In Memory of Alicja Rozanska
Alice and Lehman Gibson would tell me “Danny go out and pick some fresh rhubarb and turn on the garden hose and clean them and eat them after you pull them out of Mother Earth. Then pick some strawberries and eat them out of Mother Earth; they are very healing and still alive.” NiaWeh for all the gifts that our plant life gives us humans to use and heal with, to fill our tummies, medicines, the three sisters, corn, bean and squash, which give us a good life here on this sacred Mother Earth. It is the gardens of the world that feed us with life-giving forces. Our elders teach us, when we are young, to eat plant life from the garden. Alice said “Nothing is more healing than fresh strawberries right out of the garden, Danny; they are the first to ripen and so we use them in most ceremonies, social gatherings, feasts. They are the leader of the berries in our way of life, we even have strawberries on our traditional clothes and headdresses, shirts, dresses and sacred artwork. Go out in the garden and pick what you like and pick some berries to take home with you. You can wash them, if you like, or just take them off the plant.” The rhubarb was a new experience for me at Lehman and Alice’s farm because I had never really tasted rhubarb fresh from the earth and eating it raw without being cooked or without sugar was a new thing and realistically the only time I had tasted rhubarb was in freshly-baked rhubarb pie when I was a kid. Whenever I visited Six Nations and saw my elders, chiefs, clan mothers and people, they were always friendly on the reservation. The people were mostly always happy when I was young and I would bring my friends from Toronto with me to learn and feel the open space and see the beauty of the farmland and open space. It was magical with the Six Nations community, now people ask me if I am still going to Six.
The people of the cities and urban life, even suburban area, can find peace, healing creativity, community, even great healing there, but there is no healing like the rich forests, meadows, woodlands, old-growth forests or rainforests. The insects creeping, crawling and flying, together with frogs, turtles, salamanders, snakes, are living as one with the ecosystems full of nutrients and medicines, which make up true Creation in its power and spirit. The mushrooms, flowers, berries, wetlands, swamps, Cattails, Oneyed Suzannes, Dandelions, meadows, are evidence of a vast life of species thriving, nurturing each other while we humans can only study what is transpiring in this world we live in. The sap runs from the big Maple and Birch trees and we make syrup for pancakes, but before we boil it, it is considered a powerful medicine for many illnesses. Here in Ontario, Canada, we have Carolina Forest, which is actually the biggest one remaining in Canada with the greatest biodiversity for wildlife: common trees are Shagbark and Black Walnut, both with edible nuts and these nuts are not just good for humans to eat, but also animals: birds eat too, even wild turkeys. Native people gather what our elders call “Repper Roots” and many more herbs for medicinal value. The forests here are home for our relatives, big and small, but now forests are not just a home but a Refuge in Ontario for many creatures, such as the Painted Turtle and Snapping Turtle, which are an endangered species and at risk of disappearing forever. Scientists say we are losing between two hundred and two thousand species each year in the world. Some scientists say the number of species dying is a lot more already. The Eastern Cougar is gone forever, also the japanese Otter, Black Rhinoceros, Pinta Tortoise, Clouded Leopard, Newfoundland and Cascade Wolves, Passenger Pigeon and Labrador Duck, to name a few all directly or indirectly affected by Global Warming.
As native people we have to ask ourselves if there is anything we can do that will stop the destruction of Mother Earth, how we can slow down the forest industry, mining industry, fishing industry, urban sprawl and the oil industry, which includes fracking. When I attended our first elders and youth gatherings in Onondaga, New York, around nineteen ninety, our leaders were crying because our women said our men were not doing enough to protect Mother Earth’s Blood, the water! There were a lot of tears from our grandmothers and women. That had a huge effect on me; from that day on and every ceremony I ever attended with The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth based in Bozeman, Montana, the spirit of the people always energized our people, the ceremonies were powerful and healing for us all. Back then Bob Staffansan and Eric Noyes were our executives for American Indian Institute and for our council of grassroots spiritual leaders of North America. The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth is a part of the American Indian Institute and as far as I remember there is a website with the Communiqués or sacred messages sent out from our spiritual leaders and youth, including our mandate.
Almost thirty years ago our elders spoke of the devastations that were happening in their respected communities; alcohol, addictions, drug use, aids, diabetes, environmental issues from pollution to mercury poisoning, then our kids joining gang culture. Back then there was more hope than there is today, even with everything that was going on. Even as I write this story I think how I can truly wish someone Happy New Year, when it is not a happy situation or new year for Mother Earth or Creation. Our way of life tells us we are supposed to be happy, but realistically it is not a positive time in the history of the earth for anyone. Our elders and youth involved in sacred ceremonies through traditionally native culture and those defending Mother Earth have hope of being human beings again, even when things look bad and hopeless. In the past few years there has been a great resurgence of native culture and pride by standing up for Mother Earth with new protests, called “Idle No More! and “Occupy Now!” Mother Earth can see and hear every ceremony we give, our old elders teach us. Creation can feel every prayer and song and action we take for respect, for life! With the recent protests across Canada and the world for the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia and the Gidimt’en Clan, support is pouring in for the Indigenous people there, holding anti pipeline camps for Mother Earth’s Protection.
Because there is such a growing consciousness for Mother Earth/Environmental Protection, maybe it is time to start an Indigenous Party of Canada in contrast to the Green Party or NDP social political movements. Maybe Canada is ready for change, maybe Canada wants to start a revolution to bring about change for the planet. There certainly is enough spirit power and Good Minds here to begin. The recent voice of women across Canada can be heard through three of the strongest intelligence and Traditional Indigenous Culturalists: Ellen Gabriel Mohawk teaching at McGill University, Tanya Talaga Anishinaabe (writer for Toronto Star author of Seven Fallen Feathers) and Pamela Palmater (Chair of Indigenous Studies at Ryerson University). With the backing of natives and non-native people maybe the people can begin to heal themselves and Mother Earth! I have seen the new documentary film Anthropocene (2018) by photographer Edward Burtynsky and I consider it a blueprint for environmental education and protection. Anthropocene was filmed all over the world, showcasing the world’s largest mines and mining corporations devastating the planet and ecosystems, including climate change and the oceans of the world dying out. The spirit of Mother Earth is everywhere in Ed Burtynsky’s new film, from the animals being eradicated to the beauty of people finally standing guard to protect them in protected areas of the wild. The film documents the forests of British Columbia being clear cut throughout coastal mountain paradise. This is a film that shows rape, pillage, genocide and voices of a bankrupt society lost in a fantasy of greed, which needs a healing consciousness to restore balance in the world. We humans need to look at what we are losing at this fast pace, as this generation is a society out of control. “There is a need to start a revolution, because if there is one iota of a chance for restoration for Mother Earth we need it.”