with the plants and their uses.
My spirit name is Giibwanisi. Loosely translated, this means red-tailed hawk. More specifically, the action the hawk uses as he is about to grab its prey. The talons are locked into position, then spring out at the last moment. That is what my name means, it refers to the action component. The Red-Tailed hawk is a messenger of Love, and also symbolizes the warrior. I have come to understand the role associated with my name as loving the people and creation so much that I would do anything to protect them. The problem with hawks, is that they can see far off into the future, and can see their final destination. The problem many Hawks encounter, is that they don’t often consider the steps, that those who can’t fly need to get there, more specifically Anishinabek men named Giibwanisi.
Knowing all of this, and seeing where I am exactly in this world opens up a whole lot of confusion. I understand what my roles and responsibilities are to some degree. I know that my Nation is supposed to be out on the land keeping the life cycles in balance. I know that I am supposed to be warrior, and out of my love for the people I am supposed to be protecting them…But what if my Nation, or other nations accept illegal Land Surrenders and sell off all your ancestral territories? What if the lands our people used to use, are now colonized by industry and are continuously paved over with skyscrapers, roads and highways? What if there are heavy industrial projects like mega dams, mega quarries, logging, mining, etc intruding these lands. How am I supposed to fulfill my obligations as an Anishinabek man to maintain the balance of life cycles, when there is either no lands left or they are simply too polluted to sustain anyone? If I find myself in Toronto, does that mean I then become a fantastic recycler and make sure that the life cycle of a plastic bottle is maintained for as long as possible? Does that mean I go and feed the pigeons, so they can defecate on window sill, thus creating a mess that would require the employment of some person to go and clean? Or does this mean I go and march in some Native protest to keep the life cycles of protesters, politicians, police and media alive?
My heart is with the people, it truly is, but my spirit is on the land. The problem I face, and the problem Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp faces, is that the vast majority of Anishinabek people no longer choose the way of the land. Anishinabek people are too busy and too preoccupied with chasing the nice shiny objects. Most people have given up on the way of the land, so how can they take that way of life seriously? Which is exactly what the government had always intended; to make us completely dependent on their system.
I had a conversation with a University Professor who teaches at Lakehead University. He offered some very critical, and realistic advice to me. I have been toiling with it over and over in my head and I almost don’t want to believe it, but I’m somewhat inclined to believe it now.
I explained to him some visions that I have had, and what ACTION and Oshkimaadziig is all about. After listening to me, he told me, “You are a carrier of visions. Not everyone is gifted with visions. Do not get involved with the Idle No More movement. Protect your visions. No one in the entire history of the world has ever changed the decision of imperial forces by screaming in their faces and begging them to stop. Be careful of the road you walk, Indian Act policies are not archaic laws. For the past 10 years the Government has been building super jails and expansions on jails. They need people to put in them. At anytime the Government wants too, they can enforce the legislation provided in the Indian Act and arrest masses of our people. Your visions are of no use to anyone if you are in a jail cell rotting away. My advice to you is to stay the hell out of the Idle No More movement, and walk a straight line. Go live in the bush somewhere, learn the skills that you need to sustain yourself. I’ll tell you one thing. A change is coming. You would have to be foolish to think that the austerity package is not going to hit here. Its going to happen, and the people will starve. When the people have marched and protested and then they realize that finding food is more important than what treaty rights are, then perhaps you’d be in a better position to help them. Oshkimaadziig is a wonderful vision. It speaks volumes of who you are as an Anishinabek. But lets be realistic. I have lived in the bush with a medicine man for 3 years. I’ve hunted, trapped, and fished. Its a hard. Its hard because there just isn’t enough animals to feed everyone anymore. You can’t conceivably put 30 million people back onto the land and expect them to all live off rabbits. There just isn’t enough. Protect your visions. Your time is not now. Maybe after 2 or 3 more “Idle No Mores”, and your time then would be to help guide others that have visions.” (I was completely dumbfounded after that conversation).
It is hard to try and see where I belong in todays day and age. Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp, has been trying to get people out on the land for almost a year now, and there has been very little interest from Anishinabek people actually wanting to live there. People are too preoccupied with chasing the shiny objects that modern day society has to offer. Truth of the matter is, I’m still am very much attracted to the competitive sports, pow-wows, internet, facebook, social media etc., etc. Let us not ignore the medium I am using to convey this message. I had to spend numerous hours starring at a computer screen, draining my serotonin levels, taking away time from ceremony and family to perfect this article and post it online. Another problem I face, is that my people are in urban centres, while my spirit is on the land. That is where the ancestors are, that is where our ceremonies take place, and that is where I want to be. But I’m a social person, and I want to be with the people. I want to be with my clan relatives and the people of my nation, out on the land living according to our original instructions, but my people are concentrated in urban areas, such as Toronto.
Thinking about what Jacob Wawatie had said regarding being a complete person, having your heart and spirit in the same place, I’m more confused than ever. More and more, I’m starting to think that what the University professor told me was true. I should stay the heck out of the Idle No More movement, return to the bush, and continue trying to live off the land. But if my heart is with the people, then perhaps I should find some people already living off the land, and join them. Or perhaps I should head the ways of the Bear; bears are mostly solitary animals, and live alone most of their lives.
As an Anishinabek man, I know what I’m supposed to be doing. As part of the bear clan, I know what I’m supposed to be doing. As a hawk, I know what I am supposed to be doing and I can see where I want to be. The problem, or perhaps the solution, is that I may have to do it alone.