Category Archives: First Nations

Wilderness, wonder and intentionality

Nestled in the woods just north of Frontenac Provincial Park, Wintergreen is a year-round education and retreat centre. Their focus is education, culture, and the environment and they offer courses and retreat and meeting facilities for individuals and groups.

Wintergreen - the lodgeInside the lodge

This last weekend we had the pleasure of staying two nights in the main lodge, a wonderful, off-grid straw-bale building with a green roof. The lodge sits in a meadow, immediately surrounded by flowers, herbs and vegetables with the forest beyond.

The garden

Wintergreen’s 204 acres features mixed forests and meadows, granite outcroppings, ponds, marshes, and a glacier carved lake – we managed to explore a good part of this during an awesome two-hour wilderness hike.

Glacier carved lake

I watched a beaver slide into a pond and swim across it, my first certain sighting. Less romantically but no less a landmark, I picked my first tick off my clothing as we sat on the dock by the glacial lake. With ticks increasingly present – even in Toronto this summer – and concerns about Lyme Disease, this is something we all need to know about!

Forest trail

I stopped worrying about sticking to ‘the beaten track’ (sometimes we lost the trail for a while) and soaked up the beauty of the woodland, the lake and ponds, the rock, as we explored, occasionally investigating one of the wilderness cabins (including a hobbit house) that dot the property. We did do a thorough tick inspection when we got back to the lodge, though.

Hobbit House (and hobbit?)

Earlier that day, I had joined thirteen other women in ‘Celebrating the Sacredness of Woman’, a workshop led by Julie Vachon a Metis woman who has studied with many elders and has attended ceremonies over the last 18 years. Among other things, we shared a new moon pipe, part of a ceremonial setting of personal intention at Sturgeon Moon, the August new moon. At a moment when my life is literally at the cusp of a major transition, this was moving and profound, as well as joyous.

This was one of those magic times outside time that feels utterly ‘meant’!

By the lake

 

See also Wintergreen Studios – a piece of heaven at the edge of wilderness – a Google Story for more photos!

 

Wikwmikong Cultural Pow Wow 2013

Wikwemikong Reflections

The windows of the school are boarded up for the summer and the supermarket’s windows are also barred. Signs outside the village speak of zero tolerance for drugs. For some reason, I had expected that Wikwemikong, as Canada’s only unceded Indian Reserve, would  be among those First Nations Communities that seem to be embracing contemporary life most positively . The reality did not, at first glance, live up to the optimism of the Band website.

Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve is the largest Anishnaabek community on Manitoulin Island. Located on the eastern peninsula, Wikwemikong is home to the people of Three Fires Confederacy: an alliance of the Ojibwa, Odawa and Pottawatomi nations. (from Wikwemikong’s website)

Later in our stay, talking to some Manitoulin locals, they seemed almost surprised we had ventured into the village – “we only go there for special events, like the Pow Wows“.  I’m glad we did, though, and although we did feel like outsiders, we did not feel in any way threatened.  What saddened me, beyond the shadow of boards and bars, was the poor choice of food available.

The Reserve still includes a great deal of semi-wilderness land. With limited economic opportunity and the legacy of the most shameful period of Canadian history, the evidence of a continuing struggle with drugs, alcohol and criminality is perhaps not surprising. It is patently clear, though, that there is much good work taking place and plenty of people with the will to shape a better tomorrow.

[Not a valid template][Not a valid template][Not a valid template]

[Not a valid template]It was interesting, at Holy Cross Church, part of the now ruined Jesuit Mission in Wikwemikong, to observe the intertwining of indigenous spirituality and Christianity. The Seven Grandfathers’ Teachings, the First Nations images,seem very appropriate and comfortable in the Church context. It gave me hope that the institutions that have so much to answer for in their past treatment of native peoples may have a genuinely important role to play in creating a shared  future.

[Not a valid template][Not a valid template]

Our host at the cabins where we stayed is the Band’s Renewable Energy Planner. She and her Mexican husband have created a lovely, small resort on Manitowaning Bay. Although she left the island to go to university half a continent away, she has brought her skills back to her home community, is part of shaping that tomorrow.

 [Not a valid template][Not a valid template]

One recent  initiative was the creation of the Bebamikawe Memorial Trail. We thoroughly enjoyed our hike there.  Accompanied by two dogs, who acted as guardians from the moment we arrived until we drove away, we walked the wooded paths to stand on stony shores, looking out on the vast horizons of Georgian Bay.  I don’t get the impression, though, that the trails are well used – we generally did not find it that easy to get at clear information. We would love to have experienced aboriginal theatre as presented by De-ba-jeh-mu-jig theatre group, but in the end could not pin down what was happening and when.

Set against the awareness of still untamed demons, Wikwemikong’s Cultural Pow Wow brought a wonderful sense of the renewal of connections to the traditional ways and of community. I found it fascinating, moving and full of hope. It was a revelation to begin to understand how many things we now tend to think of as created for tourism fit into traditional culture; to see beads and beautiful, soft, animal skins and furs being traded, as well as finished moccasins (I’m wearing a pair as I write), jewellery and more.

[Not a valid template][Not a valid template][Not a valid template]
[Not a valid template][Not a valid template]
[Not a valid template][Not a valid template][Not a valid template]
[Not a valid template][Not a valid template][Not a valid template]

Pow Wow costumes range from very traditional, sometimes ancient and laden with cultural significance, to much more modern, using an intriguing range of contemporary materials. Most are truly awesome creations, made lovingly and worn with pride. Cultural Pow Wow’s involve ceremony, a range of dancing competitions, as well as times when everyone can join in and dance. They are, as they have always been, a time of gathering, when tribes come together from far and wide, to celebrate, to trade, to renew connections and make new ones. Outsiders are welcomed; but it is not always easy to understand when it is appropriate to take photos and when not, so we can only hope that we stayed respectfully within the boundaries.

Chi-migwetch, Wikwemikong!

[Not a valid template]

Sadness mixed with hope – I guess, in truth, that is about the best I could have expected at this moment in time. It seems to me that we are reaching a tipping point in Canadian history. There is a deep need for modern Canada to acknowledge and own the shame of the near eradication of indigenous culture, the human impact of this and the immense loss it represents. The stories must be told and heard. But beyond the speaking and the listening, this is a time to begin to build new relationships, based on respect, that value the differences in cultural tradition and wisdom. It is time for Canada to begin the shift to a coherent, adult identity that marks its coming of age.

(You can click on any image to see larger versions of all the images on the page and there are more photos from our time in Manitoulin in our gallery – Summer Trip 2013)

Wikwmikong Cultural Pow Wow 2013

Summer Reflections 3: Wikwemikong

The windows of the school are boarded up for the summer and the supermarket’s windows are also barred. Signs outside the village speak of zero tolerance for drugs. For some reason, I had expected that Wikwemikong, as Canada’s only unceded Indian Reserve, would  be among those First Nations Communities that seem to be embracing contemporary life most positively . The reality did not, at first glance, live up to the optimism of the Band website.

Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve is the largest Anishnaabek community on Manitoulin Island. Located on the eastern peninsula, Wikwemikong is home to the people of Three Fires Confederacy: an alliance of the Ojibwa, Odawa and Pottawatomi nations. (from Wikwemikong’s website)

Later in our stay, talking to some Manitoulin locals, they seemed almost surprised we had ventured into the village – “we only go there for special events, like the Pow Wows“.  I’m glad we did, though, and although we did feel like outsiders, we did not feel in any way threatened.  What saddened me, beyond the shadow of boards and bars, was the poor choice of food available.

The Reserve still includes a great deal of semi-wilderness land. With limited economic opportunity and the legacy of the most shameful period of Canadian history, the evidence of a continuing struggle with drugs, alcohol and criminality is perhaps not surprising. It is patently clear, though, that there is much good work taking place and plenty of people with the will to shape a better tomorrow.

[Not a valid template][Not a valid template][Not a valid template]

[Not a valid template]It was interesting, at Holy Cross Church, part of the now ruined Jesuit Mission in Wikwemikong, to observe the intertwining of indigenous spirituality and Christianity. The Seven Grandfathers’ Teachings, the First Nations images,seem very appropriate and comfortable in the Church context. It gave me hope that the institutions that have so much to answer for in their past treatment of native peoples may have a genuinely important role to play in creating a shared  future.

[Not a valid template][Not a valid template]

Our host at the cabins where we stayed is the Band’s Renewable Energy Planner. She and her Mexican husband have created a lovely, small resort on Manitowaning Bay. Although she left the island to go to university half a continent away, she has brought her skills back to her home community, is part of shaping that tomorrow.

 [Not a valid template][Not a valid template]

One recent  initiative was the creation of the Bebamikawe Memorial Trail. We thoroughly enjoyed our hike there.  Accompanied by two dogs, who acted as guardians from the moment we arrived until we drove away, we walked the wooded paths to stand on stony shores, looking out on the vast horizons of Georgian Bay.  I don’t get the impression, though, that the trails are well used – we generally did not find it that easy to get at clear information. We would love to have experienced aboriginal theatre as presented by De-ba-jeh-mu-jig theatre group, but in the end could not pin down what was happening and when.

Set against the awareness of still untamed demons, Wikwemikong’s Cultural Pow Wow brought a wonderful sense of the renewal of connections to the traditional ways and of community. I found it fascinating, moving and full of hope. It was a revelation to begin to understand how many things we now tend to think of as created for tourism fit into traditional culture; to see beads and beautiful, soft, animal skins and furs being traded, as well as finished moccasins (I’m wearing a pair as I write), jewellery and more.

[Not a valid template][Not a valid template][Not a valid template]
[Not a valid template][Not a valid template]
[Not a valid template][Not a valid template][Not a valid template]
[Not a valid template][Not a valid template][Not a valid template]

Pow Wow costumes range from very traditional, sometimes ancient and laden with cultural significance, to much more modern, using an intriguing range of contemporary materials. Most are truly awesome creations, made lovingly and worn with pride. Cultural Pow Wow’s involve ceremony, a range of dancing competitions, as well as times when everyone can join in and dance. They are, as they have always been, a time of gathering, when tribes come together from far and wide, to celebrate, to trade, to renew connections and make new ones. Outsiders are welcomed; but it is not always easy to understand when it is appropriate to take photos and when not, so we can only hope that we stayed respectfully within the boundaries.

Chi-migwetch, Wikwemikong!

[Not a valid template]

Sadness mixed with hope – I guess, in truth, that is about the best I could have expected at this moment in time. It seems to me that we are reaching a tipping point in Canadian history. There is a deep need for modern Canada to acknowledge and own the shame of the near eradication of indigenous culture, the human impact of this and the immense loss it represents. The stories must be told and heard. But beyond the speaking and the listening, this is a time to begin to build new relationships, based on respect, that value the differences in cultural tradition and wisdom. It is time for Canada to begin the shift to a coherent, adult identity that marks its coming of age.

(You can click on any image to see larger versions of all the images on the page and there are more photos from our time in Manitoulin in our gallery – Summer Trip 2013)

The beginning of a journey . . .

I am creating this space as part of my journey of discovery of my new home-land.

It is a place to honour and find inspiration in traditions and ways of being not part of my personal history; to explore ideas, beliefs, stories and art forms.

It is also a place from which to bear witness to the deep, multi-generational pain wrought by the actions of those who came before me to this place and, instead of seeing native peoples with a rich indigenous culture, wisdom and a deep relationship to the land, saw only half-wild savages to be tamed and re-shaped to their own likeness.

I am no expert,  lay no special claim to knowledge or understanding. But I know it matters. So this is my space in which to investigate and record what interests me, what excites me, what saddens me, what resonates.

 

I believe strongly that the stories we tell about ourselves shape our lives profoundly. What happens when, instead of being told, those stories fall into a chasm of silence because this seems the only safe place for them in the context of the community? What happens when a culture with a strong oral tradition is forced into a forgetting of the words, of the cadence as well as the wisdom of its storytelling? What happens when established ways of dealing with  difficult experiences are derided or forgotten? How does the pain of the unspoken shape the lives of individuals and of a people?

And what happens when a dominant culture also adopts a code of silence? When at least a part of the message of apology seems to have a subtext; “those were different people, different times – I’m not like that”? What that we are doing now will that dominant culture be ‘apologizing’ for in 50 or 100 years?

 

It gladdens my heart that Canada has a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is a beginning. Some of the stories are being told and being heard. Learning about this work is an important part of my search for a deeper understanding.