INDIGENOUS FOOD SOVEREIGNTY SUMMIT 2016 — NATION-TO-NATION DIALOGUE
KEYNOTE – JUNE 22, 2016
NII GAANI AKI ININI (LEADING EARTH MAN)
CANADINNS CLUB REGENT
I sat by the river, looking through the trees, listening to the birds sing, the crows calling, and asked the spirit, “What can I say about food sovereignty…?”
The crows called even louder. What were they trying to tell me? I stopped and tried to open my mind, my heart, to hear the voice of nature itself. Today it was the crows…
I knew they were calling me to listen, to take notice of life in all of nature.
The thought came from what I was looking at… We cannot live without the trees, the plants. We cannot live without the water. We cannot live without the sun, the fire. We cannot live without the food provided from the earth.
We cannot live, one without the other.
Suddenly I feel a gentle breeze, see it moving through and touching the leaves… The old people used to say… that the breeze is the presence of your ancestors – it feels good…
They say the wind always brings a message, and also can carry your message. The wind brings the message from Spirit, from our ancestors. The wind gives physical manifestation of the gift of air. You can feel it, you can see it move on the land.
Then I focus on the river, the water… How beautiful the river, the water looks. I see the birds living from the water, the seagulls, the ducks, and the pelicans. Then I think about what is under the water, the many life forms, the many different fish…
Then I flash back to our beginning. We have come from, and were born in water. As a mother gives birth to a child, water is the passage – a reenactment of our beginning as humans.
Rather than restrict ourselves to the term food sovereignty, may I humbly suggest we consider using a fuller term, in our language, “Mino-Pi-mati-ziwin” – a Good Life.
I hear a voice in the wind… “Way-way-ni Bi-sin-dun” – Listen carefully…
When our Knowledge Keepers refer to “Mino-Pi-mati-ziwin,” it is with knowing that everything begins with Spirit. As humans we arrived into the wombs of our mothers through spirit and in death we leave in spirit.
In finding and living a good life, we must return to the beginning – acknowledging the spirit and ensuring we have a strong connection to it. That is the reason why we are such a ceremonial people. Your Name, your Clan, your Nation are connected to our well-being as a Nation. We have to know who we are…
Understanding life begins with understanding and knowing Spirit. That is why the ancestors acknowledge the spirit in the land by offering the gift of tobacco – an acknowledgement of gratitude, an acknowledgement of spirit’s existence in all life – in the plants used for medicine, and the animals used for food.
This sacred relationship with the earth is fundamental in receiving her abundance.
Mother Earth has been the true teacher for our ancestors. It was through her natural laws we found balance and harmony.
The most healthy foods were rooted directly in the land, whether wild rice, moose meat, ducks, berries, fish – it was all natural, aligned with the function of the body and its immune system.
There was medicine and there were the animals – the beaver, the moose. Through the animals we were able to eat the medicines that only the animals know – yet we still benefited.
Our acknowledgement to the animal, bird and fish world was one of respect and acknowledgement of their giving their lives for our benefit. Ceremony was always performed.
The best hunters and fishermen of our nations always upheld the laws of nature. Whatever was received from the land was shared with the people. The widows and the elders were the first to receive what the hunters and fishermen received from the land.
The function of our heart was important in living a good life. The heart represented our way of life the BEST.
Our grandmothers would inspire, and encourage us to live from the heart, listen from the heart and speak from the heart. The heart had a voice, but we could also overpower that voice with the negative emotion of fear.
The most powerful emotion expressed by the heart is love.
There are only two core emotions, love and fear. All others are variants of these two.
Kizhay-otti-zi-win and ko-tochi-win.
These emotions can influence our health, both in good and in negative ways, and for more than short periods of time.
Fear shows up as anxiety, jealousy, shame and anger, sadness and depression, and the need to control. Love – Kizhay-otti-zi-win – shows itself as kindness, forgiveness, happiness, trust, compassion, appreciation and care, truthfulness, satisfaction and joy.
Fear is simply the absence of love.
The world is struggling to find itself… lost in the midst of its FEAR. A fear that breeds violence and selfish behaviour. In order to find itself, the world needs to find the spirit.
Eat the food you receive from the earth with love, and reflect that the spirit is within all that grows from the land.
Drink the water with love and reflect that the spirit is within. It is the blood of the Earth.
Breathe the air with love and reflect that the spirit is within. It is the breath of our Creator.
Receive the light of the sun, the fire, with love and reflect that the spirit is within the core of the Earth, that gives life to the Earth.
There is this medicine healer I met who taught me:
The plant world not only carries medicines but also teachings. He said there is one plant that brings the spirit of respect if eaten. Wow… Isn’t that amazing. We sure are in need of a lot of respect. Let’s find that plant!
The Buffalo represented a law for our people, called Respect. I am sure the Buffalo ate this plant. There was a time when the Buffalo once roamed upon our lands in the millions, sustaining us, giving every part of its being for our survival in the highest gesture of respect, and leading our people in being free.
Then, they were slaughtered by the millions and the land turned red with their blood. When there was a loss of the Buffalo, it was a dark time for our people. The loss of the Buffalo also represented a loss of respect in ourselves. We need to recover from these dark times by reconnecting to the spirit of the Buffalo.
Let the spirit of the Buffalo lead us in the spirit of respect back to the land and all that it provides.
When it comes to feeding and nourishing the body, it is simply eating the most natural foods that are filled with spirit.
Given our restrictions and limitations in today’s world, let us consider the planting of gardens, the greenhouses – domesticating some animals, Buffalo and maybe others.
I don’t think our natural biology would accept a purely vegetarian diet for more than a short period of time.
I love my duck soup! My rabbit stew! My moose meat!
What we do know for sure is the current diet of sugar, salt and processed foods are killing us. We need to move now for the sake of the health of our children.
Good clean water is one element to be introduced to our children, blessed by the grandmothers of our nations. This is one element that is at the top of our concern because we have misused this element, without regard for its sacredness.
Our water supply is contaminated and polluted, used in negative ways such as for the tar sands, fracking and hydro development. All of this misuse and disrespect will have dire consequences for all of us. Water has power.
Do you not think that the earth will defend herself?
Water cannot be owned or controlled. We are beginning to see the power that she can exert -flash flooding, the downpour of rain, and equally, when she is not there, in the droughts that are increasingly affecting humanity.
We will witness more as the earth is cleansed.
We must secure good clean water now, find the natural springs for the cleanest waters. We must protect these areas, and establish ways that our nations can share in this good, clean water.
Let us begin with our children.
When it comes to living in finding a good way of life, a lot depends on what we think. We have become a colonized people. We need to go through a process of decolonization, reeducating the minds of our people.
The mind operates best on positive thought.
“Way-way-ni Na-kichi-toon anin eh-shi-nag-gatayn-da-mun” – Be careful of what you think. Keep it positive.
Be proud of the people you are and who you belong to. Instil in the mind of the child its identity, its language, its history, and its relationship to Mother Earth to live being stewards of the land. Reconnect our children to the land.
We have survived, thanks to the spirit and the land.
Fill their minds with beautiful memories of the land.
The sovereignty we need to embrace is our autonomous relationship with spirit and the land. Mino-pi-mati-zi-win carries all the power of the Creator and the natural world, and does not need to be validated by anyone. We validate our way of life by living it, never overstepping the Spirit to guide us, as it continues to give us the dreams and visions that offer hope in direction.
When we return to the land we receive her abundance that ensures our survival. Her abundance comes with the full spirit of love that she has for all life – a love that we feel in the food, the medicines, the natural materials we use in our homes and in our clothing, and most importantly, in the teachings, natural laws and connection she brings us.
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.
When we return to the land in this way, it is then that we will truly have sovereignty, becoming free and independent as were our ancestors, enjoying life to the fullest.
Can we meet this challenge, motivated by the love we have for all children?
Given 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 systems, grocery stores and pharmacies, 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?
We need to go through a process of decolonization. We need to break free of the doctrine of discovery. The land cannot be dominated. It will be through our alignment with nature and our ancestors, who with the land will tear that doctrine of discovery to pieces. The ancestors and the land will tear the Indian Act to pieces. All those systems and structures of domination – they will be torn to pieces by our belief and living our way of life.
We shouldn’t be concerned with man-made laws that have dominated the human spirit. That is about to change because of the evolution we are in. As we evolve, we will be brought to a higher level of existence.
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, to reconnect them to the land.
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 and the easy access to grocery stores and material things 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.
Our sovereignty is tied to our connection and closeness to the land. That alignment will support our evolution. That higher level of existence will be returning to the original instructions that we were all given as spiritual beings on how to be a human being.
There are others who have reflected our understanding. Pablo Picasso said:
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” End of quote.
It is your gift that defines your life.
That is why the rites of passage for our young people are paramount as they discover their identity and begin to live their true destiny in walking in kindness and in being stewards of the land.
There are many initiatives available today that offer defined sustainable projects. We should tap into some of these initiatives.
What is required more than ever is defined action, leading to full implementation. This will require our motivation, and a commitment to put in the full efforts required, breaking away from this state of dependency that is destroying the planet and destroying us.
We must reclaim our Indigenous spirituality. Our people have always had a spiritual relationship to the land. We recognize that everything has a spirit.
As descendants of the original free and independent peoples of our homeland, our ancestors have left us a trail, a footprint, that defines a way of life. This footprint is a symbol of how our ancestors walked upon Mother Earth. It was with gentleness and respect for all life. As original peoples of our homeland, we have evolved as a people connected to Spirit, its spiritual laws, the Earth and her natural laws.
Food sovereignty must be inclusive to all of the elements of life – the spiritual at its foundation, the emotional, the physical and the mental.
Everything begins with spirit. The spirit must be nurtured and fed. It is the ceremonies of our nations that have reflected the importance and connection to spirit – and receiving our abundance from the land required a spiritual relationship.
Mother Earth is a living entity with a spirit. Our ancestors never considered owning the land, but rather lived showing gratitude that we owe our existence to the land. We have a sacred trust, this closeness we have with the land has ensured our survival. She has provided all that we have needed to live and survive.
When we speak of sovereignty, we are speaking of truly being self-determining, autonomous, free and independent spiritual people. Our sovereignty is determined by following and living the spiritual laws of our Creator, and following and living the natural laws mother earth. That’s sovereignty. Not forced by imposition and domination by man-made laws and institutions.
How do we return to the old ways of our ancestors? This old way should represent the new way for us today. Living our nationhood, reflecting our true identity as a people.
It is in the present that all life is lived. Life is meant to be enjoyed.
We build on what is right and magnificent about who we are as a beautiful people, rather than focusing too directly on the symptoms.
We must feel within the deeper part of ourselves, with something higher, and that is love for ourselves.
Our ancestors loved the land, they loved the children and they loved life. That is why they were so connected, because it was the essence of that love they felt from the land.
Sovereignty comes from within us. It is not something that someone can give us or take away. Reaching that level our ancestors lived was having a direct relationship with our Creator and our sacred relationship with the Earth – with the land.
Living our nationhood is simply living in the ways of our ancestors, disengaged from the colonizer, disengaged from a way of life that is in such opposition to respect for the land, and disengaged from the influence of the doctrine of discovery.
Can we all go back and sit by the river, by the trees, and listen to the songs of the birds to recover the ways of our ancestors….
Our children demand we find the courage to do the right things. It is our hope that our voice, which is a voice of the land, be given more opportunities to be heard.
There is a power that has been ignored, and that is the great power of the Earth herself. The Earth has a great power of beauty, love and kindness.
I see a day when humanity will come to understand and will see we have to change if we are going to survive.
Our Elders tell us that our homeland carries all we need for our life and the lives of future generations — that the spirit speaks through the land, the wind and the water, through the plants, the animals and the cosmos, to show us our fullest lives. These sacred fires of knowledge are still burning, and can burn brighter.
I see a day when our vision supports what our Elders tell us and what our ancestors showed us.
I see a day when we support a world where Elder guidance is put to action…
…where all are inspired to be global leaders in sustaining our environment and vibrant cultures for our children.
I see a day in the future when we see the results of connecting the young child to the spirit and its roots to the land to become the leaders who will have the courage to change the world into a world of peace.
I see a day in the future when we put the children back into the centre, giving them the greatest protection that that child deserves, and that protection is love.
I see Mino-pi-mati-zi-win.
Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Dave Courchene), Anishnabe Nation, Eagle Clan is the Founder of Turtle Lodge.