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Settler Acculturation

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Issue: 31 Section: Original Peoples Geography: Canada Topics: Indigenous

November 1, 2005

Settler Acculturation

Confronting myths and misconceptions about Indigenous culture, spirituality, and worldview

by Wilma van der Veen

gkisedtanamoogk and Margaret Tucz-King helped lead the workshop
Recent court rulings acknowledging native rights to natural resources, such as timber and fisheries, have fed existing tensions between corporate interests, resource industry workers and indigenous nations. These tensions have highlighted a lack of understanding, often fed by disinformation, about the history of relations between settlers and First Nations peoples and the agreements that continue to govern that relationship.

In mid-September, a group of people met in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, to attempt to address this lack of understanding. "The times, they are a-changing: A Treaty Education Workshop" event, was sponsored by Lnapskuk: The Neighbours Project and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs. Margaret Tucz-King, staff at the Lnapskuk Project explained that the workshop "was designed to promote awareness about Indigenous culture and history among Maritimers; to promote positive, peaceful ways of working through the divisive issues; and encourage participation in new relationship-building initiatives in communities and neighbourhoods.

"To constructively address the deep concerns of all involved, spaces need to be created which allow everyone to engage in transformational discussions and activities where myths and misconceptions about our history and current issues can be corrected," said Tusz-King. This gathering was such a space where Wabanaki storytellers and other presenters shared their knowledge, helping non-Indigenous people to experientially learn about Indigenous culture, spirituality, and worldview.

Gwen Bear, a Wulustukiuk educator presented Medicine Wheel teachings to the group. She spoke passionately about the representation of the four peoples in the wheel: the Red, caretakers of earth, given the gift of vision and dreams; the Black, caretakers of water, given the gift of compassion; the Yellow, caretakers of air, given the gift of introspection; the White, caretakers of fire, given the gift of knowledge and action. Bear described the caretaker role as "a sacred contract -- each group needing to take care of their Creator-assigned element," adding, "As all elements are required for life, each people were also united and connected at a fundamental level."

Other wheel-based lessons included that of the four directions beginning in the East representing spirit, heart (South), body (West) and mind (North): respectively corresponding to cultural, social, economical and political realms."Many of us are in imbalance due to the nature of our current societies, where too much focus is placed on the realms of body and mind, and not enough on the heart and spirit," stressed Bear.

Donna Augustine, a Mi'kmaw cultural educator from Elsipogtog (Big Cove First Nation) aims to bring healing to the ancestors by having their remains repatriated. During her presentation, she noted how Original Peoples of this continent are the most studied group of people on the planet. She claimed that there are more remains of Original Peoples lying in museums than there are Original Peoples alive now. There is a great and disturbing hypocrisy regarding respect for European graveyards compared to the disrespect for the burial grounds of First Nations she said. This is exemplified by the invasive work of anthropologists and also by developers seeking to build on excavated areas. Currently her work is taking her to Europe to bring back the bones of those Original Peoples who fought and died in the world wars.

On the final day, Ed Bianchi, Program Coordinator of Aboriginal Rights KAIROS, provided some grounding in the legal aspects of treaties, Canadian court systems and international human rights law. Bianchi explained that under international law, the government of Canada is not upholding the various international treaties it has signed which impact upon Original Peoples. Bianchi also stressed, "In land rights and treaty negotiations across the country the objective of the federal government is to terminate or extinguish Aboriginal rights. This policy, which the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples concluded was discriminatory, paternalistic and wrong, persists despite the fact that the treaties signed hundreds of years ago recognized the sovereignty of Aboriginal nations, and despite sundry Supreme Court of Canada decisions confirming the ongoing the validity and legality of those treaties."

gkisedtanamoogk, a Wabanaki spiritual man, educator and a member of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition Atlantic, led the welcome of the first light early each morning in observance of traditional Mi'kmaw ceremony, and shared prophecies with the group. He stressed "The importance of the Wabanaki people in determining the future, as they are the first to see the light being on the easternmost edge of Turtle Island".

This event was unique. From the method of teaching, to the schedule and proceedings of each day, to the communication and interaction, this was a representation of an Indigenous way of walking the path. Participants found this path to be more in balance with the needs of the people, respecting the power of the Creator, Mother Earth, and the spirits of the ancestors. One participant, Selena Gitpu'Iskw noted afterwards, "Having recently returned home to Nova Scotia after an absence of more than 30 years, I found the talks given most informative. Particularly with regard to current issues surrounding Aboriginal Sovereignty. I learned a great deal about the historical context of the Treaties and their true meaning and purpose to Aboriginal Peoples". So that others may network and develop new insights and understandings into shared history and the current issues that challenge people today, the organizers and participants plan to make this an annual event.

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