when elders speak… pay attention

this past weekend i traveled with my daughter and my friends, nokimis dorothy and gale to peterborough for the elder’s gathering at trent university.


i’ve been to about 4 or 5 of these gatherings over the past 20 or more years. it was the first time that i heard our traditional elders and teachers speak and share stories about our resilience, our ways, our ceremonies, our songs, and our stories and shared laughter – culturally speaking. when i was growing up i heard lots of stories about life experiences but not about ceremonies, the drum, or cultural activities. i grew up learning about the church etc.

we rolled into peterborough around 2.30 and made it to the drumming and singing workshop. i’m a new learner to all of this so i wanted to hear some new songs and sing with everyone. there were around 25 drums. this circle was lead by mary lou smoke, anishnaabekwe batchewana bay njibaa, who has been singing and drumming for most of her life and who has lead workshops at banff arts centre as well. she’s taught many people the way. that was good and we all sang the traveling song together at the end. the drum is a powerful tool and has been a source of awakening for many.

the next day, the closing day, there was a panel of elders on the idle no more movement that has been spreading across the world and raising consciousness of how important mother earth is and that we all join to protect her, and in particular the omnibus bill c-45.


dr. david newhouse, onondaga oshweken njibaa, opened the panel by bringing attention to the use of the words for the movement. as ‘idle’ being not moving. “personally, i’ve never been idle,” david shared. he also pointed out the long history of those before us, our ancestors, who’ve always been moving and making things happen so that we see their efforts today. we can grasp all that they’ve done for us by always moving and working for all future generations.

each elder had a chance to share their thoughts and experiences. each and everyone of these elders said, “i’ve never been idle.”

vern cheechoo, cree, shared his experience with hearing the drum for the first time over 20 years ago and how it awakened something inside. afterwards he went back home and began drumming and singing. this was the first time that the drum was shared and songs were sung in his community. he talked about how proud he felt about being cree and about the culture that was downplayed by the religion that was widely practiced.

edna manitowabi, anishnaabe kwe wiiweminkong njiiba, added that the first time when people hear the drum, it does waken our spirit and our memories of our connection to our mother in the womb and also to our connection to our mother the earth. edna also shared her experience in the late 60’s with the AIM movement and how it was a cultural revival. she worked to bring the drum back to her community and had the first pow wow with the help from the plains cree in alberta.

micheal thrasher, cree/metis edmonton njiiba, talked about his experiences with the royal commission on aboriginal peoples (rcap) and how detailed this report is on what needs to be done. and how our people across this country over the decades have always been moving and educating and getting involved with governments and education institutions, and creating organizations tenfold. he encouraged all the students to use these tools. read all that you can, break it down, and write. social media is how we communicate now, use it!

merritt taylor, anishnaabe curve lake njiiba, shared his dedication of teaching anishnaabemowin in the classroom has helped the language survive and providing cultural teachings as well. he has never been idle.

mary lou and dan smoke, akwesasne njibaa, have a shared history in communications. for many decades they have been active in bringing the stories to the airwaves and how it started off small and worked it’s way up to a regular radio show. they have never been idle.

shirley williams, anishnaabekwe wikwemikong njibaa, cautioned everyone in attendance about idle no more as there has also been a rise in racial attacks against our most vulnerable – our children and our women. over the past few weeks, there’s been sexual assaults on aboriginal women, abductions, and also children are coming home after being victims of intense racism in the schools. her message is to teach your children well. give them the tools they need to stand up for themselves. and also when and where to go for help when they need it. (i will add this – each and every incident needs to recorded and addressed. contact the teacher, principal and the trustee in your riding – immediately!)

shirley also reminded our men of their responsibility in protecting life-givers at every stage of life. she shared how men, still to this day, walked in front of women because they wanted to make sure that the path was clear and if there was danger they would face it first. it was because of the deep love that they had for our life-givers that they wanted to protect them. so, if your wife, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, mother or grandmother has to go anywhere go with them and make sure that they are protected on this path.

so… there’s been a long history of our elders and our ancestors who’ve always been moving and getting things done. there’s been many points in history where our people stood together to protect their families, their homes, the land and environment. it’s time to remember this. and it’s time to learn from this because in every movement many things repeat itself – racism, violence, lateral violence, exhaustion, and on the positive side – birth, resurgence, revolution, awareness, evolution, and education. and all of this comes from the abundance of love we have for all creation. in unity and peace, vera


4 thoughts on “when elders speak… pay attention

  1. Great post, Vera. And timely, too. I’ve lately found myself taking stock of the Edlers in my own circle; revisiting their teachings in hopes of bringing them forward – emptying the vessel that it might be filled with their light for future generations…


  2. Awesome post Vera. When I was at Trent in the late 1980s and early 1990s this gathering was a highlight of the year for me. And it’s amazing to think that many of these Elders: Edna, Michale, Shirley were teaching then and they are still teaching now. It must be so rich to hear them and be with them. Maybe next year I’ll try and time a trip east to coincide with the gathering…thanks for the stories!


    • Amazing eh? It was a highlight for me as well every year. The socials were so much fun too. Now it’s quite small and you can find a seat in the workshops. Many of those Elders have passed on over the last couple of years too that were there when you went. That was one of the concerns of Edna, Shirley and Michale – who’s gonna take their place? The challenge has been put out there. Thanks for coming by and reading! Gchi miigwech niijii 🙂


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