Summary of Wahbanung – The Resurgence of a People: Clearing the Path for Our Survival Launch at Turtle Lodge Central House of Knowledge, Mar. 19, 2020
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Elder Chief Dr. Harry Bone, one of the authors of Wahbanung – The Resurgence of a People: Clearing the Path for Our Survival, speaks about the significance of the Pipe ceremony in defining the path to sovereignty. He shares about a ceremony that occurred 50 years ago, which began the process the writing of Wahbung: Our Tomorrows by the Manitoba Chiefs, just after the White Paper was released by the Canadian government to try to eliminate the rights of Indigenous Peoples.[Anishinaabe language].
Good morning everyone. My name is Harry Bone. I’m from Keeseekoowenin First Nation. Dave [Elder Dr. David Courchene, Jr.] and I go a long ways, more than 50 years. I’ve been a friend of Dave for the long period of time, but let me just share quickly. In the ’50s and ’60s as Dave has mentioned, then we were no longer prohibited – it was allowed for us to do our ceremonies openly. So I grew up with ceremonies and the languages of our own people, from my own community, my grandparents. I came to Winnipeg in the late ’60s to attend university and then got a job with the government.
You probably recall in 1969 when the government of the day thought it was important for all of us to become like them. Under the leadership of the Trudeau, the father of this current Prime Minister, the great legal mind that he had, said to us, “For collective rights, individual rights will become first. To be just, you should become like us.” So he proposed the White Paper to dissolve us, to make sure that we would fade away, that no longer reserves, no more special rights, no more Treaty rights, no more status that we had before, no more ceremonies, no more languages.
But our leaders of the time recognized how important that was. So they stood up and said, one in particular that I was inspired by is Dave’s father, the great Dave Courchene [Grand Chief of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, Dr. David Courchene, Sr.]. I had come to a meeting in a [community name] high school to listen to the leadership at that time, just packed, when this great leader stood up and said to the government, “We as Indigenous people, First Nations people, can speak for ourselves and do things for ourselves.” I was inspired by his speech because that’s the first time I ever saw one of our people stand up to the government to tell them the whole truth about who we are. I was inspired by him.
Later on he told us how he had established an office downtown Winnipeg. So one day I came to see the office. But what amazed me, what he did at that particular time is my own experience. As I got off the elevator, there he was standing to get on to go wait for the lunch. But what he did was was most inspiring for me because he’s shook out, reached out and said to me, “My name is Dave Courchene, what is your name?” I said, “My name is Harry Bone. I’m from Keeseekoowenin First Nation.” He said, “We need young people like yourselves to fight the government with what they’re doing to us. If they continue doing what they do, we need young people to stand up amongst ourselves.”
But that leadership that he provided to us was so amazing. And that’s why that Dave and I remember that special ceremony that was done at that particular time. A year after that, we were hired as community development workers, why then the Manitoban Indian Brotherhood, to make sure that we provide… to inspire our people, to tell them that we can do things ourselves, the spirit is in all of us. We can’t depend on government to do things for ourselves.
So my experience that particular time with Dave Courchene was immense, was very profound. And said to me, we young people need to provide them. And that’s the same message that we provide, Dave and I, young people of today, it’s your responsibility and your time to carry us on, to fight. But for us, at that particular time, I met Phil Fontaine that particular time as well. But and then later in the year when the ceremony had happened in the Balmoral Hotel and the chiefs are all gathered at that particular time. Some of the chiefs said, “We must consider our own ceremonies, especially the Pipe ceremony.”
You see, in 1969, when I was in Winnipeg, I was called home by our own Chief. His name was Reuben Blackbird. He was very traditional. He told me back home that we needed to bring our ceremonies back home to fight the government, with our ceremonies and our languages. That’s when he introduced those great words that I often hear all the time, Inakonigewin, Inakonigewinan, the directions of the Pipe, why the Pipe is pointed in seven sacred directions.
So I learned from that time how important it is. Because he told us that particular time, “This is our constitution, this is our nationhood, this is our identity, this is our law, our Pipe ceremony.” So I think for me, that of all these years, I practiced that same principle, about who we are as People. So that’s why I honour Pipe ceremonies. That’s why I honour the Turtle Lodge like this that we have today and the songs that we sing, because those are the individual rights that we are given by the Creator.
As we spoke, Dave mentioned about Louis Prince was the Elder at that particular time. As he spoke, Inakonigewinan, is what he talked about then [Anishinaabe language].
Since that particular time, the directions of the Pipe have always been the profound effect for me because it defines who we are as Indigenous People, Anishinaabe People. For me, that experience was a separate. For the last 50 years, Dave and I had a humble beginnings in working for our People in different categories. I was the Chief for my own reserve for many years as well, as well as [Director of] Education.
For me, I think education is so important, of our own People [Anishinaabe education]. But [today’s] education falls in a white man’s world. Because my grandmother, who was born in 1880 at the time of ceremony, simply said this to us then, [Anishinaabe language]. In other words, what she said, “Don’t ever forget the language that we speak. One day if you forget the language, you’ll forget the way we think, and what the Creator has given to us. We’ll have to use somebody else’s language, somebody else’s concepts, someone else’s values and belief system to explain who we are. And that’s not what the Creator has given to us.[Anishinaabe language] And what the Creator has given to us, He has given us a journey for all of us. So this document that we present to you [Wahbanung – The Resurgence of a People: Clearing the Path for our Survival] is a reflection of the times. Because the document that you probably see in written form, the one that was written 50 years ago, [Wahbung: Our Tomorrows], came from a certain angle. We have kind of admitted that, that at the time they didn’t allow the [sharing of] the traditional teachings for our times. Because at that particular time, our Elders were still very, very adamant to keep our teachings in the background.
But today things are different. Today is a time to share, to share the wisdom of our People, the gifts of our People, the traditions of our People, especially that Pipe ceremony. [Anishinaabe language]. What the Creator has given to us is so important for all of us.
So I come here today to witness, as we present this document to you, Wahbanung [is its name in Anishinaabe language], to make sure that People become aware what happened in those days and our humble beginnings as a People.
Because I think it’s important for all of us to remember what our leaders stood up for that time when the government said to us, “And there will be no longer Anishinaabe People, no more Cree people, no more Dakota people. You will be like us.” And we stood up and said, “No, the Creator has given to us [Anishinaabe language] at Treaty time [Anishinaabe language] at the time of Treaty. So I think for all of us, as we do our Pipe ceremonies, it’s our nationhood, it’s our constitution, it’s our law. That’s what it is.
On the [Canadian] government side, they also have those same principles where they define themselves as Nations. To be a Nation like Canada and the United States, they have to have land, have to have People, have language, have customs, have values, and a form a government, and they have to believe something greater. Well, we have practiced that for thousands of years through our Pipe ceremonies, and we still practice that today. So that’s why we’re still strong. The [Canadian] government or no other Nation will ever destroy us because we’ll all be like that way we are. We never surrendered. We never gave up. We never give anything up from our time.
So I think for all of us, as we come here to witness this great paper that we produced, that the Elders have talked about, I want to thank a number of people. Sabina especially, is the one that has written for us, the way it is. But before I go, I want to acknowledge a couple of people here that are present here with. I want to acknowledge AJ Felix, who came from Saskatchewan to be with us, and his wife Patsy here. But I also want to acknowledge Ernest, the person that’s sitting over there. He was a Chief in 1970 when the White Paper was released. I think there are only a few Chiefs are still alive who were then at that particular time.
I assure you our words that we speak, the language that we speak and the teachings that we have, is the answer to what we are and do.
Elder Chief Dr. Harry Bone is a respected Knowledge Keeper and Anishinaabe leader. His biography can be viewed here.