We, the First Peoples, are the roots of this land. As the original free and independent nations of Turtle Island, we honour our sacred traditions, which were given to us by our Great Creator. We recognize that our first step must be to show our appreciation and gratitude towards Meymeynosh—the Earth herself. Being the roots of this land comes with the responsibility of leadership in educating our children.
When we truly reflect on the present education system as it is delivered to the youth, we must return to the original intent of education itself—and see that we have failed our children in providing the best education possible.
We pride ourselves in that we live in an advanced society because of our education system, yet we have not been able to find more peaceful resolutions to our differences, and we continue to challenge nature’s authority.
In the English dictionary, education is defined as “to develop [a child] mentally, morally or aesthetically, especially by instruction.”
The education system has failed First Nations people because it does not tell the truth of the history of our people. It does not share the stories of the roots of the original people of this land who have a knowledge and understanding, particularly in how to have a respectful relationship with Meymeynosh herself.
The education system is not working for anyone. We have spent the inheritance of our children and harmed their future. In today’s world, young people face added challenges in terms of technology that is available – their enthusiasm quickly turns to dependency and addiction to screens, social media and games. When we look at today’s world we see so much violence, we see so much addiction.
The First People’s ancestral knowledge has not yet been regarded as legitimate in providing a significant contribution to defining a real education. We find that many young people have no vision, and it is not their fault. The education system today does not consider the wholeness of a human being’s need to be nurtured properly. The four elements of life—the mind, the body, the emotions and the spirit—all have to be nurtured. There are teachings that one needs to learn in order to be educated about each element of life.
We have to radically rethink the education system.
We have to find the courage to revolutionize the entire education system to include the ancestral knowledge of the original people of this land, who carry a connection to Meymeynosh.
For our First Nations communities, education has to reflect the autonomy of each community to decide what they feel is best for their children to learn. There is a strong role for education to redefine and help restore our true identity as peoples. A curriculum that shares our ancient knowledge, values and teachings can contribute to making our children more balanced human beings, and act as a foundation to ensure that they survive and flourish.
Our grandmothers have always said that it is our values that determine our survival. They say if we can teach our children to love, respect and to be honest, they will always survive – and that the best way to live is in kindness.
Our elders continue to gently remind us that the education system has not addressed the spiritual part of our being, which is just as important. The education system has not allowed the young people to fully experience and appreciate the land. There are teachings, ceremony, and experiences on the land that can help nurture our children’s spirits. If we are truly going to give our children an aesthetic education, we need to recognize that the real beauty lies in the land.
Indigenous people have always had an understanding of the importance of teaching a child. There is an ancient law that reflects our understanding as Anishnabe, of the importance of educating a child. The law is called Abinooji Kagekwewin: Teachings that are given to a child that last forever that can only be given by woman. This is always in reference to Meymeynosh—Mother Earth. The women naturally reflect and carry a knowledge that they inherit from the Earth.
Our children need to learn to read the Great Book of Nature. Our future and survival as people is dependent upon their return to our ancestral knowledge and understanding their connection to the land. When we study the land, we learn what the land can give us—medicine, food, shelter, water, teachings and a feeling of great love only learned by reuniting with Mother Nature. There should be opportunities for young people to experience the land as a significant part of their education curriculum.
Rites of passage, especially today, are very important part in teaching a child about the responsibilities of becoming women and men.
I am not opposed to an intellectual, academic education, but what is missing from it is a foundation of understanding how to best use that education without destroying life. The moral aspect of our duty as human beings is to reflect values that represent the truth—the highest ideals of our humanity.
If we hope to survive as strong communities then we must reposition the grandmothers and the mothers into their role as the real teachers. It is the women of the human family that carry the responsibility for initiating us all towards a sacred life.
As a young boy seeks his vision on a vision quest he is initiated by Mother Earth. All men must be initiated by woman to become real men. It was the grandmothers of our nations who initiated men in the past, and they selected our leaders. As lifegivers they were honoured, respected and protected by the men. We must support the return of the grandmothers and mothers to their rightful place of honor and influence.
Prophecy foretold that Meymeynosh would give birth to a New Life; we are living in those times. This New Life must be supported by an education system that is grounded on indigenous ancestral knowledge of values, based on natural laws.
Dave Courchene (Anishnabe Nation, Eagle Clan) is founder of the Turtle Lodge, a place for sharing ancient Indigenous knowledge on the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. He has travelled internationally, carrying a message of hope and peace.
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