“Lifting Up Children” Keynote by Dave Courchene (Nii Gaani Aki Inini – Leading Earth Man), April 14, 2016

Posted in: Dave's Message (Blog), News



“Lifting Up Children” Manitoba First Nations Open Forum on Child Welfare

Marlborough Hotel, Winnipeg, Manitoba

April 14, 2016

  We have lost our way and we have to find our way back. The current environment we find ourselves in is still one of an imposition of assimilation governed by policies of assimilation. Children are the poorest of the poor and the greatest victims. The child is forgotten in the current environment of imposition. For the 11,000 First Nations children in care in Manitoba, there are also 22,000 parents who have lost their children. The children today face overwhelming challenges. These challenges are so great that many have lost hope for their own future. Child and family authorities, in spite of good intentions, remove the child from the mother without any consideration to the mother’s need of healing. The mother and the child are further devastated, and addictions become their comfort in dealing with the pain and grief. No one wants to go to the root of the problem. The authorities continue to respond only to the symptoms. Our Elders tell us that the root of our problem is a loss of our identity. Many of our people are disconnected from their ancestral ways, which were tied to the spirit and the land. We struggle to find solution within a system that is the root cause of our current dilemma of disconnect. The Elders of our nations continue to offer us guidance and direction that can help us find our way back. Where do we begin this journey of return? This journey must be a spiritual journey, a return to the spirit and a return to being close to the land. The spirit will lead, will guide, and Mide Aki – the Earth – will heal and give us comfort. Out of spirit will evolve the direction to defined actions towards our healing and our survival. This is how we will find ourselves again. All children should be central in our efforts toward restoring a way of life. The strength and uniting force of our Nationhood is the child. The child for us has always been central. 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, as a Nation and as leaders. It is time to accept our duties and responsibilities of Leadership, as defined by Spiritual and Natural law. Our leadership should be about encouraging, helping, and supporting an Individual, starting with the Child to be a sovereign Human Being, leading and taking responsibility for his or her own Life. Once we are able to do that as Individuals, we join collectively and with strength in having a strong Family, Community and Nation. It is our Grandmothers and the women who represent the true leadership of our Nations. It is the women who naturally have the connection to Mide-Aki – who have to be the true teachers. There is a Law that we were recently reminded of that came through ceremony. The spirit of our ancestors came through to one of our Elders, Clifford Skead, and reminded us of a sacred law that our ancestors lived and practiced. That Law, spoken in our language as Anishnabe people, is called Abinoojii Ka kii kwe win. The closest translation would be: Teachings that are given to a child that last forever that can only be given by woman. If we truly understand that law, we will see and extend that sacred connection to our mothers, our grandmothers, our ancestors, and right to the beginning, to Mide-Aki – Mother Earth. We are all children of the Earth. All life has been born from the Earth. All teachings that are sacred have come from Mother Earth, and it is the women of our nations that have always had that direct connection to the spirit of the Earth, to the Original Woman. It is the women of the family that carry the responsibility for initiating us all towards a sacred life. Our Nationhood and our leadership is about supporting the Grandmothers and women, and their role in supporting Abinooji Kagekwewin. What is needed is support for the family and for the mother, not condemnation, nor judgment. At the end of the day it is us that hold the responsibility to ensure that we survive these so-called dark times. No one is going to come and save us, no one is going to come and heal us. That is something we have to do ourselves. In spite of the overwhelming challenges we may face. We have to find it within ourselves to embark on a journey, where we will find ourselves again and the path of life. We start with our own children, our own parents, where we find a way to come together, work together and stay together and this can only happen spiritually. We must have the faith and belief in the spirit to help in our healing and to help guide us out of this mess we find ourselves in. We have to plant a seed of renewal that is filled with the teachings of our ancestors. We have to connect our children and our families to the spirit, and guide them back to the sacred sites of our people, and guide them back to the land. All that we will ever need to survive still has to come from the land. It is the land we live on that truly defines our identities, sustains our families and Communities, and provides us with the knowledge of how to live. We need to put our energies in creating the support systems from our perspectives as a people. The lodges of our people are what hold the spirit. Our children and their parents need to be in our Lodges to receive the knowledge that they need. We have lost our way and we have to find our way back. I heard a grandmother say one time about a young boy that was in trouble. She said, “This young boy has strayed from the path of his ancestors. He will become lost.” She said, “We have to call out to the youth to come back, because if you don’t,” she said, “the longer they stay away the harder it will be to come back.” Our grandmothers have spoken many times almost to deaf ears. They know what we need to do – they see very clearly what is destroying us, destroying the family. They encourage us to return to the values, to the teachings that can build a strong family. Their advice is very clear. Go back to the beginning. The beginning is about the spirit. Knowing who you are, where you come from, so you can move forward. It’s about identity. Creation stories are very important. 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 to support the best interests of the child. Every child is born with the right to have good parents. A child is born with the right to have the food, water and medicines from the land. A child is born with the right to be told the truth, and they have not been told the truth 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. They have not been told the truth of who they are as a beautiful people. A child is born with the right to speak their language, the right to know their culture and the values of their ancestors, and the right to be nurtured in their identity. A child is born with the right to be connected to the land and to the spirit. Our current reality of dependency on the current systems has diminished our ability to be free. The current systems continue to overwhelm us. They offer no support of the values that represent respect for all life, for the Earth. The status quo is a continued promotion of a materialistic lifestyle, no matter what the cost. What I am suggesting and proposing is a beginning, planting a seed for the future, our children. That seed represents living in the spirit of our ancestors. This could of course take generations of decolonizing ourselves. Teaching the child its true identity is the best hope we have to ensure we survive as a unique and beautiful people. What the children need more than ever is connection to the ways of their ancestors and to the Earth. We must maximize the opportunities for our children to be on the land with Mother Earth, making an annual journey to the sacred sites to restore and strengthen our spirit as families and as a Nation. We are now in a state of recovery – restoring ourselves to a way of life that sustained our ancestors with a balanced healthy lifestyle. We begin with our children, by making our parents strong; the family strong. We have ceremonies that connect the young people with spirit. The foundation of this way of life are the seven teachings. We talk of them but we do not live them. Our recovery is dependent upon our laying a foundation of the seven laws. The teachings have to be connected to a way of life that is supportive of these teachings. That way of life is best defined by the ancestral ways of our people. They lived those teachings with the child always being centred in daily life. One cannot practice and live the seven laws unless you are connected to the spirit that binds you to the land. The drums are calling us to return to the beginning. The beginning is connecting to the spirit. It is spirit that defines our true identity, and our responsibilities as individuals, to our families, communities and nation, as a spiritual people who love the land. We have to break free from the oppression, this state of dependency we find ourselves in. It is crippling us. It is bleeding us. We have to bring back the family values that kept our people strong. We have lost our way. We have lost the family values that helped keep a strong and healthy family. And we need to bring those family values back. The children are not connected. Their little belly buttons are thrown away. That is not our way. Their little umbilical cords are to be honoured and kept in a safe place, so the children will always feel and remember their connection to their mother, so they will never get lost. Our children are supposed to be given their spiritual names shortly after their birth. Many of our children do not have their names. Their name would give them a connection to the spirit. Their connection begins with their connection to the spirit that has given them a name – that spirit adopts and looks after them spiritually. The young women of our nations, when they first bleed, are to be taken to the mothers, the grandmothers and the aunties, and secluded for a very sacred rite of passage to womanhood. Their first blood is a very powerful medicine, to be given back to Mother Earth, to ensure their connection to the land forever. Our knowledge keepers, our spiritual leaders, should take the lead. The rites of passage are paramount in helping our young people reach adulthood as they accept their duties and responsibilities in our Nationhood. The girls need to be brought to Makoose Ka Win to be taught by the Grandmothers about their sacredness as women. The boys need to be brought to the land to seek their vision, which will bring purpose and meaning to their lives. So much is given towards assimilation, and very little for restoring what was taken away. If we do, there should be no reason why we do not accept our duties and responsibilities as a People. Our identity will survive stronger than ever! Today more young people in the academic environment have begun to recognize the signs of assimilation. Recently one of our young people at the university shared her perspective with an Elder I know: She said, “As young people entering the university, if we don’t reach out to our own Elders and traditions, and learn about our true identity, we are the generation that will fast-track the total assimilation of our people.” She was correct. There is a saying: “Unless a child learns about the forces which shape her, the history of her people, her values and customs, her language, she will never really know herself or her potential as a human being.” Real change happens with one child at a time, one family at a time. Our Nationhood begins with ourselves as individuals – it begins with following the Seven Laws in our daily lives. It is within our sacred lodges that the Seven Laws of our Nationhood are lived and modeled, and that Nationhood can be practised in our daily lives, no matter where we find ourselves. Our spiritual relationship with the Creator and the land has been lived by following Seven Sacred Laws that act as the foundation of Nationhood. These seven laws that are represented by the Animal world have been at the foundation of our self-governance.   The Seven Sacred Laws have reflected a clear understanding of our connection to the natural world. 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 governance and Nationhood. It was with close connection with Nature and the Animal world that our 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. These are our Seven Sacred Laws, which must be taught to our children. Respect – Represented by the Buffalo Our Nationhood is about Respect – to continue 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 Our Nationhood is all about Love – loving Creator, loving Mide-Aki, the land, loving ourselves in the way we were created, loving each other in the highest way, as the eagle brings vision that is always based on love. Courage – Represented by the Bear Our Nationhood is about Courage – the courage to live from the heart, the courage to be ourselves, and the 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 child. Honesty – Represented by the Sabé Our Nationhood is about Honesty – being honest with ourselves and speaking and living our truth from the heart, and refusing to lie or engage in gossip about others – simply, to be true to our words. Wisdom – Represented by the Beaver Our Nationhood is about Wisdom, using the gift Creator gave each of us to serve, and 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. Humility – Represented by the Wolf Our Nationhood is about Humility, showing gratitude for life received from Creator and Mide-Aki, never overstepping the gifts that keep us connected to the spiritual realm, knowing that we are all equal in the eyes of Creator. There is so much we could learn from the wolf. The teaching of humility was especially important for the leaders of the Nation. Truth – Represented by the Turtle Our Nationhood is living the Truth, by having the Seven Laws as the foundation. Our Nationhood means living in the spirit of Respect, Love, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility and Truth. We make an invitation to the families, and the children, to come to our traditional gathering of Mide-Aki on May 21-24, at our sacred site of Manitou Api at Bannock Point in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, so we can show them that they are loved, so we can connect them to the land and share our ancient ceremonies of protection with them. There will be the opportunity for the children to receive their spiritual names. The Bear Dancers, Wild Man Dancers, Deer Dancers and hand drummers will be coming in from the Rocky Mountains to dance for the children and sing sacred songs of honour and protection. The Grandmothers will sing special songs for the children on the ancient Water Drum of our people. The Knowledge Keepers will share our rites of passage with our youth. Creator gave all of us gifts to share with each other, to take care of the Earth and all life. We need to teach our children to love the land, connect to the land, and take care of the land. In our lodges, the children will hear the teachings, feel the ceremonies and feel the love for Mother Earth. Our ancestors prophesized of this time – a time of climate change, a time of crossroads, a time of self-examination, and a time of choice. Our choice is not a choice of words, it is a choice of action. We need to stand strong now in alliance with spirit and the land. The spirit of our ancestors and the forces of nature are on the move, leading and supporting the new life prophesies by our prophets. They are opening the doors that will allow the release of the truth of our real purpose and meaning to our human existence. With the spirit of our ancestors leading and the support of nature’s forces, we are being positioned into leadership – leadership that is based on values and strong connection to the spirit. It is our children who will follow in our footsteps, who will live out the legacy of what we do today. 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. One day humanity will come to understand and will see we have to change if we are going to survive. Our vision should be to support what the Elders tell us. Our Elders tell us that our land 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 animals and the cosmos, to show us our fullest lives. These sacred fires of knowledge are still burning, and can burn brighter. The Elders remind us that Indigenous Knowledge Keepers have a sacred responsibility to share these teachings with all who desire it. We should 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 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. This is our vision.   Dave Courchene Bio 12901142_1043781015683909_3747980207351068210_o(1)

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