Something different happens when you get out on the land. And I don’t mean going for a hike down a well-known trail, or visiting a beautiful tourist site—although those are lovely things to do, too. I mean really being with the land, being one with the world around you. To stop and listen to the stream, to the blackflies buzzing; to watch and give thanks to the sun and moon above us. Something different really happens when we can slow down enough not only to pay attention but to listen, to learn and to respect.
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Growing up in a small Northeastern Ontario town, I was surrounded by nature, so the concept of spending time in the bush was normal for our French-Indigenous family. However, it is the traditional teachings that have been shared that truly alter my perception of the world around us.
My ancestors learned to survive by watching the animals—by watching what they ate, where they went for water, and how they survived in varying weather. It was a practice of patience, and the seven grandfather teachings were always at the core, which are: Respect, Humility, Love, Truth, Courage, Honesty, and Wisdom. By paying attention and watching so closely, an understanding and great respect was established for all things around us.
There is an unspoken connection that happens in nature. It happens between trees, animals, plants, the elements and everything in between. This connection not only helped us survive as Indigenous people, but humbled us to the mindset that the human spirit is just as important as a water spirit, a tree spirit, or a fish spirit. With this way of thinking, water was not wasted or polluted, trees and animals were prayed on and only taken for survival when needed. We knew we needed this natural world around us to survive, and it was respected in this regard.
We are so disconnected today that some people don’t even know what direction the sun rises, or where their can of salmon came from. We go to pharmacies when we have natural medicine in our backyards. We waste more food than we consume. And all this goes back to the lack of connection, not only with one another but to the natural world around us.
For thousands of years my ancestors lived off the land—fishing, hunting, trapping. They knew the waterways, the plants and medicines. It was important to keep that connection, and that did make it hard to hunt, trap and fish, as taking a life is never supposed to be easy. To kill something for means of nutrition was a regular part of life, but the difference is that this animal’s life was taken for a specific reason and that every part of the animal that could be used would be. Bones for tools and weapons, tendons for ropes, hide for shelter and clothing, and so on.
Many of our youth are now relearning these ways, and beginning to practice and live the way of our original people. However, the challenge now is to live in two worlds.
One where we can go to the grocery store and practically get anything we want without having to think of where it came from, or what its purpose was. And one where we slow down, pay attention, give thanks to mother earth, for allowing us all to live here. It creates a different way to look at food, to experience hunting and fishing: when you know you took an animal’s life in the best way you could, not allowing it to suffer, to feed your family/community, and ensuring that none of that animal is wasted.
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Although it is easy to fall into a modern lifestyle, it is important to ask the questions of where our food came from, what our clothes are made of, what types of trees grow around us. It is by asking these questions that we begin to watch, listen, and learn. It is through slowing down and paying attention that connections are made, not only with nature but with one another as well.
Next time you go for that steak, or chicken, ask yourself if you could have taken that life, and see how you feel. When you eat your next fruit, ask yourself where does it actually grow? What vitamins does it contain? Rebuilding these connections is what we need as a people. Through connections and coming together we are stronger, healthier and happier.
Connecting to the Land and Anishinaabe History
Looking for more information about how to connect with the land and Indigenous cultures? Visit Chiwawasumkwe for land-based experiences and cultural workshops.
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Chi Miigwetch to the Indigenous People of Turtle Island for taking care of this land and all it holds in pristine condition for thousands of years.