Dave Courchene Presentation: Decolonization & First Nations – Traditional Governance Open Forum – Tea & Bannock Dialogues. Thunderbird House, Winnipeg, May 31, 2016

Posted in: Elder Messages
Decolonization & First Nations
Traditional Governance Open Forum
Tea & Bannock Dialogues
MAY 31, 2016
Dave Courchene (Nii Gaani Benehsi/Nii Gaani Aki Inini)’s presentation begins at 2:08:25  

IMG_2906Given our current reality today, we need to stop, reflect and be honest with ourselves and where we are at.

We need to ask ourselves: Where will we find the guidance and direction we need to move forward and find our rightful place in our homeland as the Original free and independent People? Will we find it in the current status quo within the present academic institutions, the existing judicial, economic, health, science and technological structures, or within current governance models that reflect the imposition of colonial policies like the Indian Act? Or will we look to our Ancestors, our Elders, our ceremonies, our sacred lodges, our dreams and visions, and the land? In October of 1971, my late father, as the President of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, made the following statement:

“A most devastating illness has been inflicted upon us, not an illness of the body but an illness of the soul. I speak here of our imposed static state at the bottom of the bottom rung of the social ladder of Manitoba society, our life of perpetual poverty, of poor housing, and our lack of participation in progress. For Indian People to gain themselves they must return to the traditional ways in regards to language, to their spirituality.   It must be a part of the future. That is if we are able to be the true nation of our culture.”

The leadership at that time, in the late 60s and early 70s, had integrity and sincerely represented a true spirit of leadership. They never lost sight of and connection with the People. The leaders of that time were breaking free from the rule of the Indian agents, and the influence of the churches. They knew that they had to open the door for the People to return to our ancestral ways of life if we were going to survive. And they did open that door to bring back that way of life that they themselves were not able to enjoy and live. The position paper Wahbung reflected their well-defined plan that represented the voice of the People. It proposed the ideas of how we could be removed from our marginalized world to a place where we could live our dreams, our autonomy and our sovereignty as a people. It was a plan that encouraged us to return to our ancestral ways. We need to reclaim the legacy of the leaders who developed the plan defined in Wahbung.   Let us bring it back to life. We are responsible now. It is our leadership that will matter. The current government systems that many of us live under, whose authority many of us still accept, are systems we must remove ourselves from. The current education system does not address the spirit of our children, who are the most important part of our nations. It does not address their identity. It does not address the truth of their history as a People. It has failed our children. We need to create our own educational environments for our children. Everything today has changed from our ancestral ways. Now the People have turned to a different road. Each of us needs to reflect and to be honest about the road that we have chosen to be on. We are living at the height of complete domination, having reached a level that many of our people have lost their memory of their ancestral ways. It would seem that the colonizer has been successful at erasing the memory of our people of their true identity. So many have put faith in a government, or in the systems that breed racism, and imposed solutions that do not work for us. The social programs we live under have put us in a state of dependency, where we have lost that independence our Ancestors lived by. The systems implemented in our communities have created a two-class system. There are those who get some benefits, while most are denied. The programs in the communities create employment for some, but their role is to support the status quo. We have been blinded by values of greed and selfish ways. What have we done to our hearts? Filled them with a poison of anger and hate. Only the Earth can heal us now. To continue to believe that the government or the systems that continue to dominate our People will be the answer to our survival is short-sighted, and only keeps us enslaved to the colonizer. Yes the Indian Act is a racist legislation, that should be removed by those who have created it. That is their responsibility they must come to recognize in removing it from their parliament. Ultimately, for us as a People, whether the Indian Act is there or not there should not be the determining factor for embracing our nationhood. We cannot and must not wait to see it removed for us to live our own nationhood in our homeland. We do not need their sanction or approval. We already have everything we need. We are already a Nation, we just have to believe it and live it. As the leadership of today, we carry the responsibility of reclaiming our ancestral ways, and to re-setting the relationship with the People who have arrived on our homeland using the spirit and intent of the Treaties. The answer lies in the Spirit, which comes to inspire and guide us to the answers we need. Our way is about spirit. Everything begins with spirit. Through the connection with spirit through our ceremonies, we will be provided guidance and direction. We need to find focus, and stay focused on establishing our rightful place in our homeland, with a fully established leadership, disengaged from the influence of the Indian Act. We must re-set our course and bring life to the spirit of Wahbung. We must practise and live our nationhood rooted in our connection to the spirit and the land. We begin by reintroducing our ancestral way of life to our people. This will require the leadership of the Knowledge Keepers of our nations. They will provide this for us just as in the past, when our Elders were the guides of our nations. We must establish on our own terms what kind of education we want to provide for our children. We need to heal and teach our children, our parents, and our families, using our own knowledge, values, teachings, languages, ceremonies and way of life. As we remove ourselves from the current systems that we are in, we must refocus our efforts by introducing healing initiatives, decolonizing efforts, and most of all, by teaching our children their identity and the roles and responsibilities of being members of our nations. Our journey will require one small step at a time that will lead to us becoming fully free as a People. We need to gather amongst ourselves as a nation – to stop acting like a colonized People. We need to begin from our position of strength from within our sacred lodges. We need to rely on our places of higher learning that hold the knowledge of our Ancestors. We need to find the spirit again – doing so will empower us to go beyond the current challenges, limitations and lack of resources, to claim our sovereignty, our right to our own self-determination. There is no reason why we cannot live our sovereignty every day – we already have it! Self-determination to me means taking responsibility, fulfilling our duties to be good individuals, good sons and daughters, good brothers and sisters, good parents, good elders, and good leaders. As a People, we are being relied upon today to offer a leadership that will help with the concerns of climate change. We have the knowledge and leadership that can help bring a national identity to our homeland, focusing on effective ways in dealing with climate change based on our ancestral values and traditions of stewardship. Let us focus on what we can do to help the world to preserve the land, the water, and the air, the sacred elements of life! Let us teach our youth how to be true stewards of the land. Let us create a true sustainable economy for our youth. They can help to restore the damage done to the rivers, lakes and to the land. Let us provide a leadership that honours the land and our youth. Dismantling the Indian Act will take time, a time that we cannot afford to waste. We must act now. The colonizer is not going to change out of anger and through politics. Much politics today is driven by anger. You cannot make change whether it be legislative or otherwise out of anger. Real change happens through love and positive action. The Spirit needs to be nurtured by the most powerful positive energy, which 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. We must make our journey one of peace. Our drums must not be sounded in anger and protest. They were never meant for that. We make our journey bringing a message not only for our People but all People. Our journey is to reconnect with the Trail of the Turtle. In this journey, the Grandmother Turtle has laid a trail for us, to live and walk connected to the spirit, connected to the land. It is a road of peace. We must follow the Trail of the Turtle, which has been there since the time of our own beginning. Our Ancestors lived by following this trail, guided by Spirit. The trail carries the memory of creation, the memory of our own creation as a unique people. The foundation of the trail is the Seven Teachings, our laws. The Trail of the Turtle is found on the land. What will be required for the People to follow the trail is a strong leadership. It will be the spiritual leadership that should be relied upon, because of their humbleness and their knowledge of the trail. The trail will be filled with ceremonies, teachings and much time to be spent on the land. The People have turned to a different road, leaving their way of life behind, following colonized leaders, or leaders who have overstepped the spirit. It is the spiritual leadership, the Knowledge Keepers, who can help guide our people back to the road, the Trail of the Turtle. We need their love more than ever. It will be the love of the Grandmothers that can remove blinders from our eyes so that we can see again, and see a vision of hope. Our Elders and Grandmothers remind us of some simple truths: Always stay humble and kind. Do not take for granted what the Earth gives us. Do not put your faith in man-made institutions and laws that prevent us from living the right of our own nationhood. Now is the time to act. As we re-set our course as a People, the leadership must regain the right of leadership in our homeland. The true leadership of our nations will be achieved by going to the Creator to accept the leadership that is given by the Spirit, and going to the ceremonies and the Elders to receive guidance and direction. As we reclaim our true spirit, we set an example for all people who have arrived on our homeland. The day is here when we must let the Great Spirit watch over us – when we depend on the Creator for our life. Let us dream of the land of where we are meant to be, where we were born free, working with the sun, traveling with the wind, sleeping with the moon. The time is now as we rebuild our communities. Let us pool our resources to create our own environments to teach our children our ways. At what point do we put our efforts into educating our children to be good human beings? Some of our own will fight to keep things as they are. This is the extent of how we have become so colonized. We have been led to believe that unless we assimilate, integrate, and conform to the current status quo, we will not survive. We have allowed ourselves to be removed from our belief system. We have accepted that we just have to compromise to belong and survive. This thinking destroys our identity, and any chance of living our nationhood. It keeps is locked into an oppressive environment, filled with poverty. Many follow this false dream of survival. They are afraid that if we let go of what little we do have, we will lose everything.   But the truth is: when we find the courage to let go is when we will gain so much more. We will gain our ability to be free, and we don’t have to wait. We must act now. All that is required is faith in the spirit, faith in ourselves, and faith in the land. Let our journey back onto the trail of the turtle be a journey for peace. Let this be a journey that helps sound the voice of the Earth. Let this journey be an appeal to others to join in our efforts in becoming true stewards of the land. Let this journey appeal to those who continue to legislate us into segregation and marginalization, so they can make meaningful changes that support our right to self-determination, to live our identity as a People. Let us come together as human beings in a process of disengagement without confrontation, without violence, but with the respect, love and peace for all life. Do we have the courage to embark on this journey together? The future of all children depends upon us, to find and live that courage. I want to leave this world without shame… Knowing and showing that I have loved the spirit of my Ancestors by following in their footsteps. Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Dave Courchene), Anishnabe Nation, Eagle Clan is the Founder of Turtle Lodge.

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