Synthesis/Regeneration 5   (Winter 1993)

500+ Years of Learning

Working with the Grandmothers and GrandFathers

by Bryan Loucks, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario

For most people living in North America the image of the indigenous peoples of North and South America is coloured by stereotypical impressions feed by media and myth. Savage, romantic or domesticated and broken portrayals of Indigenous peoples abound. Yes, many indigenous people have resisted and still resist the takeover and exploitation of ancestral lands, forests and waters and the diminishment of our responsibilities as human beings by government, military and capital interests. Yes, indigenous peoples still live on lands where there is a connection which comes through the profound recognition of the land as Mother and home of our ancestors and future generations. Yes, there are those of us who are bent and damaged by generations of oppressive practices, theories and systems of knowledge built upon notions of materialism, patriarchy and ethnocentrism. In spite of such images and experiences indigenous peoples have endured and will continue to evolve.

For the newcomers to the Americas the last 500 years have been an unprecedented period of unbridled expansion and "progress." For many indigenous peoples this era is looked upon as the dark ages. Recently the winds of change and revitalization have begun to blow across these lands again. The suffering and darkness as well as our renewal and revitalization was prophesied by our ancestral visionaries and dreamers of long ago.

For many indigenous peoples this is a time of inner reflection and action. It is not only a time of looking at who we are and where we are going but also a time of looking at where we have come from. Through the process of looking backward we are rediscovering who we are and where we are going. It has required many of us to retrace our steps to critically examine our stories and begin the process of healing and re-creation. It is a collective as well as personal journey.

For many indigenous peoples this is a time of inner reflection and action....

We have been reminded by our elders that life is a sacred Circle that is in motion according to the rhythms of earth, sky and the four directions. We are told we are spirit and body as well as mind and that Anishinabe (original human being) came to this earth plane as a pure and connected being, untainted by original sin. Many of us have had to be reminded that we did not come across the Bering Strait in spite of what has been written in authoritative texts but rather it was the Creator that placed us on Turtle Island. We have been reminded that all peoples of the Earth are brothers and sisters each with our own history, gifts, responsibilities, voice and destiny. Yet in Canada (as in the United States), our languages are under tremendous pressure with only three indigenous languages out of the hundreds that once gave voice to our joys, sorrows and prayers expected to survive into the next generation unless significant changes are brought to bear. It is interesting to me that the environmental movement predicts a similar timetable for the point of no return... This is our home. We cannot go back to Europe, Africa or Asia to relearn the languages of our ancestors nor as human beings who share this planet can we look else where for our future.

As the last ones to arrive on this Earth our elders remind us, it is we as human beings which are most dependent of all Creation. A Creation which includes not only human beings but the waters, rocks, the plant life, the insects, animals, the birds as well as the ground we walk on. We are connected in a web of energy each with responsibilities to carry and perform.

We have been reminded that when first Man was placed upon this earth original Woman was already here. It is through her sacred waters that all Creation is given life. Woman nourishes the plants, animals and the insects as well as the unborn child. Indigenous women are healing themselves and altering the patterns of disconnection and abuse as they relearn the teachings of the Grandmothers. As mother and as the one given the gift of carrying life there is need for great respect and caring. As men and women we must learn once again to walk in balance with sacred woman and all Creation.

As men we are just beginning to recognize the teachings of the Sacred Fire, the Grandfather Sun, that burns within all life including ourselves. It is He that teaches us about our responsibilities to develop the discipline to do our work as men. It is he that teaches us to walk with woman and through our sacred work provide and protect the light, warmth and transformations that will support her in her work of Creation and completeness. As a man trained in the traditions of patriarchal relationships of domination and objectification as well as one who struggles with the pains and joys of personal experience, history and family it is an ongoing process to find once again harmony with Creation.

In the context of the movement toward recognizing the Earth as our sacred, collective home and future we need the commitment and vision of all peoples and their institutions. We need to move personally and collectively through ideological evangelicalism, self-interest and historical formations of abusive experience and myth into new relationships of respect and caring. We require educational institutions, in particular, which will support the healing of mind, body, spirit and relationships to each other and the Earth, as well as build new knowledge, alliances and the conditions to support the movement of transformational learning and action. Some of these efforts may include working with Indigenous peoples, indigenous knowledge and institutions based upon co-operative partnerships and respect for distinctiveness.

I would like to challenge the Green party and the movement to get involved, become informed and begin to work along side the Grandmothers and Grandfathers, women, men and children not as appropriators nor as manipulators but as Brothers and Sisters committed to healing and the care of all Creation.

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