I was at this presentation the other week, and I listened to this doctor give his medical opinion on how to treat addicts and help them in their recovery. He went on to suggest different medications, treatment practices and even dancing around bureaucratic policies within the hospital he works at.
I sat there and reflected on how almost everyone I meet outside of ceremony, whether they are in activist, academic or revolutionary circles, tend to see spirituality as a passing thought or a footnote. I beg to differ. Spirituality is the foundation upon which any healing or decolonization must begin.
I can only draw on my own experience, but I have been to every recovery, self-help and therapy imaginable. I have been to AA, I have had thousands of hours of counselling sessions, I’ve been to church, I’ve been in psychiatric facilities, I’ve had outreach workers buy me meals, etc. I’ve done almost everything that western medicine and science can prescribe, and time after time I have failed. In AA, their perspective would be that “I didn’t work the steps to my best ability.”
That might be true, but I also didn’t see anything uniquely distinct or Anishinabek worked into the writings. There was a component that I could hang on to. AA worked with me for a while, but it eventually stopped working, just like all the psychiatric medications and counselling sessions that I had been to.
What I do give AA credit for is their recognition that there is absolute necessity for this “spiritual awakening.” Time and time again, my AA sponsors told me that if I ever wanted to get sober, I had to grasp the spiritual aspect to the AA recovery. But I’m a bit of an idiot, and if it isn’t directly spelled out most of the time, I have a hard time grasping it.
It wasn’t until I had met Elder Vern Harper at CAMH (Centre for Addictions and Mental Health) that I actually had someone spell it out for me. Only he didn’t use a chalk board or any literature. He did it with some Grandfather Teachings, sage, a smudge bowl, and some prayer. What he was able to do for me, with that little gesture, did more for me than all those other things that had failed me all those other times.
I don’t know how to explain spirituality to non-Anshinabek people. I don’t have those answers, as I have discovered that there isn’t a way to spell out spirituality for anyone. The seeker actually has to find it for themselves.
For me, as an Anishinabek man, it was the return to the Red Road. Once I retraced my steps here, and listened to what the Elders were telling me, I had a better grasp on what it was that I had been missing my entire life, a connection to my spiritual centre that had been severed. It was only when I began to mend that broken and severed part of me, that I began to feel like I was recovering from that “hopeless and helplessness” that AA talks about all the time.
In western medicine, they don’t teach spirituality in the universities of medicine, and unless the doctors come from some faith-based families or lineage (as my family doctor is Hindu), I tend to feel that it is mostly foreign to them. Science can’t describe it, or even prove it for that matter, so they have difficulty prescribing it, and using it as an effective treatment.
Colonization can be viewed as a carcinogenic sickness that has eviscerated our indigenous interconnections to all things, animate or inanimate, including our ceremonies, governing political systems, and everything that is our Anishinabek Mno Bimaadziwin (Good way of life). Therefore, the cure, or the path towards decolonization must be, the reconstruction of all of these things, which includes the Grandmother and Grandfather Teachings, and the Anishinabek holistic approach, where Two Legged Humans, can be put back together using not only the mental, physical, and emotional, but especially the spiritual.
The Anishinabek belief system holds that all things have a spirit, even our emotions, and the interconnectedness in which we relate to everything. There is a spiritual conceptualization to it all. Which is why, the path of decolonization or Biskaabiiyaang, must include the spiritual awakening and recognition.
Our spirituality is the key to our identity, our strength and our very survival. Why else would the colonizers outlaw them? They knew that if they could take that away from us, they could more easily defeat us. But we have persevered, and we will continue to persevere, lest we forget our spirituality.
I don’t know how to spell out spirituality for non-Native people. I don’t have the answers for you, nor should I be expected to find those answers either, but it probably isn’t the culturally appropriative ways of the New Ager hippie, “Rainbow Bridge Warrior of Peace” clans out there.
But where there is a will there is a way. I know many non-Native people who have been adopted into some our communities and societies. That shouldn’t be taken as permission that you are entitled to seek out a societal role with our Anishinabek Nations, but it doesn’t exactly preclude you either.
I will leave you with this thought.
There was a teaching that I was given once, when I was asking an Elder why he was so helpful to White people, and why he chose to share knowledge with them. He said something that went like this, “There was a prophecy that came to the people of Turtle Island once long ago. It came around the time of the Seven Fires Prophecies, and it said that in the time of darkness that would be known as the Seventh Fire, many of the White people would come to us Anishinabek people seeking help.
“They would have forgotten their original teachings, and they would become aware of this, and they wouldn’t know where else to turn but to us. It says in this prophecy that we would either help them or we wouldn’t. Our decisions of either helping them or not, would also decide the outcome of the Seventh Fire.
“I choose to help them, because my teachings are that if you see someone with genuine intentions, then the medicine that we carry are not exclusive to Anishinabek people. If we are truly medicine people, then we understand that the medicine isn’t exclusive to us. If we see sick people who genuinely want to get well, then we have an obligation to help those people.”
You see, people, it is the matter of intention. What is it exactly that you are seeking, and what do you intend to do with it?