Making an Alliance with the Earth – Opening Blessing and Keynote
Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Leading Earth Man) – Dave Courchene & Red Shadow Singers
Communication and Culture in a Sustainable World Conference 2016
World Communication Association North America
Winnipeg Convention Centre, August 2, 2016Boozhoo, Dinaymaginatook… A few days ago, I was feeling distressed, thinking about all that we are seeing in the news these days – reports of hatred, violence, separation within the human family, reports of environmental crisis, many changes in the natural and human world. Today in many ways, we live in a reality and atmosphere of fear and separation. This fear has resulted in hatred. Terrorism is only one symptom of that fear. We have lost ourselves in that darkness of fear that is being expressed at its most extreme, in hatred and in violence, to each other and to the Earth. We struggle to maintain our sanity. By uprooting ourselves from the land some have been driven into insanity. We have taken pride in what some call our advanced society because of our education system and advances in science and technology; yet for all of our “advances” we have not been able to find more peaceful resolutions to our differences, and we continue to challenge Nature’s authority. We have created systems that are in opposition to natural law; systems that have denied the inclusion of spirit, that support values that separate and destroy. The current systems have failed us, and we are challenged to create a system that supports and works for all. What is this new system that respects all life, honours the earth, and truly supports peace in our world? Where do we begin our search for a way of life that pleases the heart, a way of life that takes us beyond the separation, the hatred, anger and the fear? A way of life that supports our survival on this beautiful planet we call Earth? How do we reclaim our birthright as humanity? We must begin from where we have all been born from, and that is the Earth herself – for we are all children of the Earth. It is only in returning to the mother, that we will be reminded of our true purpose as human beings. The only thing that can lift us out of this insanity is love, a love that comes from the land. What we have failed to recognize is that all life comes from the same source. Knowing this, we are all related, within the human family. We are truly brothers and sisters. It is the uniqueness and diversity we have failed to understand. Our human journey should be perfectly aligned with the Earth and her natural laws. We must connect to the source of what gives us life, the Earth, and what it generates is life, peace and kindness. We must make a journey of return, a pilgrimage to the land, to make and to have an alliance with Nature itself. This alliance with Nature begins by having a close and respectful relationship with the Earth, learning and following her natural laws. Natural laws are fixed, permanent and infinite; they are self-enforcing. The truth of our creation, purpose and responsibilities as human beings; the secrets to our survival, and to our capacity to grow and flourish; are written on the Earth herself, visible to all that make the effort to read them. We have overstepped our connection to the Earth and her natural laws. We are not living true sustainability. True sustainability means having a foundation of teachings and values that respect life – values of survival. As Indigenous peoples, we are taught by our Knowledge Keepers that we owe our existence to the land. The reality of the Red Man is one of connection to the land – having a close and sacred relationship with the land. The land has never been something that could be owned or controlled. The beginning of our downfall as human beings began when some accepted and promoted the ownership of the land and its resources as if they were free. Some in the human family began to base their identity on ownership of land. For the Indigenous, the land does bring identity, but in the sense of relationship like that of a child to its mother. Mother Earth has been the true teacher for our ancestors. It was through her natural laws we found balance and harmony. When we make an alliance with the Earth 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 cooking, 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. Whatever the Earth provides, she provides for all, to be distributed to everyone equally. A natural law was you only took what you needed in order to survive, nothing more. Only the greedy did not abide by this law. Anyone that exhibits negative behaviour is not connected to the Earth. Today, conflict, confrontation and even warfare have become normalized. Warfare not only attacks people, warfare attacks the Earth. Dropping bombs is a declaration of war on the Earth, and on all of life – literally, on ourselves. We have made war on the Earth, not knowing she will defend herself. We must stop this behaviour. We must reconcile with the Earth. The circle of life, although damaged, will remain unbroken because it is supported by Nature. Nature’s laws cannot be broken. But the circle of life must be repaired and mended, and this will require a journey to the Earth. We have to create opportunities of re-entry into this natural flow of life. What stops the flow of life from Nature are negative thoughts and behaviours. Through our own doing we disconnect from Nature and the natural flow of life. Nature will always support the flow of life. It is our positive attitude that opens the door to receive the many blessings of nature. The more one are able to serve Nature’s laws, the more Nature will work with you. Much of our scientific, intellectual and economic structures are roads that lead us away from the land. Nature corrects those that have not abided by her natural laws. Our people have learned that natural laws have the power to be self-enforcing. If we continue down this current path of disregard of natural law, through the forces of nature itself, the Earth will be the one who will correct this behaviour. It is she who decides where and how. In natural law, whatever we put into our circle returns to us. In our discussions about how to be good communicators, we need to understand that communication is all about relationship – but not only with one another as human beings. Our relationships must be founded upon a deeper, spiritual connection to the Earth itself. Relationship begins with the land. We have a law of the people that we have always been encouraged to follow – Abinooji Kagekwewin, which means: “Teachings that are given to a child, that last forever, that can only be given by the mother. It is our mothers who are our first teachers, communicating love and kindness. It is that motherhood that we extend to the living Earth herself, who continues to communicate with us through her natural laws. For us, the Earth is the face of the Creator. When we are able to sit on the land is when we have our best chance of feeling the love expressed by the Earth. It is our best chance to hear the voice of the Earth as she speaks through Nature itself. Today we are in need more than ever of the healing power of Nature. A large body of evidence has shown that spending time in Nature is responsible for many measurable beneficial changes in the body, mind, and emotions. Recent studies have linked Nature to physical, emotional and mental benefits we can receive for heart disease, depression, cancer, anxiety and attention disorders. Beyond the physical level, the greatest benefit we can receive from the land is of a spiritual nature. The land guides us towards a more moral, ethical behaviour, gifted to us in a peace of mind, kindness and our willingness to give and share. It will be the great love of the Earth that will take us to the heart. We need a change of heart if we hope to survive. We should be concerned about our survival as the human species. We have to reconcile with the Earth, to make peace with her, to make an alliance with her. This will ensure our survival and the future for our children. Once we have been able to do this, we will receive the right motivation and inspiration to rebuild our world, this time laying a foundation that is directly aligned with the Earth and her laws. This is a personal journey that we must each make. It is a journey to discover your own spirit that will define your purpose and bring meaning to your life. When we are able to truly feel the land is when change will happen, because we will be directed by the spirit in the land. In following the natural laws, it will require a few to plant the seed of the new life, that carries a vision of peace. In that vision of peace we will join together in a collective human vision to become true stewards of the land, custodians of her bounty and caretakers of her peace. It will be the land that will guide and provide in the most respectful and sustainable way. What has made Indigenous peoples so giving, so sharing, has been our love of this land. This place – our homeland – is the land of peace. We are only expressing what we have always felt from the Earth – a love that has shown kindness, by offering her abundance, food, medicines, teachings of balance and harmony, and understanding of life. We acknowledge her, saying:
Precious Mother Earth, thank you for life.
Thank you for all the love you continually express.
In spite of the pain we have put you through, you have never wavered in loving all your children of the Earth.What is needed now more than ever is a new leadership, a leadership that is willing to serve and honour the natural laws of the Earth. As Indigenous people we can contribute to that leadership in our homeland, helping solve the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values – our teachings that are the foundation of a way of life. When we are able to align with the Earth is when we will know true spirituality. To know and feel the Earth is to know the Great Spirit. Our quest since the beginning of our own creation has been to bring peace and love into our world. This quest continues and I believe we have reached a tipping point, to now make some serious efforts to fulfilling our original instructions given to us all as human beings. Continuing to rely on our systems, our science and technology will not take us out of this current state of self-destruction. Likewise, politicizing our current challenges such as climate change, approaching them merely from a superficial level through protest or legislation has only limited our ability to make any real change. We cannot make lasting impact, a true change in narrative, without a change of heart. What we are dealing with is a spiritual crisis, and only the mother – the land – can help us with this. When a child is lost it is only natural to seek its mother. Society has become lost like a child and now we must find and make an alliance with the mother to us all – Mother Earth. The land is filled with spirit. By closely observing the land, its rhythms, and the behaviour of the plants and animals, we learn her natural laws. When we learn to love the land, we will remove a lot of the chaos and disorder that defines our present reality. As we make our journey back to the land as humanity, I believe this journey will probably be transitional, one step at a time, to recover, to heal and find our true identity as human beings. This journey must be made with a free and willing spirit. We make the journey, not motivated by fear, rather propelled forward by our love for our children, our desire to leave them a legacy of a peaceful and sustainable world. We are being called. The Earth is calling us to return. Some of us have heard that call. Our best hope lies in the hands of the young people. Till now, the voices of the Youth have been silenced, as have the voices of those who have stayed close to the land, the ceremonies and traditions of our people – those whom we call the Knowledge Keepers – the Elders of our Nations. The role of the Knowledge Keepers is to help and mentor the Youth, as they know the land, know the teachings, know the protocols of making the journey to the land. Above all, the voice of the Earth, our greatest guide of all, has been silenced. The Earth has been denied her voice – as if she didn’t have a voice. As we make our journey back to the land, it is to the Knowledge Keepers of our Indigenous Nations to whom we must turn, and to the Youth. It has always been the Youth that ultimately make changes that past generations were not able to make. This would be a good beginning for reconciliation with the First Peoples – to allow the leadership of the First People to lead the Youth to the land. Rites of passage have always been paramount in helping our young people reach adulthood as they accept their duties and responsibilities in society. Youth of all cultures are welcomed within our ancient Indigenous rites of passage, which can help connect them to the land, and learn natural laws, encouraged, supported and mentored by the Knowledge Keepers. The girls can be brought to the rites of passage to womanhood, to be taught by the Grandmothers about their sacredness as women. The boys can be brought to the land to fast and seek their vision, which will bring purpose and meaning to their lives. As a young boy seeks his vision on a vision quest he is initiated by Mother Earth. All men must be initiated by woman to become real men. It was the grandmothers of our nations who initiated men in the past, and they selected our leaders. As life-givers the women were honoured, respected and protected by the men. We must support the return of the grandmothers and mothers to their rightful place of honour and influence. Our Knowledge Keepers continue to gently remind us that we need to profoundly rethink the education system. We must maximize the opportunities for our children to be on the land, to restore and strengthen their spirit. The First People’s ancestral knowledge can provide a significant contribution to defining a real education. We find that many young people have no vision, and it is not their fault. The education system today does not consider the wholeness of a human being’s need to be nurtured properly. The four elements of life—the mind, the body, the emotions and the spirit—all have to be nurtured. There are teachings that one needs to learn in order to be educated about each element of life. 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. 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 relationships, governance and nationhood. There are Seven Sacred Laws that are represented by the Animal world and have reflected a clear understanding of our connection to the natural world. Respect – Represented by the Buffalo Respect is to be able to give and to share, to give of oneself to serve life and to serve humanity, following the example of the buffalo who gave its whole being for the life of the people. Love – Represented by the Eagle To know love is to know the great love of the Great Spirit, the Great Mystery, through the love of the land, to live life exercising love and kindness. Courage – Represented by the Bear To know courage is to be able to do the right thing, to live one’s spirit, for the sake of the children, the way a mother bear would die before seeing harm come to her child. Honesty – Represented by the Bigfoot Honesty is to be true to your heart, speaking and living, listening to the voice of your heart. Wisdom – Represented by the Beaver Wisdom is to know that we all have unique and individual gifts that reflect our true identity. Those gifts are meant to serve life and build a strong family, community and nation the way a beaver uses his gift of sharp teeth to build his dam. Our gifts do not belong to us as individuals, but belong to all the people, to serve the good of all. Humility – Represented by the Wolf Humility is to act in humbleness in everything we do, never to put ourselves above anyone, knowing that we are all equal in the eyes of Nature and deserve the full support from Nature’s abundance. Truth – Represented by the Turtle To know Truth is to live a spiritual life in our humanness, a spiritual life reflected by the teachings, the laws that represent values that support and honour all life. It is within our sacred lodges that the Seven Laws are lived and modeled, and these Laws can be practised in our daily lives, no matter where we find ourselves. When we are able to live these teachings is when we will be connected to the source that gives life. This source is infinite, never-ending in replenishing these teachings as we express and live them. What is missing from the current intellectual, academic education is a foundation of understanding how to best use that education without destroying life. Young people need to learn how to make an alliance with the Earth. Our children need to learn to read the Great Book of Nature. There should be opportunities for young people to experience the land as a significant part of their education curriculum. We have to find the courage to revolutionize the entire education system, to partner with the Original People of this land, who carry the ancestral knowledge of the natural laws and protocols of connecting to the land. One important way in which we can partner is through the creation and support for our own Indigenous-led lodges and environments here in our homeland – centres of excellence for the sharing of Indigenous knowledge on land connection. What else could we possibly do to show our sincerity, gratitude, to the all-giving Earth? May I boldly suggest that we call for a national day of fasting, a one day fast, giving the Earth a chance to rest, where we will perform an act of giving by not taking from the Earth for a 24 hour period. Let’s give something back by not taking for a day as our way of showing kindness to the Earth – a true gesture of respect for the land. Whatever we do not eat that day would be given to the food banks to be given to those in need. We would use this time also to reflect on the changes we need to make in order for the Earth to continue to provide. It is a simple act of acknowledgement, giving and sharing. Nature would welcome the simple act of giving back to the Earth. This could be the beginning of other acts of giving and sharing, building our alliance with the Earth through a defined action. One good act will lead to many others. Taking action is how we increase our connectedness to the Earth. We go to the land and fast. We are going to be having an international climate change summit at our sacred lodge – the Turtle Lodge, in Sagkeeng First Nation, in June 2017, and we will be designating June 9, 2017, the 24 hour period before the summit, as a day of fasting. We invite people to join us in fasting, with us at the Turtle Lodge, or at a sacred place of your choosing. How can we talk about climate change without offering some sacrifice, some respect? I hope that you will be able to join us. This act of fasting will be geared towards establishing a closeness and alliance with the Earth by reciprocating her sincerity, asking the Earth to rest for one day. Is that asking too much? Every act has a rippling effect. Those that perform acts of love and kindness can have the biggest impact towards change. An act of kindness can overwhelm all the negativity that we can be surrounded by. The forces of the Nature will respond with their own power to support one single act of kindness. When you have performed an act of kindness, you have joined with the forces of Nature to ensure the survival of all. All the hatred and violence will not survive as long as there is one standing who is acting in kindness. All Nature needs is one, all the Earth needs is one. The one must not be attached to what is destroying life. The one must be a free and independent spirit, following and living the laws of Nature. Each of us has that same opportunity to be that one. Prophecy foretold of our coming together as humanity in its diversity and uniqueness in our homeland – that we would unite, and it would be the land that would help bring us back to understanding our duties and responsibilities in living the human life, taking care of the Earth, the source of life and our sustenance. Or homeland is filled with the spirit of our ancestors, who walked for tens of thousands of years taking care of the land. They continue to walk in spirit to help those who will be willing to accept the duties and responsibilities required in taking care of the land. We are willing to share what has helped our ancestors to take care of the land. We want to step forward and fulfill our leadership in our homeland, teaching those that want to learn why we love the land so much, and hopefully you will join us as we take care and love the land together, for the sake of all children. We welcome all brothers and sisters who have arrived here who want to walk with us down this path that leads us to life – a path that takes us back to the land. Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Dave Courchene), Anishnabe Nation, Eagle Clan is the Founder of Turtle Lodge.