When it became public in the days before #J11 that AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-Chut Atleo sent a letter to PM Harper inviting him to AFN’s January 24th, 2013 anniversary meeting of the First Nations-Crown gathering, I was immediately agitated. Was the AFN co-opting Chief Theresa Spence’s sacrifice and The Peoples (i.e. Idle No More revolution) work to push forth their own un-named agenda? Why was there no mention of Chief Spence in this letter? I became more unnerved when AFN agreed to PM Harper’s meeting date of January 11, 2013 (#J11) even after Chief Spence declined to attend because Governor General Johnston would not be in attendance.
As #J11 drew near, I could not believe that AFN was not communicating with The People; that National Chief Atleo was not bending over backwards to make his and AFN’s motivations and thinking clear to us – the people who the Chiefs say they represent; that he wasn’t doing everything possible to assure the people that he was on side with Chief Spence and INM and would act accordingly.
On January 10th I woke up in real need of a ceremony where each of us could say our piece and hear each other. I felt that such a ceremony would make our differences clear and would be a way to hold National Chief Atleo and other AFN leaders accountable to us, spirit, and mother earth. It would compel them to talk and gives us clarity. More than this though was my wish that no matter what, after #J11, we as Indigenous peoples and Nations, would still be one, even in our differences; that we would be able to, despite our differences, orient our selves around one matter of importance and respect each other’s autonomy to proceed how we saw fit.
Well, of course, this ceremony was never going to happen. So, as writers do, I made it happen through story. I needed some medicine, it was not being provided, and so I made the medicine myself. I wondered if others needed the same.
While that day has been and gone with no word from National Chief Atleo, inflammatory words from the interim AFN leader have recently been made, re-igniting my concerns that divisions are being carelessly incited. What are these men thinking? Doing? Most importantly, Ogitchidaakwe Spence’s requests have still not been met and she is beyond day 40 of her hunger strike.
The need to prevent entrenched divisions continues to be necessary; the need to come together for one purpose is necessary if we, with the powerful support of our allies, are to compel Canada to recognize us as sovereign Nations with whom it has treaties and with whom it cannot legally make decisions about our land and waters without our involvement and consent. For these reasons, I think the medicine in the short story I wrote a few weeks ago may still be relevant. I hope it might provide some medicine for these times as we, in support of Chief Spence and INM, continue the work of looking out for our mother and ensuring that Canada act honourably with us, the Indigenous Nations of Turtle Island. Nahaaw, mii sa iw.
Mindimoyenh & The Pipe Ceremony
by Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy
and then that mindimoyenh, gichi piitzijid, that old one, that elder, that woman said her words:
in the language of The People on whose land her feet stood
in the language of the One who was living there and giving up her life there, for The People
in the language of her own People, who acknowledge their greatest teacher in all things
Se:ko, Taanshi, Tanisi, and Greetings to all the Peoples of Our Lands and to those here in this circle who are not from this land but stand beside us, with full mind, heart, spirit, and body and those too who are bound to us through children.
in this way she acknowledged those who came to partake in spirit and ceremony with each other through the power of paawagan, the pipe. in this way she spoke her loving, reverent words to all the spirit families that live in each of the directions, live there in a continuous cycle of giving life. in this way she acknowledged all of life: seen & unseen, forgotten & remembered; human and non-human. in this way, she humbly asked for their presence. then, she and the People sang songs of life, of gratitude, of the coming dawn, of prophecy, of hesitancy, of joy, of lament, of warriors, of life in the morning, of offering medicine, of butterflies and bears and rain…
the island shivered.
mindimoyenh turned to those who stood beside her and spoke quietly to them, her eyes moving between theirs and aki, the earth. she gifted them, hugged them. she turned to the People and spoke her words:
The people here beside me have given up their days to help me with this ceremony. In that they have given up their days to help you. As you can see, we are really plain people. If you see a man who is not in a ribbon shirt, ask yourself why you do not see the man who has left his responsibilities and placed himself here with Us. If you see a woman who is not in a skirt, ask yourself why you do not see the woman who has endured so very much in her life to be here with Us. If you see a child running here and there, it’s beautiful that your eyes recognize play. If you see someone who looks like neither man nor woman or who looks like both man and woman, recognize them as that. These people beside me are Our Helpers. It’s for all of us to ensure their needs and the needs of their families are taken care of well while we are here.
and then she said:
For the past few moons the People have been rising, moving, dancing, writing, singing, walking, standing, reading, talking, laughing, fighting, crying, thinking, blogging, tweeting, driving, flying, educating, meeting online, criticizing, supporting, beading, hunting, snaring, being sure, being confused, watching, listening, dreaming, praying, smoking, fasting, and starving….
The People have been doing this because The People have been compelled to do this. There have been many helpers, too.
Those who have made Treaty with us, or agreements with us, or say they will make agreements with us, are continuing to kill our People and are making moves to kill our Mother. They tried to kill our People when we did not want to Treat; they try now that we are in Treaty. They would do this to their own People as well; to the same Mother that will feed their children’s children. Some of our own People are a part of this.
My words are plain. If you are uncomfortable with them, please understand; swallow your discomfort, hold it close in a bundle lovingly and listen with an open mind and heart. These days will be your chance to listen to those around you. These days will be your chance to use your words, your heart words, your thinking words, the words of your spirit.
that old woman, she knelt down on that worn out hudson bay blanket and she prepared Paawagan. she held him close, lovingly. she rubbed nibi (water) on his stem. she whispered into her bowl. she talked to that asemaa (tobacoo), pressing her lips against her knarled hand. she offered Pawaagan to all directions.
the island shivered.
mindimoyenh spoke her words:
We are here on the matter of Windigo consuming us for hundreds of years. We are here in recognition that there are divisions amongst us, uncertainties. There is confusion. There is fear. We are here because we want to be together. We want to be with each other in our closeness and in our distance. We are here to smoke together and speak our words so that at the end of our dealings with Windigo and Windigo’s Helpers, we remain together as the Original Peoples of Turtle Island honouring first our Mother.
We remain together as the Original Peoples of Turtle Island honouring first our Mother.
Honouring first, Our Mother.
For those who believe that dealing with Windigo for the good of those of us living in sheds and with no water, please use your words and help us understand. Killing our Mother to feed our People is hard to understand. My words are plain. Please hear me. Do not deceive yourself. Windigo is Windigo. There is no other way to say it or explain it. Windigo gets Power from our land; we get Power from our Mother. Windigo gets Power by taking Our land and taking us away from Her. And those who of us, who suffer in sheds with no water, our children, do so because of a windigo life.
And, we have forgotten the give away.
For those that think Windigo can be outsmarted, speak your words so we can know your heart and mind and remain on our Mother, with our Ogitchidaakwewag and her Helpers, and simultaneously be beside you, in spirit, as you go on that path. If this is your way, let us, Your People, put you out on that Path in a good way, with your Protectors. If you intend on being a kind of Warrior that thinks there is a way to work with, partner with Windigo, let your Self be known to Us. Let your methods be known to us, to this sacred shkode (fire) and mokijiwanibiish (spring water), these medicines, and all the manidooyag that are here with us at this time. Let us know what you are doing so we can decide how to be with you.
Your words often sound like Our words but also like those of Windigo. It’s hard to know your meaning.
Tell us what Power you align yourself with: that of your Mother and Gizhewe Manidoo? Or, that of the institutions built by Windigo; the visions painted by Windigo?
For those who stand with our Mother and wish nothing to do with Windigo, speak your truth. Tell us why you stand where you do. Is it because you are not brave enough to face Windigo? Is it because you are courageous enough to not engage Windigo? Is it because you are afraid to leave her side or loyally stand by her side? Tell us your heart and mind. Speak your words.
For those who are divided in heart and mind, talk about that; give that to Us to carry, give that to shkode and drink some mokijwanibiish. Take your time and be still. Tell us how you are able to be here and there at the same time. Tell us how you are unable to be here and there at the same time.
I’m an old woman. I know where I stand. I’m here with these Helpers and we are here for you. We are no better than you or no less. We will also share our words when the time comes.
Ahaaw. Let’s smoke.
paawaagwan went around. the spirit of voice and listening went around. it took a long, long time. much was learned about each other. much became clear. the differences between the People became understood.
the island shivered.
turtle island grew.
mindimoyen said her words:
Now we know where each of us stands. Paawagan has given to us so we can have understanding and know Peace. Even in our differences that spirit is between us.
Let’s be together for our Mother first, forever.
Then, let’s come together again to discover how we might stop the suffering of our People by our own two hands, lands, and gifts given to us by Creation. This is the medicine that will empower Us and disempower Windigo. This is the mashkiki (medicine) that will bring balance.
then she spoke words of gratitude for everything. she spoke the word that acknowledges all of our relations and our place amongst our relations. The People went the ways that were each best for them. The People were still one, the Pipe between us, with the understanding that Mother is Our life.
Follow Waaseyaa’sin on Twitter: @waaseyaasin
Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy is Ojibway Anishinaabeg from Obishkikaang/Lac Seul First Nation (Treaty 3), grew up north of Bawating/Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (Robinson Superior Treaty), and presently lives in Nogojiwanong/Peterborough, Ontario (1923 Williams Treaty). She is a mother, adult language learner, active in Anishinaabeg maadjimaadiziwin (life-moving), writer, and is working on a dissertation that will contribute to the resurgence of Anishinaabeg women’s economic sovereignty and governance.3