Finding our way home

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Recently I attended a series of celebrations of Aboriginal culture and traditions. They included a special event at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto featuring Brunswick House First Nation, a gathering of Beaverhouse First Nation and Bear Island First Nation in Temagami and a traditional teaching event in Matachewan First Nation.

Many people do not have a good understanding of what First Nation leadership and Elders mean when they talk about traditions and culture. This is a huge topic that covers spirituality, hunting and gathering, survival instruction, Aboriginal language, crafts, art, music, historical knowledge, teachings and legends. These days much emphasis is placed on gatherings featuring sweat lodges and healing circles that harken back to our ancestral ways to maintain emotional, physical and spiritual balance.

Aboriginal culture and traditions have been returning to my people up the James Bay coast, throughout Ontario and across Canada for some time now. When I was a teen back in Attawapiskat we celebrated “Indian Days”. This was a time to gather in the summer, renew friendships, share memories and food, and honour our ancestors. These events introduced me to our traditional drumming and singing and the teachings from Elders like the late James Carpenter and late Fred Wesley. That was a long time ago and these events were resisted by some who worshipped western Christian religions. Over the years and through the efforts of many of our traditional people and teachers, Aboriginal culture has returned to a great degree to our First Nations.

Aboriginal youth now have more opportunities to learn the cultural ways of their ancestors. There are powwows that celebrate our past. Schools in many provinces are providing more education that represents First Nations, more Aboriginals are becoming educators, cultural and traditional events are being developed and a healing journey that spans a few hundred years is underway.

It makes my heart feel good to see so many young people figuring out who they are through learning experiences involving traditional and cultural events. I have seen firsthand the change in youngsters when they are introduced to singing, drumming, healing circles and teachings. That heavy burden of generational pain and hopelessness that was produced by colonialism, the residential school system, the reserve system and the controlling government departments has been replaced by a sense of connectedness and pride.

I want to personally thank those I have met over the years who are spiritual cultural leaders. These are traditional people and Elders like Joseph Matthews, Nisa Diamond, Archie Cheechoo, James Carpenter, Vina Hendrix, Marie Boucher, Jeanette Gilbert, Walter Naveau, Morris Naveau and J’net Ayayqwayaksheelth. There are so many more to thank but I would need pages to do that. What I have come to realize over the years is that it takes individuals like these who step forward to dedicate their time, energy and passion to help us find our way back home, to ground us and lift us up to deal with our wounds and weaknesses so that we can walk with more strength and balance on a good trail.

For many of us, our days are still a struggle. But we have survived to this point. Over the past couple of decades, life has taken a turn for the better and there are more opportunities for education and employment. Our youth have access to wonderful traditional people who are clearing a path and marking it well with beneficial teachings, knowledge and a connection to our Mother Earth. There is no turning back and I see a healing taking place. I see that healing in the faces of my nephews, nieces and all the young people I meet these days.

The more we do to provide opportunities for our young people to learn their traditions the better we can help ground them in their culture. They have to know and understand our history since the coming of the Europeans in order to really figure out why and how we have arrived at this place in time. We have been poor, hopeless, helpless and caught up in chaos and dysfunction for well-documented reasons. Figuring all that out and returning to our roots won’t make everything perfect but it will make things better.


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