“Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future.”
― Paulo Friere – Pedagogy of the Opressed
We, as the Original Peoples of Turtle Island, as well as the other Indigenous Peoples across the world, have come into contact with this mind-set of “Manifest Destiny”. A mindset where the “holy” rule over the “heathen” and our cultures are ossified in time. Who we are documented in settlers diaries, written down and observed by anthropologists, and deemed as a thing of the past, as if we are no more.
Culture is a verb. It is something that changes, evolves, and is living and pulsing like the heart within our chests, like the beat of Mother Earth, or the waves produced by the Spirit of the Waters.
We are not Disney films, we are not mascots, we are not frozen in time, and we do not just exist in museums. The “Indian” is not an artifact. Last time I checked we were a strong, resilient, and vibrant people.
There is an argument that says, “No one lives traditionally. If you want nothing to do with us, go into the bushes and stay away. Don’t tell me you are fighting for a way of life that you don’t live from your house that is heated, using your computers and technology. You are no longer an “Indian”, just give it up.”
There is a clear difference between “adapting” and “adopting”. To adopt and take as your very own (beliefs, ideas, values, spirituality), is to move in the direction of assimilation. To adapt things (such as skidoos, vehicles, heat, plumbing, etc.) to make life easier while still maintaining your identity as one of the Original Peoples, is markedly different.
We are still here. We have survived 500 years of colonization and our version of history has not been erased. Our history still lives in the mouths of elders, and in the hearts of many. We have ways of knowing that are unknown to you and perhaps they always will be ungraspable.
The memory of the horrors, trials and tribulations inflicted on Indigenous Peoples by colonizers has not been erased even if it has not been included in history books, or taught in the education systems that represent the colonizers values and beliefs.
We know what has happened and we are saying that this will not happen again, it will not continue.
Right now, through the movement of Idle No More, thousands of Indigenous Peoples are participating in rallys, information sessions, marches, and blockades, all in a peaceful fashion. People who may have never reached out are becoming a part of something, listening to stories, and equipping themselves with knowledge. A vital piece of this is also returning to our spiritual ways. There are people praying, fasting, sweating, taking part in pipe ceremonies, dancing, singing, and lighting sweet grass and sage.
We are awakening and restoring the pride, heart, and identity to our Nations that had been attacked under colonization.
We still know who we are, in spite of residential schools, policies that banned spiritual ceremonies, traditional dress, travelling freely, and gatherings.
We still know who we are, even though they aimed to “kill the Indian and save the child”.
We still know who we are, even though tongues were silenced, and our history manipulated in your history books.
We still know who we are, even though it was made unfavourable to be an “Indian” in white western society.
I have watched my Asu (Grandmother), lose her self in a sea of pale faces and keep her eyes towards the floor as if she could melt into the scenery. I swore that if I could build a birch bark canoe, like her father built, I would rescue her from her insecurities and take her away down a river towards a life she knew. I would take her to a place where the songs of dreamers are sang, where she could hold her head up high, because this place is made of the truth. The truth that she is a beautiful being, a resilient Dane Zaa woman, and living breathing proof that we are still here and we are strong.
That is what we are doing now. We are building a canoe for ourselves and for future generations so that we may live and build our future based on the truth. A place where they can hold their heads up high and know who they are, not what the outside society tells them it is okay to be. We are taking back our choices, our voices, our freedom, ourselves.
“Without a sense of identity there can be no real struggle” – Paulo Freire