SHANNON THUNDERBIRD'S WORLD VIEW
"Women of the world, hang on to your nerves, and hold onto your breaking hearts, the healing power of the Matriarchy is rising."
NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER: MIRACLES CAN HAPPEN
FOR WOMEN: TO SKIRT OR NOT TO SKIRT THAT IS THE QUESTION
THUNDERBIRD'S COMMITMENT TO HER CULTURE
THE ENDURING SPIRIT OF INDIGENOUS WOMEN
Over the years, I've lived with, and endured quite a bit of controversy regarding my total advocacy of the role of Aboriginal Women in our communities. My views are both historically and culturally accurate, but it does not seem to matter when "power-over" mentalities cling to tired and incorrect so called 'traditions'. I have been slandered, called many names, and generally damned to perdition by many men (and some women) who see me as a threat to their exalted positions. And so they should, as they have no right to be there. No one in position of authority has the right to put down another person, never mind an entire gender! It violates the most basic of Indigenous knowledge. What is even more pathetic as at no time has any of these naysayers said it to my face. It has all been backroom subterfuge. No guts, no rights!
So much as happened to destroy women's sense of themselves and where they belong. It goes back hundreds of years when the missionaries looked askance at the power held by women and told the warriors "be men", to which they replied, "we are men." The missionaries couldn't handle the egalitarian nature of Native societies. The black robes were persistent and consistent in their condemnation of women and eventually many of our men went over to the "dark side". They rather liked the idea that they sat on the right hand of God, and women were to be pathetically grateful in their roles as handmaidens.
Interestingly, many women seeing their roles disappearing would have none of it. They took their children and left the tribe leaving the men to do "women's work", that is make the daily decisions, a task they were simply incapable of doing; their incompetence continues to this day. The Indian Act, took away the status of Native women if they married non-Native men, but accorded status to white women who married Native men. Women lost status if men agreed to the federal vote. Women lost status, when Indian Agents gave their men liquor and while under the influence signed away their rights. It is an endless list of atrocities all designed to move Native women to the margins of their culture and Canada in general.
After years and years of research, talking to 'legitimate' Elders, and seeking answers, it is clear to me that the continued rewriting of history in order to keep women subjugated is an ongoing battle in some tribal communities. I voiced my concerns that different tribal communities needed to look into their pasts and see that women's roles were powerful ones. Women made the decisions, men executed them, and the tribes hummed for sixty thousand years. Over time as food became scarcer men had to travel farther afield to find it. That left the women in charge of the community, and as a result, songs, ceremony, drums and general leadership became their norm. No one questioned, it simply was.
Today, some dogmatic males continue to cling to what they call 'traditions'. I choose not to use the overused words, 'traditions' and 'teachings'. I prefer to use the word 'knowledge' as it denotes accuracy and not guesswork. I travel far and wide, and what is interesting in terms of geography, northern tribes have no problem with women sitting at the big drum, for example. They are simply grateful we are there to offer comfort and knowledge through their time-honoured rhythms. East and West moreorless the same view. Southern Ontario? Not so much. It is here that so-called tired traditions banning women from ceremony on their moontime, banning women in general from sitting at big drums continues to occur. Not all areas, but some. What is more interesting is that bands within the same cultural group, have different views on women sitting at the big drum!
I have been damned in Toronto, for example, by men (and some women) who have a chokehold on the female voice. Many women know it is wrong but at this point lack the courage to speak out. It's a shame, because many women and girls are missing what is their inherent right, that is access to the drums, sacred objects, songs whenever and however they choose.
The following is a video I made on the subject entitled the "Enduring Spirit of Indigenous Women". It's thirteen minutes, but, I believe worth the viewing.
THE ARROGANCE OF CULTURAL APPROPRIATION
Coast Tsimshian Elders, Shannon Thunderbird, M.A. and Kate Dickson, B.A. (Hon.)
(E: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org)
The act of cultural appropriation is a contentious issue and rests on the definition, “to take for one’s own use without permission.” With regard to such acts of theft, Indigenous people have suffered unimaginable losses over the past seven hundred years. Lands on which Natives lived for thousands of years and which were and are considered ‘traditional’, were appropriated without regard by Europeans on the approval of the Crown. Our Ancestors were then forced onto reserve lands, often a distance from the territories they had known; this was just the start of what the Indigenous lost and continue to lose to this day. Numerous writers and politicians have attempted to change opinions over the years either by paying lip service to Canada’s First People or blatantly dismissing them as a viable group. Indeed, they have preferred to make the case for the sanctification of the confiscation of cultural artifacts under the guise of preserving the past. One of the latest opinion makers is former Editor-in-Chief, Hal Niedzviecki, of Write Magazine (the publication of the Writers’ Union of Canada) who wrote an audacious editorial entitled, Winning the Appropriation Prize. He writes:
“I don’t believe in cultural appropriation. In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities. I’d go so far as to say that there should even be an award for doing so – the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.”
The operative word here is imagine which implies a writer having carte blanche to re-invent history, provide inaccurate cultural details and take license with current ways of being and thinking of a particular group about which he/she has little or no knowledge. We are in mind of the early Jesuits who described in their reports back to the mother county, the Haudenosaunee longhouses as “miniature pictures of hell.” We are pressed to ask if they imagined hell being stocked with heathens living in filth which, of course, ruled out anyone else in the known world who committed sins against the church.
Mr. Niedzviecki’s smug attitude has us wondering how a writer with little or no knowledge can imagine residential schools, the implication of the Indian Act of 1876, the loss of identity of Native women and children, the 60s scoop, to name four significant albeit atrocious events in Native history. Cultural oppression leading to appropriation is not something to be dismissed like yesterday’s news; in our world, it is real and a constant threat within Native communities.
It is wise to remember that cultural integrity keeps Indigenous knowledge alive and functioning in the purest of ways which is why, for example, the ribbon shirt looks wonderfully appropriate on the Anishinaabe, the dances of the Haudenosaunee are rich in their storytelling, the Tsimshian button blankets reflect the rugged vitality of the pacific northwest coast of British Columbia, to name only three examples. We would not choose to take on the wearing of regalia or the specific customs of a group that is not our own without their express invitation to do so. In other words, Native culture is oral in nature and thus art, music, carvings, regalia, ceremony provides cultural and historical contexts, and act as the social cohesion for the tribes. The narratives constitute the cultural grounding of Indigenous people. Cultural guardians are usually Elders or Spirit Doctors who carry the history and knowledge of their people and are highly revered. From ancient days to today, hearing the words from an Elder who tells it with solemnity and dignity add weight to the importance of tribal knowledge. The point is, our culture is not static, waiting to become museum based; rather, it was and is lived, loved and learned. Having someone with no tie to the bloodline and culture and who is charged with the task of looking in and providing interpretive commentary is simply insulting to our time-honoured, tens of thousands of years history. In fact, there are no long standing cultures that have room for observers to “…to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.” What people think they know about the world of Canada’s Indigenous comes from what has been written by observers. Certainly, an oral tradition has its problems in a world that only puts credence in the written word.
We resist situations where Indigenous people are viewed as legally permissible and barely tolerated, as long as we remain behind closed doors. Yet there does not appear to be a problem with plagiarism at all levels of Native culture. We have never forgotten that our life dream depended on our judicious care of the land and each other. You see, we are more than the sum of our physical parts, or our tribal names, and we accept without limits or conditions, our role as Mother Earth's caretakers.
Never in the history of the world has a race of people been so exposed to so many people who know so little, but think they can wade in whenever they want. Never has a race of people had their culture purloined in so many ways by so many misguided souls who often work feverishly to become more Native than Indigenous people. Moreover, there are others who tend to become self-proclaimed 'Native’ experts after a weekend of Native culture, who then proceed to offer their own sweat lodges, and other sacred ceremonies for a price. We lament again, never has a culture had to put up with so much from so many for so little gain. Native People remain behind, not quite good enough to be acknowledged as culturally valuable except for that which can be sold for profit, or which can be exploited in the name of ‘humanity’ by an indifferent government to make them look good on the world stage. We are not, overall, wealthy people, so it is often difficult for us to keep our history in the forefront. We are not in a financial position to build monuments and museums showing the abuses of the last seven hundred years. And, importantly, we are not fodder for Mr. Niedzviecki or any other so-called pundit who selects us to be the Appropriation Prize.
Lut’ak dp Halaaytn Yugyetk - We Keep Our Spirits Strong
 Webster’s New World Dictionary, 3rd edition, 1986.
2013 - Malala Yousafzai
Before any of us can claim the nobility of the soul, we must first recognize that each of us has an equal vital role to play in the preservation and sustainability of humanity and Mother Earth.
As former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan said, "the role of women in decision-making is central to the advancement of women around the world, and to the progress of humankind as a whole." Thus, does the continuity of peace continue for ALL nations.
Marginalization is no longer an option as we square our shoulders and stride forward into our powerful matriarchal futures. Our salvation lies in our return to the drum, to the water, sacred fire and stories that WE created and told, and that sustained our world for a millenia. Salvation is not difficult, it is women embracing the family of women; to rest in the feminine community. We will always be the best healers of women. And so, as my one hundred year old mother, Elder, Gandoox once said to me, "Hang onto your nerves, m'girl, and hold onto your breaking heart."
And so, I do, standing in the truth of who I am as a proud, strong, intelligent Indigenous woman, secure in the knowledge that the healing power of the matriarchy continues to rise.
After all, Di gyiwul gyits'iipta'niit (I had it yesterday), Di sgüü gya'wn'niit (I have it now), Di sgüü dzigyits'iip'niit (I have it tomorrow).
Wilwilaask, All My Relations
IN HONOUR OF WOMEN: WOMEN'S WORLD MUSIC ANTHEM
(On Shannon and Sandy's upcoming new CD, release date: Early 2017)
the Rivers to the Oceans
From the Rivers to the oceans Global Women on the rise
From the rivers to the oceans we are speaking with one voice
We place our canvas on the shore and paint a different scene
From the rivers to the oceans we survive the stormy seas
From the rivers to the oceans, float on hearts of ages past
No more cries falling on deaf ears, we're fresh water streams
From the rivers to the oceans, we listen for the hum
From the rivers to the oceans we are sweeping clean the beach
There is beauty and serenity in the clouds of misty rain
From the rivers to the oceans global women on the rise
Freedom, Freedom, Freedom
From the rivers to the oceans global women on the rise....
2012 - A YEAR OF HEALING AND SELF-CONFIDENCE
I've often found it curious and sad that humans tend to lean toward the "worst case" scenario first. Perhaps, it is because we love to feel that profound sense of relief when the worst case does not come to fruition or effects us in any way. Having said that, there are those, myself included who would counter with the idea that if we keep moving to the negative side first, then can self-fulfilling prophecies be far behind?
2012 is NOT about,
2012 IS about,
"Always among the highest expression of every culture, the arts teach us much about every historical period through its literature, visual arts, music, dance, and drama. Today it is recognized that to be truly well educated one must not only learn to appreciate the arts, but must have rich opportunities to actively participate in creative work. The arts are languages that most people speak, cutting through individual differences in culture, educational background, and ability. They can bring every subject to life and turn abstractions into concrete reality. Learning through the arts often results in greater academic achievement and higher test scores." (www.newhorizons.org)
No one can participate in human conversation/experience or have a true understanding of human history without engaging in the study of the arts. They are as integral to an enlightened citizenship as the understanding of numbers, science, words, technology and history. Through my work with organizations that include: Prologue to the Performing Arts, Arts for Children and Youth (AFCY), ArtsSmarts, Aboriginal Education Centre (TDSB) and my own production company, I have brought Aboriginal arts education that includes culture, history and spirituality to thousands of students across Canada. Such education is vital to quell misunderstandings, deliberate or otherwise, of the First People that undermines us and underestimates our immense contributions to the common good.
As Canada's Original People, our voices must be heard and understood. Canadian youth are the primary stakeholders in the future of our world, and the health of the environment. There is an urgency for the Aboriginal voice to be heard as learning about the richness of Indigenous cultures, helps to strengthen the resolve for ALL people to create strong cultural, social and economic connections. That is why we are being called back to the Drum to share what we know.
That is also why I resist situations where Indigenous people are viewed as "legally permissible and barely tolerated" as long as we remain behind closed doors. My shows and presentations are formulated for good minds open to reason, hearts open to love, and to those who value our true identity as valuable contributors to Canada's rich cultural mosaic. Like all good people Native people do not exist for ourselves alone, but for the sake of humanity. Our fundamental motivations have always been to be in service to others by proclaiming the truth of our existence in a way that teaches and elevates. What better way to celebrate this than to offer presentations that educate, entertain and inspire. My
....REMINDER - My programmes support the Canadian Native Studies Curriculum for Grades K-12....
WORLD VIEW OF CANADA'S NATIVE PEOPLE
Excerpt from my book, Medicine Wheel & Character Education in the 21st Century.
"Medicine wheel teachings are among the oldest of First Nations people and are based on the seven directions (North, East, South West, Life above the earth, life on the earth, life within each of us).
Native people are being called back to share our sacred medicine wheel teachings; wisdom that influenced tribal life for thousands of years. We are living in a time of fractured families, countries at war, and the innocent caught up in the maelstrom of "power over" mentalities. Yet, it does not have to be this way. Borrowing a Lakhota phrase, Hanta Ho, which means “clearing the way”, this book is about, clearing the way of physical, spiritual, emotional mental debris so that another story emerges; a story of hope, sharing, understanding, survival and, ultimately, the triumph of the human spirit. The Tsimshian call it Ama't'ilgoolsk, ama'diduuls, or, or "good thoughts, good life", Ojibwa call it Mene Doh, or a "state of revitalization"; the Mi'gmaq call it Gsite'taqan or "something to be cherished or valued", which extends to re-infusing the earth with healthy attitudes and actions. Certainly, witnessing the land come back to life cannot help but impact everyone in a good way.
Canada's Original People lived lives of dignity and integrity, we did not engage in sordid behaviour, try to subjugate a gender, or destroy another tribe; instead, we lived lives of deep meaning and substance that held at its centre an abiding respect for the land which gave us our physical (east) spiritual (south), emotional (west), mental (north), sustenance. We came into our leadership by staying in our personal and collective power, by showing up and choosing to be accountable; by extending honour and respect to all living beings. We lived by the dictate: "Begin as you mean to carry on."
We honoured our heritage, we were flexible and fluid in our dealings with each other. Every day, we demonstrated by our behaviour the power of "right action", and its components of clarity, objectivity and discernment. We were open to outcomes, not attached to them which would have limited the scope of our lives. In other words, we paid attention to what had heart and meaning because above all else, we knew that it was the heart that held our memories; when we extended the arms of love inward to ourselves and outward to others, we held a balanced view of the power of health, wellness and positive interconnectivity. We dared to dream but remained humble in the process. We gave voice to the majesty of ceremony and prayer through our songs and stories.
contains a chart to build a forty-stone Medicine
Wheel, along with both a Character and Environmental teaching. Forty
Stones = Eighty Teachings! The book is a valuable tool for Educators in
helping to incorporate the teachings into their mindful character
It is also for all those
wanting to know more about the rich knowledge of First Nations people.
AND THAT IS WHY I SPEND A LOT OF MY TIME WITH THE YOUTH OF THE WORLD -
THEY ARE THE FUTURE CARRIERS OF THESE MOST NOBLE OF IDEAS AND
INDIGENOUS WORK AND THE WORKPLACE
I spent over thirty years working in an institution with a culturally-diverse student body. The staff? Not so much. For twenty of those years, I was the only First Nations employee and sadly, it took me three times as long to move up the so-called "corporate ladder". I was naive enough in the early days to think that post-secondary educational institutions were enlightened places, unfortunately not so much. Still aren't in some cases.
The racial slurs that were said to my face, or implied, prior to rules and equity policies would curl your hair. I have never thought in terms of race, so each time it happened, it came as a surprise, and I found myself looking around before realizing that the slurs were directed at me. Even now, in my relatively advanced years, I still carry that element of surprise when it happens. I hope I never get over it, as I refuse to become hardened and prefer to educate rather than blame. In my early years? Not so much!
I was angry that my prodigious skills in leadership, administrative policy and decision-making, creative and independent thinking, ability to get the best out of people, and sheer efficiency were not recognized. Skin colour had a way of blocking the light. I eventually made it to senior management, and vowed the day I got the job, that I would never do to others what was done to me. It was time to stop the cycle of systemic abuse.
I remembered a quote from former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, odd I would think of an old-monied white guy on the most important day of my life, but there it was. By this time, I'd learned to hear wisdom however they it was delivered.
"We are not here merely to make a living. We are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with finer spirit of hope and achievement. We are here to enrich the world. We impoverish ourselves if we forget our errand."
Over the years, I had wished desperately that someone, anyone would recognize the fullness of my talents and liberate me from racial stereotyping. It took awhile, but eventually I realized I had to find the courage to do it myself.
The last straw came in an interview for a management position. One of the faculty members, stated quite baldly that "my kind" were not hired in their department (Science). That, I should know better than to try to rise above my station (the year was 1980). I stood up, stopped the interview and went directly to the President. All hell broke loose after that and I never again allowed myself, in the words of the great Holy Man, Hin-Mah-Too-Lah-Yahk-Kekt (Chief Joseph), "to bow my head before any conqueror."
The Dean of Science tried to wiggle out of what happened, but there were five other people in the room, so with great reluctance, he was forced to offer a half-assed apology on behalf of his errant faculty member. He was typical of the academic breed who lacked the courage to face up to "not right" action, Ironically, it took that debacle to finally move me to the level of management. In the end it still wasn't my skills or education, but the fear of a public scandal that motivated the promotion. (Sigh!) Nonetheless, I was able to forge some solid relationships (the President at the time, included) and my stellar work record spoke for itself. I was a valuable member of the team, but not so naive by this point, that it couldn't be ripped away at a moment's notice.
Years, later, I made it to Senior Management, a lone Indigenous woman on a battlefield of non-Native sharks. They thought nothing of finding funny phrases like, "reserve Rita", "noble savage", "two tall totem" (a nickname I discovered when someone inadvertently copied me on an email). Every time it came to my attention I raised almighty hell. I was, indeed just too tall to think that small.
I brought my thirty staff together, and told them right up front that if Medicine Wheel knowledge was true, then I expected nothing but their best, and I, in turn would do the same, and not a racist word was to be spoken in the department or there would be hell to pay.
We were a team, and as such we would have
weekly circles in which office policies would be discussed under
an aura of inclusive, equal sharing. Office politics were now a thing
of the past for the simple reason that there is nothing more
boring. They laughed.
The floor was open for
suggestions, comments, baring of souls, and what happened in the
circle stayed in the circle. To the best of my knowledge, once
we all got used to the idea, our business did remain our
business and staff felt more and more comfortable about
revealing their feelings because they knew I had their back.
We worked in a high volume area that required enormous energy eight hours a day (for me, between ten and twelve hours). Rest and Contemplation were important life and business skills, and once a month, we would spend an hour in meditation and sharing.
I introduced policies and practices that allowed for effective team-building and support. The buddy system really works! Without hesitation, I hired people with high degrees of skill, and surprise, surprise knew more than I did on some things! Employees were given some measure of control on a day-to-day basis, after all, they did the work, they knew best on a variety of issues. Motivation eventually became a non-issue.
In other words, I refocused attention back on the staff and created a situation where they could choose to be a viable team member in a place of safety, knowing that if they chose not to engage there would be no hard feelings and I would endeavour to find them a position elsewhere. It happened only once. She just couldn't work for and with an "Indian".
It was not perfect, it never can be when a disparate group of humans get together. A state of symbiosis takes hard work, trust and commitment on both sides. Generally speaking, however, where both management and staff had a pretty-much equal say in how things were run worked superbly.
The staff were pretty over-whelmed in the beginning that there was a manager who actually gave a damn about their lives, their work and their future goals. Interesting that no one commented or judged the fact that I was Indigenous. Such things were left to the university executive and faculty to do!
Too much work, too little time, lack of validation by managers adds up to high absentee rates and general ennui in performing daily tasks. Company loyalty by employees is a dream only to be wished for and is more and more a thing of the past. All the pats on the back will not heal a stressed heart. If an employee is suffering from family strife; lack of a solid economic base; single parents with kids; divorces, deaths, etc., s/he will lack focused attention and commitment. Companies would probably save millions of dollars in lost productivity due to high absenteeism if they:
Walk the walk, rather than just talk the talk.
Do not just pay lip service to supporting employees and then do nothing to show them. It simply remains an idea, and bottom‑line issues suffer as a result.
It seems to me that we often spend more time in the workplace than we do with our own families. It behooves us, therefore, to try to create connections with one another and find mutual rhythm, balance and harmony in order to achieve personal and company goals. Duh! I'm not sure why this seems to be so revelatory to many companies. If we all co-operated we could save the damn world!
My skills as a Medicine Wheel teacher worked seamlessly with my skills as a senior manager in a culturally diverse, unionized situation. Achieving this level of management did not mean I forgot where I came from. Neither group should have to sell their souls to get the job done and it is no secret that contented humans encourages relationships that cross cultural, political, social and professional boundaries. Just get it done, people!
Finally, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Serenity can always be found within the Storm. Wilwilaaysk, All my Relations
First Nations people are at a point in history where a decision to move forward, or not, must be made. Who does it benefit that we are taking the worst of European culture and using it against ourselves. How is helping with the healing process? Do we honour ourselves as well as our Ancestors who died often tragic deaths if we remain victims? Should we continue along the road of victimization, despairing at our losses and doing nothing about it? We can no longer sit on the sidelines of our own cultures spinning our spiritual tires waiting for someone else to solve our problems. We can no longer remain static with our hands held out to the power brokers for more and more funding. We must stop creating toxicity within our own organizations with infighting, intimidation, power-mongering, in other words, politicking of the lowest forms.
Moreover, we can no longer continue along the path of reliving the suffering of our Ancestors over and over again. It keeps their spirits restless.
The Oppressed have become the Oppressors as we continue to fight and gossip among ourselves, about losing our "traditional values". Do we, as Native people, really even know what we are talking about when we expound on 'traditional’ things? Have we raised several generations of Native people on a diet of generalities and trite phrases? We were not put here to be ploughed under by the miscreant ambitions of spiritually and morally bankrupt people both inside and outside Native country.
Each First Nations person born in the generations succeeding the first cultural genocide attempts are living with the fallout of continued pressure to assimilate into so-called mainstream Canadian culture. As a result, Native children are growing up in families bereft of tribal knowledge that sustained the tribes for thousands of years. They are grappling with the substance abuse of their grandparents and parents, often falling into the same patterns themselves because they feel helpless in the face of such despair, lack of mentorship and loving families.
Subsequent generations not only carry the strain of individual anguish and attempts to heal, but as difficult as it is, we also carry the responsibility of healing entire Native Nations. The despair is great and trying to find a cohesive way to heal is next to impossible – too much infighting, too much politicking on reserves as well as within urban native organizations. Into the mix comes stereotypical attitudes from the wider world that Native people are either saintly/spiritual souls or drug-addicted alcoholics. There seems to be no middle ground, and somehow out of all of this Native people have to heal – and NOW, according to an impatient Canadian populace.!
As a sad Chippewa song laments:
"The Sound is Fading Away - It is of Five Sounds - Freedom -
The Sound is Fading Away - It is of Five Sounds"
I believe it to be possible to combine what we have left of our Native cultures, honour our memories and allow our histories to meet and thrive with the good things that come from the interaction with other cultural histories and relationships. Firstly, however, we must take a good hard look at who we are, and, more importantly, who is telling us who we are both inside and outside our communities.
Never in the history of the world has a race of people been so exposed to so many people who know so little, but think they do. Never has a race of people had their culture purloined in so many ways by so many misguided souls who end up becoming more native than the Indigenous people themselves! And then to add insult upon injury, many of these same people say, “We give you money, why won't you heal?”
To make matters worse, within our own people there are those who choose to elevate themselves to Leadership/Elder status having not done much in the way of spiritual work - read a few books, talked to a few people - BINGO! I am a carrier of sacred knowledge. Huh? How did that happen? Teachings can be easily skewed according to the mind set of the person giving them.
Native people have been on sensory overload for seven hundred years trying to come to grips with the new religions, while still trying to hold on to whatever traditional values and spirituality we have left. This has been a bit of a losing battle as we now only have partial understanding of our cultures having lost so many generations of Native People to the horrors of Christian residential schools, Indian wars and racist laws, among other things. Therefore, it is very easy to set oneself up as a teacher of all "things native" because who is going to know if you are right or wrong?
To pass on traditional knowledge requires dedication to a life filled with a large dose of listening, listening, listening, mixed with another healthy dose of integrity, mixed with a healthy dollop of Ethic #1, Non-interference, topped off with huge amounts of compassion, respect and humour. In other words, to know where I am going, requires that I know where I came from. If I am going to "talk it", then I'd better be "walking it." Wilwilaaysk, All My Relations.
WHEN NATIVE IDENTITY IS A POSTCARD
In the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries it became increasingly difficult to be a member of a First Nations because so many others who were not First Nations also want to join the party. Not only are we trying to sort ourselves out, but we are also having to deal with what I call "spiritual cherry pickers", those folks unhappy in their own skins, and see greener pastures in Native Spirituality.
Shannon Speakes: "Are you telling me you spent a weekend with an Elder, and now you are a pipe carrier for a tribe? Are you Native? No? How does that work? You mean to tell me that I didn't have to spend forty years learning and living my Native culture? Damn!"
Let us talk about the identity and healing process of Native people for a bit. Fortunately, it is in our DNA to adapt to our surroundings. We have done it for thousands of years. Sheer survival depended on our willingness to adapt to change (environment, social, political). In present day realities, perhaps we have not acted as quickly as others would like, but it certainly has not stopped others from being attracted to "things Native".
First Nations traditional culture and spiritual practices are routinely
bought and sold for profit. In my frequent travels across Canada, one of
my favourite pastimes is to drop into souvenir shops, and see the
"Made in Japan" Native dolls
standing forlornly on dusty glass shelves beside
"Made in Japan" Royal
Canadian Mounted Police (R.C.M.P.) dolls. The R.C.M.P. are still
standing guard, even on glass shelves in cheesy souvenir shops! If ever
there was a metaphor for why we are struggling with our healing, this is
May I remind you that we are intelligent flesh and blood people with dreams, feelings, hopes for a wondrous future and economically viable businesses. Yet more often than not we are depicted as romantic images on postcards and calendars, to be sold as prime examples of Canada's tolerance for racial and cultural diversity. People flock from other countries looking for the noble savage. The closest you will come in Toronto, will be to find life-sized statues of fibreglass moose on every Toronto street corner, a gift from a previous quirky Major in the late 1990s!!
How many times have I been stopped on the street, and asked, "Are you a Real Indian?" My usual response is, "Why not ask the question you really want to know, am I a fake Indian?" The response is usually a blush, a stammer and a slinking down the street leaving me gnashing my teeth. Do not confuse me with the "wannabe Native", "I wannbe part of your culture, because mine sucks!"
Although these misguided yet sometimes earnest souls are a source of much amusement, particularly to Elders such as myself, many of them are very sincere and to them I tip my moccasins and answer their questions sincerely and without judgment. However, there are others who tend to become self-proclaimed 'Native’ experts after a weekend of Native culture, who then proceed to offer their own sweat lodges, and other sacred ceremonies for a price. I lament again, never has a culture had to put up with so much from so many for so little gain.
A Story: I was on a speaking engagement in Germany some years ago. The audience was more than a little disappointed that my keynote was not peppered with romantic references and rhetoric. They absolutely did not want to hear about reserves, residential school, or the 1876 Indian Act, which of course, is exactly what I gave them. I do not believe in sugar-coating that which is made of bile in order to create a fantasy world of romantic dreams and illusions for international world to bask in. We are talking about repeated attempts at ethnic cleansing, and one would think, of all people, the Germans would have a little compassion and understanding.
In retrospect, perhaps this is why they prefer to buy into the romance of Native culture, because the rest of it hits a little too close to home! Nonetheless, it will not be me who paints a distorted picture in order to save the delicate sensibilities of those who choose to believe another story.
I leave that to the Carl May's of the world, a German writer who, in the 1920's, wrote fanciful tales about North American Indians. Generations of European children grew up on these stories. In his entire life Carl May never left Germany, and those of us on the other side of the big water have had to live with the fallout of his romantic meanderings ever since. There is even a theme park now.
Whose idea was it to think that the lives of Native people living in a harsh, untamed land should be so fictionally idealized? (See "When Indigenous History is Rewritten: The Musical" below). In reality, the so-called "Indian Wars" were dirty, vicious and, for the most part one-sided. In the United States, for example, the victories at Rosebud Creek and Little Big Horn River in 1876 may have won the battles for some of the Plains such as the Cheyenne, Lakhota, but ultimately, and very soon after, the overall war was lost. The tribes were never again able to muster that much Native fighting power. People were just too hungry and too divided and eventually succumbed to the inevitability of being forced onto reserves far from their ancestral homes.
These stereotypical images endure however, as Native people are a saleable commodity. We make for really swell photographs. But in the cold light of day, when the lights from the cameras are off, and the tourists have gone home clutching fistfuls of postcards, and other memorabilia, Native People remain behind, not quite good enough to be acknowledged as culturally valuable except for that which can be sold for profit, or which can be exploited in the name of ‘humanity’ by an indifferent government to make them look good on the world stage. The United Nations had other opinions however having condemned Canada on several occasions for its sorry record in the treatment of First Nations people.
Little of the monies gained from all this exploitation finds its way back to Native communities. We are not, overall wealthy people, so it is often difficult for us to keep our history in the forefront. We are not in a financial position to build monuments and museums showing the abuses of the last seven hundred years. All we know is, as a friend of mine once said, "You gotta be hip to history, or be doomed to repeat it." Amen.
For my Mother
sakes, I do not want what happened to them to rise
again. We must learn from it, acknowledge it, and then move on.
Wilwilaaysk, All My Relations.
IScene Two: British soldiers, dashing and gallant stroll about
the stage singing drinking songs. There is a call to arms, and they roar with glee, victory pounding in their hearts. Another song, "Red Devil Boogie" is sung.
Scene Three The men are adorned in bright red coats, white breeches and shiny black boots striding in conspicuous fashion through the woods (what were they thinking? Like bright red wouldn't be noticed by the Native warriors?), secure in the knowledge that their devotion to God, Queen, Country and a really good musket would secure their victory and vanquish the "red devils". Again a resounding chorus of the "Red Devil Boogie".
Scene Four: Insistent pounding of the big drum, as there is a call to arms, this time, the "noble savage" rises at dawn, as good old Grandfather Sun, once again does his thing. He steps from his tipi (even though we are in Canada, historical accuracy is set aside in favour of romantic stereotypes), bare-chested, wearing buckskin pants with fringe. He places on his head a thirty-five pound, full ceremonial white-feathered eagle headdress. The feathers flow down his back. He sings in a thready tenor voice, sounding suspiciously non-Native, "I am pretty, oh so pretty, I am pretty, and witty and wise...."
A video flashes on at the back of the stage. Said, Noble Savage, leaps aboard his already galloping pony, as he smoothly fits an arrow into his bow, letting them fly with amazing accuracy, all the while controlling a galloping horse, 35 pounds of headdress, and whooping his steadfast belief that he can defend his way of life as he sings, "I'm gonna wash those Brits right oughta my hair." Oh yes, and he is also spitting feathers out of his mouth and eyes, along with slapping at flying fringe which is getting in the away of shooting his arrow.
A SHOT RINGS OUT! - "Oh no," the audience moans. Noble Savage, after all that effort, flies off his pony mortally wounded....splat....dead.
The soldiers sing a tune from Oklahoma,
"Poor Red is dead, Poor red man is dead, we took him down with a musket shot to the head. We were down upon our knees, but the shot was a breeze, 'cuz Hollywood rewrote it instead."
One final voice rings out, "How much can I get for that headdress?"
ABOUT THE INDIGENOUS ORAL NARRATIVE: AN OVERVIEW
It all started "back in the day" with the invention of the printing press which started the erosion of the oral narrative. The stories became words in books, but the subtle nuances, understandings and knowledge were lost and Native languages began to die out. Stories became "stand alone" narratives and the connections to the culture from which they originated was irretrievably severed.
Moreover, the Internet has shrunk the planet even more and people can move around wherever they desire even to the most remote places with the simple click of a mouse. It seems that this encroachment into unfamiliar territory includes collecting and retelling cultural histories without a real understanding of the culture from which the narratives come. And....we no longer have the patience to sit quietly and listen to the truth.
Unfortunately, today the modern teller is seen merely as an entertainer primarily for children, who works for very little (expectation usually being no payment) and simply recites words. A far cry from the once important person who had professional status in the community.
As a chronicler of Indigenous culture, I am reclaiming the honour and professionalism as a cultural guardian charged with the responsibility of being a powerful voice of change within the modern world. This vital aspect risks being lost in the mists of time as the world speeds up and our attention spans wane.
The true role of the Narrator is to teach about our cultures cultures, morals, spirituality, laws, and social values, that govern a community. Using the Oral Narrative as the forum, knowledge, values and beliefs are passed to future generations. Wilwilaaysk, All My Relations.
ON LEADERSHIP FOR ALL
The Covenant and Power
of Matriarchy Lies in Our Humanity
WHAT MAKES A GOOD LEADER
There is much responsibility associated with Leadership; It is a dynamic process and involves many interactions. It is not simply about leading other people. It has everything to do with how a person leads herself. Thoughtful self-assessment requires equal amounts of wisdom and courage. If she does not feel confident and hides behind a facade of timidity and passive aggressive manipulation, OR if he does not believe in himself, and hides behind a facade of bullying behaviour, then effective leadership cannot exist. One's own mental, emotional, spiritual and physical house must be in order to influence and effect positive change and healing in others.
There is no room for arrogance or self-serving attitudes when dealing with the bigger picture - refusing to get back in the trenches from whence one has emerged, suggests a reluctance to go back and revisit perhaps painful personal history; this reluctance translates to a lack of sincerity in really wanting to help others through shared experiences.
There is no such thing as a 'perfect' leader, one whose traits and attributes can be cut out of a common template and applied to all organizational situations. There are many different types of leaders who are equally effective in getting things done. Generally speaking, good leaders do have some similarities:
--Rather than looking at the dots that create a photograph, a good leader sees the big picture.
--The three C's: Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate
--The three S's: Share, Share, Share
--A good leader has the willingness to adjust personal habits and attitudes in order to accomplish goals.
--A good leader always, always remembers where she came from -- she willingly gets back into the trenches from time to time; she likes getting her hands dirty; yes, she answers her own telephone! - that is, she will lead by example.
--A good leader deals effectively and quickly with problems by anticipation and preparation.
--A good leader, is an innately good person because she understands her own 'soul', and the soul of the organization and the people she lives/loves/works/communicates with.
--A good leader is not someone who places his own wellness and self-gratification first.
--A good leader has the greater good of the people, organization and the surrounding community at the forefront of his general attitude.
--Dreams and visions are part of her building process.
--She sees change not as an obstacle but as an opportunity to move the process forward. All opinions are sought and valued.
--She has great compassion for all those affected by decisions of change, but she does not become overwhelmed with empathy.
--He knows it is simply not always about bottom lines.
--A good leader has the confidence to hire people who know more than she does on various issues. She know that it is not possible to have all the answers all of the time.
--A good leader knows how to get the best out of the people he is working with.
There is no freedom of speech when people are terrified of being wrong
--How well do you know yourself?
--When was the last time you sat in thoughtful contemplation reviewing your life, and where you are today?
--What does spiritual and emotional wellness mean to you?
--Can you define what it means to "stand in your truth?"
--How do you make decisions - alone, consensus, collaboration?
--When was the last time you admitted that you were wrong? How did that feel?
--When was the last time you admitted you did not know something?
--When was the last time you took responsibility for sub-par work done by subordinates?
--When was the last time you took ownership of sub-par work done by yourself?
--Describe your best three communication tools.
--When was the last time you took a reality/attitude check?
--When was the last time you elevated, supported or assisted someone else in a significant and tangible way?
--Have you ever hired or encouraged someone who knows more than you on a particular subject(s)?
--Describe three behaviors and competencies you consider drawbacks to your effectiveness.
--How do you define yourself: how much does your job define you? How much does your soul define you?
--What are some of the values that have shaped your life to this point? What works, what could be changed?
--Do you work to better yourself to be a better person or to be better than everyone else?
GENERAL GOALS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
--Encourage collaboration across cultural, political, social and professional boundaries.
--Build stronger links between colleagues.
--Emphasize the need for partnerships, team building and consensus.
--Support for middle Managers - it is generally their posteriors on the line!
--If the organization is a circle with the top revolving around the bottom which revolves around the middle, which revolves around the top, then much more can be accomplished because everyone knows what everyone else is doing.
--Identify, evaluate and respond to the many factors that determine a successful work environment.
--Create a new matrix for evolving new models of behaviour and creating dynamic new alliances among a variety of traditions and disciplines.
--Understand the importance of employee diversity in the workplace.
--Understand that Reflection and Contemplation are important Life and Business skills.
--Review Shared leadership tenets below.
INDIGENOUS GAMING AND CASINOS: ETHICS VS REALITY
Gaming on Reserves is not new. Prior to European
contact, on social occasions Native people engaged in what was to the
Ancestors an innocent and fun leisure activity. The Mi'Kmaq, for example played
called for the flipping of boned dice into a bowl; the Huron also had
a derivative of the game in which they used fruit stones as dice; the Nuu-chal-nulth called it
lehal; in this case drummers tried to
confuse their opponents. The Plains Native People (i.e. Lakhota) also
had a variety of gambling games, and on and on. Gambling was
restricted to the winter months, for such activity was thought to make
the people lazy if engaged in during the spring and summer months when
everyone was busy with hunting, fishing, trapping - preparing for
winter in other words.
final thoughts and ironies:
Wilwilaaysk, All My Relations.
Luther Standing Bear, 1868-1937
"I am going to venture that the man who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures, and acknowledging unity with the universe of things was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization."
"Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations."
Modern Native cultures are complex and difficult; it never used to be this way, but the imposition of European beliefs and values on well-established tribal societies forever changed The People. After The Change (basically 1491), how tribal cultures were treated became a patchwork quilt of racist, knee-jerk reactions by all-levels of Canada's new Government(s).
The bottom line was always divide and conquer, assimilationist policies which were founded on appalling intolerance and flat out aggressive, warrior attitudes, including the first acts of germ warfare perpetrated on a North American people. (See Facts and Fantasy). As a result tribal societies were and continue to be torn apart; over time the infighting among Native people escalated to a level that is now legendary amongst urban and reserve tribal units. The oppressed became the oppressors turning against themselves. Corruption in Native organizations is now almost commonplace.
A number of Native Organizations quite enjoy the patriarchal 'Power-Over', hierarchical mentality adopted from European attitudes, and have gotten away from the Matriarchal, shared leadership, consensual behaviour that ruled the tribes for thousands of years. In fact, most Band Councils are dominated by men reluctant to relinquish their power. In the time before The Change, Shared Leadership respected the gifts and talents of everyone, because it was felt as long as each person could use their special gifts, the tribe would hum for another day. Each person was valued, in other words, for what they could bring to the collective table of tribal civilizations.
Having said all that, it behooves all four main cultural groups (Red, Black, Yellow and White) as indicated by the photos above to get together in a manner that pleases their Ancestors in a spirit of peace, cooperation to create a better world for ourselves and future generations. There is not much time left, as the prophecies state we are in our final days. We must elevate ourselves above jealousy, hate, racial discord and disharmony. This is still time.
SHARED LEADERSHIP IS:
--A representative and collaborative decision making process characterized by collective empowerment. A co-operative effort, in other words, that should involve: Reserve and Urban Native Cultures; Elders, Women, Men, Young People and Children. These groups should include: status or non-status First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and any group or individuals committed to the elevation and promotion of Native culture, history and spirituality; all levels of Native and Canadian organizations and government infrastructures.
--A commitment to the principle of respect for the opinions of all those sharing in a common purpose.
--All social, political, racial groups must be treated equally, fairly. Every voice must be heard without judgment, criticism.
--Each person must be given the respect it deserves to stand in the truth of what she believes.
--As difficult as it is to do, "power over" mentalities, that is the desire to impose leadership, impose will on another must be set aside for the simple reason that this is not true leadership, but one frightened person, gender or group's desire to exert control for their own sake.
--Autocratic or authoritarian opinion in and of itself has no place within peaceful interaction. It upsets the balance and does not allow for participative or democratic exchange.
--Final decision-making authority can rest with a few, only if the body as a whole approves.
--Delegation in order to allow to free creative expression only strengthens a circles, not diminishes it. This requires trust in your own ability as a leader to allow someone who perhaps knows more than you on a particular issue to run with it.
--Delegation also extends to groups if you as leader, and the group member are confident they can do the task without overtupervision.
--True Leadership is All about support, sharing, caring and cooperation.
--Comprises structures, procedures, standards and time limits arranged to make decisions and policy in an orderly and effective manner.
--True leadership is knowing when to hold, when to fold, when to give, when to receive.
--Necessitates that all participants attempt to arrive at a consensus when making decisions appropriate to their responsibilities. Therefore, all participants share in the consequences of those decisions.
--Neither create nor sustain groups or organizations that benefit only certain individuals or particular interest group(s), but function to achieve the elevation, missions and purposes of all of Canada's Indigenous Peoples.