OGIMAKAMIK LEADERSHIP GATHERING
JUNE 1-5, 2015More than 500 First Nation and Tribal people representing the original free and independent Nations from across North America gathered from June 1-5, 2015 at the Turtle Lodge in Sagkeeng First Nation, Manitoba, Canada, to formally establish their leadership in their homeland. The gathering was led by Anishnabe Elder Dave Courchene, who had first initiated the Ogimakamik Leadership Lodge in May 2014, in fulfilment of a vision received. This year Ogimakamik hosted the spiritual establishment of the right of leadership of the Original People, which according to Courchene was really all about acting out universal duties and responsibilities of putting the children back into the centre, living a leadership guided by spiritual values, aligned with the laws of nature.
In order to understand leadership, we need to understand where we come from. We are a People who are strongly connected to the Spirit, which offers connection and guidance. We need to be rooted in the land so we understand the sacredness of life. The child for us has always represented the future. The child is a gift. How we respect and treat that gift of all children is the most important part of our duties and responsibilities as parents and leaders.
According to our prophecies, the revealing of the truth will be led by the Original People of our homeland. And it is our duty and our responsibility as a people to accept that leadership. That comes with duties and responsibilities that we should be modeling for the rest of the world. Our understanding of leadership begins with ourselves individually, to develop a relationship with the Higher Power of Spirit that we refer to as the Creator.
There is nothing more important that any of us can do today than exercise and support our duties and responsibilities. There is no greater duty that any of us can act out in our lives than supporting the best interests of the child. Knowing their best interests lies in recognizing that the children are born with rights. A child is born with the right to have good parents. A child is born with the right to have the food, the water and the medicines that they need to maintain their own physical health. A child is born with the right to be told the truth, and they have not been told the truth, even about their own history as a people, and what has been done to their ancestors in an attempt to destroy our identity and to displace us. We have to tell them the truth.
– Anishnabe Elder Nii Gaani Aki Inini – Leading Earth Man (Dave Courchene), Leader of Turtle Lodge“You don’t have to be elected to be a leader,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde to those assembled on the warm sunny morning of June 5 inside the circular, outdoor Ogimakamik Lodge where eight sacred fires had been lit, “It’s about how you live your life every day, how you carry kindness, love, respect and compassion for our people. It’s how you teach your little ones and carry on our sacred teachings. It’s about service to the people.” Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde’s Presentation at Ogimakamik Leadership Gathering, June 5, 2015 You don’t have to be elected to be a leader. It’s about how you live your life every day. “What really stood out for me was when Elder Dave Courchene and the National Chief spoke,” said youth leader Erica Daniels, who brought a number of youth to the gathering. “I loved when they said Indigenous people are the true leaders – when the people will wake up one day and realize we are the true leaders.”
Each time that you praise a child, feed a child, hug or kiss a child, you are making that child’s bundle for their life and also the future generations.One of the days of Ogimakamik was dedicated to a discussion about children and families, with special attention being paid to the more than 10,000 First Nation children in foster care in Manitoba. Grandmothers were given the honour to speak about what was needed in order to turn this crisis around. “Each time that you praise a child, feed a child, hug or kiss a child, you are making that child’s bundle for their life and also the future generations,” said Métis-Cree Grandmother Maria Campbell, who was also honoured at Ogimakamik. Thirteen leaders were given special recognition at Ogimakamik for dedicating their lives to upholding the ceremonies, languages, songs and ways of life of the Original People in some way; for the values they hold because they love the children and the people: OGIMAKAMIK HONOREES (Left to Right)
- Maria Campbell (Métis-Cree Nation)
- Donna Augustine (Mi’qmaq Nation)
- Valerie Taliman (Navajo Nation)
- Nelly Mesenegeeshik (Anishnabe Nation)
- Howard Copenace (Anishnabe Nation)
- Tony Michano (Anishnabe Nation)
- Jane Meader (Mi’qmaq Nation)
- Vern McWatch (Anishnabe Nation)
- John Kent (Anishnabe Nation)
- Allan White (Anishnabe Nation)
- Jeff Desmoulin (Anishnabe Nation)
- Margaret Gardiner (Anishnabe Nation)
- Clifford Skead (Anishnabe Nation) – honoured in absentia
Water Ceremony “Nibi Water Gathering”
The largest offering ever made into Lake Winnipeg… the bowl of the continent….the most threatened lake in the world…
To honour the sacredness of water and to renew our commitment to honour and respect the earth….
If we don’t honour our mothers how can we honour and respect life?This year’s Ogimakamik Leadership Lodge coincided with the Nibi Water Gathering at Turtle Lodge, which called on Grandmothers to take a lead role in the establishment of leadership. Four Grandmothers representing the four directions spoke for the water and led the people in making the largest offering ever made into Lake Winnipeg, which Courchene and other Elders called “the bowl of the continent”. Lake Winnipeg, the world’s 10th largest freshwater lake, earned the distinction in 2013 of being recognized as the “most threatened lake in the world”. Those assembled had gathered together to honour the sacredness of water and to renew their commitment to honour and respect the earth.
I’ve been going to ceremonies for over 40 years, and this is the first time I’ve been to a ceremony that honours women like this.Dave Courchene stated that part of the establishment of leadership included establishing women in their rightful place of honour and respect as co-partners with men in that leadership. “If we don’t honour our mothers how can we honour and respect life?” he asked. “I’ve been going to ceremonies for over 40 years, and this is the first time I’ve been to a ceremony that honours women like this,” said Maria Campbell. “The Water Ceremony on Friday was absolutely powerful,” said Anishnabe Grandmother Sherry Copenace. “We as women lead the water ceremony because of our gift to give life, which is the same as what water does for us, as human beings and all of Creation. Women lift, speak and sing for the waters within and all around us – Thunderbird water. Women spiritualize the water, which is very sacred and healing, one of our first medicines.” “On Friday we helped to fulfill Nii Gaani Aki Inini’s vision of honoring and helping water – Lake Winnipeg.,” Sherry Copenace added. “Women made the 4 red willow baskets. I knew we had to put only natural items into the baskets – berries in wooden bowls to represent the bowl we all have and to remind us to share and feast together always. It wasn’t planned but just happened naturally that in addition the east basket had natural red willow tobacco to represent the beginning and our first medicine, the south basket had a rock to represent our Grandmothers and Grandfathers, the west basket had cedar to represent healing and protection, and the north basket had a feather to represent the Thunderbirds. As we offered the baskets and offerings to each direction, we all spoke words in our Original languages to the Thunderbirds and the spirit of the Lake.” Waters that had been brought from around the world were poured together into a silver pail representing the new life. The waters included spirit waters from Lake of the Woods, Roseau River, Manito Rapids, Rainy Lake, Crow Lake, India, Africa, Mecca, Glastonbury, a pond in Manitoba, ocean water, a sacred well in New York state, Washington, and birth water. These waters were brought to help heal and work with the spirits of Lake Winnipeg. Pontoon boats took many of the Elders and those assembled out onto the lake. As traditional songs were sung, four Grandmothers simultaneously held the silver pail and poured those waters into Lake Winnipeg.
In leading and conducting this water ceremony, we as women are fulfilling and continuing out leadership and duties as women, that were given to us by Creation.“It was overwhelming, I started to cry. I knew she, Lake Winnipeg, was so very happy we all did this for her, not only those present but everyone at the Turtle Lodge and even those who were unable to be there. The youth who witnessed this will now share this story with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren in years to come,” said Copenace. “In leading and conducting this water ceremony, we as women are fulfilling and continuing our leadership and duties as women, that were given to us by Creation.” “I was really happy to be a part of the water ceremony and to witness and see how it really touched the spirit of our Grandmothers,” said Erica Daniels. “They cried when they made the offering. I really felt how important it was what we were doing for Lake Winnipeg.”
Youth Rites of PassageYouth rites of passage took place from June 1-5, with young men entering an ancient Vision Quest ceremony in which they fasted on the land in order to receive a vision or dream that would guide them in their life. Young women entered the Turtle Lodge for Makoose Ka Win, where Grandmothers shared teachings and ceremonies of initiation into womanhood. This coincided with the Anishnabe Waabigoowene-Debiki Giizis or “Flower Moon” Full moon. “The rites of passage were something that was big for me,” said Erica Daniels. “It was just amazing because I got to see first hand how much the ceremony affected young people who had never been to ceremony before. They were changed. They’re talking about making big changes in their lives, like they’re getting rid of people on their Facebook that are negative, they’re not going to drink, they’re quitting drugs and stuff like that. This is what needs to happen for all youth.” Tyrel Genaille, a young man who completed his Vision Quest, said, “I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. I felt accepted for who I am. I want all my friends to be able to experience what I went through – especially the ones who are suffering from addictions.” Shlee Delaronde attended Makoose Ka Win. She said, “I learned a lot about the sacredness of being a woman and a life giver. I plan on using the teachings I’ve learned in my daily life, especially the Seven Teachings. “ Sherry Copenace, the lead Grandmother who conducted the women’s rites of passage, said “This is the 5th year since Makoose Ka Win was born out of the Igniting the Fire gathering. Makoose Ka Win – becoming and living the way of the Bear, is an ancient Anishnabe young women’s rite of passage into womanhood, when girls are gifted with their first moon time and the ability to bring life into this world. This is when they become a full extension of Mother Earth and are strongly connected to and belong to Grandmother Moon.” Copenace added:
For thousands and thousands of years, our Grandmothers, mothers, aunties, and sisters have led and continue to lead and conduct this powerful ceremony, to ensure that young women on their first moon time received the necessary teachings and ways to have a strong foundation and understanding of a woman’s duty and responsibilities of having the gift to bring life, our children, into our lives and Nations.The Grandmothers live out their lifelong duty to nurture, support and teach the child on being and living the Seven Sacred Laws of Anishnabe: Respect, Love, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility and Truth.
This year, many beautiful women of all Nations participated in Makoose Ka Win. The atmosphere and energy was positive and full of life. The Grandmothers began in a good way, on the first morning, with a Sunrise Ceremony - a pipe, songs, berry and water ceremony. Grandfather Sun rose from the eastern sky and we knew he was very happy as he shared with us his beauty of showing his rainbow rays of light. On that same day, the Grandmothers led and concluded the first day with a Full Moon ceremony, to honor and acknowledge our Grandmother of the universe and to spiritually ask her for healing and rejuvenation. Teachings were shared on the meaning and significance of the Flower Moon and once again the Moon shared with us her beauty and strength, with a circle of rainbow colors around her.
We as Grandmothers know we are fulfilling our duties as women, when we share the ceremony of Makoose Ka Win, and we are content in knowing that the continuity of our Nation is secure, both now and in the future.
This gathering was supported in part by grants from the Manitoba Community Services Council and the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres.