Message from Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, Nii Gaani Aki Inini, January 26, 2021 As humanity, we continue to struggle in finding our true identity. In the belief system of Indigenous Peoples, the Knowledge Keepers remind us, “Mayaa kanane da kook ochi-chi-koon. The most important element of our nature is the spirit.” The majority of discussions taking
Message from Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, Nii Gaani Aki Inini, January 26, 2021
As humanity, we continue to struggle in finding our true identity. In the belief system of Indigenous Peoples, the Knowledge Keepers remind us, “Mayaa kanane da kook ochi-chi-koon. The most important element of our nature is the spirit.” The majority of discussions taking place are primarily from a political, scientific, or intellectual level. There’s very little mention of the spiritual realm.
The Elders say, “Never overstep the beginning.” The beginning is the spirit. The spirit is the voice you hear in your heart. The heart always senses the truth and the need to change first. This is the reason why the Elders say, the answers you are looking for are within you. The purpose of the rites of passage was to hear the voice within you. It was done by being in the environment of Mother Earth. It was during this time on the land, you would abstain from food and water. The Elders say, “Clear yourself for the spirit to come to you. While on the land, use your natural senses to hear and smell the land.
Use your sight to see the beauty of the land and touch the Earth to feel the heartbeat of the land. When you complete your fast, you see the water and food as medicine.
Speaking from my own spiritual journey, I have come to realize it is this spiritual influence that has affected my life the most, through following the ancient protocols of rites of passage. It was the spirit that came in vision and dreams that guided me to what gave purpose and meaning to my life.
Dreams and visions have always guided us. It was through dreams we were given the gifts we hold today – the sacred pipe, the sacred drum, our languages, our teachings, our laws that come from the spirit and the land. The ceremonies were done to connect and offer gratitude to the spirit. The teachings and laws, given to all of humanity, bet offer definition to the spirit. These laws need to be lived from the heart, from the spirit.
The vision quest has for thousands of years been the rite of passage to manhood for young Indigenous boys. Young women also have their rites of passage, best explained by the Grandmothers. Boys become men by being initiated by women in a process started by their own mothers – and then, at the age pf puberty by going to the land, to Mother Earth, the first woman, the first mother, and the source of life for us all. They reach out in humbleness to the Great Spirit – the highest power of all – to bring them a vision or dream that will help bring meaning and purpose to their life as men.
Without vision, a boy never truly enters manhood. They are missing the deep-seated passion that drives a man to follow the responsibilities of fulfilling his purpose on Earth. This rite of passage taught the young boy no one could find his life for him, but himself. Mother Earth would be the one who could help him. He was to overcome any fears he may have being on the land. In his quest, he had to connect to the land by feeling the land.
Once an individual seeks their vision, it inevitably leads to a collective; for humankind to have a collective capacity to work together taking care of the Earth. Each of us has a beautiful gift. We are not the same, and that uniqueness within the human family is there to create a better world.
The world is in need of a new thought, a new plan, a new vision. And it begins by returning to the spirit and the land. There is no greater way to show appreciation and gratitude to the Creator than by loving the land and returning the love the land is giving to us.
As Anishinaabe people we were given teachings inclusive to all life. There are seven animals that represent the seven Sacred laws of the people. We call upon the spirit of these animals, beginning with the law of Respect.
Respect – Represented by the Buffalo – is to be a giving and sharing people, first and foremost, following the example of the Buffalo who gave its whole being for the life of the people.
Love – Represented by the Eagle – is what our nation should be all about, loving the Great Spirit, loving Mother Earth, loving ourselves in the way we were created, and loving each other in the highest way, as the eagle brings vision that is always based on love. Through the unconditional love of the Great Sprit, we have all been given the ability to have vision.
Courage – Represented by the Bear – is to live from the heart, having the courage to be ourselves. It takes courage to do the right thing for the sake of the Children, the way a mother bear would die before seeing harm come to her cub.
Honesty – Represented by the Sabe or Bigfoot – is being honest with ourselves, speaking and living our truth from the heart. Honesty is refusing to lie or engage in gossip about others. It is simply being true to our words. Honest is to never judge or condemn within the human family.
Wisdom – Represented by the Beaver – is about using the gift the Great Spirit gave each of us to serve and build a strong family, community and Nation. Our gifts do not belong to us as individuals. They belong to all the people. It is our responsibility to serve for the good of the Nation. If the beaver did not use his gift to build, his teeth would grow long, and he would ide. Similarly, if we do not use our gifts in a good way for the benefit of the Earth and the brothers and sisters of our nations, we too would die spiritually, and experience the negative consequences of natural law.
Humility – Represented by the Wolf – is about showing gratitude for life received, never overstepping the Natural Laws of Mother Earth. Humility is to know that not one of us is ever above or below our fellow human beings. We are all equal in the eyes of the Great Spirit. There is so much we could learn from the wolf. The teaching of humility is especially important for the leaders of the Nation.
Turtle – Truth is represented by the Turtle. Our motherland is referred to as Turtle Island. To know and live truth is to walk and live all the Seven Sacred Laws. Living truth means living in the spirit of Respect, Love, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility and Truth. It is when we live truth that we will know peace and find the truth of our humanity. Our spiritual constitution is written on the turtle. The turtle lives in the water and on the land to remind the whole world of the truth we should be living by.
These Seven Sacred Laws should act as the foundation for anything we created as we build a new world.
The youth of today should be offered expanded opportunities of education. These seven sacred laws need to be established as the basis and foundation of all education. It is through Knowledge Keepers’ guidance, teachings and the ceremonies they conduct, that youth can be supported in knowing and feeling the land.
We must revolutionize our education system, calling upon the Knowledge Keepers to create an Earth-based education, as the foundation to all forms of education, complete with teachings and ancient approaches of connecting to the land, including rites of passage for all young people. Learning to read the Book of Nature gives our youth the best chance of surviving with a knowledge of how to follow the laws of nature.
After much reflection, and witnessing what is happening to our world, it has become quite clear that humanity is suffering from the mindset of domination, originating from the idea that we could control and dominate Nature. We have dehumanized ourselves with a loss of value for the sacredness of life. The victims of that are our children and the land. The land is the foundation of life and must be treated with absolute respect. To do anything less, we harm not only the Earth, but ourselves.
Issues such as climate change, pandemics, racism, violence, mental illness and addiction are symptoms. The root of our dilemma, which has created these symptoms, is a severing of our relationship with our source of life, the Earth. When we lose touch with the Earth, we lose connection to our true spiritual identity, and a true understanding of our uniqueness, our purpose as humanity, our original instructions, and our duties and responsibilities.
The cure for all these symptoms is reconnecting to the land. We take the youth to the land to learn the ancestral ways of stewardship, based on these inclusive values – the seven sacred laws.
It’s not just about going to the land, it’s about rekindling our spiritual relationship with the land, and in doing so, rekindling the spiritual part of our nature and our true identity as humanity. For us, ceremony is about thanking the spirit and land and creating sacred relationship. Before we go to the land and engage with and receive from the land, we always do a ceremony of gratitude. Showing gratitude rekindles the spiritual part of our nature and makes us kind and humble.