Neglected. Lazy. Traditional. Addicted. Misunderstood. Mysterious. Segregated. Broken. Just some of the words shared when our group was asked how we view the Anishinabe people, before our week commenced. Surprisingly enough, as we entered the Roseau River Reserve, we found our misconceptions and preconceived notions disrupted by a beautifully diverse culture that has been pushed aside in the hustle and bustle of our world. We learned of a unique nation of integrated spirituality, respect for nature and humanity, and valued tradition and history.
On the first day, I found myself putting up walls, becoming defensive for the country I grew up in and confused about what I had grown up thinking. As the hours and days progressed, an overshadowing compassion began to build up inside of me. I saw this unique group of people as fellow creations with great knowledge that we can learn from and, fortunately enough, my site was able to experience the traditional way of Anishinabe life first hand. Many of us, except for Peter and the Moon Time Girls (our new on-site band!), took part in smudging and a pipe ceremony, and experienced the most interesting and uncomfortably hot hour of our lives contained in a pitch black sweat lodge heated by red hot rocks. We picked sage to make medicine, but remembered to leave the roots in the ground to ensure that the Earth could replenish what we took. We were given the opportunity to connect with our Creator in a completely unique way, and given a wider worldview on spirituality. As some of us continue to wrestle with how the culture and traditional spirituality of Anishinabe can coexist with Christianity, we learned the importance of humbly and respectfully engaging with new cultures. Our friends on the Roseau River Reserve were great examples of this. They welcomed us into their community with immense hospitality, as several different people went out of their way to come share their stories with us. We were even invited to a Turtle clan family feast by our main instructor, Colleen Littlejohn, before she even met us!
I caught a glimpse of this humorous, inviting culture, but my eyes, along with many other Outtatowners, were opened to the injustice and prejudice faced within the walls of our own country. I walked into this week with a textbook knowledge of the residential schools and unfair treaties, but I had never had a face to connect to the issue. As I sat in the lodge with freezing toes (because I had forgotten socks), I heard stories of hardship and the loss of identity, as culture and tradition were ripped away from the Anishinabe people. I heard stories of hope and anticipation, as people of all ages re-educate those who have lost track of their roots. I heard stories of healing and renewal, as people found ways to connect to the Creator and rid themselves of the negativity in their lives.
I’ll leave you with some words of hope from Gloria, one of the elders on the Roseau River Reserve:
“When I look at people, I do not see colour. I see people who are suffering too… We care for everyone, not just our own people. We want you to have good lives too.”
-Jen, Mushkooday Biishiikii Ikwe