Submitted by Turtle Lodge
Elder Dave Courchene, founder of the Turtle Lodge in Sagkeeng First Nation, opened a national mental health symposium, focusing on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, on February 6. Here is an excerpt of his comments.
“We live in a world today, continuing to witness the suffering of so many.
As humanity, we have not progressed in reflecting empathy and compassion for those who are marginalized in our society. There is so much judgement and condemnation towards those who have fallen victim to an unhealthy lifestyle. Much of the root cause of a negative lifestyle can be attributed to poverty, cultural assimilation, and simply genocide.
Historically, for the First Peoples of this land, much trauma has been experienced. You cannot take a land-based people and remove them from the land, with their spiritual beliefs, and expect them not to be hurt. The genocide of a people has created a suffering beyond suffering. FASD is one of many symptoms.
Prophecy has also foretold that in spite of the attempts to destroy the identity of the People, the People would rise again – we would rise above the hurt and the grief to reclaim our rightful place as the true leaders of our homeland.
Yes, we continue to witness the suffering in so many ways… many have become victims of a negative lifestyle. Alcohol has had a tremendous negative impact, that has destroyed and continues to destroy many lives.
The question we must ask is what can each of us do, to offer support for those victimized by this poison?
We quickly judge, condemn and ostracize them when what they need is for us to approach them with understanding, compassion, and support to help them in their healing.
We need to reflect on the reality of the environment we are living in today. A world of dependency has been created for us, that removes our attachment to the mother, beginning with our biological mothers and extended to the land. When this attachment to the mothers and to the land was removed, it created a loss of our independence and removed our dependency as a People on the land for all we needed to survive and thrive.
We find ourselves boxed in, in our communities, living under the dictatorship of a most racist, oppressive legislation called the Indian Act, that has created more dependency, entrenched us in poverty, and prevented or discouraged us from living our identity as a beautiful People.
But in spite of all of these overwhelming challenges, we have survived, granted, somewhat wounded. There are those amongst our Nations that refused the assimilation approach and they went underground to hold onto our way of life, complete with the language and the ceremonies. It is these ones who we must acknowledge, who have helped us to survive. Somehow our way of life has been passed forward, in that we still have our language and our ceremonies.
The Knowledge Keepers of our Nations have been very clear as to what we must do to revive and restore our true spirit – our true identity as a beautiful People.
We are being encouraged to return to the beginning, the beginning meaning the spirit. The ancestors lived a way of life connected to the spirit, through the many ceremonies that were done. Ceremony can heal a broken heart, and can offer direction and a way forward.
The Pipe ceremony has been a symbol of our sovereignty. The Knowledge Keepers of our Nations understand that our sovereignty has been bestowed upon us by the Higher Power of Spirit. For us, it is the Spirit that is sovereign. Our relationship with the Higher Power is what has defined our duties and responsibilities. Added to that has been our close and sacred connection to the land – by being close to the land and supporting her natural laws.
It is our beautiful way of life that needs to be brought back. Our cultural identity defines our duties and responsibilities as a People. We must begin within ourselves, our families, and our communities. We must break free from the colonial environment of dependence.
The role of the government should be in sharing the responsibility and helping to bring back what was taken away. As the Original free and independent Peoples of our homeland, our role is to take the lead in initiating our own dreams, which define our roles and responsibilities.
One example of this would be to support the youth with their rites of passage to adulthood. The Grandmothers and mothers teach the young woman about her sacred role and responsibilities as a life-giver and water-carrier as she enters puberty. For the young man, the rite of passage has been to go to the land, to fast, seeking a vision or a dream that will give him purpose and meaning in his life.
These rites of passage will help give greater assurance for young people going into relationships, to understand the duties and responsibilities of taking care of their children. The attachment of a child to her or his mother, to the land, and to a spiritual way of life filled with sacred values and teachings of compassion and empathy, needs to be nourished.
As Indigenous Peoples, our uniqueness is founded upon values and principles that act as a foundation in our lives. The Seven Sacred Laws are the foundation of how we live and how we should behave as human beings.
Time does not allow me to fully address these teachings. These Laws need to be shared in the sacred lodges of our People. These Laws cannot be intellectualized. They are living Laws, that need to be practised. When one enters a sacred lodge of our People, one learns, experiences and has the opportunity to practise the foundation of these Laws that we are to live by. The Laws are shared over and over again, and come with defined actions.
To put everything in its simplest context, Kizhayottiziwin – kindness, which reflects all the Seven Sacred Laws – must be how we proceed in creating support systems for those in need of our help. We must take our lead from our Knowledge Keepers and our Grandmothers, who know the spiritual protocols and strategies in nurturing the human spirit and connection to the land, with positive action.”