Past and Present Indigenous Lifestyles

Summary of The Legacy

Marie-Soleil Larocque

The Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada , called Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, is one of the most well know reports made about the past and present conditions of First Nations peoples in Canada. One of the chapters of this document, The Legacy. goes over the living conditions of First Nation peoples that are, according to the Commission, the direct result of the effects of Residential Schools and other discriminatory actions inflicted upon their peoples by non-Aboriginal citizens and the Canadian government.

Among the main points of “The Legacy” is a concern for child-welfare for Aboriginal families. According to the Commission, a “2011 Statistics Canada study found that 14,225 or 3,6% of all First Nations children aged fourteen and under were in foster care, compared with 15,345 or 0,3% of non-Aboriginal children.”(138) In other words, the rate of Aboriginal children being taken away from their families is quite higher in comparison to that of non-Aboriginal children. The reasons for this situation are many. To begin with there is the fact that a lot of the child-welfare agencies are not supervised by First Nations people, but by regular child welfare agencies which cannot understand the needs of those children and can have racist attitudes toward them. Also, when Native children are taken from their families, they are not placed into proper foster families. Their foster families are often not equipped to deal with Aboriginal children and their cultures, leading, more often than not, to these children ending up within racist or abusive families. Moreover, “in some part of the country, Aboriginal children who came into contact with child-welfare authorities are significantly more likely to die.” (141) The most commonly given reason by child-welfare authorities for taken the children away is a lack of proper home life mostly resulting from poverty. However, what is not often explained is that these conditions are a direct result, or legacy, of the residential school period. Indeed, Native children sent to residential school in Canada “were denied an environment of positive parenting, worthy community leaders, and a positive sense of self-worth. … [Children were removed] from their communities and [subjected] to strict discipline, religious indoctrination, and a regimented life more akin to life in prison than a family … [they] were more a child-welfare system than an educational one.” (135, 137-138.) The effects of the harsh treatment of residential schools resulted in an inability of Native people to reach a proper educational, emotional, mental and physical state for themselves. They lost their sense of identity and transmitted those negative perceptions to their children. Abused children often grow up to become abusers themselves since it was the only method they knew and lack of positive contacts during their childhood was reflected in their attitude toward their own children. However, those problems could be resolved, according to the Commission, through “more funding and research into preventive services that can support Aboriginal families.”(143) The Commission also feels that Aboriginal child-welfare should be operated by Aboriginals and “in accordance with [their own] traditional laws and traditional justice systems.”(143)

This lead to another point of The Legacy, that is the concern of education among First Nations people. Indeed, the poverty experienced by Natives is a direct result of their lack of effective and appropriate education. According to a census made in 2011, “29% of Aboriginal adults [did] not [graduate] from high school [in comparison to] 12% in the non-Aboriginal population.”(146) This gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal come firstly from the after effect of residential schools. Indeed, those schools were created as a way to destroy Native culture and to assimilate indigenous children into Western culture. However, residential school children, more often than not, never learned beyond elementary school subjects and were subjected to denigrating behaviour and mental, physical and even sexual abuse during those years. Those conditions became a big reason behind the lack of higher education in the Native population. Consequently, this lack of education makes it really hard for indigenous people to find employment and they often end up having to rely on government funds. Furthermore, the government gave little funding toward the foundation of good and up-to-date Natives schools. For example;

since 1996, funding growth for First Nations education as been capped at 2%,        an amount that as been insufficient to keep pace with either inflation or the            rapid increases in the Aboriginal student population. Meanwhile, between 1996 and 2006, founding to provincial and territorial school systems increased annually by 3,8%, almost double the increase for reserve schools (148).

In the end, the Commission calls for a reform of their school system. They demand more funding and better access to quality education.

Another point brought up by the Commission in The Legacy, is the increased loss of indigenous languages and cultures as a result of the residential schools. A great majority of the Natives children who went through the residential school system lost their because speaking their mother tongue was harshly punished. As a way to lessen the burden on their children, older generations often did not teach the children their ancestral language. Nowadays many Aboriginal languages are known only by the elderly and are close to extinction. The same for their culture. Many rituals and traditional ways have been lost to western culture through the effect of residential schools. Some of these children even further lost their identity when their name was taken from them and exchanged with either a number or a new Western name. The Commission calls for better funding toward programs to reclaim indigenous languages and cultures. It also requests that the Canadian government acknowledge the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.”(153)

The Legacy is a very well-described source of information about the present conditions of First Nations peoples in Canada. It explains how things happened to this point, how they are in the present and hopes for the future generation. The facts are even more shocking when the Commission makes comparisons between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal situations. The name of the Chapter was also well chosen for it represents both the legacy indigenous people received from the older generations but also the legacy they are giving to the present generation and the one they wish upon the next one.    

Work Cited

Truth and Reconciliation . ““The Legacy”” Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the          Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Canada: TRC. 31 May 2015. PDF Files.

 

 

Four directions teachings- Ojibway

Hanne Brockow

The four directions teachings website was created to protect and promote indigenous knowledge and their cultural philosophy. To honor the indigenous oral traditions, every teaching segment is presented in the form of an audio narration that consists of an elder sharing their stories and knowledge. There are teachings of five different nations: The Blackfoot, the Cree, the Mohawk, the Mi’kmaq and the Ojibway.
The teachings of the Ojibway are from the elder Lillian Pitawanakwat. She explains five out of the seven sacred directions of the Ojibway in more detail and tells stories to help the listener understand the teachings, as telling stories is a common form of indigenous teaching and learning.

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 12.37.02 PM.pngShe begins by explaining the teachings of the Center: The center is about oneself, about the fire that is within us and that has to be maintained. It is about being good to ourselves and to others. The center is represented by the rose because life is like a rose, with its thorns representing our life’s journey. We need the thorns, being the difficult parts of life, so that we can learn from them and grow, just like the rose.

She then goes on to explain the four directions of the medicine wheel, beginning with the East: The east represents spring and the beginning of life in the physical world. To be born, a spirit has to ask the Creator if it is allowed to go on the physical journey. If the request is accepted, the spirit will enter the physical world at its birth as a child. However, not only humans have got a spirit, but every part of nature. All life has got a spirit, which also includes water, fire, wind and the earth. To thank the creator for life, the Ojibway people offer tobacco as a form of thanksgiving, to show that they are grateful for all life.

The next direction is the South: The south represents summer, a time in which everything is thriving. It also represents youth, the stage of life between adulthood and being a child. It is about finding ourselves and looking after our spirit. During this time we learn to listen to our intuitions and our spirit who helps and guides us. But that is not enough, during youth we need other people to help us, like-minded people as well as elders and our ancestors. The cedar is associated with this direction as well. This plant is there to help us and offers us its cleansing medicine for body and soul.

After that, Lillian Pitawanakwat talks about the West: The west represents autumn, the time of harvest. It also stands for the stage of adulthood. In this direction we learn to accept constant change and death. It is like the sun that sets in the west, which can be seen as the death of a day. The west also represents the heart, which is our evaluator and which helps us to understand the cycle of life and to be in peace with our life and death. And because strawberries look like a heart, this is the plant that is associated with the west. There is a story, about two brothers that always play fight until one day the younger brother dies by accident because he falls on a rock and hits his head. The older brother can never forgive himself and everyone else, until one day many years later there is a strawberry plant growing on his brother’s grave. The moment the older brother eats one of the strawberries he is finally free and he can stop blaming himself and the creator for taking away his brother’s life. So with this story and in this direction we learn, that finding peace comes from the heart and not the head, and that death is a form of freedom, a freedom to go on.

The last direction is the North: The north represents the winter and the rest period. It’s about caring for our physical body, to rest it when it is tired and to eat and be aware of what we eat. It is also the time of reflection and remembrance, so it is during this time that the elders are honored. The north is the place of wisdom and of storytelling. It is where we learn from our ancestors, which is why it is important to stay connected with them, because it is the ancestors that share the teachings and who we learn from.

From the whole medicine wheel in total, we can learn that every part of life is beautiful, even though it involves sadness as much as joy and death as much as life. It is all about the balance of the wheel and the balance of life.

So all in all, it can be said that this website can be very useful to understand the old indigenous way of thinking about life and living. Even though it is sometimes difficult to grasp the way of thinking because it is all so different from the western point of view. But thanks to the videos and the easy handling of the website it is accessible and understandable for everyone, young and old. This is especially important in our times in which more and more indigenous knowledge is being forgotten and more and more Native Americans only know about Western life and culture.

Work cited

Pitawanakwat, Lilian. Four Directions Teachings. Canadian Culture Online Program of the
Department of Canadian Heritage, 2012. Web. 2 Apr. 2016.
http://fourdirectionsteachings.com/main.html

 

 

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