After obtaining a diploma in chemical technology at the college level I worked in the field of environmental science where I was involved in monitoring Ontario’s Streams, Rivers, and Lakes for toxic organic pollutants such as PCB and DDT. I discovered later in life that this was an appropriate place for an Anishinaabe woman in that we are taught that protecting the rights of Water is our responsibility. After 12 years and through introspection I realized that clean Water could not be maintained or achieved through back-end testing via the western scientific laboratory methodological process.
While in university I studied psychology and anthropology but I found them inadequate in answering my existential questions. In need of greater understanding what happened to my family and to Indigenous people, in particular the Algonquin Anishinaabeg I eventually moved in the direction of Indigenous knowledge philosophy. It was within this context of learning, thinking, and being that I realized that addressing issues that Indigenous people were dealing with, and addressing the issues that Water is dealing with could not be resolved through the narrowness of positivism, human consciousness and intent, and the science of atoms and molecules. These issues, I realized, had more to do with human cultural traditions and practices, and the guiding philosophy inherent. I then eventually realized that people, all people, need to return to their Indigenous knowledge (IK). Yes, we all have IK. Contrary to what many people think Indigenous people of Turtle Island do not have the IK monopoly.
There are many definitions of IK that are debated and discussed. Some people root IK in the language, the land, the songs, the rituals, and elders’ knowledge. While I value these locations or places of IK, I remain an anti-essentialist. We need to define IK as the knowledge that predated industrialization, materialism, and capitalism. This broad definition is really important and we can all do this.
Many people removed from their mother lands are also removed from their traditional songs and rituals, the cultural practices that once kept them grounded in a close relationship with the Earth and Water that they, and all the beings such as members of the Turtle nation rely on. If we think of IK in broader terms as I suggest, there is greater hope and potential that we can all return to cultural traditions and practices that respects Land and Water based knowledge. This is a place where a moral code of caring for the Water, Rocks, Trees, and all the animal beings guides us forward rather than living within an economy that lacks a moral code and where as a result endless profit is all that matters, thus guiding us to further destruction. Indeed it is correct that an economy that lacks a moral code is a false economy. Offering my contribution, I wrote “My Indigenous Knowledge Protection Act” as a mechanism and guide to help us move in the direction needed.
Upon further thinking I also know that in order to return to this Land based knowledge we need to stand behind women and children. As child bearers and caregivers, women are, and live, closer to natural law and as such IK.
I am also very aware that in order to gain the much needed momentum required for real change to occur at the human level, we need to stand behind the people who are most oppressed. Alternatively stated, we need to “Follow the Turtle”. I wrote a short story titled “Clearing the Path for the Turtle” to explain more about what I mean by the importance of placing the needs of the most oppressed at the front of a people’s movement.
Further to this, I am also of the thought that the only way a genuine momentum can be achieved is if Indigenous people, and their oppression imposed through colonization, are the foundation of a movement that is seeking human change. Any other approach will always be suspect and disingenuous to many. After all, how can a call for change start at the needs of settlers and their descendants. This disenfranchising myopic approach will serve to mask some very real issues, and as a result many people will not get involved as they will be aware of the gaping holes in a strategy that does not value the rights of Indigenous people, in particular Indigenous women and children.
It is very crucial here that I point out that while many people think the struggle between Indigenous people and Canada is one about who gets what, this is a very superficial understanding of Indigenous people’s resistance to colonization and oppression. While it is correct that Indigenous people are interested in gaining their rightful share of the land and resources so they can live as sovereign people, this is not all there is to Indigenous people and their land rights. Indigenous people are interested in living as sovereign people as their cultural traditions, practices and their moral code defines it to be, that being the need to respect the rights of Rock, Water, Trees, and all the other beings that came before humans; Turtles included.
While in my work I am now focused on protecting the treaty rights of Indigenous women and their children through my efforts on unknown and unstated paternity and the Indian Act with my section 15 Charter challenge which after 28 years is scheduled to be heard in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in October 2014; as well as the treaty rights of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg and the need to respect the constitutional agreements discussed and ratified during the 1764 Treaty at Niagara, I have never left my responsibility to the Water behind and by extension the Turtles. The right that Water has as an entity and being has remained. As an example, while working with Safe and Green Energy (SAGE) Peterborough with Miriam, Lyall, Roy Brady, and John Etches and many other people, I spent several months learning, listening, and reading about the dangers of uranium mining and nuclear fission and I published an article suitable for community needs – both Indigenous and settler Canadians. In my work I strive to write for people rather than only the ivory tower academy as there is the need to reach all people.
In sum the western scientific laboratory methodological approach is inadequate at addressing the right that Water has to remain free from human interference as codified in the Two Row Wampum Belt and in a way that Water is able to do what it the Creator wants it to do. While western science is useful, it has its limitations. We need to return to Indigenous knowledge in a way that places the needs of Indigenous women and children in the forefront. This is the only way we will gain the momentum needed where we can then turn to the needs of the Rocks, Water, Trees, and the Turtles.
My Peoples’ Social Forum workshop will offer a traditional teaching about Canada’s constitutional beginnings as was ratified during the 1764 Treaty at Niagara. Through returning to this original agreement, Indigenous land and water rights will be better assured for Indigenous people, Canadians, and all the beings that came before. Here is an event page:
I end this article with this blog I wrote. It talks about the reality that Canadians are singing the wrong song. We need to return to cultural traditions and practices that contain a moral code that is Mother Earth sustaining:
Please like and share this blog. Miigwetch.
Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.