UNDERSTANDING CULTURE: SOME OPENING COMMENTS

Indigenous intellectual systems around the world are extremely complex as are the cultures produced from those systems. Culture and traditional practices shape us into the human beings that we are and offer us mechanisms to understand the world around us and our place in it. This blog will deal with the complexity of Omàmìwininì culture both historically and in a contemporary context. As we unravel ourselves from settler colonialism and work to restore our autonomy and sovereignty in our homeland, we can draw upon various aspects of our historical culture, and in a sense re'envision its place in our lives in 2014 and beyond. At the same time what is working for us about contemporary cultural practices and how can we use both to enrich our lives and facilitate the development of positive self esteem and self worth among our children and youth.

Cultures must adapt if they are to survive and Omàmìwininì culture has shifted over thousands of years of our ancestors living their lives within the Kiji Sìbì. Adaptation is not a negative thing when it is done in a good way and when people chose to do so. Some of our ancestors chose to adopt other Indigenous practices as well as particular French or English practices because it made their lives easier at the time. Unfortunately the history of Canada is filled with many other examples of how our ancestors were forced to give up cultural and spiritual practices because they were so heavily dependent on lands.  Most Indian policy developed in Canada, while claiming to be for the best interest of Indigenous peoples, was really about freeing up lands and resources for settlers who had come from other places. So now as we work to recover our cultural and spiritual selves, what can we bring forward from the past to help us reconnect to our ancestors and to those spiritual beings in the land?

Where do we even start? There are so many traditions and practices to draw upon as Anishinabe people. How do we determine which ones will help us and which ones, while serving their purpose in the past, may not be what we need now to survive. Perhaps the best way to start would be to discuss cultural traditions in a cyclical context as our ancestors would have done. Last time I checked we still do live in a cyclical world of seasons, although climate change may alter how we conceptualize this in the future.

Lets start with something that is happening right now, maple harvesting. Maple is done in the spring, as the Earth begins to wake from her long sleep. Unlike what many people learned in Elementary school, maple was not invented by French or English settlers, its origin is much older and connected to the historic relationships between Anishinabe people and the Natural World. 

Maple knowledge and practice developed over thousands of years but its origin goes back to Wisakedjak. In one of his narratives we learn that one day as Wisakedjak was travelling, he came across a sugar bush where he found a whole village just laying about the trees gathering thick sap and eating it. For many days and weeks they stayed, forgetting about their responsibilities and work. The animals too, were also lying about, and no one cared about the state of the world around them. Wisakedjak got upset at all the laziness and he climbed to the top of all the trees and poured water down them, diluting the sap until it was like water. He told the people from that day forward they would have to work very hard to gather the sweet water and boil it down in order to produce what they had before. He shared many teachings with them and told them that they must protect those relationships.

Today many Anishinabeg communities are recovering this ancient knowledge and relationships with maple. In part, this involves participating in the practice of tapping, boiling, and producing sugar and syrup, but it also involves learning language as a way to better connect to this practice and our responsibilities around it. The language around maple provides some very interesting insights on maple and its relationship to us as men and women. Please see the blog on language for this discussion.