This article is a follow up to Deanna Zantingh’s piece in January’s issue, “Uncovering the Truth: Land is Central.”
I have a beautiful house by the Assiniboine River near Winnipeg, but when I say I am going “home,” I mean the place where I was born: Misipawistik Cree Nation in Grand Rapids. Among my people, there is a question we ask someone who cannot seem to stay still in one place, but moves about constantly; “What are you looking for? Your bellybutton?” I interpret this query as, “Are you missing the land on which you were born; do you feel lost when you are away from there?”
Indigenous peoples lived on, from, and with the land. The traditional Indigenous peoples birthed their own children with the help of midwives. Upon the birth of a child, the mother’s placenta would be placed in the ground next to a tree near the birthplace, creating a strong connection to the land that the child would have. When the stub of the umbilical cord dried and came off the child, it, too would be placed in the ground near the tree. This area would become “home” for life for this person, sustaining the strong bond between person and land.
Our people could predict weather by observing the sky and watching the behaviour of animals. Our people knew what medicines to use for various illnesses. Our languages and cultures evolved form our mutual relationship with the land. Our sense of belonging, our customs and beliefs, and our methods for policing, child bearing, and child rearing are all connected to the land. Many of our ways, traditions, and languages have been lost because we have been disconnected from the land by colonization and attempts at forced assimilation.
In the past few years, there has been a move towards restoring our relationship with the land. “Land-based education” and “cultural literacy” are catchphrases which have circulated fervently throughout the world of Indigenous education in the past decade or so. It has been evident that the conventional colonial education systems were not producing large numbers of successful academics among our youth. We must reconnect Indigenous youth with the land so that they can find a sense of pride and identity. Learning the Indigenous way of life, the mino pimatisiwin (the good life) or askiwi-pimatisiwin (life on/with/from the land), is rooted in the person’s relationships with the natural world, the people around them (all their relations), and the languages, traditions, and ceremonies of their nation.