Taken from a recent talk at the Forward Summit in Calgary. The talk was accompanied by a slide show, and some of the slides are included here.
“Good morning to you all here. It’s kind of like school all over, all the bad ones are sitting in the back. You guys, if you want to engage with anything, you should really come up to the front. Just saying that.
I could have said all nice things that they expect chiefs to say, and welcome and make everybody feel good. But this is a chance for a whole learning to take place here, so I’m sharing this presentation I put together. It’s part of a longer piece, and starts with this whole idea of warriors. In the first picture you see these warriors: who are they?
So what is TsuuT’ina about?
First you have to create a context, a worldview of life so there’s an understanding.
In this picture, the boy in the white shirt in the very middle is my grandfather David Crowchild. All of these young TsuuT’ina boys of that time have now gone on before. My grandfather taught me things about the natural world, and how that connects to a worldview and a lifeway. He talked about the human world, where we all exist, and also how that can instill a worldview. And he talked about the spiritual world and the connection to that. All these three elements connect to a worldview.
Natural world to human world – there is certainly a connection there. We exist in this human world but try to work with the natural world. There’s a connection there. The human world tries to connect with the spiritual world, and the spiritual world tries to connect with the natural world.
When we have all those three elements in place, we start to create a symbiotic relationship, and that’s how we connect. That is a core of who we are, a core of beliefs.
There is the presumption that our modern way, being the world we live in, may come to the same conclusions. So why not use a methodology that is more efficient? I’m talking about science. Why not use that?
All these participating agencies are not prepared to accept the idea that we, as TsuuT’ina, may come to different conclusions and priorities, and as a result TsuuT’ina lifeways become seen as folkloric.
Now I could have told you a whole bunch of nice things, and you would have said, “Oh yes, really well-spoken,” but we’ve got to get off the known world. There’s a whole connection here. If you don’t connect the dots with the natural world, spiritual world and the human world, all in balance, how are you going to know if what you’re doing is right? Because science doesn’t tell us that. Science will say this is the way you go, no question about that.
That connection of the natural world, spiritual world and the human world creates our worldview, a lifeway. This is what TsuuT’ina is all about.
At the root of understanding of a lifeway is language. At TsuuT’ina we really are pushing for language because we’re such a small nation and our language can easily disappear. It was on the verge of that, so previous chiefs and councils took steps to ensure that we were not going to lose language. Because it is the root of everything. Language is the root of the tree, then the experience gives us a legitimate re-entry to belonging. And we create Nationhood.
At TsuuT’ina we’re trying to create Nationhood for ourselves. This is a really important concept to talk about, because we’re going to be dealing with sovereign nations. And I’ll tell you this: language is the fertile soil that contains the belief systems, life ways, social systems, clear identity. Even fluent speakers need to revisit these values. We have lots of fluent speakers, and sometimes they’re guilty of saying, “We know more than you because we can speak our language.” They tell this to their children, their grandchildren, everybody else who is not at their same level, so they need to revisit the values as well. There is an idea that speakers have some exclusive membership. In bigger nations it’s not so much, but small nations like us are under a microscope. Now we have a language app – that’s how far we’ve gone. And a lot of the younger men and women explore that.
But in order to move forward, we have to go through a growing-up process. With the commitment to not cause harm, we move away from reacting in ways that cause us to suffer, but we haven’t yet arrived at that place that feels entirely relaxed and free. We first have to go through a growing-up process, a getting-used-to process. That process, that transition, is one of becoming comfortable with exactly what we’re feeling as well as how we feel it. The key practice to support us in this is mindfulness – being fully present right here, right now. We have to be present. We have to engage.
I’m engaged with you guys here, and you have to be present, you have to be prepared to learn.
The novelty of what natives are, about standing up in prayer which is actually a Christian practice, it’s not our traditional ways, about processions, and all these things you see, that’s Christian, it’s pan-Indianism. It is not ours. It was introduced. Where did it come from? Probably from the Buffalo Bill days, the Wild West shows, that was the beginnings of it. Because we existed in a subaltern of a Canadian discourse, or a Canadian hegemony. In this little group that’s under there, we’ve normalized the chaos that’s been put upon us, and we talk with passion about that, but it’s still chaos. (I have a degree in metaphysics just so you know. I’m not that crazy. But metaphysics doesn’t pay the bills.)
So I want to just quickly mention this quote: “Each of us is put here in this time and place to personally decide the future of mankind. Do you think the creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger? Know that you yourself are essential to this world.” That was from Arvol Looking Horse. Look him up on the internet and find out who he is.
And I think it’s really important because as we move forward from here, the name of this meeting “The Forward Summit” – the first word “forward”. We’re all trying to move forward. We have to abandon some of those old ideas – we don’t even know what they mean. We’re scared to even ask the question. Maybe you get your head chewed off, but that doesn’t mean you stop asking the questions.
I would admire anybody who talked to me really directly, and said, “I don’t really know what I’m talking about but here’s my question.” Because that shows a willingness to learn something. A willingness that means that maybe you don’t know everything. That’s hard to do because we go through university, we get all the education, we’re told that we’re smart, that we can actually do things. If you don’t have that education, you’re not that smart.
Well, in our traditional ways, you’re kind of a dummy until you turn around 50. You can’t say you know anything for sure. From 50 to 100 maybe you’ve learned one or two things. If you live past 100 years old, you’ve got a few things right. And that’s different, because we create this idea of role-modelling, of success, of succession planning, to the young people who really don’t know anything. Because if any of you are under 50, you don’t know anything. You really don’t. That’s really a humbling thing to accept, that you’re willing to learn, because you’ve got to pass that on to your children, your grandchildren, and your great grandchildren.
We have to create this pathway, we have to meet these obligations of what climate change is, what global warming is, or else you’re going to create an existential despair for those younger generations. Because they’re asking, “Gee, Grandpa or Granny, why didn’t you do anything for us? Now we’re faced with this whole challenge, that’s not natural.” Somebody told me yesterday that we’re going to learn from, work with nature. I said, “No, nature’s always going to teach us because nature doesn’t even need us. If they want to wipe us out, they’ll wipe us out. We’ve got no say about that.” That’s why we have to learn how to live in a symbiotic relationship: the natural world, the spiritual and the human world. If those three aren’t connected, then it’s not complete.
One last thing, as we deal with the environment, look for what is your most important indicator. Your most important indicator is what we call toshkoshi. Toshkoshi means “the frogs”. Frogs indicate what the environment quality is for you. If there are no frogs then you know you are not doing something right. In our stories, we say, once toshkoshi leaves, humans are not far behind. A really simple thing to do is to look around, at job sites if you’re working in the field, even around your homes, and if you don’t see frogs around there you know something’s not right.
I thank you all for being here, to my brethren from Treaty 7, all those other chiefs here from other nations, all my kin, doesn’t matter if you’re treaty status, non-status, metis, half-breed, doesn’t matter, you’re my kin. To all those that are non-native, you’re also my kin coming forward. We have to do this, we have to work together. So siyasgaas, thank you very much.”