The Art of Letting

This whole post is probably going to feel really abstract and strange and I think it’s because in a lot of ways, I feel like I’m in some sort of flux - a good flux.  And I feel in many ways that I’m on a journey that I didn’t expect to be on and this journey is all about letting.  About letting ideas become collaborations. About letting things happen.  About letting learning and change occur.  It’s probably a concept that has probably been captured in some really great introspective self-realization or actualization book or encoded in myths and legends – (I actually think I’m going to look at that further – the myths and legends).  It might be a really intuitive process. It might be something that people study as a matter of science or explore as a matter of art.  It’s probably terribly transparent in the universe around me and even writing this, I’m certain I have read poetry marvelling at the ease in which Creation lets things happen, whether it’s seasonal change, the running of sap from trees, or wild storms and volcanic eruptions.   I mentioned in a previous post what kind of things I was going to do this year – read, write, create, listen, learn languages and have ideas, play, etc.  And as I do these things – it’s a recurring theme – letting.
I have struggled with this change and I’m not sure why.  Probably lots of reason - maybe I've been too indoctrinated with the notion that change is something that happens when you ‘just do it’.  But for me, right here and now, I’m realizing that there needs to be more of a balance between what I do and what I let happen.  And in finding that balance, I need to learn about what I push away as impossible and how to not create boundaries and barriers - not that there aren’t boundaries of course.  But as long as I am trying hard to honour Treaties and be respectful of the relationships that I have with this world and not afraid to critique my actions in a loving way, I will have a way to teach myself to do better.  It makes a lot of room for the positive and at the same time – allows me to think about and create things in ways I have never thought about or tried before. 
This picture makes me smile.  I love the idea that vision is a shared thing, informed by everyone.

And obviously, I care a lot about certain issues.  I hope our peoples feel empowered and excited and proud.  So I certainly don’t mean, that letting things happen means letting people bully each other or tear one another down or hold grudges. I don’t know how much control anyone really has over those kinds of situations and I know that sometimes when you stand up for something, you can get hurt.  And that hurt can turn into a lot of other things - anger, sadness, resilience, compassion, empathy, understanding, strength.  What I do know, is that I have a conscience and a spirit and a soul and I am a part of this universe in some way, so if I think it’s important to be the kind of person that lets things go, then I can practice that.  If I want my hurt to turn into compassion instead of anger, I can work at that.  If I think it’s important to try and lower my water and carbon footprints for future generations (and I do J) - then I will.  I like when I find people who are doing this – especially when they are doing it in different ways than I am or in innovative ways I had never considered.  It’s influenced how I do things in the everyday, and I think it means that I am learning how to let people be apart of my solutions to do better in my everyday life and in the process - it’s teaching me how to be a participant or listener in other forums where discussions are happening.

So as much as I struggle with this change that is occurring – I like it.  It makes me hopeful, learning how to work hard and share my energy but still let things go, let things happen, let people help, let myself not know an answer, let myself learn, let myself try to find new ones, and let things be okay.

Above are some of the things that I have watched and read lately that are inspiring ideas and new revelations in my life and in the conversations that I am having with people in my life – especially the little ones J.  Each of these ideas are so interesting, that I think I want to do separate and focussed posts for each of them.  They're taking me on all these wonderful adventures and as always, I’m grateful.  

Dearest Universe

A few days ago I started reading A Brief History of Time and on the first page of this book, Stephen Hawking refers to a time where someone (Bertrand Russell) is giving an astronomy lecture and a little old woman stands up and explains that the universe is really built on the back of a turtle.  It’s a well-known and awesome anecdote and when researching it further, I noticed that various discussions and creative projects had been started by its inclusion in the book and it gave me inspiration to start a few projects of my own which will be coming soon. 
Over the last few months I’ve continued reading books in the area of physics.  Some of these are really fantastic and I’d like to share them here again:
  •    Why Does E=mc²? (And Why Should We Care?) by Brian Cox
  •   The Particle at the End of the World: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World by Sean Carroll
  •   The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos by Neil Turok
I love these books because they tell us more about the universe and existence. Every now and then I have the dreaded ‘I’m back in high school’ dream and each and every time, I am taking more science classes.  Science was probably the furthest thing from my mind in high school but as I’ve grown I’ve come to appreciate how different kinds of thinking are linked together in all kinds of ways. 
As a teenager, I cared a lot about understanding things and wishing the world was a fair and just place.   I read a lot of Naomi Klein and I cared about manufacturing consent and as a younger adult, I spent time trying to create experiences for myself where I felt like I could be apart of something that was standing up to the whole notion of ultra consumerism and consumption.   Ahh, I am grateful for so much and having a curious mind is no exception.  There is something about pursuing and acquiring knowledge that helps you put things in perspective – that helps you let go of painful things so that you can focus on matters that are about more than just you (not that I think it’s bad to focus on yourself – individual health and wellness is critically important).  But I also think that having care and love for others is hugely important as well and adds a whole other value to our lives.  I guess I am saying this because of how many crazy things can happen in a just a week – let’s recap this last one for instance:  the Pope resigned, the Vatican was struck by lightning, and a meteor passed through the atmosphere and exploded.  (The pictures of this blog are not nearly as cool as the meteor lights in the sky - but I was fond of them, so I threw them in here).
And amidst all of this people were really keen to celebrate their affection for one another on Valentine’s Day – a commercial holiday if there ever was one and one that is treasured and scorned in equal measure.  But even though it’s commercial – I loved watching people spend time thinking about how to show someone else that they cared – even if this didn’t end up meaning a card, or chocolate, or presents, or flowers.  It really doesn’t end up being about the things after all, but about what they signify. An expression of happiness that someone is a part of your world - that they exist.  It seems that more and more, we are shifting how we show we care.  

In high school, I was all about arts and expression and I realize that I am still very much this person.  But one of the things I like now is how much better I can see the creativity in science.  In high school – I certainly believed that science was inspired by art, that they weren’t contradictory disciplines - I just didn’t really have all the means to connect them or I thought that connecting them was a thing you did or a destination you reached.  I realize now that I probably won’t ever connect them all neatly or finitely. What I’ll get instead is an ongoing sense of awe and wonder about the myriad of connections that are possible.  It’s similar in many ways to what comes from trying to live and honour the Treaties.  
I like it.  In fact, I adore it, because it makes me want to do things for this world to show that I care - one of my favourites is picking up garbage (mostly because it's simple and it's something I can do often that gets me outside) - or taking quick baths instead of showers and turning off my car while I'm idling.  These aren't groundbreaking activities by any means but they're some of the little things that I hope add up with everyone else's.  Anyways, these were just some thoughts I was having over the last few days. Time to go read and write some more!
And Happy Valentine’s Day Universe – which is just to say – I think you’re really cool and I’m glad you are here, mysteries and all.  Check out some fun valentines from the Perimeter Institute. 


Weathering Storms

The great snowstorm of 2013 has come and gone, leaving in its wake beautiful patterns and shadows of life, the kind I don’t always notice - like the ones in these pictures.  Precipitation it’s called, but it is so much more than that isn’t it?  Storms like the kind that we’ve been having…they have a different quality to them then the ones I remember from when I was little, but there’s still some similarities between them.   Storms are stories, after all.  This storm gave me a lot of time to think and do, and I realized that I’d actually been thinking a lot lately about what it means to weather a storm; physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  

I spent the last seventy or more hours holed up in my house, aware that as far as storms go, I was blessed. My power didn’t go out, I had clean water to drink and enough food to cook for myself.  I started trying to use baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar to clean my house instead of chemical cleaners – a part of my ongoing battle to make more informed and sustainable decisions about the way I live.  There were many things to do that were interesting and fun and to top it off, I was in excellent company.   

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately and its manifested itself in this strange process of reaffirming what is important to me, what drives and excites me and what I feel matters most at this stage.  Another line of thinking emerges almost immediately from these questions that sort of ends up sounding like this: What am I going to do about all of these things and how will they end up unfolding in my life?    
Hard questions to answer at times, but here's what I’ve come up with so far.  It’s not an ultimate answer by any means but maybe elements of answers or elements of the path I want to travel down and how I want to do it.  Maybe that's enough.  Anyways - here it is:
Write.  Read.  Draw.  Play Piano. Study Physics. Write Music.  Sew.  Imagine. Create.  Blog.  Care.  Tell Stories.  Speak.  Help.  Smile.  Laugh.  Let Go.  Eat Well. Exercise.  Drink Water.  Honour Treaties.  Listen.  Hear.  Encourage.    
When I boil things down, these seem to be some of the things I like to do.  I should probably really add relax or meditate in there somewhere too because I noticed that it’s really quite easy to get caught up in thinking about things.  It can be downright overwhelming, actually.  While feeling overwhelmed, it’s incredibly cool when people reach out and try to help you with a nice gesture, be it helping you shovel your way out of the snow (even if you don’t plan on going anywhere) or sending some encouragement and well wishes.  These were the things that I appreciated during the storms I’ve endured – the physical ones and the other kind. So for anyone out there going through a similar pattern of self-reflection or weathering a storm of some kind, I hereby send good and happy energy your way.  I hope very much that you can find a space to be content, grateful and open for the shimmers of light that life brings, that you can find a way to be happy being you and I very much so hope that you are safe.  Because, well because - existence is cool.  

Let’s enjoy it.

Travel Time - January 2, 2012

It’s beautiful outside.  The ground is covered with snow and it’s below zero, which after reading about 2012’s record-breaking high temperatures and learning about the impacts of climate change feels like something I wanted to remark upon - happily.  And now that I have, I want to do a little time travel back to this time last year.
A winterscape 
Where was I, you might ask?  I was sitting in Pearson International Airport waiting to board a plane to Kenora.  I was working for a First Nation organization and shared part of the responsibility to assemble material for the meeting that First Nations leadership was going to have with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.   And it wasn’t just about organizing material – you want to get things right, you want to really listen to what our peoples have to say, and communicate in a way that doesn’t compromise our rights and to do that, you need to ask for help and guidance from every corner available to you – and most of all, from our ancestors, who without any legal or policy training, understood the Treaties and the importance of treaty making in all of our relationships and put them in place for us today.  Incredibly savvy.  So anyways, I was headed to ask for help. 
The expectations of most, going into the meeting were relatively low.  But as all policy analysts and workers know, our preparation efforts must proceed regardless.   And since we live in a vastly different time, where information and dialogue about critical policy issues can be shared rapidly, where histories can be recalled with the stroke of a few buttons and where we are fortunate to have so many learned and inspirational teachers from cultural, academic, legal, policy, education, political, and advocacy backgrounds working their best to help and raise awareness about the rights of indigenous peoples – we had a lot to be grateful for.  Because our predecessors had already learned and contributed so much thought and consideration – they had been there through the White Paper, the Red Paper, the Penner Report, the constitutional talks, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.  They had been there when the National Indian Brotherhood first formed, and they had witnessed the hills and valleys that come when people make efforts to organize and unite.   They had lessons to share and constructive criticism to give (like do not – under ANY circumstances and in any documents, refer to the meeting as a 'Crown' Gathering – unless the Queen herself is there).  So for our part – we listened and we didn’t and we learned.  And it was a lot to take in but every single perspective brought something new and important and though this sounds odd – something very ancient.   And how not?  They too, had spent time with elders and learning our languages so that they understood that the day before encountering settlers – we had inherent rights and responsibilities that our peoples carried and continue to carry out today.  They got it.  They wanted us to get it too.  And because we were being given the same message, there was a lot of common ground to be had.  It’s pretty great that we still get to learn what all of these things mean and apply them in our day to day lives. 

On a side note, I used to say, that I had never ever met an indigenous person who wasn’t interested and passionate about who we were on some level.  This might not strike you as a revelation but it’s just something that I’ve always found very heartening and cool.  
The meeting was announced at the end of November, and around the time when some international attention was being directed towards Canada during the housing crisis at Attawapiskat First Nation.  There were some other known factors at this time as well – the Prime Minister was travelling in China on a trade mission and the economy was the priority, etc., etc.  (Rick Mercer, made a really funny video about the pandas, pipelines, the economy and the environment – see here - incidentally, these pandas are still making appearances on the PM's twitter feed).

Anyways, there were no real surprises with the agenda or what the possible outcomes would be.  Many recalled the Kelowna Accord and the First Minister’s Meetings and the level of planning and discussions that went into the meeting even before it occurred and pointed out that there was little to suggest that the Prime Minister was taking the meeting very seriously.   And quite frankly, they were right.  But in our role as support staff – we prepared a document in early December that indicated it was clear that the only outcome likely to occur given the time frame, recent activities and policy agenda of the last five years would be a rather public announcement around a joint action plan.  Pam Palmater has blogged about this action plan - here  I don't want to say the action plan is meaningless, but it really kind of is (some may not share that opinion and that's okay).  And there were no surprises in the action plan either – those policy items had been in every single budget and Speech from the Throne for the last 5 years, which governments don’t typically stray from and I think it is more than fair to say that they were unilaterally developed. Some First Nations did not want to participate in the meeting at all.  Some felt they had to participate, because there were conditions in their communities and help needed that as leaders, they wanted to be able to provide.  They had to try.  I think, many leaders with a responsibility to serve their communities have found themselves in these difficult situations.   Wanting to see progress, not sure why it isn’t happening and then realizing – the treaty relationship is not being implemented or working in a balanced way and it’s having an impact on all of the families in all of the communities.   There's some really great documents out there.  Settler Colonial did a cool blog about it here and Sharon Venne's done many great talks about the Treaties and legislation to help explain - like this one: 

So given all of this - a decidedly grim outlook, what could be done?   
Well for one, keep focussed on the Treaties and implementing the relationship, which was not the route taken in leaving the January meeting (recall the joint action plan). Perhaps because, the issues are complex and compounded.  Perhaps because people think that things cannot get better by dealing with the issues in a relationship - or don't understand the purpose of the relationship.  A lot of people look at First Nations communities, see the bad and point out the crisis conditions, decry 'lawlessness' and wonder aloud why we just don't join the rest of mainstream society.  Some do so with innocence and sincere curiosity about the causes of the crisis, some as allies to the seeming indifference of the settler state and some as newcomers to imperial and colonial histories that shape our relations.  Some point out these realities as a matter of international record (see this alternate report, submitted by the Chiefs of Ontario to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination during Canada's review last February - here  – and for the full listing of reports submitted – visit the CERD website here   And of course, there really are some vitriolic attitudes out there and some of them can even come from within.  I don’t know why.  I think maybe it’s because we’re human and it happens sometimes that you fall into some bad times or frames of mind and then say things that aren’t the most helpful.  We Ogwehoweh are no strangers to hurting each other or to bad times.  We have the Great Law and a Tree of Peace for a reason after all.  We buried our weapons and strove for peace to bring balance back to our families and we still lift our people up using our ways – right now, today. 
I’m digressing here, but there’s a reason.  I like our ways and our people.  That like seems to grow every day and all the time.  And I am not the only one.  Many of us, younger and older, recognize that we  face challenges in our families and communities and are moved to act out of love.  Over the years those who were able to came together several times to have conversations about the issues they were experiencing in the community.  They had a lot to share that was in common and they did not just come and meet.  They came and developed strategies – strategies that could be used and adapted as needed by each community or individual.  Strategies that were based on what we shared and valued in common.   Supporting instead of dictating.  Which was very cool.  Indigenous peoples are not idle, lifeless or helpless.  Let's look at some examples.  
The Ontario First Nations Young Peoples Council did some fantastic work.  They developed a Tobacco Protocol, to help kids heal their relationship with tobacco by learning about its traditional uses.  In my humble opinion, this was a far more effective smoking cessation strategy than the Tobacco Tax Act that would follow.  It was definitely an inspiration for my own (successful) quitting effort.  They also developed a Life Promotion Strategy to help kids realize how great it is to be alive and indigenous with Treaty rights and responsibilities.  They hosted 5 policy forums all over what is known as Ontario to teach their fellow youth about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaty and Inherent Rights.   They realized that no matter what was happening with external governments – we had to Help Home First, and so this was another effort and campaign that they started.  They honoured their fellow young leader Shannen Koostachin, who was working hard for safe schools in First Nations communities and died very young in a car accident before a safe school was ever built in her community.  (You can learn about Shannen’s Dream here

Some river shots just before the snow came later that evening.   Water is so awesome.  

These were not the only tools or strategies developed.  Environmental Assessment toolkits were developed to help First Nations throughout the process (just before the process was whittled down considerably of course) and people were realizing and sharing about the incredible importance of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.  And, because our responsibilities are ultimately to the land and waters, a Water Declaration and a We Are the Land Declaration were also developed.  I’ve been sort of using the Water Declaration to guide some of my own learning over the last year because I realized these tools/reports are useful when you use them and I wanted to understand  how they could be meaningful in my actual life - (rather than just on paper).  Over the last year, that's mostly meant a lot of reading about the Grand River, the Great Lakes, picture taking, looking at the water issues globally and learning how to decrease my water footprint.  (There were lots of ways, I was/am abhorrently wasteful - learning every day). And of course, inspiration for these strategies and declarations comes from the fact that activities and efforts are actually happening in the communities. Language programs, youth groups, art programs, healing programs, community gardens and food banks.  It's amazing how much effort I see our people put into learning our ways and helping one another.  

So I realized, during this meeting preparation time last year, that yes, the legislative agenda of the government is assimilative and wretched for the environment. There are some real and very complex lands and resources matters to address - and a treaty relationship to implement and that discussion certainly needs to happen with the right people.   And yes, we need to assert and exercise all of our rights and responsibilities, all of the time.  Oh - and we need to try our best to work together.   That there, is a whole lot of work to do and yet pretty much everyone I know really has a gift for a piece of it. For my part, I realized that I wanted to try and utilize all of these cool strategies in my life and in my family and at home.  One of my sisters had already started speaking again, which was awesome, and my other sister has since joined her.  I wanted to speak our languages too and get focussed about how I could fulfill any of these responsibilities, and not just because they are responsibilities – but also because it is fun and it feels good to do.   It makes me happy to have something to strive towards.  
My point, I suppose, in this horrendously long post – is that I am happy to still see so much hope in our communities, in the community that I am from, and in a lot of the relationships that we have.  I suppose, it would be easy for many people to think that there is a lot of complaining happening by indigenous peoples and environmentalists right now.  But I see something very different.  I see a huge willingness in our people to have these discussions, to try and fulfill these responsibilities to lands, water and future generations together by suggesting there are other and more sustainable pathways to travel – even if people are making fun of them in the press or saying that these things don’t matter anymore.  Of course water matters.  Of course, clean air and climate matters.  And though no one has all the answers everyone is trying – trying to listen, trying to be heard, trying to share good information, trying to support. It’s all I really want to do as well.  To be helpful and to hopefully be there to provide help when help is needed.  To try and utilize all of these strategies that we have worked to develop together and to be open to ideas that will promote peace.
So a year later, I am happy. I am happy and grateful that I am not on a plane and that this is still something that is important to me and to all of us. And I continue to be inspired by all the other people I see helping in the ways that they can to guard and promote peace for our families and communities.

Wow.  This was a long trip down memory lane and there were even a few shortcuts! But I’m glad I took it.  And if you actually managed to read all of it – I’m very grateful you came along.
P.S.  There was a full moon last year around this date too - it's already passed for us this year, but here's a cool picture of it anyways.

Full Moon - December 28

Radio Silence - The New Era

December is drawing to a close and with it, the latest cycle of the Mayan calendar.  It is the start of something different and new for some and for others it is just another day of little consequence in a great cycle of existence and being, whether it is observed or not.   For me, the latter is just as special.  And whether or not one is taken with the ideas of beginnings and endings, there is something profound about being present for the turning of the millennium, the end of a calendar, the start of a year.
Like many others, my interest in science and physics was peaked enormously this year by new discoveries and expeditions.  And the more I read, the more appreciative I became about being sentient.  Being sentient, having spirit - is enough for me.  It makes me feel very thankful to the Treaties, for understanding this and clearing a path for us to have relationships with all of Creation, to understand portions of how things work and how life is peacefully sustained, and also - to know when there is a problem and when and how we are a part of it.   It’s quite a gift and it’s one that I hope my nieces and nephews and our successors get to enjoy for another thousand years, if not longer.  And the gift only gets better really, because it includes creativity, imagination and innovation – the lifeblood in some respects of problem solving. These things, creativity and imagination have been a big part of my life since I was a kid, and I’m really grateful for it because I want the quality of my relationship with this world to be good.
My niece made this list of survival tips that I plan to work and learn from about how to live more sustainably.  I love that a 7 year old can have such an acute sense of what our needs are and how important it is to fulfill them, but be thoughtful and mindful of our impacts to the lands and waters.  She is definitely my inspiration.    

November will forever be marked by a strange silence on the blog.  In November, I was participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time, attending my first ever Amanda F*!king Palmer show, and witnessing a tremendous amount of grief and compassion as my community was shaken by loss after loss.   I started this blog because I wanted to be able to talk about the amazing things that were happening in my community, and truthfully, there are so many that it’s difficult to keep up.  There were hard things to face too - and in these times of enormous grief, everywhere I looked I saw the hard work and determination of our peoples and their effort to learn and live our ways, to find balance and peace in their lives, to fulfill the roles they play in our community and be there for each other.  It was an incredible and sincere demonstration of resilience and compassion - a capacity and strength that I feel and certainly hope will only grow - it's always been here, after all.  
There has been a lot of activity across the world, a lot of discussion, exchanges of ideas and perspectives on Treaties, the treaty relationship and the rights of indigenous peoples.    I’ll probably blog about it very soon. But for right now, I want to reaffirm to myself my commitment to honour the Treaties the best that I can; to speak our languages more, to pick up more garbage, to live more sustainably and to enjoy this work – because it is a gift.
P.S. If you haven’t read the book The Universe Within – I’d highly recommend it.  It is amazing and explores physics concepts in a refreshing, inspiring and relatable way.  Here's a little quote from it. 
“Who are we, in the end?  As far as we know, we represent something very rare in the universe – the organization of matter and energy into living, conscious beings.”
- Neil Turok, The Universe Within  
And Treaty people.  All of us. 
Welcome to the New Era!



Return, Reflect, Refocus - The Little Things

Yesterday was Indigenous Peoples Day and I had a great time celebrating how happy that makes me and reflecting on what it has taught me.  I didn’t post anything, because I was out and about enjoying the day, the lands that I’m fortunate enough to live on and doing some brainstorming for a short story that I am in the early stages of writing.
I read a great deal about other peoples’ experiences with colonization and imperialism, from experiences of the Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon to those out West who are struggling against the tar sands.  Here are some links to a few standout articles and thoughts of the day.

It is heartening that everywhere, people are working to maintain a balance in the relationship we have with the lands for coming generations.  It is a difficult struggle – not just one against corporations or long and carefully guarded beliefs about economic prosperity and what having ‘enough’ of anything means.
It’s a personal struggle as well, one that asks us to learn and make adjustments in all kinds of ways – in the amount of water and energy we use to the kinds of products that we employ for various purposes.   I’ve found it to be a good struggle – even if I’ve been far from perfect in it, it’s a struggle I’m more than grateful to have.

I have this little place I found earlier in the summer that I like to visit that I stumbled upon when I was looking for areas to clean up.  It stood out to me for a few reasons – it was isolated, cluttered with litter, close to the river and really beautiful.  The first clean up I did – I did here and began making notes about the Grand River and water and the importance of the Grand River to the larger global water system.
Now that autumn had arrived, I wanted to return there and think over things, what I had learned and how I was prepared to contribute.  I often wonder, if the things that I am doing are helping or hurting.  In fact – I think I spent most of September thinking about this question.   And obviously, I want to be helpful so as October draws to a close I’ll resume work on that effort because it’s a small thing that might help and at the very least focuses me and gives me time to take my measure so to speak. 

So it was the little things that seemed to be the real stars of the day – in more ways than one.  As the day drew to a close and I started working on the story a bit more, I listened to some old voice notes I had recorded earlier in the summer. In one part of the note, I spoke specifically about the little things and how I had to remember to appreciate them because they matter – they help the big stuff.  The stuff that seems too large, tangled and messy to ever be shifted to a positive place. 
On a day when it might have been easy to despair - because incidentally, it was also the day that Columbus is remembered (twitter had some real zingers on this one), it became a day where a bunch of little things sent a message and made a difference. And together, they'll continue to.   

Honour the Treaties!

The Epic Birthday Blog

Today is my birthday.  I love my birthday.  Absolutely and totally adore it.  Who doesn’t really?
This birthday is extra special to me because it is the day that most of my nieces and nephews start back to school.  As a young person, my interest in school evolved over the years.  Most years, especially the early ones – say kindergarten to grade 3 - my interest was purely academic. 
Gradually, I learned that school was also about new beginnings, new friendships, and new opportunities to learn about things that had as much to do or more with how people interacted with one another than merely meeting the requirements of curriculum.  In fact – I was barely aware that there was a curriculum or method to the teaching.   And truthfully – since the majority of my education did not occur at Six Nations, the content about the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Treaties was non-existent.  
I know that schools here at Six Nations, and in other First Nation communities,  are working to change what and how we teach our kids.   I know many teachers who are committed to education, to lifting up their students, and helping them to be happy, empowered and self motivated learners who know who they are.  
That’s not an easy task either.   Today, I send all my best wishes and hope to our education community – our students and our teachers, and their families.  I hope that they embrace life, learning and our ways.  
But back to my birthday!
Turning 30 two years ago was one of the best birthdays I ever had.  For many years I had looked forward it, imagining it would be a sort of milestone for the things I would learn about myself, what I liked, what kind of person I wanted to be and what kind of life and dreams I wanted to live. 
It was everything I hoped it would be and more – mostly because I got to keep living, as challenging as that can feel at times.  So this year, in honour of living and pursuing dreams, I have compiled this list of 32 favourite moments, things, inspirations, gifts, cards, songs, movies, you name it.  These things helped me celebrate life in the moment, appreciate the living of the past, carry forward when life seemed insurmountable and be caught wondrously off guard by the beauty of this world while learning to live in a way that showed I care about the future.

1.    Birthday Cake.  Chocolate, delicious, baked for me by my Mom.  The candles are in the shape of an S with a star.  (I often sign my name with an S and a star because it makes me smile).  So I loved how my nephew arranged the triumphant flames of 32.  I blew them all out.  One go. 

2.    This amazing ring that was a gift from my sister.  It is a Herkimer diamond.  I actually didn’t know what a Herkimer diamond was until yesterday.  Herkimer diamonds come from the Mohawk Valley, ancestral lands then and now, and I nearly cried when she explained its significance.

3.    This moment where Achilles (Brad Pitt) tells the Myrmidon to storm the beach with him.  It’s just such a powerful moment.  “Take it!  It’s yours!”  I feel that way about my dreams sometimes – like they are just waiting for me to jump in, grab hold, and live them.

4.    This birthday card – for my 30thbirthday.  It was an awesome card and was given to me by my lovely colleagues. I still have it and bring it out every year.

5.    When my little sister won a national writing contest, because she wrote this incredible poem.  This poem has seen me through some dark moments.  I hope you follow the link because the poem is beautiful, incredible and lyrical.

6.     The Vampire Diaries.  Lol.  I can’t really think of anything inspiring to say about this.  Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure, however - it is also very captivating storytelling and has held my attention for the last three years.  I can’t wait for Season 4 to begin.

7.  Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.  Her music is bold and powerful, and his writing is pure genius. It is easy to relate to these two as artists, they make no apologies for being creators, patrons and enthusiastic makers of art.  Their support and love for one another seems to transcend and make everything it touches more beautiful - twitter, facebook, interviews, and performances.  Quite romantic.

8.   Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech. Deserves it’s own number.

9.     Firefly.  I came to this show late – but it’s fantastic.  Nathan Fillion right?  This is a great reunion video at this year's ComicCon.

10.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Longstanding role model. 

11. A quahog necklace that was a birthday gift from my older sister.  It's gorgeous and calming.  Like both of my sisters, actually.     

12. Once Upon a Time.  The first season of this show was incredible.  I love happy endings.

13. Joss Whedon.  Because he’s an amazing actor in this debut role. And because of Cabin in the Woods.  Reigning favourite movie of 2012.   Also - Felicia Day.  She is awesome too.  

14. Nieces and nephews are the best.  I’m really grateful for all of their beautiful spirits.  Each and every one of them is so unique – and though they’re different, they love each other very much, and are happy to be family.


15.  A lovely picture of my sister's daughters hiding from the camera.   

16.  This chessboard.  We had one like it when I was little – but it got broken.  So it’s cool to have this one, a recent replacement.  I think it’s made of onyx. 

17. My cat Lexie. She’s awesome and slightly ferocious.  Clingy yet independent.  Remarkably anti social at times.   She is all black, tiny and came from Niagara on the Lake. 
18.  The moment when Gandalf goes riding out into the fields outside of the city of Gondor to help Faramir return to the city safely.   It’s absolutely heroic.  Helping whenever, wherever, however one can.   
19.  The music by this group/company – Two Steps From Hell. Seriously epic.

20.  Learning about water and the importance of water has been an experience.  Here is the beautiful Tiffany Falls.  It was really fun to walk around and explore this area and I’m looking forward to more water related learning experiences.

21.  Archery.  The shooting of arrows.  Not quite bow hunting yet, but definitely aiming at big pieces of Styrofoam and trying to hit with some semblance of accuracy and precision. 
22.  Yoga. For years I did pilates, and I still really like pilates, but about a month ago I began doing yoga more seriously.  And wow.  It’s incredible.  
23.  An introduction to Cayuga language class I took earlier this year.  I forgot how much I liked learning in formal settings.  It was good to be reminded.  Here is a link to the Cayuga language project - COOL 

Cayuga: Our Oral Legacy

24.  Writing.  Reading and writing have always been the favourite activity.  I love them, just as I love playing outside, daydreaming and imagining things.   The more I do it, the happier I seem to become.
25.  Being read to.  I was actually surprised to discover just how much I like being read to.  My mom read my little sister and I, the Old Man in the Sea when we vacationed in the Yukon years ago.  I truly think there is a distinct possibility that this will become my favourite form of storytelling/reading.  We’ll see. 
26.  Running is another favourite thing.  I have been a runner since I was little, when we would travel to other First Nations to run.  There are pictures and perhaps I’ll find them some day.  Here’s my Tom Longboat medal for this year’s run.  

27.  My bed.  Sleeping and dreaming is really important.  It helps everything so much to be able to get rest. I’m very grateful for sleep and for being to rest peacefully.  

28.  Letter writing.  This is a new hobby I will continue to cultivate.  I have sent two letters at the time of this post.  I look forward to sending many more. 
29. Finishing journals.  In the last year – I finished two journals.  It’s really cool and perhaps really self indulgent, but honestly, it has been a great comfort to be able to write about things freely and without the pressures of formality.    
30.  These amazing displays that the schools kids did for Solidarity Day this year (The same day I started the blog actually).  It was incredible.  Inspiring in the extreme. 

31. This sculpture was a gift from my parents for my 32ndbirthday. Wow.  I actually did cry over this one.  My father is an incredibly gifted sculptor.  He is also an avid learner, a rare and powerful force of creativity and someone who really strives to make good art.  I have wanted one of his stone creations for a long, long time.  And not only do I now have one, but the stone comes from beneath our community here at Six Nations.  It's mind blowing how much I love this gift and how I will treasure it.         


32.  My awesome family.  The number one favourite, the top of any list, in any year, always.

Wow.  There were definitely more than 32 things that stood out as favourites, or experiences and friendships that I’m grateful, happy, excited for and about.  I mean graduating was pretty cool too, lol.  But if you stuck it out this long, you deserve to see the end of the epic birthday blog.  It’s been a sensational 32 years.  I hope everyone has a wonderful day this September 4th!  


P.S.  I tried to resist but couldn't.  Education and school always makes me think of this video.  

Songs and Swine

So far this summer has been amazing, filled with family and celebration.  Before I start my birthday blog countdown, I want to talk about the awesomeness that was my Saturday night.
I’ve started working on an anthology of stories and been focussed on finishing up an illustrated novel that I thought would be fun to write, so this whole summer has felt like it’s been lived in so many creative realities.  On the page, on the keyboard, in notebooks, in conversations, jokes, movies, pictures, dreams, words and letters.
On account of this, I find myself reading and writing more and more every day, but this past Saturday as much as I craved a day of writing - I couldn’t bring myself to sit down for longer than five minutes. I absolutely could not stay still.  And so I didn’t. I moved around and did chores and errands.  Went and picked up my Swinefest ticket.

Now, if I thought I had been inspired before Swinefest, I don’t know what to call the place I am now.  Nirvana?  Faerie?

I started this blog because I wanted to keep a record of all of the cool things that are going on in the community, things that stood out and amazed me. And of course - there have been so many more than I have been able to record.  They make up pages and pages of entry because our community is incredibly cool.

That’s not to say that we don’t have our hills and valleys – we do.

But back to Swinefest.  It was a good thing I stayed on the go all day. If I had stopped I might not have ended up there at all.  A little fact about me - I have a bit of a tendency to make plans and then decide I feel like staying in to read.  In fact over the last year I have bought tickets for the Queens of the Stone Age, The Kills and Deadmau5 and still not made it to an actual show.  All bands I would have loved to see…I just didn’t.

My ticket stub :) 

So physically being at Swinefest for me was an exciting change of pace and pattern.  When I think of the things that I love about music, concerts and community, it was one of the absolute best experiences I’ve had of each.

Our people care about so many things. They have and are continuing to learn more about their specific areas of interest whether it’s art, the environment, our languages and culture, history or sports.  It may be they care about helping young people, older people, family and friends.  It’s as if there’s these lights that are shining around as people nurture the different things they are passionate about.  And it’s great when collaboration brings these elements together, like one big shining beacon.
The Breaking Wind

This was ultimately what Swinefest reminded me of - collaboration brought to radiant life.  Creative, splendid, outrageously cool, caring and fun.   I only made it to see the tail end of the Healers, but I did hear the entire set of the Breaking Wind and two-time Juno Award winner Derek Miller (who hosts Swinefest along with his family as a way to give back to the community). 

He's been nominated for an award - you can vote here:

Derek has a real talent of bringing people together through his performance and there’s something so familiar about his songs - they drift but they linger too. 
I loved when others joined him on stage at the end of the night to sing and play guitar with his band.  It was amazing seeing artists come together on stage, and be happy to work together and celebrating one another’s talents and gifts.  Making music for the enjoyment of everyone there and for our community.
I deeply enjoyed the music of all the bands that I heard – but I’d be lying if I said it was just the music that made the night. The whole event was wholly inspiring – even the food.  I ate the perch dinner and the pulled pork sandwich and it was definitely the best meal of the weekend.  

My birthday is coming up and I am already finding myself reflecting about how grateful I am for the experiences I’ve had this year and every day I get to be here and be indigenous and part of a great community.

Of course, I’m also reflecting on politics and the policy issues that we face – like privatization and a disregard for environmental accountability that is simply unacceptable.  I hope our politicians and organizations that advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples speak out vigorously about this.   But I believe that supporting one another within our communities is ultimately just as important as any other advocacy effort – it’s the very sense of community and collective that an initiative like privatization seems determined to threaten.

So at events like Swinefest, when it’s clear that we see ourselves as more than individuals and there’s a lot of light in our community it fills me up with all kinds of hope, inspiration, and happiness all over again.   I am really looking forward to constructing a birthday blog, so until then, I hope that everyone’s summer is drawing to a fabulous close.  Because guess what begins for most children on my birthday??  That’s right...

Derek Miller and band with guests Crystal MacDonald and Carter Bomberry 
SCHOOL!!!!!!! J


Playwrights and Polyglots

Although I was not able to make a lot of the great events that were held as a part of the Planet IndigenUS festival, I was fortunate enough to see the play Salt Baby by Falen Johnson.  There are so many things to say about Salt Baby – it’s an intelligent play that is an absolute riot and pure pleasure to watch unfold. 

The story chronicles growth in relationships, family, courage, identity, understanding and peace (to name a few). I love these kinds of stories, because they are ultimately the kind that hold something that everyone can relate to.  And we need stories like this, ones that connect us as an audience and let us know that it is okay to communicate with one another.  I hope everyone gets a chance at some point to watch this play.   My friend and fellow blogger Chelsey writes about it here:
This week, I have been trying to focus on language learning.  Towards the start of the week, I had been a little down because things got off to a slow start.  I’m glad this happened, because while I had been plotting out my learning plan, I realized I hadn’t really articulated what my goals were – even to myself.  Even in small ways.
By the time Tuesday rolled around, my goals had become a little clearer.   My friend showed me this cool video about learning to speak languages by Benny the Irish Polyglot.  

After I watched this, I realized that I agreed wholeheartedly with Benny.  I had to just speak, using as much language as I could.  And as the week wore on, I found myself getting closer and closer to putting words into action.  There are obviously, good supplements and tools that will help this effort but ultimately, the only way to learn to speak a language is - to speak it.  To communicate.
So as I was trying to unpack the play for this entry, I realized it would be great to talk about it in the language and so tonight, I recorded a couple of four or five minute segments of me trying to speak about the experience of going to see the play with as much language as I presently have.  The result is a pretty hilarious and choppy account of my Wednesday night. I can pretty much guarantee that these videos will never see the light of day but they were so much fun to do.  And it’s a way for me to help measure my progress.  In a few months, I hope to come back and tell that story differently – better. 
I also decided to establish another blog for writing purely in the language and after some thought, decided to call it ‘Dehode Agi?’.  My first entry – is called Ojikeda Owiya: ah.  There is little doubt in my mind that this entry is virtually incomprehensible/indecipherable and riddled with mistakes.  All in all, it was a wonderful week and I look forward to much more mistake making, learning and speaking in the days to come.  And if you get a chance to see Salt Baby at some point in the future - I hope you take the opportunity.  It's wonderful.  
Enjoy the weekend!

There and Back Again

Last week I crossed the border for the first time on my own.  It was quite an interesting experience, the length of the wait, lines of cars, the questioning by border security officials.  In my first blog post, I mentioned that the settler constructs of Canada and the United States, including borders, don’t define the responsibilities that indigenous peoples have to the lands.  Wherever we go – there they are. 

I recently finished reading The Hobbit, and so the title of this post is a little play on Bilbo Baggins writings about his travels.  And I was reminded of the Tolkien quote that Maude Barlow used at the start of Blue Covenant and which also speaks of responsibilities to lands and life.  It's a wonderful quote:  
"The rule of no realm is mine, but all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" - Gandalf/The Return of the King/J.R.R. Tolkien

I think seeing the world without borders but instead, knowing and paying attention to sacred spaces and places, has helped me strive for balance in different ways every day.  It has transformed how I think about lands and waters, the passage of time and the importance of leaving the world as unfettered with waste as possible for future generations.  But I can appreciate the notion of community and that spaces have names so that we can share stories about them with one another.  There is a value in that - in sharing and belonging. 

I was exhausted on my way back to Six Nations but decided to take a short detour to visit my sister in Niagara on the Lake.  At least this was the plan until I happened to stumble upon Queenston Heights.  Having never been there before, I stopped to walk around, climb the cliff side a bit (the ‘Treacherous River Cliff” according to the plaque), and take a few pictures.  I thought about my ancestors a great deal and the depth of their stories.  
There aren’t many things more fascinating to me, but in some ways while I was standing there, I lamented that much of what I know is gleamed from books and narratives written or shared in english.  Too much really, considering there’s another way of knowing and it’s time I work a bit harder for that.  And I’d rather not lament any longer.

So this week marks the start of a real effort on my part to learn to speak our languages and I am both nervous and determined, having drawn on many different experiences to develop my learning plan.  Mostly, I am excited and like someone making a health resolution to their family and friends, feel like this is my opportunity to make a public sort of commitment to this endeavour.   Let the learning begin!


Explore Explore Explore

It is August!  Days are passing in their usual quick fashion and there are many things to blog and share, particularly about water. I have been busy learning more about this amazing resource and ecosystems more generally.   The book I recently finished reading, called Blue Covenant, definitely informed my thinking and understanding of global water issues and highlighted some of the policy challenges and dynamics in the current discussions.   For those of you who don’t like reading, the author Maude Barlow, is also featured on a few TVO episodes.
Over the last few weeks, I have found some excellent resources and been introduced to many individuals and organizations whose work in the area is outstanding and inspiring.  As I compile my own notes and questions, I feel very lucky to be so close to a river but also grossly under educated about the role the river plays within the global network and water system.  I think this is an important consideration – how do local efforts contribute to the global situation? And which efforts ought to take priority?  And do we have a sufficient range of positive, productive solutions that we can move forward with confidence? At any rate, I look forward to learning and organizing those notes into a comprehensive and invigorating introspective in the near future.   

The welcoming signage
In the meantime, I've continued to explore local areas along the Grand River and one place I recently visited was the Chiefswood National Historic Site.  They actually have a new website, so I won’t go into all the details of their mandate and history here, but suffice it to say that Chiefswood was the home of E. Pauline Johnson, a poet and performer of Mohawk descent who lived there in the late 19th century. 

My super cool niece 
There are many things that that intrigue me about Chiefswood.  In many ways, it is a physical place that was constructed, quite purposefully, to facilitate relationship building.  It literally has two entrances opening towards the river and to the road and it is easy to see how the ebb and flow of people and ideas would inspire creativity, provoke questions and ignite the imagination of a young writer.
I actually used to dream about the house when I was little, so in many ways, Chiefswood has been infused with my conceptualization of community for decades now, even though I have only visited it a handful of times.  

There's the guest book on the table - I love guest books
This last was a particularly fun visit, because my niece took the tour with me.  She has a remarkable and sparkling intellect and the kind of genuine interest and enthusiasm that can really radiate from young people.  This was especially awesome – because our tour was led by one of the summer students, who was exceptional in relaying the story of the house, the family, the elements of the various relationships, the political dynamics that were at play at the time, and hinting at the enticing scandals that seem to accompany any good retrospective history. 
A picture from the meadow
It’s great to see young people taking charge of both learning and sharing our history as indigenous peoples, including our local history, which can often get lost in the big picture or mainstream media and most certainly gets lost in the current school curriculums.  Ahem…Justin Bieber. 
Awesome summer students
At any rate, we had a lovely day and I hope that if any of you are in the area, that the Chiefswood National Historic Site is one of your stops.   Til next time!

The Mound

This year I planted one small mound of corn, beans and squash.  I was encouraged to plant these by a dear friend who told me it would be helpful to me.  And already, I find that this is true on many levels. 
Though my mind tends to be naturally reflective and over analytical, it has developed more focus as it establishes new thoughts about my relationship with the mound.  Obviously, one goal with the plants is for them to grow and bear more plants.  So for them to do that, I need to do my part to help them.  I have to do more than just hope that they grow - I have to be present and overcome whatever is ailing me to make sure that they are given the support that they need throughout their time of growing. 
We started a relationship, these plants and I.   
The planting experience has taught me that this isn’t going to be easy.  It will be hard work.  And it has also reminded me that I have a lot to learn about relationships but most of those things are fairly uncomplicated.  For example, I realized I must find ways to keep myself helpful.  In the early days when the future of the plant is unknown – I have to stay positive rather than negative that the plant will develop and grow.  I have to send it warm green thoughts, filled with a mixture of love and enthusiasm. I want it to grow towards me too, to feel encouraged by how I treat it and to reciprocate.
In this middle stage this has meant reminding myself, that our relationship doesn’t end just because I physically planted the seeds.  There is maintenance required.  And this seems to be the hardest thing to commit to.  When I wonder, as I sometimes do, why great initiatives or ideas struggle, follow through activities like ongoing maintenance always jump out at me.  (That’s just one example of course).
A part of what brought on this post is that I have been doing some thinking and reading about matters of food and water and considering how important it is for me to have balance in my relationship with both.  And so in that respect, this blog is a bit of a precursor to those posts. 
But the other part is a discussion I had with a friend last week where he told me a story about the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash) and we spoke at some length about language and indigenous knowledge. In many ways, it reinvigorated my commitment to the plants and my appreciation of my peoples understanding of the natural sciences.  It also spiralled into this great evening of impromptu story telling. 
So as these other thoughts about water and food continue to form, here is a special shout out of affection to the plants of the mound AAANNDD..... 

this really cool retelling that another artist made.  It's called, "Skátne Ronatehiaróntie; They Grow Together".    Enjoy!

Racoon Wedding

This is an experience I have been waiting a little while to blog about  - essentially, ever since I decided I wanted to blog about stuff.  There were many things happening the day this album came to my attention and since I hadn’t actually known it was out I was doubly thrilled to see it – so thrilled in fact that I am quite sure I am embarrassed Tim with my shriek of joy that a good portion of the shopping population in the mall heard.  People stopped and gawked. I’m fairly certain that those who didn’t smile - scowled.  And I don’t blame them one bit – any of you who actually know me personally, know that I tend to have these explosions of enthusiasm when something happens that I’m really happy or excited about.  Though they aren’t terribly edgy or cool, I’ve long since stopped trying to curb these reactions.   It’s an impossible mission.  Even I don’t know when they’re coming. 
But back to the story of the album…
Tim is a friend, a talented and passionate musician, and I have long appreciated his efforts over the years to understand the matters between my peoples and his, and the relationship between our communities.  He will probably laugh and be even more embarrassed at me for putting it this way, but it’s definitely how I feel.  The photo definitely captures a bit of it, my sheer enthusiasm, but whatever isn’t transferrable through the image – I’ll supplement with words.

I had been in a bit of a mood – the kind where you seem to continually misstep, where you feel like people look at you funny and you can’t make yourself not care, and your mind is not on the same wave length as everyone else’s.  And that leaves you to be unmistakeably and happily you but a you who is still trying to connect with others because that’s an important thing to do. 
My mood was exacerbated by the fact that there seemed to be many things happening in the world that I was not piecing together coherently and yet, I defiantly continued to drink in more information (instead of having a tea and relaxing, for instance).  I had also just finished the Tom Longboat run the day before and I was feeling particularly full of community care and affection - and since it was ten kilometres, a distance I don't usually run - I was in a great deal of pain.  
Here are just a few things that were happening that day, in no particular order:
  • Pam Palmater was twittering about the launch of her campaign for National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations – which incidentally, the elections for are next week.
  • A conservative senator said and tweeted that Treaties would never be honoured.  
  • Minister Kathleen Wynn made a communications agreement with the Haudenosaunee Development Institute.  (Incidentally – no tweet for this one).

Despite the relative disorganization of my being that day, I knew that I would certainly do my part to honour the living and existing Treaties and that I would learn to get better at it.   I also knew that I wasn’t the only one who is committed to the Treaties and learning about them.  I imagined there likely could be a lot more people who might do so, if they knew more about them.
So when I walked into the record store and saw Tim’s album I was delighted. I was delighted to see him open a dialogue because he cares about his community’s friendships as much as I do about mine – even if I sometimes don’t know what to do to help.  Maybe he doesn’t always know either – but he made this album and it is evident even from the title Onondaga (as well as the lyrics of the songs) that the relationship between Six Nations and Brantford is on his mind. It’s on mine too.  And in honour of this particular contribution to the dialogue - I asked him if I could review the album for The Whirlwind.  And happily – he agreed.  
The commemoration of the War of 1812 is being held later this year, and during my first listen through of this album – this was one theme that popped out at me. So as we get closer to October and as different Six Nations events to raise awareness about our history with the War of 1812 roll out – I will be blogging segments of this album with Tim.   I’m looking forward to it very much - there is always a great deal to learn and discover.
I have a love for local music and musicians so I am happy to share this link to the Raccoon Wedding myspace.  
Honour the Treaties,

Hunting Particles and Other Ways Interactions Matter

Science is interesting to me for a few reasons.  I like that it asks questions and that it seeks to understand how the universe works.  I like that it creates equations to simplify these rules or patterns and I like that those equations can work together to express big ideas and share vast amounts of experience and investigation.

Today CERN, the European Centre for Particle Physics, announced that they had observed a new particle (the Higgs Boson) that is thought to be the missing piece in helping to understand the origin of mass.  This is definitely something that I find cool and I’m certain when I get thinking about what it means, I’ll have a whole new batch of questions and inquiries to pursue and articles to read.  Here's a cool video explanation...

But for now – this news is causing me to reflect happily on our Creation stories, myths and legends - all of our oral traditions really.  They share a straightforward yet poignant way of looking at the universe and of documenting our interactions with it.  Over the last few decades the relationship between indigenous knowledges and the sciences has continued to evolve.  David Suzuki is one example of a scientist who values our ways of knowing.  It is always great to participate in good, open and collaborative dialogue.  I appreciate how our stories work together and how they can collaborate and participate in other discussions, like the ones that occur in science.  It’s incredibly empowering actually.

And so today’s news and press conference made me think back to a conversation that I had with my friends a few nights ago.  A couple of them are taking a course in information technology. The first two weeks of the course - were cultural.  I must say that my friends are incredibly astute and interesting.  They make me feel like a boring thinker at times because their observations blow my mind on a regular basis - which is awesome. 

They had to retell legends in their class and what the morale of that story was. Though they did not necessarily like making the presentations – the discussion we had about the legends and the morals was one I personally got a lot from.  My one friend shared the story she had told in their class - about these people going to hunt and finding sea serpents – one that was gold and one that was black.  The sea serpents glowed like eels.  The hunters brought them home and they cared for them.  Then one day the serpents grew and grew and grew.  And their growth led to the end of the world.  (This is me paraphrasing enormously).

We talked about the story and the morale of it. My one friend suggested it was about not bringing home stray animals, because they may be wild, perhaps untameable or not meant to be tamed and we cannot make assumptions about it being a pet - we can’t really know what will happen.  Another friend followed this up by offering that the morale of the story was that nature ought to be left alone and not exploited.

When I consider the amount of resource development and harmful extraction that is undertaken on a regular basis across Turtle Island – I cannot help but echo these sentiments.  Just as equations hold troves of information – our stories are meant to provide and share our own findings – whether we have had to put them through a rigorous experimentation process or not.   We share them because we believe there is a reason why our elders made an effort to pass them on. Sharing them is both an exercise in critical thinking and community growth – and though I’m sure it’s just one exercise of many that can be essential to the lasting health of our peoples and the health of our relationships, it’s definitely one of my favourites.

There are all kinds of links/articles to share that made me think of these things and here are a couple of them.  I also just finished reading why does e=mc2? (and why should we care?) and found it to be a pretty good source of information to help understand what all the excitement was about.

CERN Press Release:
National Geographic Article: 

I should mention that the point I liked in the National Geographic article (which is actually about languages) is towards the end when referring to different discussions between the Seri peoples and scientists.  



River Adventures

Yesterday, I stopped to visit with my niece and as I was getting ready to leave, she asked me if I forgot that it was Canada Day, presumably because I didn’t mention it at any time during our visit.
The answer of course, was that I had not forgotten but I had to really think about how to explain to her that it wasn’t necessarily something I would be celebrating in the same way that other people might.  In the end I just asked her, “Do you remember how I said that we live on Turtle Island?”  To which she answered yes.
And so I shared with her how I planned to spend my day and I also told her that I would blog about it.  While I have no claim to expert knowledge, I understand that living on Turtle Island means we have certain responsibilities and as indigenous peoples, we have our own way of fulfilling them that has been passed along through generations.
I told my niece that the Treaties are a living and foundational part of the relationship between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous people and that while non-indigenous people were having something of a celebration, I was going to focus on something a bit different – reflecting on the relationships I’m in and hopefully learning more about how to honour the Treaties and better fulfil some of my responsibilities.
I have many friends who are not indigenous, and who are aware of and have a great love for Turtle Island and the environment.  They have a range of interests - as people do.  Some of them are farmers, some artists, and some musicians or teachers of different subjects.  And though I have never asked each of them specifically, it is my feeling that all of them desire to have good relationships with Indigenous peoples and I think many of them would be happy to know that the treaty relationship provides for exactly that – peaceful relations, enduring friendship and mutual respect.  So it seems like continuing to infuse my relationships with positive thoughts and intentions is a good use of my energy.  And to me – that means learning about and exercising treaty rights and responsibilities. 

I don’t know very much about eco-systems but lately I’ve been trying to learn and understand more about the health of the area of Turtle Island that I live on (Six Nations of the Grand River).  So I spent the day investigating and cleaning up wherever I found debris and litter along the river, which is something I have wanted to work on for a little while now.  I had a total blast doing this.  I am fairly certain that there must be another name for the Grand River but I don’t know what it is.  This is one of many thoughts and questions that occurred to me while I was working and I really look forward to learning more about that, the river and what other efforts I can contribute for it to be healthy – it really is beautiful water after all and one that is still very important to lots of people from my community. 

Anyways - I did a little video of the trip and took some pictures (it's a bit windy so that comes through in the sound a bit).  It was a lot of fun.  I’m almost 100% certain that some of the information in my video is slightly incorrect, but I’ll be sure to correct that as I go.  Welcome to July everyone!


The Artistic Way

Just a few evenings ago, I had the opportunity to join a friend of mine at an exhibition of short films by the wonderful artist Shelley Niro. For those of you who don’t know Shelley’s work – here is a ridiculously long link to some images of it. 
A Google search would be much faster but I like including the links.  At any rate, explore.  See.  Love. 
I have a bit of an obsession with art.  I will always be grateful that I have the coolest father around, because he helped to make sure that art, imagination and creativity was a part of mine and my siblings’ lives and because it’s led to an enduring appreciation for artists and their creations.  There are many artists I want to share about here at The Whirlwind, but I’ll start with Shelley – since I just watched some of her films and because she has just become the first laureate of the Ontario Art Council’s Indigenous Arts Award and I think that’s pretty cool.   (Side Note – okay, it is actually called the “Aboriginal” Arts Award but “Aboriginal” isn’t a word I use, so I will forever be changing it on this blog.  J)
It has actually been a long time since I sat down and really interacted with a film, having developed a tendency in recent years to view primarily loud, action packed and easy to put away afterwards types of movies.  There aren’t many that have pulled me out of that pattern, but Honey Moccasin was definitely one of them.     
While it isn’t one of her newer films, it was my first time viewing it and I struggled at times to determine what I was taking from it, what it was teaching me and how I felt about it.  To some degree, I am still working through those questions, and that for me is the brilliance of the piece.  It ignited a conversation that has been unfolding, on and off, for nearly a week now. 
As a film, it hits a lot of notes - literally.  It is both dramatic and comedic.  It is part mystery and part musical.  It explores identity and it also pokes fun at our assumptions about it.   Its ability to do all these things and do them well deserves a blog entry of its own. 
I laughed several times during the showing, and greatly enjoyed the comedic cadence, the diversity of the characters and the community that their interactions and relationships formed.  My sister was sharing with me recently about a movie she saw where the character dynamics seemed to really fall flat (ahem…Snow White and Huntsman).  I knew exactly what she meant – because even though the scenery and cinematography were enchanting, I found I really couldn’t have cared less about what was motivating the Evil Queen, Snow White or the Huntsman. And though I may change my mind after more reflection – I think that cuts to the heart of why I liked this film so much. 
These characters were invested in and driven by one another.  Even the news clips, were focussed on reporting  the activities, events and concerns of the community. The effect was charming and the approach one I could absolutely identify with.  I liked seeing and recognizing as much as I did of our people and our community dynamic on the screen. But here’s my favourite part. I loved seeing the community prevail and both accept and participate in the redemption of Zachary John.   I loved being able to see in a film as I feel in my every day life – that when we work together, we can succeed in anything - recover from anything.   And of course, it doesn’t happen all at once or easily.  But it does happen.  And when it does – it’s magic. 
There are of course, many types of communities and seeing Shelley’s film reminded me of another experience.  Once upon a time in university, I was fortunate enough to assist in curating a small exhibit at McMaster University, entitled “Beyond the Woodland School”.  (Shelley was one of the artists featured in the exhibit – hence the memory).  While there are certainly a host of extra curricular opportunities competing for your attention when you are pursuing your studies – I have to say, hands down, that this was my favourite. From this experience, I gained a whole new appreciation for the curatorial process and the curator’s duties (most of which, I wasn’t responsible for), but all of which were exciting to me. 
For those of you who are in Indigenous Studies programmes at various campuses across Turtle Island – I highly recommend you pitch this as a concept or project to your First Nations’ student organizations.  They are a lot of fun and a great way to create and promote dialogue in and around the campus community. Plus art is just plain cool – no matter how you slice it.  Hope everyone is having a wonderful day.
Oh, and here’s the link to the press release for the OAC award:

“We, the Indigenous Peoples, walk to the future in the footprints of our ancestors” Kari Oca Declaration, 1992

Turtle Island is where I am from.  Some people might think it sounds funny to say it that way, but that is indeed where I live.   And obviously, in english, it sounds different than how we express it in our own languages.  The settler constructs of Canada and the United States are there of course – but their presence doesn’t change the lands or the responsibilities and relationships we maintain with them.  At least they ought not to.   Of course, there have and continue to be some truly painful and low points to the interactions Indigenous Peoples have had with the settler governments, and those stories are and will continue to be told as well so that we and future generations don’t forget about the importance of peace, friendship and respect in all of our relationships. These experiences and stories have helped strengthen my own resolve over the years and I hope they will continue to help us persevere in restoring balance when it’s absent - which of course means we need to be free and encouraged to point out when it is and tend to it.  
Today is solidarity day and this year, I’m going to celebrate it by starting this blog and attending a few events in the community.  And I have to say – that I absolutely love our community.  It is a gorgeous place where my loved ones and I grew up.  My siblings and I have had tremendous adventures here – hunted, fished, picked berries, made mud pies, played music, created art, explored and learned about things and life.  Laughed, cried, loved, lost.   Learned to drive.  Families and friends of mine have learned about Treaties and exercised their treaty rights in this part of Turtle Island for generations.  It is hugely exciting for me to be able to participate in that. I’m grateful for it every day and I’m extremely proud and humbled by the fortitude and foresight of my ancestors in making Treaty – hence the title of the opening post.   I’ll probably blog about it again some time in the near future – because this particular declaration has always resonated with me, especially the opening lines.  And especially right now, when Indigenous Peoples are gathered at a second summit in Rio de Janeiro talking about our lands, our relationships and our responsibilities.
But for now, I will just say, that I can appreciate the spirit of this declaration.  I’ve really come to see how much of the happiness I get to enjoy is fashioned from efforts and contributions my ancestors have made.  They had enduring thoughts and care for us, these lands and waters.  Somehow, that just makes what I get to experience all the sweeter.   I want my nieces and nephews to have a wonderful experience here as well.  And that means, I have to do my part to embrace and respect our shared inheritance now. 
It is an awesome day to be Indigenous.  Happy Solidarity Day Everyone!
Here’s a link to the full Kari Oca Declaration.  Enjoy.