There was a time, more years ago than I care to count, when I was going through Basic Training after joining the Armed Forces. As part of our training, we had to run the "Confidence" course - military speak for an obstacle course. Typical of such courses, ours had a very high wooden wall, which was deliberately made much too high for any but the strongest and most agile jumpers to climb alone. Like so many other things in Basic Training, the purpose of this obstacle was to teach us about teamwork. Here's how it worked: the first two to reach the wall boosted the third person until they could reach the top. The third person then stayed at the top of the wall, reaching down to grab the hand of the next person as they were boosted up, and helping them climb to the top. As the helpers tired, they were relieved by others, who would continue to help until everyone had succeeded in climbing over this wall. Some had an easier time than others, but nobody was left behind. This activity, and others like it, were what built the unique sense of brotherhood that all of us who served are privileged to share. We learned to depend on our brothers-in-arms, and they learned to depend on us.

Many years ago, it was the same in First Nation cultures. Every person would readily help their brother or sister, and enjoyed the security of knowing that they could count on that help being returned if they needed it. Every person felt that sense of brotherhood or sisterhood with the others in their village or clan. Everyone understood, without having to try, that you yourself get ahead when you help your neighbour get ahead. Finally, when the first Europeans arrived on these shores, that same helping hand was extended to them, because to do any less was simply unthinkable. Unfortunately for the Red Man, most Europeans came from cultures that focused on the individual rather than the group, and dog-eat-dog became the new world order.

Time has passed, and history has seen terrible things done to the first peoples of this land. And those things have taken a terrible toll, because they have destroyed our proud tradition of working together as a team. History seems to have taught us that, if someone else begins to succeed, we somehow lose something in their success. When someone begins to rise above the years of oppression and pain, and begins to reach for a way out of the trap, the people around take notice. However, rather than helping, it seems that all too often petty jealousies surface, and the whispering starts, and in most cases the person is dragged back just as they have put their hand to the top of the wall. This has happened for so long that most no longer even try, preferring to live their lives in pain and hopelessness rather than take the risk of being outcasts in their own societies. In the end, only the strongest and most agile manage to free themselves from the walls that have been built around our people.

I believe it is time for a return to one of the oldest and most powerful underlying values of the old cultures. It is time for us to realize that we can help the person next to us without lessening ourselves. We need to remember that by helping others to rise, we help ourselves to rise as well. As I learned so long ago in Boot Camp, only teamwork will help us to overcome the biggest obstacles that surround us. We can no longer wait for help from the Government, or indeed from anyone else - we must all look within, and learn what strengths we have to share, and help ourselves to do what must be done. If we see someone who is trying to make something of themselves despite the barriers imposed by the outside world, we need to support them in any way we can, and depend on them to reach back and help us when they are able.

I am no blind optimist. I know that sometimes the ones who reach the top of the wall will simply vault over and be gone, with no thought for those left behind. However, I also know that, if enough people choose to believe in each other, and choose to continue that belief even when they are disappointed, the years of harm can be undone and we can once again stand strong together. We can create a new way of thinking, a new concept of what is normal behaviour. We can set a good example for our youth, and teach them to work towards an end to the pain and hopelessness. This end will not come through Government money or from outside agencies; this end will come from the strength of character that is ours by birthright, but which we seem to have misplaced somewhere among the gambling tables and empty bottles.

My brothers and sisters, the walls are everywhere, and they are very high indeed. But they are not too high if we work together. Come... give me your hand...

Taho! Msit No'kmaq!


Updated: 27 Mar 2016 Print Page