Feed the good wolf

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Elders and traditional people are special in that they are capable of handing down their knowledge in the simplest ways.

I was reminded of this simple, patient way of teaching recently when I attended a gathering this summer. I took part in the Fourth Annual Wabun Youth Gathering in Elk Lake, an event that brings together young people from the Wabun communities in northeastern Ontario. I could see the excitement on the faces of the young people who attended but I also could sense the anxiety and energy in the group. They were put together with traditional people who taught them about our Aboriginal spirituality and beliefs. Our Grand Chief Stan Beardy, of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN), also made a special trip to attend this annual event to provide his support and encouragement to local young First Nation people. I also had an opportunity to share some of my life experience and my work in writing. Paul Chokomolin, Chad Boissoneau and Marcia Brown also provided teachings to the children and teens.

It was a busy period and in the running around and excitement of teenagers and organizers following their daily agenda it was difficult to find a quiet moment. Elder Emil Durocher had been invited to the event to pass on his teachings to the youth participants. I found him to be quiet man with a soft nature. He patiently worked with everyone and took time to speak to young people individually during the daily rush of activity.

At one point I stood beside him by a fire he was building. He was preparing with help from the Yellow Ribbon Dancers to build a sweat lodge. As I stared at the flames, he explained to me that a fire was like a small child who we need to care for and attend to. If we are not watchful, the flames are capable of running away like any small child. He added that if the fire was not attended to and fed, it would fail and die. I always had respect for fire and I learned many lessons from my Elders up north but I never had it explained to me in this way. Meegwetch to Elder Durocher for making me more aware of fire.

This quick life lesson reminded me of much of the traditional knowledge that my Elders passed on to me. I recall spending time with my grandmother Louise when I was growing up in Attawapiskat. I spent many afternoons with Kookoom. Sometimes she did not have much to say but when she offered something it was to make me laugh or to tell me about a new part of life that would help me in the future. I never sat down with her to ask her directly for these teachings. Instead, they were passed on to me and her other grandchildren and great-grandchildren over a long period of time mostly in simple, quiet conversation and many times around the fire.

I remember spending hours by the fire when we were out on the land as a family. I always enjoyed sitting by the flames, watching the coals and feeling the warmth of the fire. It was during one of these moments that my dad Marius taught me how to forecast the weather by watching the fire. It was mid-February and the weather hovered around minus 20 at the time. He directed me to watch the burning coals and pointed out the bright hot spots that glowed white. He explained that when the hottest part of the coals turned white, cooler weather was on the way and if they burned a shade of yellow or even red, then warmer temperatures were in the forecast. Sure enough, a few days later, after watching the white coals with dad, the weather turned bitterly cold and dipped to below minus 30 and 40 degrees Celsius. Ever since then, I always watch the coals when I sit by a fire and try to determine the week’s forecast.

As I learned to spend more time on my own, I discovered that I could access a world of teaching and knowledge by reading what others have written. In the modern world we are all capable of accessing a world of teaching through the window of the Internet.

I come across many simple teachings and cultural pearls of wisdom on my regular wanderings around the Internet. One teaching really caught my attention. It is a story of an Elder who meets a young boy. The boy tells the Elder that he feels like he has two wolves inside of him. One wolf is a kind and sensitive animal and wants to have a good and peaceful life while the other is a mean-spirited creature that wants to intimidate and hurt others. The young boy told the Elder that the wolves were always fighting inside him and he was afraid of his future. He asked the Elder what wolf would win the fight and the kind and wise Elder took the boy by his shoulders and looked deeply into his eyes. He then said, “The winner will be the wolf you feed the most.”

That should be a good reminder to us all that if we nurture and feed the best part of who we are then we shall reap the benefits from doing so. So, feed that good wolf inside you.


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