Bridges or Roadblocks?

Posted by on Jan 11, 2013 in Opinion


One thing I know is that our strength as Indigenous peoples comes from connection to our spirituality and our connection to the land and to the waters. The spirit world communicates with us in many ways, including through dreams.  Last night I had a dream I know was a message for all of us, and so I share this with you.

Last night as I slept I was in forest when a bear approached me.  I was scared of him initially but I just stood there and waited for him to act.  He spoke to me and I was amazed that I could understand him. He spoke in my language and said, “Aambe, gego giiwaabade’in” (“follow me, I want to show you something”).

I followed him deeper into the forest.  He was a big bear, strong, powerful and beautiful.  When he came to the very large log, he put his paws on it and rolled it over.  He ripped the bark off by scraping it.  Then he laid down and stuck his tongue out onto it.

I laid down near him quietly and watched as little ants began walking up his tongue.  Then he flicked his tongue into his mouth.  He put his tongue out onto the log again, and again ants walked up his tongue. This went on for what seemed like all day. I got tired and was almost falling asleep watching, but I kept myself awake, because he told me to follow him and watch.

He did that all day back and forth.  I could hear him breathing, sometimes he sighed heavily, and sometimes he closed his eyes.  But he did not stop putting his tongue on the log and waiting for the ants.

When it started to get dark he got up, he packed the bark with his paws like he was closing the bark, and turned to me and said, “Owe, giiwaabanda’in eshchige’aan. Mii chazhegiiwe’ninaan. Beminizho’ishin.” (“I wanted to show you this. Now I must take you back. Just follow me”).

I followed him back and was in awe of him for the patience that he had to lie there all day and extract those ants using his tongue.  I was amazed at his calmness in what he was doing.  He didn’t get excited.  He remained calm throughout.  His dedication is something I don’t have.  Those virtues of patience, calmness and dedication he had, I admired and wanted for myself.  He reminded me of the calmness of the grandmothers and the dedication I’ve seen before watching my mother work herself to the bone.

What my dream tells me regarding Idle No More and the struggles of our people is that we need to be patient and that we need to be calm.  We need to show our children that same patience and calmness.

This is why the call today by Chiefs in Ontario and Manitoba to block roads and railways is something I’m not comfortable with and I’ll tell you why. But first, let me state I fully support Idle No More and what we are all doing. We need a new relationship based on respect.  I also believe in protests, round dance flash mobs and other forms of resistance.

To me blocking roads and railways is like cornering a cat or a dog or a snake. It causes society lash out. It causes tension to build and anger to build and that anger spills into their homes and their children pick up on it.  When their children and our children need to have a better future together, creating anger and frustration is not the way.  We have to do what we can for the future.

What we find ourselves in today is at least 150 years in the making.  It has taken many generations to get where we are.  And it will take a while to get ourselves to the place we want to be.  The bear showed me clearly we need to have patience and understanding, and as frustrated as we are we need to build bridges to bring society to us.  It’s not fair, but it falls upon us as Anishinaabe people to educate society about the sacredness and importance of land, water and environment.  They don’t understand.  And they need to.  They can’t teach their children what they don’t know.

In our language we call ourselves Anishinaabe, which simply means, “people.”  Racism came to us.  In our traditional ways of seeing the world, everyone is only human.  No one is above.  That is why we don’t think of the Prime Minister as being higher than us. Or the Governor General.  We recognize the office they hold, but as human beings we don’t see them as different or more important than any one of us.

“In our ceremonies, we sit in a circle. Nobody is better than anyone else. We all learn from each other and are equal.”

If we don’t teach society about us, racism will continue growing.  I’ve grown up my whole life experiencing racism against me and against our people.  I had to work very hard on myself to let go of my anger for what I’ve experienced.  And I know it shouldn’t be up to us to have to educate Canadians.  But it is.  It is up to us.  We must have patience, as the bear does, even as we sigh and get tired as the bear in my dream did.

We must remain steady and calm.  And in these qualities, I as a man, think we need to listen to women.  We have to be in balance.  And that is what being Anishinaabe is.  Being in balance with the Mother Earth.  That is why we always give back or make offerings to the spirit world, to Mother Earth and in our ceremonies to keep in balance.

I was told Creator told us all “Come to my fire, feel the warmth of my fire, and while you’re here at my fire I’ll explain to you who I am.  After you have received the warmth of my fire go get kindling for the fire so that others will come by my fire and learn.”

Miigwetch Mkwa for showing me patience, care, and love.  And also showing me the way today.

Follow on Twitter: @alowhite1

Alo White (Mide Kiwenzie/Bizhew Dodem /Nano Midewi) is respected for the knowledge he carries of Anishinaabe language culture, songs & spiritual ceremonies from his community of Naotkamegwanning First Nation (Treaty 3) in Northwestern Ontario.  He is currently working on a series of recordings under his label Alo White Recording Studios, recording Elders from the Treaty 3 area under the project titled “Preserving Anishinaabe Music.”


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  1. Judith Pierce Martin
    January 12, 2013

    Wonderful piece. And so true in all its aspects. And one of the points you made is so true – if bridges and train tracks are blocked, other Canadians see that as acts of aggression against them (they can’t get to where they were going) and no matter how sympathetic they may feel to the cause, they will immediately turn their backs. And why stop trains or cars or trucks from being able to move? The people in them are just ordinary Canadians trying to either get to their jobs or do them. Your quarrel is not with other Canadians, it is with the government of Canada, the Conservative Party, and Harper and his ministers.

    Idle No More should keep raising its voice, should keep marching and singing and dancing, should keep the pressure on. Power is being non aggressive. Strength is being peaceful.

    • William Thornton
      January 14, 2013

      peacefully @ Judith
      Does the ordinairy canadian ‘just trying to get to their jobs or do their jobs’ need to be encouraged to educate themselves?
      Maybe they do.
      Is there an urgency to stop these ominous bills now?

      I don’t agree with the assumption that the ‘ordinary canadians’ “will immediately turn their backs”. People naturally want to care but are too distracted with personal day to day survival in this competitive social economic environment.

      Maybe blocking the road will help them to ‘take a break’, thus giving them a reason to be thirsty for knowledge and connect the dots as to how government management is effecting their health and quality of life. They would say, ” Oooops, Now maybe its time for me to start paying attention issues on a grander scale because it is directly effecting me !”

      Promoting education regarding divide and conquer tactics which have been used throughout world history and how this tactic is used against movements would help. The facts of inequality, a degrading environment and society speak for themselves.

      There are many people in many circles who have the same core concerns with environment and the direction humanity is going such as the Idle No More movement and will understand the situation. We all want to grow up.
      Lets have hope, peace and no fear.

  2. Required Reading on Idle No More | c r o p s a m p l e s
    January 13, 2013

    […] I came across this piece by Alo White (Anishinaabe, Naotkamegwanning First Nation), in which he talks about a dream he had of […]

  3. Mike Ormsby
    January 14, 2013

    Maybe governments should think about their ’poor track record’ when it comes to ‘consultation’ of First Nations.Whether Provincial or Federal, governments should learn to listen to First Nations….to actually hear them….we have two ears and one mouth so should listen twice as much as we speak….

    But then it was said that when the Europeans first came and ‘discovered’ North America that they had no eyes and no ears, since they didn’t see or hear. Maybe it is time to change that. Open up their eyes….and ears….

    Native people sometimes wear what is called a Unity button….a button with the four colours of red, white, black and yellow on it….these colours represent the four sacred colours of the Medicine Wheel….the four races of man….and these colours all meet in the middle….so we need to learn to meet in the middle too….to actually find common ground….

  4. wes elliott
    January 15, 2013

    I agree up to having patience.Being Houdenosaunee, certain responsibilities far different from women. Men carry the burden of peace on our shoulders.Now that doesn’t mean we don’t fight to protect. As men we have our own council fire as do the women and our chiefs. We have had to protect a lot over the years. Our decissions are by consensus. Let me share with you. Decisions using a diversity of tactics we have used for years. Your familiar with Caledonia? We will not back off. Using our Great Law, a good mind and a consensus. we will continue our fight. So patienc its been. Takes time sometimes to reach a consensus. Times we have ro put it under our pillow to consider later.So please don’t interpret after patience that action isn’t to be considered. It is. Just sometimes choices must be put under the pillow.