In memory of Alicja Rozanska, Josephine Mandamin and Dave Vasey
My brother Stephen Ogden spent about twenty five years trying to protect the Allison Aquifer in Tiny Township that runs through his farm – above ground and below – nurturing everything in the surrounding area, from Georgian Bay all the way down to the St Lawrence river according to Mohawk Scientist Henry Lickers Akwesasne. I remember waking up as a child and going down to the river to swim with my dad around 6am in the early morning. We grew up in Ottawa, and the Rideau River that ran just behind our house was so clean, fresh and peaceful back then that the pike would be laying by the shore in the weeds sleeping. It was a time in my life that I will never forget. Everyone has memories of beauty and peace from their youth.
Things change every day. Now people come and go, opportunities happen and there is a lot of panic from the world as things fall apart and issues arise from injustice, locally and around the world. People in Ontario are voicing their concern over farmland being turned into urban sprawl, aquifers being exploited by foreign companies, wetlands being destroyed for subdivisions and shopping malls, and even old growth forests are cut down for profit seekers, and hate is growing from groups like the white supremacy. Man I would not want to be a teenager today with all this mismanagement and dysfunction. Everywhere you look there is madness..
Every day the memories return to us when we are on the red road, our good times and hard times growing up, the strength and freedom that many of us had even though our parents were fighting and drinking. Many of us were not looked after or given enough food to feel good at school, while others had so much energy, yet we survived our youth, but broken, from family violence. Its funny when I was working in the prison system when someone wanted to join our class and ceremonies I would always ask the new residents, ‘did your parents drink when you were young or did you see your parents drinking alcohol when you were young and did you ever see them fighting about things and did you ever see them hit each other’? Then I would ask ‘did they ever hit you when you were young?’
I ran ceremonies in the prison system full time at one point, but I always have been going into the prison system to help our native brotherhood and all incarcerated men locked up. Now when I think of it, working inside the prison system helped me heal almost better than anything I ever had in my whole life except the fourteen years I spent with my partner/wife. Prison work comes second to my life with my wife Alicja who passed away 5 years ago. One thing I learned about violence is that a lot of times it happens when we were young, and we copy our parents and then we become parents. But with the transitions we all go through in our lifetime, on this sacred journey, our Great Creator has given us overwhelming gifts, not one person on this Sacred Mother Earth has no gifts. We all do have gifts from the Great Creator from the time we are born till our last breath when we cross onto the other side. But then again, there are many brothers and sisters who suffer from childhood abuse and never can get out of the trauma that keeps them broken all their lives; trauma which became addictions, and violence which eats so many native communities and cities, men and women, families and children, broken from childhood trauma, some homeless, some with mental illness which can be treated by healers, caregivers and native culture.
We are living in a social crisis and environmental disaster that unfolds on television, media and newspapers daily. The once clean, pure rivers, lakes and oceans are in need of healing just as the people who are lost and suffering from fantasy and pain. We need leaders who care for the people, leaders who are unselfish and who have compassion and will protect Mother Earth – the words from Chief Oren Lyons Onondaga Wolf Clan and Faithkeeper. Everything that is happening today does not need to be so negative, with so much life, energy and the freedom to be creative. Indigenous people have always been positive, creative, thoughtful and aware of natural life, natural laws and common sense to know what is right and wrong and what will support life seven generations ahead. For all the humans that are healed and walking on this sacred red road or spiritual path, we need to keep the great mystery alive, we need to keep feeding the ones who are in need of truth and guidance. All the medicine is in our native culture, all the healing can come from the Red Road, The Good Path, The Sacred Journey – this is not fantasy, this is what our ancestors gave us, left us and fought for.
Thinking back to our ceremonies brings back the joy of watching our elders assembling around our sacred fire in the early mornings. Someone would walk around the camp at sunrise beating a sacred drum and singing to wake us up gently – this is our healing ways. It was a time of healing because we were all filling ourselves up with these sacred ceremonies on indigenous territory with indigenous values, and with traditional native culture being lived again through our elders and traditional native leaders. When I think back it was like a beautiful dream watching our elders in a giant circle with only earth and cedar arbor smoke and sacred fire – in their midst everyone was focused on prayer and thanksgiving to the gentle morning around us all, the feeling of oneness, the feeling of peace around us all in that sacred circle of life, and the true love of the universe and our Great Creator.
Our elders had so much kindness and love they filled our whole camp with harmony, respect, peace and healing. These ceremonies made us strong, and like Tom Porter would say, ‘our ceremonies energize us’. Every man is a brother on this Mother Earth and every woman is a sister on Turtle Island, the first law of this land is respect for everything that moves. Uncle Robertjohn and Joe Medicine Crow would say when we go into our Sacred Sweat Lodge we are one with the forces that give us life, earth, air, fire and water. In the lodge we are all one, so we heal and purify ourselves in this way. All these memories that our old elders gave us, and being on our indigenous territories with our indigenous values filled us all with the healing and oneness that created real humanness amongst each other to know how important it was to speak out for justice and Mother Earth, and to give Thanksgiving. Our traditional gatherings showed us how important it was for us to be together in harmony on the land with a sacred fire burning day and night. These memories help us to help others and to see what is right for our friends and families.
Mac McCloud says his mom and dad knew what was happening to Mother Earth, and that is why they never stopped fighting for native justice and our native rights; and Jane Fonda and Marlon Brando supported the struggle of the indigenous movement back in the sixties when The American Indian Movement started to speak out for North America Native Culture. Native elders always spoke out about the genocide that was happening on Turtle Island and the hardest part was the residential school era. The memories that native people have are not all the best, nothing came easy for us. Ann Jock would tell me so many environmental stories of how clean it used to be on Akwasasnee. Now the Saint Lawrence is so dirty that you cannot eat the fish and the animals are contaminated too.
This article is dedicated to Josephine Mandamin, Sacred Water Walker, and my good friend David Vasey — both were peacekeepers and Mother Earth Protectors — and Alicja, my partner/wife who crossed over June 29, 2014.