The Na­tive Voice: Ralph Martin re­ports

Truro Daily News - - RELIGION - Don Mur­ray

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.

Path to nan­cial wealth and in­de­pen­dence be­gins...

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.”

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