It’s the longest day of the year, summer solstice kina wiya! AKA National Aboriginal Day. How would you say that in anishnaabemowin? Kina Anishnaabe Giizhgad? All Good Peoples Day? LOL (Chi baapi) I’m not sure.
Noongom, now let’s put our minds together to figure out how we can attend to goals of mino bemaadziyaang, living well. There’s lots to do and everyday is a new day to start over. Maybe not from the beginning but, perhaps it’s a do-over, a clean-slate.
Anishnaabeg pane mkwenmaad megwaaj goozod. The good people always think about balance. Or how to achieve it. Anishnaabeg also know no one is perfect and we, humans, make many mistakes. It’s what we do with these mistakes that makes an impact on our lives.
Physical: nasewin / the breath of life
When I think of living well, I think of taking time to get outside for a walk along gchi ziibii/the great big river/Ottawa River and just breathe deeply. Other times it’s going for a few laps in the pool. It’s actually more like 60 laps, which sounds like I’m a pretty damn good swimmer but it’s a short pool like an eighteen footer. Still pretty good.
When we’re physically active we tend to breathe deeper and feel better. Our ancestors were always on the land being active because survival depended on it. And we are here because of their hard work, determination, and responsibility for future generations. Nowadays, we don’t work hard so we have to find ways to get that oxygen to our brains and release those endorphins so we feel good about life. That’s nasewin, the breath of life.
Nasewin connects us to all life and to other cultures who also recognizes nasewin as the base of living well.
Mental: gkinoohmaagzid / get schooling
Back in the day everyone participated in learning, teaching, and gaining knowledge. It was important for survival. People learned about the seasons, food gathering, hunting, making clothes. There were societies and clans dedicated to just about everything from justice, community building, leadership, medicine and healing to contraries and tricksters. It seemed like no one was left out and everyone was included in the community. Unless of course you made a dire mistake that was serious enough for banishment.
What made these odenaang, villages, strong was the focus of mentoring and also, leading by example. These ways of course changed with how we learn as we get older but at the youngest of ages we still learn from watching and interacting with siblings, parents, cousins, grandparents, and extended family. The youngest members of our communities need to be protected and see the beauty of life.
Our elders and grandparents always wish us to learn more. Go to school they say, get educated they say, bring back what you learn they say. It’s our way, it’s our beliefs to give back to the community they say. And you see it all around us. There are so many young people and also older adults who are not only getting certificates, diplomas, and bachelors but there are more who are achieving masters and post-doctorates. The numbers are growing and we are on the brink of seeing the lasting impacts in our communities. It’s pretty exciting that our people are taking what they need from a system that was meant to destroy our beliefs and our culture. Our people have turned it around and are using this new education to empower themselves and still live by being responsible for the next seven generations.
Emotional: ode / heart – zaagiidiwin/love
“The longest journey we will ever take is from our mind to our hearts.” This is something that Lillian Pitwanikwat-ba from Birch Island always taught people coming back to the culture. And it’s true. We can get caught up in our minds with our thoughts running rampant with no direction until we are stuck. And rightly so with the history of colonization and genocide that it gets overwhelming and our emotions are on high alert. Always ready to strike. We’ve got lightning in our words and thunder in our brains. But where is the love?
One of the many things that I admire about the anishnaabeg is the ability to change focus, look for a silver lining, and look for alternatives. But to get to this point we need to meet our negative emotions head on and start that journey from our minds to our hearts. It’s our hearts that initiate the healing that’s needed and helps us to find alternatives, solutions and that silver lining. And when we make that connection we listen with both our minds and hearts and become something more like our ancestors who became one with the natural world. Can you imagine what our ancestors created when they became one with their emotions? There’s no limit when you do things from love. First you gotta find it. Be brave and love yourself and believe in yourself. Our ancestors dreamt of all us long ago and loved us from that moment.
Spiritual: anishnaabe bemaadziwin / the good people’s life
It seems like our ancestors knew lots about the spiritual things in life because they were interconnected with the natural world. Not in a mystical way or a new age way. It was the anishnaabe way. It was more about survival, respect, reciprocity, and honour. Like many Indigenous people around the world, we know the way of the land, the water, the animals, the birds, and the fish. We had to know in order to survive. We also knew that we had to honour all life because it gave us life. It’s as simple as that. Nothing fancy. Nothing mystical. We also knew that all life was important because we understood how all life worked together for life to have life. We also knew we had to honour all the life around us and respect it because if we didn’t we could die and there would be no future generations. Our ancestors created ceremonies for healing and for honouring life. Where did we learn it from? That’s the interesting thing because it came from our connection to the natural world. It’s like that in many Indigenous communities where ceremonies became an integral part of life to keep us living a good life and being good to one another. Our ancestors knew we had to overcome our human need for greed, power, control. It might have been out of necessity like creating so many stories of windigoog (the cannibal spirit who ate other humans and was full of greed for power and control and also wanted to destroy all life – sound familiar? That’s because humans can still go windigo and we see it all around us.)
I like to think that the anishnaabeg spiritual practices are from necessity for human growth and not about religion or mystical practices. It’s weird because we are in this new age way of everything is mystical. Or becomes sacred in a weird way. Or how some traditional people, spiritual people, or elders have a cult-like following. It’s weird but that’s the world today. It’s part of the ego to make people into superstars when we are all just trying to find a way to mino bemaadziyaang.
There’s lots to be said about spirituality. And each path is as different as each person is unique. That’s another thing that I respect about the anishnaabe way is to respect each person’s journey in life. We don’t force or shame each other to believe or achieve a certain way. We encourage each other to find their way because it makes our circle stronger and more diverse.
And yet, we are not perfect people but we’re still here, stronger and more diverse than ever before. Finding our way to mino bemaadziyaang. Carrying the responsibility for future generations like those ancestors whose thoughts that became actions way before confederation.