TALKING STICK -
STEALING AND DISRESPECT

 

First, let me make this very clear: I am not of Mi'kmaw blood. While I am told I have a small and remote dollop of Cree blood, that does not make me feel automatically entitled to access any Nation's traditions in whatever way I want. I was married to a strong Mi'kmaq woman, and adopted into the nation during a Shaking Tent ceremony, and while I feel like I am a part of the Mi'kmaq - an associate member, if you will - I know that I can never truly understand just what it is to be born and raised as a Mi'kmaq, with all of the long, painful, and sordid history that goes with it. I have white skin, and blue eyes, and I was raised as part of mainstream society, and I carry all the programming that goes with that. Because of that, although in my heart I feel part of the Mi'kmaq Nation, I will speak in terms of "us" (people of primarily European blood) and "you" (the Mi'kmaq, or other aboriginal peoples) as I write this open letter. I do this as a sort of shorthand, not to divide "us" and "you" in any real way - I hope this is clear to all.

When I married Muin'iskw, and thereby became a part of her matriarchal nation, I felt it was necessary for me to learn as much as I could about my new family. What I learned sickened me - the arrival of the European on Turtle Island has been an unmitigated disaster for the First Nations who lived here for so many years. This is made more shameful by the fact that the history that is taught in school conveniently overlooks the atrocities done in the name of "manifest destiny," white-washing history (pun intended) so that it is more acceptable to mainstream society. I learned the various means whereby "we" stole your land - a land where even science insists you have lived for many millennia. I believe that I understand the connection you feel with this land, as much as it is possible for one of "us" to understand without actually having blood roots here. I also understand the outrage that such things are still being done today, which is why I have stood in various protests on behalf of my adoptive nation.

I also understand how "we" stole your traditions from you, through the evil of the residential schools and legalized religious and governmental oppression that continues to this very day. These things were and are barbaric - there is no other word - and all the sincere (?) government apologies in the world will not give back the things that have been lost - languages, traditional practices, and a worldview that might one day save the whole human race. It appals me that I was raised as a part of the society that has profited from such incredible brutality, and I am sickened by the damage that I see on the reserves and in the eyes of people I have come to love and admire.

When I use the word "steal," I mean it in the strictest sense: "we" took your land and your traditions, and you no longer have the use of them. They are gone, and "we" did it. These days, there are many of "us" who are trying very hard to walk away from the things that society represents, and find a way to honour the earth and our ancestors in a way that has not been done for many years. Many of "us" see the sincerity with which Native peoples walk the Red Road, and "we" wish to be a part of that, understanding in some instinctive way that this is desperately needed as a way to heal the damage "we" have done to the earth, and to our own spirits. In olden times, this was not an issue - "we" were automatically included in ceremony and spiritual practices, because our red brothers (whom "we" called savages) did not make the mistake of drawing a line between spirituality and everyday life.

However, today I hear much talk about how "we" show disrespect to the old teachings, and "steal" spirituality. While it's true there are those who practice these old ceremonies with disrespect, looking to make money or to set themselves on a pedestal, it is not possible for such people to "steal" spirituality. Spirituality is there for all to follow, and cannot be taken from anyone in such a way that they can never use it again. I believe the Ancestors knew this, but the damage that "we" caused to the Mi'kmaq and other nations has created distrust - and that's understandable.

I would like you to consider that there are at least SOME of "us" who have no blood-based claim to these beliefs, but who wish to participate in a meaningful and respectful manner in the ceremonies. I would ask that you judge me, and my sincerity, based only on my actions, not on the actions of those who came before me, or on the actions of those of "us" who seek to use the old traditions in a bad way. I am an individual. I have been taught by Muin'iskw, who was very knowledgeable, and who was a carrier of the Sacred Pipe. I have also had the benefit of speaking with many knowledgeable Elders. My respect is genuine, and it is brought on by education and awareness... and I am not the only one. I will not steal, but I ask to be allowed to share to whatever extent I earn. I ask that I, and others like me, be accepted on our own merits, and not be lumped into a group with those who are uncaring or unknowing. Doing this will only prolong the division between "us" and "you," and I look forward to a day when we all realize that division no longer serves us, and needs to be erased.

I do not know for sure whether I can call myself part of the Mi'kmaq nation in any way. Does adoption through marriage end with the death of the spouse? I do not know, and I get conflicting answers when I ask. But Mi'kmaq or not, everything I have been taught leads me to believe that the Red Road is intended to be open to any who would travel it in a good way - that is why it was freely offered when "we" first arrived, although "we" were too filled with arrogance to accept it. I hope that I will be evaluated for myself, and that I will be found worthy to be a part of ceremony in whatever way Creator sees fit.

I am a man with white skin and blue eyes, raised amongst those who have hurt the people I have come to love, and my understanding may not be perfect. I have, however, spoken my truth from my heart.

Msit no'kmaq - All my relations.

 
Updated: 27 Mar 2016 Print Page