Elders Teachings: Reflections from Amber

I did not know what to anticipate when I attended the Elder’s Teachings with Vibrant Communities Calgary on August 18. My concern was that the session would be emotionally difficult as it explored the historical injustices faced by Indigenous Peoples. Although the session touched on inter-generational trauma and racism, it focused heavily on Indigenous culture and traditional laws. Almost immediately, I was awestruck and engaged by the teachings of Edmee Comstock and Casey Eagle Speaker.  I struggled to stay “in the moment” and not dwell on what was said.  If not, I would have missed a lot of the important information they were teaching us.

The chairs were set up in a circle at St. Mary’s University.  Casey began the session by asking us our names and who are we.  As we went around the circle it was obvious that we all come from many different backgrounds and cultures; Scottish, English, German, etc..  Casey then asked this question to us; how many of us know a Native, Aboriginal, or Indigenous person?  There was some awkwardness before people raised their hands.  Casey next asked one person to show him because he had never met one before.  In his Blackfoot ways, there is no word to describe a person’s culture.

He told us that we are all HUMAN BEINGS.  Our bodies are a gift from Mother Earth and our spirits are formed by the Creator.  Our true identity is a HUMAN BEING first and our sense of belonging is the cultural group of people that we come from.  He further explained that Earth is just a temporary setting.  This is not our home.  Home is when you enter the Spirit World and walk with the Creator.  Blackfoot culture does not measure wealth. Their wealth comes in the form of other HUMAN BEINGS and everything is shared amongst them.  Their culture is very well aware that you CANNOT replace another HUMAN BEING.

He also asked what we thought made a good long lifetime?  He then explained that a long lifetime in Blackfoot was a one day event.  Yesterday’s lifetime no longer exists, it’s just a memory; a place of learning and not reliving.  Tomorrow’s a place of hope; there is no guarantee for any of us.  Today’s lifetime began when we took our first breath this morning.

Another important lesson from the Elder was that our bodies represent the Earth.  Our hair represents sweetgrass, on the prairie, our skeleton and bones represent rocks and mountains, and our arteries, veins, and vessels represent rivers, streams, and creeks.  Furthermore, our heart pumps and pulsates (like the Creator) and our breath is the wind.  Tears are water upon the earth and they are healing when allowed to flow freely.

Our relationship to the land is critical. What we can do for Mother Earth is what she can do for us. The land connects us to the environment which connects us to each other.  Edmee Comstock was patiently quiet and let Casey do most of the speaking.  I wish I could have heard more from this Metis woman.  What I enjoyed most was learning the culture and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the Elder’s Teachings through Vibrant Communities Calgary.  It truly is something every Albertan should learn about being a HUMAN BEING!

-Amber Cannon

Amber is an active community volunteer and poverty reduction advocate

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