Accessing culture


Following the post of my last blog entry, a dear friend asked me to write about how to access one's own culture - especially if you had not had an opportunity to connect to it before. That is an experience that is common to many Indigenous people due to the process of colonisation. Many of us have been disconnected from our cultures through: loss of status due to the provisions of the Indian act; adopting out through the 60's scoop and the continuing apprehension of Indigenous children by Children's Aid Societies; the Indian Residential School holocaust and much more.

In case you thought that retrieving or reclaiming culture after the impacts of such things over a period of generations was borderline impossible - let me tell you from my own experience and from witnessing others in my community... it is not impossible! If you are open to it, Creator/Gitchii Manidoo will provide you with what you need - also, my Elders have taught me that we have every teaching we could ever need and it has been hidden in the last place we would think to look - WITHIN! We just need to learn how to be still enough to listen. We can do it by sitting on the land, sitting by a fire or moving water or by connecting with another human who has that gift of holding space.

Where to begin? Well, i can only begin with my own story - i grew up always knowing i was Indigenous but not knowing anything else about it. Long story short - i was encouraged by a counsellor about 20 years ago to connect with a couple of the Indigenous organisations in Ottawa to support me in learning about my culture. Best. Advice. Ever. I got connected with a number of them - i picked up a hand drum for the first time and i was hooked! From there i connected with an Indigenous Veteran's group and met my Elder. The knowledge came in bits and pieces, and before i knew it i was leading drum circles and Helping my Elder with ceremonies. Then other Elders came into my life with different ceremonies and i continued to learn. What a great blessing!

But there was an inherent struggle for me in that all of these teachings were not from my ancestors, the Cherokee and Sauk/Fox. I sat one day with my Elder and finally said to him what i had been struggling with; i had all these great teachings, but they were Anishinaabe teachings and i am not Anishinaabe. He smiled and said in his calm voice, ' ... and who are YOU to question which teachers Creator chooses to send to you?' WHAM! Since then, I have learned that my Sauk/Fox ancestors are related to the Anishinaabe and i have had many more opportunities to learn more, always acknowledging the great gift of those teachings given to me by my cousins. I have discovered that the trick is not always to go seeking what you need but rather to open your eyes to the opportunities that are placed before you.

Connecting to your culture is not an issue only for us Indigenous folks... it is an issue for everyone, especially since so many people are bumbling about essentially blind to their own culture(s) and how that impacts our interactions with others. Connecting to our culture(s) is what can enable us to move through the world in a more balanced way and to create spaces that are culturally safe for others. We see the world through the lenses we have been socialised to wear - lenses that inform our values, attitudes, assumptions and behaviours in relation to others. The process of teasing it out is not always comfortable - but in the end it will bring you to a more balanced place and maybe even help the world to be a better place.

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