THE LEGACY OF MUIN'ISKW - 
SPIRITS OF THE LAND

 

This text is taken from the script for an interpretive program that Muin’iskw used to give at Kejimkujik National Park

Glooscap is our cultural hero, a great m’ntu. He was gifted with great powers – magical powers – but there is a higher Being, greater than Glooscap, and that is Kji Niskam, the Great Spirit. It is Kji Niskam who created the world. After Kji Niskam created the world he rested, and as he did, he looked around to see what he had done, and he was pleased.

He then decided he would need someone to look after this world, therefore he created Glooscap. After Glooscap was created, Kji Niskam told him the reason he was there. Glooscap was to prepare the land for the arrival of spirits who would be brought there to live with one another in harmony. Upon the arrival of the spirits, it would be Glooscap’s responsibility to watch over them.

So, for days Glooscap prepared the land, morning ’til night, for the arrival of the spirits. One evening, after Glooscap had worked all day and was returning to his wigwam, he saw a young woman walking toward his camp. She cam to the door of the wigwam and stood there. Glooscap went up to her and asked, “What are you doing here, young woman?”

The young woman replied, “I have been sent here from the Sky World, to help you.”

And so, the next day when the sun came up from behind the Earth, Glooscap and the young woman awakened early, and they worked hard all day preparing the land. That evening, when they returned to the wigwam, there was a young man waiting. Glooscap went up to the young man and asked him, “What are you doing here?”

The young man replied, “I have come to help you and the young woman.”

Glooscap then asked the young man, “Where did you come from?”

The young man replied, “I have come from the Sky World.”

So, the next day all three of them worked together as they prepared the land for the spirits. By mid-day, Glooscap stopped and looked around. He then turned to the young man and woman and said, “It is almost time for the spirits to come.” He points to the trees and says, “Here we have trees, but no spirits yet. The spirits will be summoned to come, and the trees will then have life, and they will have buds, leaves, and flowers.”

He then turned to the young woman and tells her, “You will be responsible for summoning these spirits from here on, and each and every spring you will place leaves on these tree. On the hackmatack, fir, spruce and pine you will place needles, and on the other trees and plants you will place leaves and flowers of many beautiful colours. And seeds will be placed on these trees also, and from these, new life will be created every spring. And in all these trees there should be birds, to fill the land with beautiful sounds. Go… go and summon these spirits, for it is spring, and it is time!”

The young woman moved away, turned, and looked toward the Sky World. She summoned the great Kulloo Bird. When Kulloo arrived, she said, “Kulloo, go up to the spirit world and let the Tree Spirits know it is time to come to the Earth World, and that they are to be accompanied by the Bird Spirits.”

So Kulloo flew up to the Spirit World, which is beyond the Sky World, and summons the Tree Spirits as well as the Bird Spirits. They arrive, and each bird had brought its song from the Spirit World. These songs filled the forest with breath-taking sounds.

Glooscap then turned to the young man and told him, “We will need the Animal Spirits also.”

The young man replies, “Then I will go and summon Kulloo, and tell him to take a message to the Spirit World.” The young man turns and summons Kulloo from the Sky World. Kulloo once again goes up to the Spirit World, and tells the Animal Spirits to come to the Earth to live. Kulloo soars back down, followed by the Animal Spirits, who go and inhabit the land. Glooscap is pleased, and Kji Niskam is pleased with the arrival of the spirits.

Finally, Glooscap tells the young man and woman to go and live together, and they too will bring new life into this world. The young man would go and hunt the animals, and the woman would go and gather food and medicines from the forest, so they would survive. And all the Spirits of the land would help the spirits of the people yet to come.

In our legends and stories, this is how the Spirits of the land came to the Earth World to live with the people, and that is why, in all of Creation, in all of the land, everything has Spirit. It is through Spirit that my Ancestors survived for thousands upon thousands of years. The land, and the Spirits of the land, provided everything the people needed – food, clothing, warmth and shelter. In return, the land and the Spirits only asked to be respected.

The Ancestors understood that to be in harmony with all things was not only the highest and finest way to live, but was also the most practical, useful, beneficial, and abundant. Their practices were always in harmony.

My Ancestors mingled pride with a singular humility. Spiritual arrogance was foreign to their nature and teachings. The never claimed that the power of articulate speech was proof of superiority over “dumb” creation. On the other hand, it was to them a precious gift, yet they believed profoundly in silence as a sign of equilibrium. Silence was and is absolute poise, the balance of body, mind and spirit. And whether it would be animate or inanimate, everything has spirit, and everything IS spirit. This the Ancestors believed to be true, and thus they lived as one with it.

As a child I learned to see, understand, and appreciate the beauty around me, as it was a part of me. But back then, I lived a natural life with a free spirit. Being that child, I saw beauty in all of nature; every pebble was pretty and valuable to me, and I marvelled at every tree with a spirit of reverence. I learned from my untutored mother – Mother Nature – the essence of morality. With her help, I learned things that were simple, but of great importance.

Then there was a period of time where I struggled as a person, who on one hand knows trueness, but on the other hand was being reconstructed, as natural rocks are ground to powder and made into artificial blocks to be built into the walls of modern-day society. However, again in this stage of life, I have found my belongingness with Nature. To be on the path of sacred ecology today means that we have to take our spiritual beliefs back to the realm of daily practices. This means becoming conscious of our surroundings, and realizing what impact we have, whether it is positive or negative.

The Ancestors believed this to be so, and thus they lived as one with it.

Our Elders are the keepers of knowledge and stories of the past, and they are responsible for passing on this information to the next generations… and with this, they also pass on what Spirit is. Native spirituality is not a religion, as we do not have a religion. It is in fact a world view of our people, one reinforced by the deep faith and beliefs of our Elders.

Among the people who dance, you will hear the Earth referred to as Mother Earth, as it is believed that the Earth was created from the spirit of a woman – a lifegiver. Creator made her and said, “You will be the mother of all people.” Mother Earth has certainly gone through many changes since her creation, but yet she still lives; the soil is her flesh, the rocks her bones, the wind her breath, the oceans, rivers and streams her blood, and the trees and plants her hair. Mother Earth is, and HAS, Spirit.

Our people believed that all things are connected, and that all of us must depend on each other and help each other as a way of life, for that is what it means to be in balance and harmony with the Earth. If we do not care about each other, and about the animals and plants and their survival, then we ourselves will not survive for very long.

Within our cultural languages, the world of relationships is embodied in relative relationships of animate and inanimate. Unlike the English language, which only understands inanimacy as non-living, our Mi’kmaq concept holds that all living things have a spirit, and are related. Thus, our language holds notions of closeness or distance of relationships, rather than living versus non-living status. To hold the view that the Earth is non-living yields a distorted perception that has led modern society to manipulate the environment around us. This society sees the Earth, sun, and moon as inanimate, yet the Earth – our mother – gives us life, the sun – our father – nourishes this life, and the moon – our grandmother – determines when it is time to bring life forth. All three Spirits working together – a connection.

Mi’kmaq people believe that all things are connected. Our traditional people have always been deeply spiritual people who, throughout their daily lives, demonstrate their spiritual consciousness. Furthermore, we all live in a circle, and with this circle we are all dependent on each other, and are in a constant relationship with each other.

Given that the Mi’kmaq view that all things in this world have their own spirits, and that all things must work in harmony with each other, the Mi’kmaq people show respect for those spirits by including certain rituals with our interaction with nature. Just as we send off the spirits of our dead with proper rituals and ceremony, we also extend a certain amount of recognition to the spirits of the animals, plants, trees, and elements which we disturb for our own use. The act of honouring an animal or plant is by no means an act of worship, but is in fact the acknowledgement of their spirit, and our relationship as brothers and sisters with them, and with the entire universe. The spirits of all animals, birds, and all other creatures that assist us should always be honoured. For too long we have misused those who are our equals in the system of our universe. The Creator taught us how to honour, respect, pray, and give thanks, and told us to listen to the plants and animals that would speak to us and bring us guidance and support, as they were our spirit guides through life. When we cut an ash tree for basket weaving, or take roots from the ground for medicines, there are gestures we must follow to keep our minds at ease. We do not apologize for our needs, but accept the interdependence of all things. Every act of life is, in a very real sense, a spiritual act. Our people recognize the spirit in all creation, and believe that we can draw from these spiritual powers. The hunter, for example, would stand before a kill and honour the spirit of the animal he had freed – a demonstration of respect for the immortal part of the animal. When women gathered food and prepared it for a meal, the woman would murmur a prayer of thanks as she lowered the kettle – an act so softly and caringly performed that one who did not know the custom usually failed to catch the whisper. The husband, as he received the bowl of food, would also murmur his acknowledgement of the spirits.

In our traditions, we communicate with the Creator through our interactions with nature: the animals, the forests, the birds, and the fish. By this, we have what we call Spirit Helpers or Spirit Guides. Our Guides are with us throughout our lives. It is the strength and character of our spirit animals which reflect the human character traits of individuals. Let us look at a couple of these – what does the spirit of the Bear or the Eagle mean?

Well, Bear is my animal Spirit Guide. I became aware of my Spirit Guide many years ago, as I began my lessons with the Elders and a Medicine Man. Therefore I had to learn about the bear: its personality, habits, characteristics, and such. We see the bear as having great strength, yet it is the gentleness that makes the bear’s behaviour almost human-like. They are relatively good-natured, but do not plan on making them mad as they do have a serious side. The bear is closely associated with nature, and therefore carries knowledge of medicinal plants. Bears hibernate in the winter, which explains their association with “dreaming the Great Spirit”. The symbolism of the bear’s cave is like returning to the womb of Mother Earth, which also suggests a strong feminine aspect of nurturing and protection. People who are guided by the Bear Spirit are ones who show strength, courage, and knowledge of medicines, and are nurturing and protective.

I want to share with you how I became aware of my Bear Spirit Guide. My Bear Spirit came to me in a dream one night, some years ago, yet the dream is still so vivid in my mind, as though it happened last night.

In the beginning of my dream, I recall standing in the doorway of a white room with high walls. I crossed the room and came to another doorway, which was an exit. As I stepped outside this doorway, I stepped into the spirit world. I began to walk down this path, and I noticed that everything around me was a lush green, a green so vivid I have yet to see it in this realm. As I journeyed down this path, I remember that I adjusted my cloak, and I noticed that this cloak that I was covered with was that of a Bear. As I continued my journey, an Eagle came soaring down and landed on my shoulder. I carried the Eagle, and as we walked together on the path, Eagle spoke to me, giving me teachings. And when the teachings were given, Eagle flew away and I sat down on a log and rested. This dream was the recognition of my Spirit helper, and once I acknowledged this I gained deep spiritual strength.

The Eagle spirit is regarded as a messenger, since the eagle flies the highest and sees the furthest of all birds. A story I once heard tells how, when the Earth was created, a greta thundercloud appeared on the horizon. Lightning flashed as it descended and hit a treetop. As the mists cleared, there was an Eagle perched on the highest branches. He took flight, and flew slowly to the ground. As he landed on Mother Earth, he became a man. From this, we recognize the Eagle as the messenger, and we rely upon the Eagle to carry our prayers to the Creator. When an eagle comes to where we are, we acknowledge it, and know the he is watching over us.

To receive an eagle feather means that one is being acknowledged with gratitude, love and respect. That feather must have sacred tobacco burned for it; in this way, the Eagle Spirit and the Creator are notified of the name of the new eagle feather holder. The eagle feather must also be fed, by holding it or wearing it at sacred ceremonies.

I was once told by an Elder that the eagle feather has two sides; if the feather had only one side, then the eagle could not fly. On one side of the feather one can find mind/intellect, body/movement, and spirit/emotion. On the other side there is institutions/education, process, and ceremony. When both sides are balanced, we as individuals are also balanced, or in harmony.

It is through such spirits that we can learn lessons. Through the beautiful Butterfly spirit, we can learn about transformation, growth, evolution, change, and how to experience joy. From Otter we can learn to be playful, nurturing, noble yet curious, and humanitarian in our nature. Red Hawk spirit carries lessons of awareness, insight, and truth. From the spirit of the Beaver we can learn security, contentment, industry, balance, and patience. Raven teaches us intelligence, community, duality, and balance. From Turtle we learn the lessons of honour and ancient wisdom.

If we could only take the time to really get to know our winged, four-legged, crawling, and swimming brethren, how they live, how they adapt, and how they survive, we can actually apply their teachings to our lives. This would certainly be of great benefit to us as we travel our paths.

I would like to close tonight’s program with this short story, which I recently came across. While it speaks of sadness, it may at the same time open our minds, creating awareness. It is called “Red Man”:

He stands gazing intently on the land before him.

Tears flow slowly from his noble eyes.

His mind wanders back to time before times, days when his people as Guardians, walked all this land, knowing no boundaries.

They walked from ocean to ocean, living the life of wandering nomads.

They lived off of the land, praying to the four winds, the sun, the moon.

Mother Earth protected them and provided for all their needs.

This was the time of the One People, days of rivers full of migrating salmon and many other fishes.

Virgin forests teeming with deer, elk, squirrel, and rabbits.

Plains thundering and vibrating from the hooves of countless buffalo and antelope.

Seas full of clams, turtles, oysters, and fish.

These were the majestic days of the proud Native American.

His tears flow more freely now; watering Mother Earth.

His eyes look out on fields and plains full of tract housing.

He longs for the beautiful Forests cut down to build these houses.

His Heart aches for the streams and rivers now full of rusting cars and refrigerators.

He cries for the bountiful seas, now full of oil and garbage.

Why has the Great Spirit allowed these things to happen?

What can we do to bring the land and waters back to life?

Can or should we simply stand here and watch Mother Earth die?

Perhaps it is time for all of us to become Native Americans, guarding and protecting the Land instead of destroying it.

We should all pray to the four winds, the sun, the moon, the Great Spirit, and to Mother Earth.

We need to beg for their forgiveness and guidance, to help us save this world that we live on.

(written by Eagle's Wing Freeman)

So, we will continue the dance, to heal Mother Earth, and live that dance whenever we move, in all that we do, for the Land and all the Spirits of the Land.

Msit No’kmaq. All my relations.

 

 
Updated: 01 Apr 2016 Print Page