Anishinabe Philosophy with Marcel Hardisty by Beth McLean Wiest.
Marcel Hardisty is a wise and humble man. He is a community leader in Hollow Water, an Ojibwa reservation north of Winnipeg. He is passionate about his people and their healing and a firm believer in restorative justice. He is an Aboriginal Community Sexual Abuse Intervention Specialist, and past president of Community Holistic Circle Healing – a comprehensive networking and healing system. According to Steve Bell, he is also a great teacher to us non-aboriginals and someone Harmony through Harmony should learn from. We were eager to spend a day learning from Marcel.
Our morning began with presenting Marcel with tobacco. He then explained why it is the ancient custom to give an offering of tobacco.
Traditionally, the tobacco is used to open communication whether with an elder or the Creator. When making a request to an Elder/Traditional Teacher whether for information, advice and/ or to make a presentation it is respectful to offer tobacco first. Presenting tobacco demonstrates respect for how the land and the people will live together. In traditional tobacco there is a mix of cedar, sage, sweet grass and kinnikinnick. I don’t think our tobacco had any of that- I didn’t even know how to spell it (which Marcel teased me about)! I am a non-smoker so I had no idea what to look for in tobacco… For me, it was a classic moment of my non-aboriginal ignorance. I felt so out of my gift-giving league. Thankfully, one of our singers was able to help me out and we were able to honor Marcel with our symbolic presentation. I was very grateful for Marcel’s graciousness to us.
After the tobacco offering, we jumped right into our day of learning… The Anishinabe Philosophy.
Anishinabe means “First Man” or “Original Peoples”. The Anishinabe are the conglomerate tribe of the tribes of Odawa, Ojibwe and Algonquin peoples. They all speak closely related languages. These are the nations surrounding the Great Lakes.
Before the residential schools, all the Anishinabe people understood what it meant to be Anishinabe. Tragically, many no longer know this part of their identity. Those who do, like Marcel, are doing their part to take back control of their lives and find solutions to the problems of their people. Their hope is that one day soon the Anishinabe people will all understand what it means to be Anishinabe once more.
For me, the loss of identity was a sobering thought. What would it be like for me to lose my identity as a Canadian? I am proud to be Canadian and as I have traveled the world I am proud of how others view my country. The Anishinabe people have been here longer than any of us. What went so very wrong for them to lose their identity? The answer to that question is one that humbles me and brings me to my knees. Apparently I am not the only one troubled by the question of “What went wrong?”…
Marcel shared that in 1978-79, a little girl drowned in the outside toilet hole because everyone, her parents and grandparents, was drunk. At that time, almost every home had beer-drinking parties going on in the home on a regular basis. Following the tragedy, the grandparents came forward in their grief to the council members saying “What is wrong with this?”. Most of the council was women at the time. The council determined “We have to act on the request of these elders. No one from the outside is going to come and save you, you have to do it yourself.” And so, people like Marcel started to work in the community to teach the Anishinabe Philosophy.
So what is the Anishinabe Philosophy?
To be Anishinabe means to understand that we are all created and need each other. Creator will always provide all that you need for your life. All that we need in order to live comes from the raw material of mother earth. Take only what you need.
Creator made the first family:
– Mother Earth
– Grandmother Moon
– Grandfather Sun
Creator then made the first children:
– Plant life
– Four leggeds,
Creator made it so that all this would live on forever with no need for us. Creator then made his most prized creation Woman.
Sounds a lot like the story of Creation I was raised with.
At birth, all Anishinabe people should be given a clan, named after an animal. This is because of the core belief that we are all connected to all aspects of creation including the animals. In order for a community to be healthy, all the clans need to be represented. We all need each other. We learned you can learn a lot about people by knowing what clan they are from and studying the animal’s behaviours and role in nature.
– Loon – voice of the will of the people, storytellers
– Crane – voice of the will of the people, storytellers
– Martin –they are the Providers, strategists (Martin includes beaver, otter, wolves)
– Hooves – singers, dancers, reconciliators (Deer is boss of the clan because he is kind and gentle. Hooves includes buffalo, moose, caribou, elk)
– Fish – intellectuals, teachers, knowledge of the people (Turtles is boss of clan.)
– Bird – spiritual leaders, spiritual teachers (Eagle is the boss because of his wisdom.)
– Bear- medicine people, knowledgeable of the herbs, healing, ceremony (Polar bear is boss of the clan)
A funny moment was when I asked Marcel, “Are the roles of the voices of the will of the people (loon and crane) different?” He looked at me like I was nuts. “Have you ever heard a loon?” Fortunately, I have. “Yes.” “Well then…” Right. Good point. But all around the room, the other non-aboriginals (everyone) were asking the same question. So if they both have the role of “voice of the will of the people”, then…? But no more was said. In his mind, of course they have different roles. I guess I will need to spend some time observing loons and cranes. We were moving on…
The earth is divided into quarters like a clock. The East is the yellow people, the South is the black people, the North is the white people and the West is the red people (and red is a sacred colour). You will often see drawings of circles in First Peoples art where the circle has four colours. Interestingly, when they go around the circle they always begin at the East point as that is where the Sun begins its journey.
It immediately made me think of the children’s song “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world… Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Because we are all a part of Mother Earth, there was no concept of property / land ownership because all of it was Creator’s. We all need each other and you only take what you need. We are all strands of the same web of life. There is kinship between all creation.
Marcel then went on to explain that the Anishinabe live by seven laws. The Laws teach how to live with all of creation especially with other human beings:
– Sharing (love)
When we don’t live by these seven laws, we are creating chaos, destruction, death. Whatever happens to the earth, happens to the people.
Our minds and hearts were being opened. And we were only at morning coffee break.