How do Culture and Day to Day life Connect?
During our research with our Elder, we learned many things and values. These things included ethics, morals and teachings, medicine and the medicine wheel and fables and stories passed on by the First Nation peoples of Canada.
Ethics, Morals and Teachings:
Ethics, morals and teachings of the First Nations include how to stay connected to mother nature(and how your body is naturally connected to it), how to find self-love and love for your culture, thoughts on an industrialized world, how ego is not the way, being yourself and getting over pain and teachings on how to listen more than you speak.
Staying connected to nature is a sense of pride for the indigenous peoples of Canada. They stay connected to nature because they always are near it, give and take from it and mainly appreciate it. They also like to stay connected to it by relating to it. One way they do so is to think of their body as mother nature. Their hair is the grass, the heart being the core, veins being rivers and streams, breath as the wind and bones being the rocks and mountains. This not only gives them a sense of connection and an analogy to relate to but helps them realize everything on this Earth is connected and dependent on each other in one way or another.
Other teachings include how you should always be content with who you are and what makes you who you are. Whether that be your culture, heritage or religion you should appreciate that and love yourself. You may be different or not fit in with social “norms” or the Westernized world but that is okay and that makes you who you are. This is something no matter religion or race I feel can relate to because this goes beyond cultural teachings. You should also appreciate what you have and be grateful for that sense of identity your culture brings upon you. You are unique and different, but that is not a source of weakness.
In an industrialized world, it is hard to find a connection between the world around you and your cultural beliefs. Teachings of the First Nations on an industrialized world does just that. Consumerism is not necessarily a good thing, people start to focus on material possessions and stop caring about what they need and only focus on what they want. This becomes a situation of “gimme more” where nothing becomes enough. You stop being content with what you have and focus on what you don’t have. This is an ongoing process that continues as a vicious cycle. Moral of the story: get what you need and do not be absorbed by the vicious cycle of wanting and consumerism.
Ego is another concept touched on in Elder’s teachings, whether it be directly or indirectly the teachings convey why it is not good to have a big ego. These reasons include because you are not superior to everyone around, you will not be liked and your knowledge and intellect were either taught or given to you. This reminds us to be kind and compassionate and to be grateful.
Being yourself is another large concept going back to loving yourself and how unique you are. And getting over pain, will only help you and make you stronger whatever that may be.
Lastly, we learn about how to listen more than we speak, this is taught through the saying “we have two ears one mouth so we can listen more than we speak”. This teaching teaches us that we should always be listening, paying attention and learning wherever we go because the knowledge and people are out there we just have to listen. This goes back to being mindful and always considerate of others’ points of view and feelings as well.
Medicines and Medicine wheel:
The indigenous peoples of Canada have many practices, much-involving medicine and pertaining to the medicine wheel. Some of the things we learned during our time with our Elder included what plants could be used for what medicinal value, how medicines pertain to ethics and values(medicine wheel), how to gain and pay back the land, and guidelines to use plants for medicine.
Many plants we find on the land can be used for many purposes, even though they may look like nothing much, they all have distinct and effective purposes. Starting with one of the most common plants we may see daily and that is what we call a “puffball”. They look like a puff as the name suggests and are a whitish colour. These form when a dandelion is still forming and are used for many practices daily. They can work as fire starters or can even help with deep wounds near the veins. The next plant is very common in the indigenous cultures and is used for many things daily such as to start smudge, use after bowels, drink as a tea when boiled and act as a natural band-aid for more surface cuts or wounds. This incredible plant is sage. It is a light silverish colour with thin leaves. The great thing about this versatile plant is the fact that it is easy to find(because of its distinct features) and it grows vastly among open land. Yarrow is another great flowering plant that is great for the more herbal aspect. Yarrow has flowers on the top sprouting in white colour and fuzzy leaves along the side which are the most used. It can be used as a tea as most things can be and have many herbal benefits, but works as a great band-aid, closing wounds very fast. The last example of these great plants is horsemint. This plant looks like a purple flower. It can be used for skin and vanity(especially when in hot water) and is very helpful for digestion and immunity. Learning about all these plants gave me cool information to apply to my life but also connected to my personal belief that the land provides we just have to be grateful as mankind and not abusive toward it.
The medicine wheel is a wheel that is used to connect nature and plants to ethics and values. This wheel covers all aspects of life everyone should be focusing on and how they can use their priorities to navigate life through the wheel. The topics this wheel covers include spiritual, emotional, physical and mental. The goal of this wheel is to have a balanced life. This teaching especially was dear to me because it aligned with my beliefs of always having a balanced life and gave me a tool to help me do so. The great part about this wheel is that all the aspects of life are connected in one way or another so spiritual and mental combined creates humbleness and humility and mental and physical connection in the wheel creates unconditional love and boundaries. Or physical and emotional creating unconditional love as well. Lastly, emotional and spiritual causing forgiveness. This shows us in one way or another if one aspect of our life is lacking then other things connected also tend to lack. Balance is everything. This also shows us how to take care of ourselves in all aspects whether that be through connecting with others, following what we want, being spontaneous, being in the moment, connecting to others, yourself and nature and being happy.
For First Nations, the act of collecting and using the land is not only for health and survival, but also to gain and give back to the land. What this means is to always be grateful for what you receive from the land and to give back to the land while you are taking. In action, you would first do a prayer involving: thanking mother Earth, the Sun and the plant itself, then stating the hopes or aspirations when using the plant (ex: I hope this plant will help my friend Noor with her cold and make her better.) and lastly offering something to the land which can be something such as tobacco. Once this has occurred you can cut your plant and use it for what you would like to use it for.
Some guidelines for when taking or gaining from mother Earth include not cut the roots of the plant so the plant can grow back and provide. Other guidelines include praying before taking the plant and hoping two will grow in the plant’s place and lastly to always offer something(if you do not remember, bring something to offer at a later date).
Fables and stories passed on:
The First Nations culture is kept alive through oral fables and stories passed on from generation to generation. These stories cover topics and ideologies such as why it is good to have good morals, why they value certain animals and traits of the land and why things may appear or act the way they do.
First nations value the land and it’s inhabitants, but there are some characteristics of the land and its animals that they especially value through oral teachings. These include stories of the mountains, wolf, raven, and beaver. The story of the mountain or more the symbol of it represents strength and unity. It was a landmark and gave them the inspiration to make their tipis in the same shape and to be inspired by its shape and stability. The wolf on the other hand taught the humans how to get along and live in nations and tribes together. It was also the first to sacrifice itself for the First Nation’s gain(to eat). The indigenous peoples of Canada also call the milky way the wolf’s trail based on all that the wolf did for them. The raven was also a saviour for the First Nations in its own way. This is through the fable which talks about how the raven shot an arrow into the thunder to prevent it from happening all the time. The story talks about how it would always be raining and thunder would always occur. The weather was a problem for the First Nations and by the raven shooting an arrow in the sky, this problem began to occur less often. Beaver was a symbol of success and happiness because it did just that. It acted as the wolf in many aspects and helped the indigenous in navigating success and unity.
Many stories were also passed on conveying why things may have appeared the way they did or acted the way they did. This included stories such as ones of stars, Napi and his sister, Okotoks and a medicine hat.
It is said that stars represent the dead orphans of the indigenous cultures. This was the way for them to have a home and also be remembered because they had no purpose in their life before. Napi and his sister also created a river from a large stone(boulder). Okotoks is also based on a rock that was furious when Napi tried to take the coat he had given to the rock back. When the rock tried to chase Napi it eventually landed created the land we now call Okotoks. Medicine hat on the other hand is actually based on a medicine hat given to a man that saved his family and provided for them. This was a traditional headdress that brought wealth and prosperity to the family.
The indigenous culture is a vast culture with many stories, teachings and morals. All we have to do is listen with two ears and one mouth.
Learn some more!