June is National Indigenous History Month. This is a chance to celebrate and perhaps honour the Original People of Turtle Island.
Not sure how to do that?
One way is to unlearn what you were taught about “Indigenous People.”
The name calling, the sideways looks, the off-hand comments that are followed by, “I’m just kidding.”
The assumption that we are after drugs when we go to the doctor/dentist or that we are all drunks, living off your tax money, these are all ways of thinking that can be changed.
Personally, I’ve been called many things, Canadian Indian and half-breed were two of the names I heard when I was growing up. I had no idea what those things meant when I was five.
Once, when I was 19, somebody spat in my face and called me a dirty squaw just for being brown and walking on the same sidewalk as him in downtown Toronto,
Please stop calling us names, or seeing us as dirty, treating us like animals or a piece of doo-doo on the bottom of your shoe.
That is what you were taught. The truth, however, is much different.
Begin to see the beauty of a large and diverse culture that has been stifled, and you will see what has been kept hidden from your eyes, in a sense, stolen from you.
We have a love for all things, including you.
The phrase “all my relations” is often spoken by the People after prayers and stories.
We really mean that. All things. Plants, animals, water, birds, land, sky, and humans.
I am frequently asked, “what are we supposed to call your people, it changes so much, which is the politically correct way,” etc.
Call us what we call ourselves, the People.
One of my heroes, the late, great John Trudell, once said, “Historically speaking, we went from being Indians, to pagans, to savages, to hostiles, to militants, to activists, to Native Americans.
“It’s five hundred years later, and they still can’t see us. We are still invisible.
“We’re the evidence of the crime. They can’t deal with the reality of who we are because then they have to deal with the reality of what they have done.
“The history of the Indians begins with the arrival of the Europeans. The history of the People begins with the beginning of the history of the People.”
So, what can you do?
You can listen. You can learn. You can encourage others to do the same.
We are talking to you; we are telling our reality and the truth of our shared history.
We are trying to tell you what can be done.
Each of us can learn to find that balance and live in harmony with all who now share this great land we call Turtle Island, not only during this “Indigenous History Month,” but every day of every month.
There are many ways we can do this.
Hundreds of books are available in print and audio format. Don’t like to read…listen to a podcast.
Not fussy about any of those?
Check out some of the marvelous, outstanding musicians who share the stories in song.
Hard facts, newsy type of person? There are numerous journalists, photographers, photojournalist and authors, readily available online, in print, broadcast and radio.
We can learn from the natural world. The flyers (birds), the swimmers (fish), the four-legged (animals), the plant beings, the star people; all of them have lessons to be learned if we only watch and listen; they too are speaking to us, and we need to hear them.
Most of all, we can learn from our shared planet.
Mother Earth is speaking very loudly right now; sharing her anguish with us as her lifeblood (water) is poisoned, her lungs (air) are contaminated, her skin (land) is being exploited, along with her very essence (natural resources) being removed for corporate greed.
“If we listen from the place of connection to the Spirit that Lives in All Things, Mother Earth teaches what we need to know to take care of her and all her children.” – Assembly of First Nations – Honouring Earth.
There is no right or wrong way; there are only different ways. There are many voices; listen to them all. Take what good you can from them and use that knowledge to blossom and grow.
Pay attention to the stories, learn from past mistakes, unlearn what the colonial school system taught you about us and use the multiple resources that are readily available.
It will take but a moment of your time.
Cry with the residential school survivors, who lived the horrors of genocide.
Listen to the story tellers, the knowledge keepers, the voices that are trying to reach your ears.
Hear the unborn children, who will inherit this Earth in whatever form we leave it in.
Pray that our future generations will be proud of what is left to them.
May the lessons we are learning today lead us to that good path of love for all of our relations and our Mother, the Earth.
All My Relations
Cory Bilyea is an Indigenous Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Midwestern Newspapers; for question or comment contact her at email@example.com.