THE SPIRIT OF NATIONHOOD
Dave Courchene (Nii Gaani Aki Inini – Leading Earth Man), Anishinabe Nation, Eagle Clan
“Notions of Nationhood” ~ Tea & Bannock Dialogues
February 10, 2016, Aboriginal Centre of WinnipegNii Gaani Aki Inini (Dave Courchene) Keynote Address at 38:10 to 1:31:00 Boozhoo, Aniin! Dinay Makinitook! (Introduction in the language.) Let me begin by offering words of gratitude to the Great Spirit Kiizhay Manito, for the Great Vision of Life. As the Original free and independent Peoples of this land, we have the distinction of being the roots of our homeland. This positions us with the responsibility to be the true leaders and the voice of our homeland. As a People, we have always derived our true Nationhood and sovereignty from our strong connection to Kiizhay Manito and our connection and interdependence with Mide-Aki, the land. Not only are we as a People deeply connected to the Spirit, we are also deeply connected and rooted to Mide-Aki – the land. It is our connection that has given our People the understanding and genetic memory of how sacred life is. Everyone and everything is held together and governed by Spiritual Laws and Natural Laws – laws that are woven into the fabric of Creation and written upon the Earth. We refer to this as Okichitibakonikaywin – The Great Binding Law. What we have lived with over the last 500 years is a colonial fiction taught to all children in our homeland that our homeland was discovered by Europeans – you cannot discover a land inhabited by a People. It is our Nationhood that defines our duties and responsibilities, which reflect the gifts we have as a people. Being a Nation for us, is not an entitlement; it is a responsibility. The land is the guiding force for our sovereignty, and our destiny as a People in our homeland is in alignment with the destiny of the Earth. The strength and uniting force of our Nationhood is the child. The child for us has always been central. The child is a gift. How we respect and treat that gift of all children is the most important part of our duties and responsibilities as a Nation and as leaders. Our Nationhood is about leadership in our homeland. This is not a political leadership, but a spiritual leadership, a leadership of example, based on living values that are reflected in Spiritual and Natural Laws. When we align with Nature, our leadership will be on the side of truth because Nature is all about truth. Our Ancestors lived from a foundation of Nationhood. It was understood that all that was given to the People to survive and how to govern ourselves came from a Higher Power of Spirit. The People lived in accordance with our Original Instructions, given greater clarity and balance by the Natural world around us. Through ceremony, we have been given the privilege of connecting with the spiritual realm. Of special importance have been the Ancestors who have guided the living as we carry out our spirit journeys on Mother Earth, mediating between the living and the Spirit, unseen yet known to our People. In living our truth, we have known that the Earth, Sky and Spirit World are one. We have understood that Kiizhay Manito placed all things in the world for a purpose – and that our purpose is to live in balance with all things seen and unseen. This ancient knowledge endures in our languages, our songs, our spiritual connection, our literature and our art. It defines who we are and how we live no matter what we do or where we live. Our challenge is to pass this way of knowing to future generations. THE SEVEN SACRED LAWS This spiritual relationship with Kiizhay Manito and the land has been lived by following laws that act as the foundation of Nationhood. The Seven Sacred Laws that are represented by the Animal world have been at the foundation of our self-governance. The Seven Sacred Laws have reflected a clear understanding of our connection to the natural world. It has always been recognized that the Animals keep us rooted to Mother Earth. The Natural world gives guidance and direction to the Human world, also forming the framework for our governance and Nationhood. It was with close connection with Nature and the Animal world that the People have been able to receive signs and teachings. As a People, we see ourselves as participants in a great natural order of life, related in some fundamental manner to every other living species. It is believed that each species has a particular knowledge of the Universe and specific skills for living in it. These are our Seven Sacred Laws:
Respect – Represented by the BuffaloOur Nationhood is about Respect – to continue to be a giving and sharing people, first and foremost, following the example of the buffalo who gave its whole being for the life of the people.
Love – Represented by the EagleOur Nationhood is all about Love – loving Kiizhay Manito, loving Mide-Aki, the land, loving ourselves in the way we were created, loving each other in the highest way, as the eagle brings vision that is always based on love.
Courage – Represented by the BearOur Nationhood is about Courage – the courage to live from the heart, the courage to be ourselves, and the courage to do the right thing for the sake of the children, the way a mother bear would die before seeing harm come to her child.
Honesty – Represented by the SabéOur Nationhood is about Honesty – being honest with ourselves and speaking and living our truth from the heart, and refusing to lie or engage in gossip about others – simply, to be true to our words.
Wisdom – Represented by the BeaverOur Nationhood is about Wisdom, using the gift Kiizhay Manito gave each of us to serve, and build a strong family, community and Nation. Our gifts do not belong to us as individuals, but belong to all the people, to serve the good of the Nation.
Humility – Represented by the WolfOur Nationhood is about Humility, showing gratitude for life received from Kiizhay Manito and Mide-Aki, never overstepping the gifts that keep us connected to the spiritual realm, knowing that we are all equal in the eyes of Kiizhay Manito. There is so much we could learn from the wolf. The teaching of humility was especially important for the leaders of the Nation.
Truth – Represented by the TurtleOur Nationhood is living the Truth, by having the Seven Laws as the foundation. Our Nationhood means living in the spirit of Respect, Love, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility and Truth. It is within our sacred lodges that the Seven Laws of our Nationhood are lived and modeled, and that Nationhood can be practised in our daily lives, no matter where we find ourselves. Inanedagosiwin in our language means “Our Destiny – The Voice of Spirit”. It is the Spirit, the shining blue light of Creation, which carries our destiny, defining Inanedagos – our purpose and meaning, and also the free will we are given to choose if we want to live our destiny, our true spirit. In the original language of our peoples, Ojichak means “who you are, defined by Spirit – our internal everlasting Spirit”. We were created in Spirit first, before we were given human form. Our universal challenge is to live our true spiritual destiny. Strong Nationhood is about living one’s free spirit. Our Nationhood as a collective is determined by each Individual of the Nation, who is expected to be a self-governing Individual, following the duties and responsibilities as guided by our dreams, visions and ceremonies, and by the Knowledge Keepers – the Grandmothers and the Elders who have become the holders of the laws, duties and responsibilities of the People. As Human Beings each of us comes into the womb of our mother as a free and independent spirit. It is that free spirit that is at the root of our sovereignty as a People. As we enter into the human world, the spirit is challenged to maintain that free spirit. Human beings have created a world that is repressive to that freedom. A free and independent spirit requires living and taking responsibility for one’s life. One is never to turn over one’s responsibility of living and being true to one’s spirit to anyone else. The Spirit has come to live within our Being to bring love into this world. Love is the essence of the Spirit. Love cannot be owned, possessed, controlled by human laws, its systems or institutions. The Spirit must be free. All of the laws of Nature and the Universe support that free and independent Spirit. Colonization has robbed that free spirit and created dependency through its institutions. We have allowed institutions to enslave us, because it is so much easier to turn over your duty and responsibility to something, to someone else. How we suffer because of it. Sickness sweeps across the land and overwhelms our lives. The mind is diseased as much as our bodies. Our emotions are reflected in anger, fear, sadness, grief and loss of hope. We live in a constant state of negative, which is contrary to the Spirit. The Spirit needs to be nurtured by the positive. The most powerful energy of positive is love. Nature operates on a positive level. In order for her to work with us, for us to become aligned with her, we need to become more like her. Nature will not work with us if we are operating in a negative way, in violence or protest. If we are positive, living the values we want to see, Nature will support us in every way possible. The spirit needs to give in order to stay alive, and to have a strong essence, our spirit needs to be free moving. In our human life, our human existence, we must support our spirit to be free and independent. A free and independent spirit is filled with the truth that defines who we are as Human Beings. It gives meaning to and defines the purpose of our Human existence, which is to live connected to Kiizhay Manito and the land. This can only be realized by living from a free spirit. We all want to be free. We want to be free from the hatred, the anger, the abuse, all that harms the spirit. We want to be free to love, to give, to share, to be ourselves in our Nationhood. It is only when we take opportunities to give from a foundation of love that we will ever have a chance of being free. We begin to be free by recognizing and acknowledging the highest source of power that has ever existed – the Great Power of the Great Mystery. Kiizhay Manito. This is the Origin of all life. This Great Being of Kindness has placed a clear direction to living the Spirit supported by the Laws of the Universe, and Natural Laws of the Earth. If we put human beings and their laws and institutions above this path of the Great Mystery, then we will have overstepped the Great Mystery to our own detriment, only leading to sickness, in our minds, our emotions and bodies, and of course of our spirit. Our human existence must live to ensure that when we leave to return to the spirit world, our spirit leaves in the same free way as it arrived – as a free, independent moving spirit filled with unconditional love. How do we Live our Nationhood? The challenge for the People today is to acknowledge and live our Nationhood. Nationhood is not something that another Nation can give you. It is something that the Nation believes and establishes itself. Many Elders say: “Everything you need to live your Nationhood has been given to you by Kiizhay Manito. Why are you not living it?” Since the arrival of the European on our homelands, their intent was and still is to deny our Nationhood. Our challenge is to disengage from the imposed system of the status quo that has removed any Spirit that resembles our Nationhood. During the signing of the Treaties, it was fully acknowledged that it required two fully recognized Nations to have a treaty. In order to qualify as a Nation, even under today’s prevailing international definitions and standards, there must be a People, a culture, a language, a history, and there must be land. As a People, we had and still have a homeland, a history, a language, and a distinctive way of life. If we stay with the understanding of Nationhood as defined by international law, we are a distinctive Peoples complete with a land base – granted it has been minimized by the colonizer – we have a language, a defining culture; we have a history that has evolved from Creation to our time. We have a way that supports our autonomy to be a self-governing People. Wherever I go in my homeland I carry my Nationhood in my heart, as a free and independent spirit. Our Nationhood begins with ourselves as individuals – it begins with following the Seven Laws in our daily lives. There is nothing more important that any of us can do today than exercise and support our duties and responsibilities. There is no greater duty that any of us can act out in our lives than to support the best interests of the child. Every child is born with the right to have good parents. A child is born with the right to have the food, water and medicines from the land. A child is born with the right to be told the truth, and they have not been about their own history as a people, and what has been done to their ancestors in an attempt to destroy our identity and to displace us. A child is born with the right to speak their language, the right to know their culture and the values of their ancestors, and the right to be nurtured in their identity. A child is born with the right to be connected to the land and to the spirit. We have not utilized our communities properly. Our current reality of dependency on the colonizer has diminished our ability to be free. We have allowed outside jurisdictions to impose their systems upon us. The lands that were negotiated in the Treaty were meant for us to regroup and re-establish our Nationhood. Our communities should be establishing our Nationhood. We have every right within our jurisdiction to do that. We have to return back to the way of our ancestors where the Spirit always takes the lead in defining the Nation. What I am suggesting and proposing is a beginning, planting a seed for the future, our children. That seed represents living in the spirit of our ancestors. This of course could take generations of decolonizing ourselves. Teaching the child its true identity is the last hope we have to ensure we survive as a unique and beautiful people. What the children need more than ever is connection to the ways of their ancestors and to the Earth. Anything less than that, we will remain stuck in the arms of the oppressor, in a life that is filled with misery, despair and poverty. Rather than engage in wasted efforts trying to change the assimilationist institutions and racist laws, we must set up our own higher places of learning led by our Knowledge Keepers. We must design a completely new economy – one that is grounded in a vision of peace, sacred values, representing our leadership, and respecting the contribution of the uniqueness and diversity of cultures that have arrived on our homelands. This new economy we design must be inspired through the guidance and direction of the Spirit, and based on stewardship and love for the land. The new economy will be about supporting the home, the community and the Nation. We must implement in our infrastructure a total traditional education immersed in the language. We must restore the sacred lodges in all our communities, places of higher learning and spiritual connection. We must maximize the opportunities for our children to be on the land with Mother Earth, making an annual journey to the sacred sites to restore and strengthen our spirit as a Nation. The rites of passage are paramount in helping our young people reach adulthood as they accept their duties and responsibilities in our Nationhood. The girls need to be brought to Makoose Ka Win to be taught by the Grandmothers about their sacredness as women. The boys need to be brought to the land to seek their vision, which will bring purpose and meaning to their lives. Not everyone will agree with this approach, but I believe there are those amongst us who realize the importance of living our true identity as a People. So much is given towards assimilation, and very little for restoring what was taken away. But there should be no reason why we do not accept our duties and responsibilities as a People. Our identity will survive stronger than ever! We have always struggled for recognition and acceptance – a foolish idea, when we should be standing beside any man or woman with full pride of who we are, sharing the beauty of who we are, and never allowing any individual or institution to validate who we are, never having to take a backseat to anyone. We are a people of true leadership – a leadership that models Peace, balance and harmony because of our alignment and closeness to the land. In order for real change to take place it will require only a few totally committed individuals who are willing to make the return, to allowing the spirit to offer the guidance and direction needed to break through and move forward. Today more young people in the academic environment have begun to recognize the signs of assimilation. Recently one of our young people at the university shared her perspective with an Elder I know: She said, “As young people entering the university, if we don’t reach out to our own Elders and traditions, and learn about our true identity, we are the generation that will fast-track the total assimilation of our people.” She was correct. There is a saying: “Unless a child learns about the forces which shape her, the history of her people, her values and customs, her language, she will never really know herself or her potential as a human being.” Colonial systems, structures and laws are only a distraction from living our true Nationhood. We do not have to waste any energy trying to change their system or convince them to recognize our Nationhood. All we need to do is live our Nationhood. True Nationhood is about the spirit and the land. It is not limited to the political. The colonizer will never surrender its political, economic power. They will create impressions that they are willing to recognize our Nationhood. But they never really do. Our challenge as a People will be to find the spirit of courage within ourselves to live the truth of our own identity as a unique and distinctive People. There is a shared responsibility to those who perpetrated the genocide of our people. We still find ourselves in an environment of marginalization and imposition. Yet it is only within themselves that they can come forward and share in this responsibility in helping to restore what they took away. This cannot be forced upon them. They have to learn to love and live from the heart, as our ancestors lived, and as we continue today to live in the same spirit. This is part of our destiny to teach them why we love the land so much. As we talk about our Nation to Nation relationships, we must be careful not to let the colonizer continue to divide us. Yes, we come from unique Nations across this land, with our unique languages, customs, ceremonies and teachings, bringing beauty in our diversity the same way Kiizhay Manito brings beauty in the diversity of Nature itself. We must stand together united in one spirit as we are one People, created on this land, united by our Nationhood, our connection to Kiizhay Manito and Mide-Aki, and the Spiritual and Natural Laws that govern us, united by our common vision for our children. It is a shared responsibility in the Nation for everyone to be included in supporting the growth of the Child. The Nation’s primary role and responsibility is to raise a Child to become a Woman or Man of the Earth, connected to the Spirit and to the Ancestors. RECLAIMING OUR LEADERSHIP It is time for the Original People to accept our duties and responsibilities of Leadership, as defined by Spiritual and Natural law. We carry our free and independent spirit, our Nationhood, in our hearts. The Leadership we reclaim as the Original Peoples is not a political Leadership. It is a Leadership connected to Spirit and grounded in Natural law. In the forefront offering guidance and direction will be the Spirit, represented also by our Ancestors. Our Leadership will offer an example – a model of being free and independent. Our Leadership will be aligned with the forces of the Universe that support those that support Spiritual Law. Some have questioned and made a comment such as, “What good is your Leadership when you have no resources; you are dominated by a majority of society with their rules, their laws, their education, their economics, their courts, etc.?” This may be so, but what they do not have is the Spirit. Spirit will always be the overriding influence that will lead to the truth. Our Leadership will be on the side of truth – following the Trail of the Turtle – the symbol of truth. Our Leadership is not about imposing and having control over other Peoples’ lives. It is about encouraging, helping, supporting an Individual, starting with the Child to be a sovereign Human Being, leading and taking responsibility for his or her own Life. Once we are able to do that as Individuals, we join collectively and with strength in having a strong Family, Community and Nation. Our Leadership should be about supporting a process of disengagement without confrontation, without violence, but with the respect. We must return to the beginning to our Lodges and to the Land to recapture the Laws and the teachings of our People. We must start acting like a People who have been given so much, like a People who know how to show respect for the land, like a People who have exemplified the power of giving and sharing. There is no human being that can take away the spirit from another human being. This can only happen if we allow it. Kiizhay Manito never gave that kind of power for any human to rule over another human being’s life. It is our Grandmothers and the women who represent the true leadership of our Nations. It is the women who naturally have the connection to Mide-Aki – who have to be the true teachers. There is a Law that we were recently reminded of that came through ceremony. The spirit of our ancestors came through to one of our Elders, Clifford Skead, and reminded us of a sacred law that our ancestors lived and practiced. That Law, spoken in our language as Anishnabe people, is called Abinoojii Ka kii kwe win. The closest translation would be: Teachings that are given to a child that last forever that can only be given by woman. If we truly understand that law, we will see and extend that sacred connection to our mothers, our grandmothers, our ancestors, and right to the beginning, to Mide-Aki – Mother Earth. We are all children of the Earth. All life has been born from the Earth. All teachings that are sacred have come from Mother Earth, and it is the women that have always had that direct connection to the spirit of the Earth, to the Original Woman. It is the women of the human family that carry the responsibility for initiating us all towards a sacred life. Our Nationhood and our leadership is about supporting the Grandmothers and women, and their role in supporting Abinooji Kagekwewin. The role of the Grandmothers is a great one, as it is the women who are gifted to protect and spiritualize the water. Our Grandmothers are needed more than ever by all people to protect this element of great concern. Water is a sacred medicine that should be in the forefront of our healing. Introducing Examples of Nationhood We have an individual here, Byron Beardy, who has worked so hard to organize a gathering on Indigenous Food Sovereignty March 1-3 in Winnipeg, because food sovereignty is a responsibility of our Nationhood, to ensure that we return back to the natural foods that will restore our health. We have called a gathering called A Return of Our Families to Mide-Aki, May 21-24 in which the families and the children are being called to the sacred site to be given proper protection and guidance for the family. The children will be honoured with a special ceremony of protection and spiritual names will be given to all those who request one. We have also called the Grandmothers and the Elders at the same time, to support young people in their Rites of passage to adulthood – Makoose Ka Win and Vision Quest – taking place at Manitou Api, by Bannock Point May 20-24. There are some ladies here with information about these initiatives, which are open to anyone, even those who did not have the chance to go through their rites of passage in their youth. We have Bear dancers coming in from the Rocky Mountains to dance for the children. We have Grandmothers bringing the songs to sing for the children. It is at the Mide-Aki gathering that we will call upon the spirit of the Bear so that the connection between the children and the Bear will be life-long. There are fundraisers being done so that all people will be able to attend at no cost… there are people in the audience with the information about that too. Final Words Our Prophecies tell us that a time is coming – and some believe that time has come – that the truth will be revealed. Part of the truth that will be revealed will be what we are not doing in living our Nationhood. The duties and responsibilities that we have should ensure that we put our Children at the center of our lives. We cannot continue to allow what is happening in our world because we have not accepted our full responsibility to be able to take care of and love our children. The Children should be showered and overwhelmed with all the love that we can give to them. We stand to lose all unless we preserve the ways of our ancestors. According to our prophecies, the revealing of the truth will be led by us, the Original People of our homeland. And it is our duty and our responsibility as a people to accept that leadership. That comes with duties and responsibilities that we should be modeling for the rest of the world. In living our true Nationhood, I see a day and a time that we will no longer feed from the hand of the colonizer, but from the hand of Mide-Aki who provides everything we need to survive. Our Nationhood is about showing respect for Nature’s authority that is based on balance and harmony. Our Nationhood is about following Nature’s Laws that serve to nurture, teach and guide our lives towards survival. Our Nationhood is about returning the deep love we all receive from Mother Earth. Our Nationhood is about returning to the beginning, that holds the memory of the original instructions we were all given on how to be a human being, that reflects respect and kindness for all life. There will come a day and a time in our homeland, when we will be appreciated and recognized for our contributions as a true Nation, because Prophecy foretold that the Newcomers would come to us again to seek advice for their survival. That is why it is so important to light the sacred fires and return to our sacred lodges to await their arrival, putting forward full effort to regain the ancient knowledge of our ancestors on how to find peace and how to take care of the land. The forces of Mide-Aki will ensure that this will happen, simply because we are in alignment with her and her laws. The land will return back to us as we, the Original People, take the lead in being true leaders and stewards of the land, all children in the centre of our lives, the Grandmothers returned to their rightful place of influence, walking in the footsteps of our ancestors, and joined with the others who have arrived on our homeland. Miigwetch, E’kosi, Wopida, Masi Cho! Dave Courchene Bio YouTube Video of Keynote Here Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Dave Courchene) Keynote Address at 38:10 to 1:31:00