By Kathy Blessin
Everyone knows there has been a lot of “problems” with Natives in Canada recently. The standoffs, in Ipperwash, Ontario and 100 Mile House, British Columbia are just two of the upheavals that have happened since the Oka standoff, and tensions are building. In many ways, Native-Canadian and federal government relations are the same as when whites and Natives first met. Native’s lives and the way they see the world are so different to anyone of European background that it’s hard to communicate.
There’s one aspect to Native culture that the government has ignored in the past but is now being used as an advantage to both sides. Natives have always turned to their elders for the guidance of the past and the wisdom of age. The aged were sought and respected for their insights and knowledge. Shunned as folklore and lies by colonizing Europeans in the past, native spirituality is now being turned to by governments as a conflict-resolution tool. Because of the guidance of these elders and spiritual leaders, many conflicts between Natives and government are being halted and solved peacefully. In the past, guns and ammo were the bargaining tool of choice.
It’s about time. The importance of Native spirituality cannot be undersold.
Miraculously not killed off by Christians since Columbus, spirituality has survived, adapted and grown in the Native culture. It’s a means of healing that teaches respect for the individual, communion with the group, and a partnership with the environment.
This awareness and respect is beginning to permeate into the rest of our culture but in different ways. You know, those tree-huggers? Those strange, hairy-legged environmentalists’ concerns about nature echoes much of what we see in Native spirituality. It’s a respect that our world is increasingly lacking and this lack is potentially dangerous. While environmentalists say they want to save nature, at the root of their battle is the fight to maintain the human race — a give-and-take situation. It echoes what we see in Native spirituality. If you respect your surroundings and the people around you, they will do the same.
Weird? Off the wall? No. It might not seem normal or rational to white-bred Canada but healing has to begin. A unity, a coming together of different people to work for a common goal and heal the problems of the past. It makes sense, especially with the problems in Canada today.
It’s time we looked past stereotypes and prejudices to listen to Natives and others who tell us to look into the inner picture. They are experts in their fields, the elders of their concern. They have something to teach us.
Kathy Blessin is a second-year journalism student who hails from the West Coast and never lets us forget it.