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Teachings from the Tree of Life, part 19: Shadow of a Warrior

Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon) (December 28, 2023)


Minisiinoo Zhaadigewin (Shadow of a Warrior) painting by Zhaawano Giizhik

"Our spiritual path was designed way before we were born on Mother Earth; many times you'll be tested and many times you'll fail. "Spiritual Paths" or "The Tree Of Life" is a simple teaching to understand and all you need to do is to take a good look at yourself and see what you truly need (…) When confusion sets into your life, you have the ability to choose another branch from the tree of life and follow that branch towards discovery. When you stand back and take a good look, you have so many branches to choose from."* - Wikwemikong Anishinaabe Medicine Painter James Mishibinijima.

Boozhoo, aaniin. For today's musing, I want to talk about the need for us to step over the long shadow of intergenerational trauma and our feelings of powerlessness and shame cast by atrocities committed by the Church and dominant society at large.

Privileged people often do not understand and ask: Why feel sorry for yourself? Why not leave the rez? Why not create a business? Why not build a house? Don't you get a check from the Casino? Why the abuse? Why the suicides? Why the substance abuse?

Many times you asked yourself...How can a man see his own reflection when he can't be a man...when he can't provide for his family...when he can't stand tall with dignity that the ability to just live gives a person? How can a woman be valued when the one thing the man who loves her wants to do is an impossible dream? How can we thrive when our children are being ripped from our very arms and sold by the system?

It is true. The adversity and pitfalls that most First Turtle Island peoples face in America seem almost unsurpassable.

Look at the facts.

Vulnerable people find themselves hardest hit. This certainly goes for Indigenous peoples and communities, most of whom are economically poor or are socially or culturally marginalized in any way. It is nothing less than an iron law that Murphy's Law applies to them, and felt by them, disproportionally so. This is why I have an enormous respect and admiration for those who despite the daily obstacles and adversities and the open or covert animosity and daily contempt they have to endure from dominant society find the strength within themselves to never, ever give up no matter what, and not choose the easy path of using intoxicants or, for instance, seeking oblivion by means of empty sex or following false spiritual leaders or attending the wrong ceremonies.

But it's never easy.

More facts. Most "Americans" own property in fee simple, which means they hold title to the property and can make decisions about use and sell the land without government oversight. This is not true for Indigenous land, or "trust land." Instead, the U.S. federal government holds the underlying title to all "Indian trust land" and federal agencies must process and approve all "trust land"-related transactions that occur. Every lease, sale, gift deed, or transfer (to name a few) must be processed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and approved by the Secretary of the Interior. Later on, the establishment of the Fund to its eventual absorption into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF), the recording and transactions of the funds were haphazard.

In Canada a similar process evolved, in the form of the "Indian Trust Fund" - an account that holds all the moneys collected, received, or held by the Crown for the “use and benefit” of First Nations. Until the 1860s, trust funds and the lands and resources that made them grow were managed by a large set of institutions, both in the colonies and imperial Britain, guaranteeing confusion and inefficiency as well as encouraging fraud. The fund was mismanaged and drained by Indian Affairs from the start. Since 1951 the funds are no longer held separate from Canadian funds. This shift happened at the same time as new status and registration rules, increasing Canada's control over First Nation governance and moneys, and erasing reference to Treaty. Funds became connected to Indian status and band membership instead of to descendants of Treaty signatories - which only led to a further erosion of the Indigenous Canadians' rights.

The systemic underfunding of First Nations continues until today. It is one of the most central and violent forms of colonization as it aims at controlling and breaking the spirit of First Nation peoples, thus paving the way to an ongoing enrichment of government bodies and companies off Indigenous lands and resources.

To make things worse, record-keeping in both the US and Canada, much like many fiscal policies relating to Native populations, is minimal and subject to miscalculations and theft. The maze-like bureaucratic processes surrounding each transaction add considerable time and complexity to the management of Native lands which are already challenged by such issues as fractionated ownership and checkerboarding.

So, as you are dealing with these facts on a daily base you can't help but ask yourself as you stumble along your way, how can I hold value in myself when the very value has been stripped away?

A first good step would be not to view yourself as a victim. The first step would be not to attach your self-esteem to a bureaucratic system that aims at, and feeds on, crushing our self-esteem as a People and as individuals. A first good step would be to devictimize and start walking toward being a reflection of your ancestors - once a proud and self-sufficient people.

Go to the land where your ancestors once treaded. Find a lake and search its surface until you find a positive reflection of yourself in the water. Then, use that reflection as a starting point toward making a change, toward turning tables on the system that was devised to make you into a victim.

Remember: While water is two shades darker than whatever it's reflecting, the very reflection you see in it is at least two shades braver than you think you are.

Naabin zaaga’igan gawaakamig.

Nandawaabam giin-dibinawe.



Gaawiin bagidenimon.


Look into a clear lake.

Search for yourself.

Be the reflection you see on the water.

Be sober.

Don't give up.

Be a warrior.

Miigwech gibizindaw, thank you for listening.


*Excerpt from Mishmountains Blogspot, "Teachings to the Tree Of Life."

Illustration: Minisiinoo Zhaadigewin ("Shadow of a Warrior") - © 2023 Zhaawano Giizhik

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