my ancestors’ house

my house was built upon a foundation created collectively by my ancestors, together they made decisions on the best materials that would hold up this house to last many lifetimes

each generation would inherit and live in this house

 

the foundation was the most important part of this house

there were mistakes at first

the support did not last the first winter

it was lacking elements of design

and this happened each time the weather changed

my ancestors learned collectively

that it would take much, much more to make this house solid

my ancestors went in search for a better way

they watched the animals, the birds, the fish

and how they lived collectively

they saw how the earth changed with the seasons

they followed the flow of the water

they inhaled the currents of the air

they learned how the moon walked across the sky

they understood the dance of the sun

they knew deep down that we shared the same sacred breath

they studied quietly, making notes and observations

they learned from the natural world

and made those teachings their own

the foundation became sturdy

withstanding great changes

 

my ancestors dreamed that one day, people would come

and the people did come

they wanted to take over our house and renovate it

in fact, they believed that the foundation

was weak

too simple

not sophisticated enough

and not the way they thought a house should be created

so they built their own houses on our land to show my ancestors

how to do it properly

the people that came wanted my ancestors to leave their homes

and move into the ones they built

 

so, my ancestors went to visit them

it was foreign

it didn’t make sense

and when the people visited my ancestors’ homes

it was foreign

it didn’t make sense

my ancestors accepted that these people had their own way

and let them be

but the people who came

didn’t feel the same way

the people wanted to save the children from growing up

in homes that were too simple, weak

the people believed that they could teach them the proper way

to build a house

they took the children far away

in these new villages the children learned

how-to build another foundation

the children saw the differences and wanted to go

back to what was familiar

back home

where the homes were built by our ancestors

the people put up fences and the children could not go home

 

when the children became adults

they went back and they saw with new eyes

how weak their ancestors’ home really were, how simple

they saw the foundations were not as good as the ones

they learned about so they built new ones

 

I was born in one of these new houses

and one day, my father left us and slammed the door

and when he did that, the whole house shook

the floors bent

the windows cracked

the doors no longer closed

the rooms became divided

that foundation he learned about

did not support his family, my family, our family

 

as my brothers became men

they left home

and only my mother and I were left

we retreated to the basement where it was safe, for a very long time but one day we looked around and realized

this house was no longer useful so, we searched for a new home

when we went outside we saw many of these new houses

no longer served its purpose. some were abandoned, some

with graffiti and profanities, some in need of urgent repair

but the families inside didn’t have the tools to restore their homes, the tools were lost in the ages

 

I dreamt of the house my ancestors built for me long ago

in this dream

I saw that someone broke into my ancestors’ house

something was missing

when I went in the kitchen

the embers in the stove were still glowing

I gathered wood and dry grasses from outside

I whispered and blew on the embers

flames ignited on the wood, grass and it touched my cheek

without burning, I found what was missing.

 

the foundation of this home is still in tact

it is a bit dusty and needs some repairs

when I look around from the inside

I see the care my ancestors took to make this foundation

solid to withstand the most torrential weather changes

the beams of this house have teachings encoded

when I run my fingers along the etchings sparks fly

and an energy surges throughout my body

it tingles and sends shivers – it wakes me up

 

I am in my ancestors house

 

now I must learn to restore the foundation

with tools that I must gather

I realize that in my community

we all have this same house with the same foundation

some in better shape then others

our community needs to share the tools that we have

we all have skills that we can share

 

who will help me restore my house?

who has the tools they can share with me to restore my ancestors house?

who will help me?

will you help me?

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6 thoughts on “my ancestors’ house

  1. Vera this is such an interesting poem, it makes you think about what life is all about. Our ancestors were so thankful for all that was bestowed upon them. They left their philosophies in the name they called themselves, and developed the philosophy of mino bemaadziwin, living a good life. The problem is sometimes we are put to the test, but again, we are helped if we truly believe in Gzhemnido. Jean A.

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    • miigwech jean for visiting my blog and reading this piece. i wrote this for an event that i was invited to “honouring indigenous women” and it was a reflection of reading “dancing on our turtle’s back” by leeanne simpson. we have all the answers to so many of our dilemmas based in our culture and spirituality. i agree totally with what you said as well. it’s who we are as anishnaabe. miigwech 🙂

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  2. Vera, What a wonderful, moving post! Yesterday, the high temperature here was 79 degrees. Simply unheard of. The house seems to be on fire.

    For much of my life I have been deeply influenced by Momaday’s “House Made of Dawn”. Only much later in life did I realize the phrase comes from the Denei. I guess the English word closest to my thoughts right now would be “metaphor”, that the metaphor of house encircles the body, relationships, and the Pachamama. Yet, metaphor is not really the right word. It is too small to hold the knowing you are speaking of.

    Once again, thank you.

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    • miigwech michael 🙂 i also love ‘house made of dawn’. i go back and read it time to time.

      the inspiration for this poem is from reading, ‘dancing on our turtle’s back’ by leeanne simpson. if you get a chance pick it up if you haven’t read it yet. it really is an amazing book.

      there are some things that i missed in this poem that i need to think about and include. but right now it is what it is. i call it an extended metaphor. i read it the other night at night celebrating indigenous women. i wrote it because i wanted us to think about looking at what our ancestors created for us – there are solutions there about supporting each other and becoming whole as a community, which we have moved away from. its a way of getting back to our own truths. we all need to ensure that our houses are supported by each others’ skills. i’m still processing and seeking solutions. miigwech for reading michael, i always appreciate your comments 🙂 blessings.

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