Saagajiwe






Te'sigisg'g Gegina'matimgewe'l
(Daily Teachings)




On this road I share my daily thoughts. Sometimes I address current affairs. Other times I reflect upon an idea, or share a poem, or maybe even a video. I may muse about identity, or politics or gender. Perhaps, I'll share a dream or a word. Or maybe tell a story. Each day is different. Each one grounded in Creation Stories.


Pesgunategewey Nagweg
Day Nine

Two parts racism. Three parts greed. Four parts misinformation.

Or, is it four parts greed with an equal amount of racism and misinformation thrown in to cover-up the first two and ease the conscience? Whatever the formula, what is happening in Nova Scotia right now is heartbreaking. Unbelievable, and at the same time so familiar. Racism in Nova Scotia is foundational. I know. I grew up there. It was palpable then. Apparently, it still is today. That’s the thing about systemic racism. It doesn’t just go away on its own.

In Nova Scotia, the foundation was laid a long time ago. In his 1749 Scalping Proclamation Edward Cornwallis put a bounty on Mi’gmaw heads. He offered twenty pounds for a man, fifteen pounds for a woman, and ten pounds for a child. For their heads! Many believe that the term redskin originates from the blood spilled on the skin of the people whose heads were removed and sold.

And it was against this horror that Kopit, known in the history books as Chief Jean Baptiste Cope, rose up to defend his people. It was Kopit who brought about the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1752. This treaty, which can be found on the Government of Canada website gives the Mi’gmaw people clear fishing and hunting rights for themselves and “their heirs, and the heirs of their heirs forever”. The relevant section (4) does not limit those rights to subsistence, or even a modest living, as interpreted by the 1999 Marshall Decision. Rather, it states: “ It is agreed that the said Tribe of Indians shall not be hindered from, but have free liberty of Hunting & Fishing as usual: and that if they shall think a Truckhouse needful at the River Chibenaccadie or any other place of their resort, they shall have the same built and proper Merchandize lodged therein, to be Exchanged for what the Indians shall have to dispose of, and that in the meantime the said Indians shall have free liberty to bring for Sale to Halifax or any other Settlement within this Province, Skins, feathers, fowl, fish or any other thing they shall have to sell, where they shall have liberty to dispose thereof to the best Advantage.” Rather than a modest living it states “to the best advantage.”

I suspect the Marshall decision was based on the fact that “as usual” would mean modest to Mi’gmaw people. They have always put limits on their own fishing and hunting because in accordance with the seven sacred teachings it is important to ensure there will be enough for the next seven generations. It is the non-Indigenous fishers who need the limits and the seasons because they cannot limit themselves. Greed is a concept brought to the Americas by Settlers. It was an unknown concept for a society based in sharing and gift giving.

The Sipekne'katik fishers respect and celebrate the Marshall decision. That is why they opened their season on the anniversary of that decision. But, their modest fleet is fast becoming a matter of life and death simply because Indigenous people are at the helm.

The Canadian fishers attacking the Mi’gmaw fishers claim they are concerned about the depletion of the stock, even though they know that the stock is healthy and not in danger of depletion. They claim that it is wrong to fish during moulting season, even though they know that moulting season is during the warm summer months of their fishing season. They claim that they want to protect the female lobsters carrying eggs. If that were true no one could ever fish for lobster because females carry their eggs in one form or another for approximately two years. The idea that Mi’gmaw fishers are not concerned about the conservation of the stock is ludicrous. You read in the mainstream press that they are fishing out of season. It would be more accurate to say they are fishing out of the non-Indigenous or Canadian season, designed for people who need limits imposed upon them because they can’t limit themselves. It is the non-Indigenous fishers who over fish and endanger the stocks. The Mi’gmaw have their own seasons and they don’t all fish at the same time and they only take what they need. They know how to impose and respect limits because they have been doing so for thousands of years.

Ugalmuchinewey Nagweg
Day Eight

Go home and stay home. Those were the orders and they made sense. So we did. We went home and we stayed home. And we listened to the sounds the earth makes when the economy stops. We could hear the birds singing and the rain as it fell. We could hear the plants pushing up through the ground. We could hear the creatures scurrying about. We could almost hear what our Mother the Earth wants to tell us.

Leading up to this pandemic moment the world was in an uproar. Indigenous Peoples were protesting here at home and around the world in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en and the environment. My mornings were spent cooking for the warriors (I call them Braves) who stopped the trains to stop the economy of the Settlers so we would stop and listen to the sounds the earth makes. I brought them moose stew, homemade bread and fish chowder.

Suddenly and without warning a new word came into our vocabulary, COVID-19. Everything came to a grinding halt. It was almost as if the pandemic itself was an excuse to reign in the protesters, or a chance for Mother Earth to tell us what we need to hear.

And then the killing began because the police did not go home and stay home. Instead, they came into our homes and shot us dead. Chantel Moore, Breonna Taylor, Rodney Levi and Ejaz Ahmed Choudry may you fly with the Eagles. Or onto our streets with depraved disregard for human life. George Floyd and Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal may you rest in peace.

And in our hospitals, from the people entrusted with our care, we hear the hate directed towards a young Indigenous mother as she took her last breath. Joyce Echaquan may you find peace among your ancestors.

And on our waters, we watch in horror as our people are attacked for exercising their treaty rights.

And because of the killings and the violence the global protests begin again. Only this time, they are different. There is a shift in consciousness. A critical mass of people are questioning everything, including what Angela Davis has coined racial capitalism. “There is no capitalism without racism,” she says. It is almost as if the awful COVID-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to re-imagine our worlds.

Mother Earth has something to tell us. Let’s listen now.

Lluigenegewey Nagweg
Day Seven

Another citizen of the Miꞌkmaq Nation was shot and killed by the RCMP last night. Rodney Levi may you fly with the Eagles.

Asagomewey Nagweg
Day Six

A relationship of unforgivable forgiveness
Let’s imagine, for a moment, that meaningful reconciliation is possible. What would it look like? Before reconciling with each other, each group must first reconcile with themselves. Both groups need to find a way to enter into a relationship of unforgivable forgiveness. How do you ask for and how do you offer forgiveness for the unforgivable? Non-Indigenous peoples living on Indigenous lands, otherwise known as Settlers, must reconcile aspirations of reconciliation with what they are still doing and what their ancestors have done. They have to figure out how to reconcile the part they played and continue to play in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report refers to as cultural genocide. Reconciliation means, in part, to fix the Settlers – white people are victims too – for seven generations white kids have been taught that they are superior. What happens to them when they realize that they are not? Settlers believe capitalism is good. What happens to them when they realize they have to figure out how to walk in balance on this earth? For our part, Indigenous Peoples must reconcile with ourselves. We need to heal from the trauma of residential schools, including intergenerational trauma. We need to revitalize our languages, revive our ceremonies and reeducate ourselves and our youth. And we need to take back what is ours. Before entering into a relationship of reconciliation with non-Indigenous peoples we need to strengthen our intergenerational, intergender and intertribal relations. And, we need to reaffirm our relationship with the land. Land is everything. It contains languages, stories, histories. It provides water, air, shelter and food. Land is home. And herein lies the deepest rift between the worldviews. The Western mind would have us believe that people own the land, to do with as they will. Indigenous Peoples know that it is the other way around. The land owns us. It is our inherent responsibility to care for her. That means building sustainable gift economies based on biodiversity and local gardens. We are at a pivotal moment, not only in Canada, but in the world. It is time for everyone to choose which side of the ideological divide they are on, the one that prioritizes the sanctity of Mother Earth, or the one that would dominate her.

Nanewey Nagweg
Day Five

Destroying the magic of the land
Before colonization, the Americas were rich in every kind of diversity imaginable – languages, cultures, spiritualities, genders, economic systems, philosophies, sciences, ways of knowing, and nations. Biodiversity ensured the earth was never depleted. Respect for Mother Earth ensured she was never violated. When Europeans first arrived in the Americas they must have felt the magic of the land. Coming from congested communities, they must have been struck by its powerful expanse. They must have noticed how perfectly the people fit the place. They must have been in awe of it all. And frightened too. In their attempts to quell their fear and harness these lands and its Peoples to their colonialist project, European Settlers began to destroy everything Indigenous – languages, spirituality, dances, gift-giving, ceremonies, sexuality and gender fluidity. They used the educational system and Christian churches to “civilize” Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous children all across the newly established country called Canada were kidnapped and forced into residential schools where they were forbidden from speaking their own languages. A paternalistic fantasy of superiority imagined schools lacking in respect and human decency by any measure. Unrelenting assaults on children who already knew more about living with the land than their teachers ever could must have been fueled by a deep sense of inferiority manifesting as superiority, coupled with the need to wield power over others. These were not the good intentions of innocent people. They knew what they were doing. They understood that in order to control our thoughts and dreams they had to control our tongues. The cruelty of taking the spoken word away from the speaker is itself unspeakable. To this day, in the Americas, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, literacy systematically separates us from our languages, leaving the physical tongue in place to choke on the language of those who cut the symbolic one off from its mother. Underneath this inferiority (disguised as superiority) complex, made palatable through cognitive dissonance, is the issue of land. It has always been about the land. Canada is a nation built on racism, manifested most clearly by the so called “Indian Act” which is, at its core, a land grab. Its goal is the dispossession of Indigenous lands, by any means necessary, including the elimination and assimilation of Indigenous Peoples, in the interest of private property and resource extraction. On December 15, 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released its multi-volume, 4000-page final report detailing the physical, psychological and sexual abuse of Indigenous children held captive in Canada’s residential schools. A summary report, released earlier in the year outlines 94 calls to action that would begin the process of “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.” The idea of reconciliation captured the imagination of non-Indigenous people across the nation. Indigenous people were more circumspect. Reconciliation assumes a priori relationships of reciprocity where all sides take responsibility for their part in the conflict or the breakdown in relations that led up to the need for reconciliation in the first place. If something was taken or stolen it must be returned. If damage was done it must be repaired. Apologizing for stealing land, for example, is not enough. You have to give the land back. Canada is not even close to taking the first step towards reconciliation. Children are still being taken away from their families and communities, stolen land has not been returned, Indigenous languages are still not spoken in their places of origin. The Canadian government is still in the business of defining who is and who isn’t Indigenous under the aforementioned Indian Act. Treaties are not upheld. Nation to nation relations are nowhere in sight. Reconciliation is beginning to sound a lot like assimilation.

Newewey Nagweg
Day Four

In Canada, at the time of this writing, these two disparate worldviews are on full display in a standoff, clashing over climate change, pipelines and sovereignty. Indigenous Peoples across Nations are unsettling the settler economy across the Nation by blocking railways in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs who have taken a leadership role in protecting the integrity of the lands from the extractive industries. Their territory covers around 22,000 square kilometers of sovereign, never surrendered, traditional territory in British Columbia, upon which the Canadian government, according to its own laws, has no jurisdiction. In 1984, the Gitxsan (a neighbouring nation) and Wet’suwet’en leaders took the provincial government to court to put an end to extensive logging on their traditional territories. The case ended on December 11, 1997 in the Supreme Court of Canada with the Delgamuukw v. British Columbia decision that found the province had no authority to extinguish Indigenous rights over the land, including resources from the land. Furthermore, under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which the British Columbia provincial government adopted into law in 2019, the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples must be obtained before government and industry can proceed with any project. Wet’suwet’en, Canadian, and International laws recognize Hereditary Chiefs as the rightful decision-makers on their respective territories. These rights and titles have never been extinguished, nor surrendered. The Wet’suwet’en are a sovereign people. The Hereditary Chiefs of all five Wet’suwet’en clans unanimously opposed the Coastal Gas Link/TransCanada pipeline, as proposed. Instead, they offered an alternate route that would not go through sensitive cultural and ecological areas. But, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that the permits of Coastal Gas Link (CGL) trumped Wet’suwet’en law, pitting the Western notion of industry first squarely against the Indigenous principle of environment first. In response, the Wet’suwet’en evicted CGL from their territories and blocked their re-entry. The BC government then enlisted the RCMP as hired guns to uphold the court ruling for an industry injunction. The land protectors were arrested on their own territory. In an unprecedented show of solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Chiefs, Indigenous People and non-Indigenous People alike took to the streets. Peaceful rallies, die-ins, marches and round dances took place daily in towns and cities from coast to coast to coast. Young Braves, demanding the RCMP leave Wet’suwet’en territory, erected rail blockades along key transportation routes across Canada. These unarmed and peaceful Braves are a beacon of hope for a sustainable future. They are taking a stand to defend their inherent rights to sovereignty and the planet’s inherent right to survive unharmed. Our Creation Story teaches us to walk upon the earth without leaving a footprint. And that includes a carbon footprint. Climate change teaches us that if we want to live in harmony with Mother Earth the time to act is now.

Sistewey Nagweg
Day Three

Disparate worldviews
To illustrate the divide between Mi’gmaw and Western worldviews, let’s take hunting as an example. To the Western mind, the hunt is a chase, the hunter in competition with the hunted. The animal runs. A life is taken. To the Mi’gmaw mind, the hunt is an exercise in patience. The hunter waits. The animal comes. Tobacco is offered. A life is given. You might say the result is the same. The animal is still dead. But, wait. The story is not over. The meat from the animal that ran away in fear and killed in flight is tough and hard to chew. No matter, it wasn’t about the meat anyway. The animal’s head becomes a trophy, its hide and entrails discarded. The animal that gave its life in stillness offers tender meat. Every part is used for food, clothing and tools, except the entrails which are left in the place where it died to honour its spirit and to feed other animals in the forest. One hunter hunts for sport, the other for community.

Tabuewey Nagweg
Day Two

Over the next few days I will share excerpts from an article I had published in Media Development  (02/20) called Tending the Garden. It could have just as easily been called It’s About the Land because it’s always about the land.

                         All my relations
                               The land
                                    The songs 
                                           The language
                                                The stories
                                                      The people
                                                      The dances
                                                  The plants and the animals
                                            The sun and the moon
                                      The water
                                  The earth

                                           The Climate Changing


To understand these things from Indigenous perspectives it is necessary to begin at the beginning


The Creation Stories
I was born into the Mi’gmaw Creation Story which teaches us everything we need to know to live in a good way. Told properly in ceremony and in keeping with oral tradition, the story takes seven days to tell. The number seven is sacred to my people. There are seven directions and seven levels of creation. The seven grandfathers teach us respect, honesty, truth, humility, courage, wisdom and love. For every action we take in the present we are taught to consider how it will impact our descendants seven generations into the future. Our Creation Story teaches us to live in harmony with the land and with all of creation. It teaches us about the interconnectedness of things. It teaches us reciprocity. Our worldview, informed by our Creation Story and embedded in our language, stands in stark contrast to the Western worldview, the one whose Creation Stories teach domination over nature. To the Western mind, nothing is sacred. Not the plants, not the animals, not even the water. Not even our Mother Earth. I was recently told by a Settler Canadian that the land’s agricultural and mineral resources were in no manner exploited by Indigenous culture and technology, as if this were a bad thing. “As such,” he said, “the land was worthless until the Settlers arrived and developed the continent.” And there we have it. The clash in worldviews so plainly put. To say the land is worthless, is to say our mother is worthless. Mother Earth, so bountiful and generous, gives us all we need to survive. We exploit her at our own peril.

Umqesewey Nagweg
Day One

It occurs to me that the first teaching should be about teaching. That is about the word “teaching.” In the English language the word implies that someone (the teacher) knows something that someone (the learner) doesn’t know. The teacher gives “knowledge” to the learner. This understanding of teaching and learning is what the experts refer to as the "empty vessel" philosophy of teaching, where the teacher is the source of knowledge and the learners are empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. This method of teaching isn’t really practised much anymore, but the idea is still embedded in the language. Teachers are experienced as experts, while learners are experienced as amateurs. I remember when I first began my career as a university teacher. Even though I believed in experiential teaching and learning and wrote about it, I would panic whenever a student asked me a question I couldn’t answer. I was, after all, the teacher. I was supposed to know the answer. This notion of teaching and learning is internal and individualistic. Knowledge is experienced inside the head.

In the L‘nu (Mi’Gmag) language the words for teaching and learning are the same. There are teachings or learnings or lessons. The word is gegina'matimgewe'l. The closest approximation in English would be teachings – adding an “s” at the end of the word implies that the knowledge comes from the outside and that there are different ways of knowing things, depending on one’s relationship to those things. Experience becomes the teacher and knowledge comes to us from the world in the form of gegina’matimgewe'l. One receives that knowledge and teaches or learns from it. The word is gegina’muatl (to teach or to learn). The knowledge is ever changing because the world is ever changing. In the L’nu language teaching and learning are on a continuum of relationships. Experiential learning is the same as experiential teaching. Knowledge is experienced outside the head in relation to the world.



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