Wednesday, January 18, 2012

So you want to be a Traditional Indian.

These are some of the things I have heard said around the Traditional Circles. Interesting. "You must go for a Fast". "If you cook for a Feast you must use wood utensils." "You must not be on your time if you want to cook for a Feast." "You shouldn't be thinking negative things while you are by the Fire". "Go into the bush and find Juniper". People will tell what they think you should do or how you should behave in any situation. In this instance I am using Traditional people examples. I could have easily used Christianity as an example as well: "you have to go to church", "you have to give money to the church", "say your Rosary", "never go to bed mad", "don't swear". With any lifestyle or way of life, we expect that there are certain 'rules' that we must follow. Not sure if that is true, but we all have some ideas as to how a person behaves if they are following a certain lifestyle (don't bug out about me calling a way of life, a lifestyle-I know they are not really the same thing)

There are many people saying many things when it comes to being a Traditional Person. For those that don't know, being Traditional refers to following an Indian Way of Life, specifically Native Ancestral Teachings. One of the things that many people don't realize that being "Traditional" is a very demanding lifestyle. It is demanding if you truly wish to live Traditional. Not the aspect of living traditional in the sense of reversing time, (you know living in a tipi and traveling by canoe or horse) but being Traditional in following the Spirit and Intent (stealing a phrase here) of what it means to be a Traditional Believer.

Today on the CBC television news there was a story about this person who is using an "Aboriginal Parole Hearing". The Person is Haitian born and not a Canadian Indian. The man killed a fifteen year old girl; raping and stabbing her 51 times. The father of young girl is upset that the Aboriginal Parole is being used by someone that is not of Indian Heritage. That is not his first objection. He would believe that the killer was sincere if he was immersed in the "Red Road" (the Dad used these words) and not just using it to gain some advantage. The Dad also feels that it is an insult to the people and Elders that worked so hard to get Aboriginal content into the Parole system. The reason I mention this story is that many people are wrong when they think Healing Circles or Aboriginal Parole Hearings are suppose to be an easy way out. People are mistaken.

A number of years ago, the Justice system in Canada brought in Traditional Healing Circles for Aboriginal Offenders. It was an attempt to have a "holistic" approach to the Justice system; like in handing out sentences, or penalties. People must know that in the Circles it was still the Judge that handed out the sentences of penalties. The Circles were a corrupted version of Traditional Native Justice. It is okay because many Indians have this skewed vision of what Native lifestyle was before the colonization and corruption of cultural beliefs by Christianity. People believe it was all harmony. You must remember that good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are punished. In a sustenance culture (people who live off the Land) cohesive life is a necessity. Live well with others and the whole community lives well. A bunch of selfish bastards would not survive. So there is truth in the whole harmony, or as I was told - to have Balance in the old way of life. Today we have forgotten the whole balance concept. Even some of our own people think that Traditional is all about Respect (like in the Seven Teachings). But people forget Traditional life is about Sacrifice. It is about living a certain way that makes the Whole Community benefit. You cannot have a healthy community with just people going one way.

So with some people it is only one way. Like the whole being kind thing. If you are kind you are weak. Not true, some of the kindest decisions that you make are some of the hardest things to do. Like in our Reserve. There are gangsters and drug dealers; woman beaters, deadbeat dads, abusing parents, and other bad actors. What would a balanced community do? You want to be kind to the community? Traditional Healing circles in the Reserve. Does that mean community hug? No it does not. If Traditional values and attitudes are adhered to, then some men would be castrated, people would be banished and some would be killed. At least this is what I was told on numerous occasions. But we don't live in that world, so that is just not going to happen. So now what? Communities could still follow the spirit and intent of what a balanced community should be and how it should behave. So for the people to be kind to themselves and others, than they would have to banish people that are doing harm in the community. Or at the least get them to correct their behaviour. Some modern ways to do that would be to deny them any services from the community. If the community did nothing and let the drug dealers, gangsters continue, then the community would not be being kind to itself. The hard decision to be kind would mean punishment for the bad people doing bad deeds. Get it?

You know in some communities the whole idea of restorative justice still means making amends. Fixing things. To make whole. It can never be but the balance comes in the Continued attempt to fix things. You can never bring back the life a little girl that you killed while driving drunk. But you Continue to make amends for your life time. Some make-amends attempts are symbolic, like having yearly Give-Aways. The family of the girl may never ever accept the gifts, but you keep up the attempts. It is not meant to quantify the life of the child in terms of gifts, but there is the public display of acknowledgement that the child was killed at your hands and you must atone for that deed. Whether or not the family accepts is their choice to make. But regardless you continue to atone throughout our life. That is all you can do.

A Teacher of mine asked Her Teacher (a very well known Elder) about all the sexual abuse that went on in the Residential schools. What would happen if that happened in the community. The Elder said it wouldn't happen. But she insisted, if it did happen, what would happen. The Elder again said it wouldn't happen. He said the person would be killed. Traditionalist must always remember that there has to be balance. To ensure that harmony was practiced in the community there also had to be an incentive to keep it going. You share because it means the whole community benefits. You don't steal because if you do, only you benefit and someone loses out. Not a good way to live in a small community. You also did your share to make sure the community benefited.

Traditional life is just not about smudging and going to the Sweat and prayer. It is about embracing the values of the Ancestors. That includes the concept of the whole. Right now there is a breakdown of the whole and we are becoming more and more about the individual. A truly Traditional Indian, will sacrifice for the whole. That means going out and working for the whole. If a Woman needs wood chopped you go and do it. If you can't you hire someone to do it. If you go to a Sweatlodge, you bring something for the people to eat. You chip in to help. You bring something to share. Tobacco is great and Sacred but there is more to embracing the life than sharing Tobacco. You want to be Traditional, talk out against violence in your community. Give heck to a youth smashing someone else property. Help a Mom with her groceries. Talk to the Old ones. Talk to the young ones. Work up a good sweat by doing some labour in the community. Get off your fat arse and walk for a cause. Share your food.



  1. as traditional person we tell people what to do not what not to do

  2. Thank You for not dropping this hot potato topic, or rather topics. I knew about the Manning’s case but had no idea that the Aboriginal Parole has been granted to Bromby.I thought that “defining”our “racial percentage» was a biggie (silly me!)while someone (who’s definitely playing Creator again) attempts to measure one’s steps on the Red Road: beginner? intermediate?advanced level? Maybe we should start singing “It ain’t your highway» again…. (Like we’ve ever stopped…) “The Correctional Service of Canada will submit information regarding that offender’s participation in aboriginal programs and spiritual activities,” said Amy Wood, a regional spokesperson for the Parole Board of Canada.”I’m curious what kind of evidence will they come up with-is Bromby sporting a “Fry Bread Baby”t-shirt? A brand new tomahawk tattoo? Or is he assembling dream-catchers from a DIY kit? I’m calling for the Red Alert –Level of insanity: high!
    I agree with Your thoughts on “Traditionalism and co”. When I was 4 years old the Elders said I’m not to have children as I’ll live for wounded warriors and they will be my children. Funny that today even some traditionalists feel compassion (?!) for me for the “sacrifice” the Elders “made me do”. Decision of the Elders makes perfect sense: if I had my own children, I’d always love them more than anybody else, I’d also renounce taking risk in fear I’ll abandon my kids. There’s no sacrifice of any sort from my part-this is my path, my role. In the past those who could hunt were responsible for bringing food for the community. There were those who would prepare warm clothing and those who were in charge of education. In this way we lived and in this way we’ve survived –we should never forget about it as we’ve never stopped to fight for survival (one way or another).Gatherings are important, smudging is important, facing fire is important but the most important ritual of all is to walk with Great Spirit and to do what we think is right, no matter what.

  3. There were many interviews with the father of the girl who was killed by this man asking for an aboriginal parole hearing. The father was remarkably composed, considering the subject matter. The issue is complicated because it does indeed come across to many as involving a lower standard of justice, as though successfully petitioning and receiving this kind of parole review would give the offender a better chance to 'get out before his time'. The father never took that position, however. His issue was with what had been done, and whether this person was sincere in accessing something that had indeed been fought long and hard for.

    So it was extremely interesting to hear another interview with the father after the hearing (where the offender was denied parole). He had been able to have many questions asked of the offender (I don't think he spoke directly to the man but rather passed the questions through the people conducting the hearing). This kind of victim involvement in parole hearings is still extremely limited in the Canadian system, but this kind of hearing seemed to allow a larger involvement than would otherwise happen. It seemed that it was worthwhile to the father to finally be able to ask those questions, no matter that the answers would never satisfy. In this at least it seems that the Canadian system could benefit from integrating more principles of aboriginal justice overall. It is possible that this form of hearing was of more benefit to the father to be honest, which was surprising.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I do feel bad for the father of the young girl that was murdered. He seems very steady (grounded) for a Dad that has gone through such an ugly thing. He had no anger towards an Aboriginal Parole Hearing but was worried about the Murderers intent.

    Silaada, I don't know if I could ever have the courage and drive to fulfill a life of sacrifice.

    Apihtawikosisan, thank you for viewing the blog and I hope to have more input.


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