The Native Voice: Ralph Martin reports
Fire and ood, wind and rain are sending a message to us from the earth.
Our native sisters and brothers are the earth speaking to us in human words. Dr. Ralph Martin, phd, P.AG., a professor at our local Dal AC before taking a position at the University of Guelph, recently wrote a column for the Guelph Mercury Tribune. He eloquently shares his experience attending a Parliament of World religions. With his permission, I pass it on.
“Recently I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions conference in Toronto – the rst time this gathering has convened in Canada. It was an eclectic assembly of religious garments, ethnicities and expressions of concern and gratitude.
I followed the Indigenous track for the weekend. In a time of rapid reporting of shallow scuttlebutt on social media, it was revealing to listen to First Nations elders deliberately ponder their observations over generations.
e elders introduced themselves with their spiritual names, as part of a clan and a nation, with a location. ey held knowledge of who they are, and were, in a specific community on a speci c part of ‘Turtle Island.’
An elder who lives near the tar sands referred to oil drilling on his ancestral land as the most concentrated of bad medicine in all of North America. He reminisced about caribou migrations and how his people had lived respectfully with them. “ e Porcupine caribou herd is the last healthy herd on Earth, and the U.S. government is now planning to drill for oil in their calving grounds in Alaska. e four-leggeds cannot be abused like that.”
He went on to say his people do not have a word for climate change; they refer to it as “unusual happenings.” For example, animals are moving north and “this year with a big clatter behind a friend’s house, a raccoon showed up. It does not have a Dene name. It had never been there. New plants are showing up, too, and su ocating some indigenous plants of the region.”
Another northern elder who lives in a community without clean water expressed surprise that those of us in the south use litres of fresh water to ush, every time we pee. She wondered why we never run out of fresh water down here, when so many communities up north have lakes and rivers contaminated by tailing ponds of mines. “Why does industry have to be the boss of the land?”
en I wondered how my pension plan may be padded by the pro ts of companies not paying the complete costs for handling mining waste or tar-sands e uents. In addition, I must ask, what stu am I buying at an a ordable price that was not completely costed in its extraction and landscape disturbance?
A younger woman in beautiful regalia, and also a grandmother, called the northern elder her sister – although having just met her for the rst time. “I am an employee of Mother Earth. Our ancestors knew we were com- ing and didn’t take too much, so we could live too. It is time to wake up.” e wake-up call was repeated by many Indigenous speakers.
“We need a spiritual covenant to call us to our highest consciousness, to elevate dialogue wherever possible. We are all one; all Creation is one. Tear down walls. See the totality of humanity.”
is appeal to our better selves was offered by a residential school survivor who also clearly articulated that the Canadian government operated with a racist Indian Act, whereby reservation land had little value, and who understood that for over a century our government’s intention was to assimilate First Nations.
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As a student, he had experienced sexual abuse, physical beatings (he was strapped naked in front of all in the school) and frequent verbal humiliations. Remarkably, after a series of signi cant struggles, he chose not to be bitter. An audience member thanked him for being generous enough to reach out and embrace reconciliation. e clapping was only muted because so many listeners were wiping tears.
We were reminded in the Lodge of Nations (a realistic replication of a Six Nations lodge, within the caverns of the conference centre) that in our dominant culture we say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” A wise elder smiled, and in contrast said, “I’ll see it, when I believe it.” He explained how we can be blind to some realities until our worldview prepares us to see them.
A spiritual teacher and respected elder succinctly contextualized the last millennium. “ e Haudenosaunee Confederacy was a great civilization with a sophisticated political system of chiefs and clan mothers. Colonization changed that.”
Carrying pain from the past, she nevertheless pressed on to big questions of the present. “Will life continue on Earth or not? What am I doing to heal Mother Earth?” In a plea from the future, she declared, “our great, great, great, great grandchildren want us to step up now.”