“A Time to Change”
PRESENTATION BY ELDER DAVE COURCHENE
(Nii Gaani Aki Inini – Leading Earth Man)
On Behalf of Giigewigamig Elders’ Council and Traditional Healing Centre
2017 QUALITY IMPROVEMENT & PATIENT SAFETY CONFERENCE – INTERLAKE-EASTERN HEALTH AUTHORITY
Canad Inns Polo Park
April 23, 2017
As a newly formed initiative that we refer to as Giigewigamig, which means “Place of Healing” in our Anishinabe language, we are proud to be a much stronger advocate for the people of our communities.
The Spirit of Partnership
As Giigewigamig, we have positioned ourselves to be equal partners in supporting the greater health and wellness of all people being served within the hospital.
We have much to share and contribute in regards to defining our perspectives of greater health care. We are moving beyond the marginalized world that we have been living in for so long. The relationship of true partnership is how we propose that we will work together.
As a People, we have always been willing to engage in a true partnership of coexistence, based on the spirit of reciprocity. Today, as Giigewigamig, we offer an opportunity to engage in a relationship of true respect with the governments of Canada and Manitoba, and the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority.
We have firmly established ourselves within the Pine Falls Hospital, having a clear presence within the facility itself.
We have entered a new time in which we expect to be no less than equal partners in implementing a complete and holistic approach to healthcare, available to all people, not just our own. It is our vision that this will be a relationship of sharing, respect and responsibility in supporting the health and wellness of the people we serve.
As Giigewigamig, we have positioned ourselves first of all as a free and independent entity that is representative of our nationhood. It is with this understanding that we engage in a relationship based on partnership.
As a partner, we have a full agenda of what we will propose is our perspective of offering greater support to health and wellness.
In the spirit of partnership it is our hope this relationship will be based on trust and respect. The uniqueness of the views expressed by each partner will be given respect.
Healing of the Spirit
As the First People, we have always had understanding within our belief system that everything begins with the Spirit. It is this understanding we want to bring forward – the spiritual support that the people need.
As the original free and independent people of Turtle Island, our name for North America, we once had a huge population, numbering 80 to 100 million on this continent. We come from hundreds of Nations – roughly 590 that we know about today. We come from complex societies and social structures, and a rich, diverse, proud and dignified way of life that we were given by the Great Spirit. We have diverse languages, customs and traditions. But we are truly one Red Nation, sovereign in our own nationhood. Our nationhood has always come from our connection to the Great Spirit and our Mother Earth.
What is common amongst us as the Red People is our belief and closeness to the Spirit and the land. Our spirituality is rooted in our Mother Earth. We believe in one Great Spirit, who created us all and who determines our life on this Earth. Mother Earth sustains all of us, and whatever we need to live and survive comes from the Spirit and the Earth.
Our health and wellness is ultimately dependent upon our relationship with the Spirit and the Earth.
When we can include the spiritual connection to our wellness is when we will offer a more holistic approach towards real health and wellness.
As a People, we have the understanding that spiritual connection is connected to the land.
The focus should be the land, and the healing that it can provide. We are all struggling to find our identity as human beings – in remembering the original instructions on how to live and be a human being.
From our ancient societies we learned teachings, values and traditional practices that ensured our survival and future generations. We were taught to understand the Earth and the natural laws that kept us in balance within it. We have deep inherent reverence for the land.
We do not own the Earth. How can anyone own one’s Mother? We owe our existence to Mother Earth. In our teachings it is said that the Earth is the face of the Great Spirit.
The Earth is our Mother. Within the Earth and inside all the plants and all the animals, as well as humans, are embedded original instructions, teachings and laws defining our identity and purpose. It is our responsibility in life to find our true spiritual nature, and to live out our gifts and purpose.
We find our true nature, our salvation and our healing, by going to the land. The Earth communicates with us. It is very common and natural for our people to hear the voices of the trees, the wind, the animals and the birds. Our people have always known that we have to return to the Earth to be guided to our true purpose.
For us, life’s instructions are in the land. The animals are our teachers. The Earth is our teacher. Our people have lived for thousands of years closely observing nature and receiving guidance from her. The Earth has loved us so much, that she has provided everything for us. She provides the food, the water and the medicines. She provides the shelter and the clothing. Most of all, she provides the spirit of love to all of her children. She loves us, she teaches us through her natural laws, and she corrects us when we go astray.
If we are going to move forward as a civilization, we must return to the land to seek guidance and direction. When we speak of the land we speak of the animals, birds, fish and the plant life. We speak of the trees, the water, all that hold the secrets of life.
The Earth holds nothing back in revealing the secrets of life, if we open our senses to receive her loving touch, healing and her teachings.
Within every living being is the essence of Spirit. It is this essence that defines our identity, our purpose and meaning to life.
Many of the problems and diseases we face today are the result of our disconnection from the land and the Spirit.
When we make reference to Spirit, it is about values that can act as a foundation in how we treat ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and how we treat the land.
The Seven Sacred Teachings
In our belief system, we have our values that we call the seven teachings that are represented by seven animals. These seven teachings act as the foundation of a way of life that we create and build that is sustainable, peaceful, that reflects respect for all life, and encourages true wellness.
It is the spirit of these seven animals that we call upon to teach us and remind us of the seven teachings, beginning with the law of Respect – Represented by the Buffalo.
Respect is 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 Eagle – is about loving the Great Spirit, loving the land, loving ourselves in the way we were created, and loving each other in the highest way, as the eagle brings vision that is always based on love. The essence of love is understanding, with empathy and compassion. Through the unconditional love of the Great Spirit, we have all been given the ability to have vision.
Courage – Represented by the Bear – is living from the heart, and having the courage to be ourselves. It takes 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 cub.
Honesty – Represented by the Sabé or Bigfoot – is being honest with ourselves, speaking and living our truth from the heart. Honesty is refusing to lie or engage in gossip about others; simply, honesty is being true to our words. Honesty is never judging or condemning others, rather speaking well of others, honouring their uniqueness within the human family.
Wisdom – Represented by the Beaver – is about using the gift the Great Spirit gave each of us to serve, to 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. If the beaver did not use his gift to build, his teeth would grow long and he would die. Similarly if we do not use our gifts in a good way for the benefit of the Earth and the brothers and sisters of our nations, we too would die spiritually, and experience the negative consequences of natural law.
Humility – Represented by the Wolf – is about showing gratitude for life received, never overstepping the natural laws of Mother Earth. Humility is to know that not one of us is ever above or below our fellow human beings. We are all equal in the eyes of the Great Spirit. There is so much we could learn from the wolf. The teaching of humility was especially important for the leaders of our Nations.
The teaching of Truth is represented by the Turtle. Our motherland is referred to as Turtle Island. To know and live truth is to walk and live all the Seven Sacred Teachings. Living truth means living in the spirit of Respect, Love, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility and Truth. It is when we live truth that we will know peace and find the truth of our humanity. Our spiritual constitution is written on the turtle. The turtle lives in the water and on the land to remind the whole world of the truth we should be living by.
The animals that represent the seven teachings ensure that we have a close relationship with the land – an alliance with nature. The animal world are our brothers. They live with each other in harmony, and bring us teachings.
In order for healing to happen it will require knowledge and an awareness that can help us understand our duties and responsibilities, guided by the seven teachings.
When one is able to walk the spirit of these teachings is when one becomes truly free, it is then that one receives the full support of the universe, and the forces of the Earth itself. There is no struggle, but rather catching the natural rhythm of the Earth. One becomes a part of the land. You become the land.
These laws can’t be legislated, simply because you can’t legislate morality. These teachings must be lived from within us, from the heart, the spirit. It is these teachings, these laws that align and connect us with the natural laws of Mother Earth. When these teachings act as the foundation of everything we do in life, we live peace and spiritual wellness not only with ourselves as human beings but also with the land.
Addressing the Root Cause of Disease in our Society
Recently there was a study that revealed that there are 2.6 million youth in the state of depression in this country. Mental illness is a costly and devastating disease, that is on the rise. Western type approaches have so far not been able to prevent or get to the root of this depression.
The youth are reflecting this depression for a reason. Have they lost faith in a society that they feel is threatening their future?
They are questioning more and more of the continued violence they are witnessing, and the continued destruction of the environment. They wonder about their future. Some feel helpless, hopeless, confused and lost.
Within our current reality as the First Peoples, we face many issues regarding our health and well-being.
The socioeconomic reality of poverty breeds aggression, depression and addictions.
Colonization and a history of genocide – attempts to destroy us as a People, whether through smallpox-infested blankets that killed tens of millions of our People, or the more recent residential school experiences – have left us traumatized.
The consuming of processed food has had a devastating effect on the people, sugar diabetes reaching epidemic proportions. Of diabetes, our elders say, “The sweetness of life has left the individual.” This we attribute to a shattered people, where genocide has shattered the hopes of many. And no matter how much one counsels a diabetic to eat better or exercise, if they are not motivated, if their spirit is low, if they don’t have a sense of purpose or reason for living, there is not much one can do to make a change.
At the present time we are in the process of re-establishing a way of life lived by our ancestors, supporting the protocols of ensuring a balanced and harmonious life.
What has ultimately created much of the current health conditions of all people is the disconnection from the Spirit and nature. This has had a disastrous impact.
The sicknesses we are seeing today are symptoms of a disconnection from the land and the Spirit.
It is our firm belief that our health and wellness is dependent upon our relationship with the land and the Spirit – the medicines, the teachings, and the healing only the land and the Spirit can provide.
This is where we hope to put our full efforts toward offering greater support to the health and wellness of all people.
It is often said by the Elders and the Knowledge Keepers of our Nation when we are challenged with problems regarding our health – mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually – they would say “the spirit of this individual is very low. ”
And they would say, “We have to uplift the spirit, feed the spirit with what it needs to become a blaze of fire. The spirit needs respect, it needs love.” Love is understanding with empathy and compassion.
Spiritual connection is our reality is a People. We are encouraged never to overstep the Spirit as we seek to find resolve to our human challenges.
The land carries a spirit that is supportive of the human spirit. The more that we are connected to the land, the more our spirit in each of us can find a balance and harmony.
It is on the land that we can truly become a people of the heart.
The land softens the heart. It is that spiritual relationship we have with the land that offers us the best opportunity to heal, as we lay a foundation filled with values that connect us more to the land and to each other in a most respectful way.
We must approach the ones that are in need of support, with understanding that comes with empathy and compassion.
That is what we mean when we say, “Bring the spirit into the hospital.” The spirit to love our fellow human beings in need of care and attention.
In our leadership we will present a model that encourages individual responsibility in taking care of oneself, to have a greater and fuller experience of one’s humanity through a relationship with the land.
Giigewigamig, for us, is a doorway back into the communities where we will further develop land-based opportunities for healing.
We are introducing the element of water in the healing that will help the children to detoxify and return to health. In our tradition it is the role of the women to put spirit into the water. We have called upon our grandmothers of our Nation to take on this role in spiritualizing and asking for blessing for the water that our children will drink.
We do have high expectations and hopes that all people will be inspired to consider the land to be the true healer.
Our leadership is not a political leadership, rather a spiritual leadership guided by values. We offer a glimpse into our ways and our traditions, into our values that helped sustain our ancestors for thousands and thousands of years on these lands, living in harmony and peace with each other and the natural world.
And I hope that you will join us in these efforts.
Nii Gaani Aki Inini – Leading Earth Man (Dave Courchene), Anishnabe Nation, Eagle Clan, Founder of Turtle Lodge, is an Elder spokesperson of the Giigewigamig First Nation Health Authority.