“We must empower ourselves to decide what is important for the preservation of our language, our culture, our communities for Eeyou Astchee.”

“We must empower ourselves and, in doing so, revive the indigenous control that we have over our own lives, our institutions and over Eeyou Astchee…”
-Proposal for a process to establish the Eeyou Tabeytachesiw and Eeyou Weeshowewin submitted at the AGA.

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come: “Where do we want to go, what are our hopes, what do we want to do for ourselves? It will come from all of us, from the nine communities.”

My personal reflections on “AGA Passes Landmark Resolution: Cree Constitution and Government in Works” (article in The Nation, July 19):

As I was reading this article, my thoughts, my feelings and my emotions came into play.

My first thought that came to me was “this is very good—it will be very good for the people… Is it a reality or is it just words coming from people to look good on paper? Or is it coming from the hearts and souls that would make it a reality?”

To empower oneself, one has to look at the history of oneself, to trace back why one became powerless. One needs to ask, “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” and, “Where am I going?”

One needs to look at one’s past, in one’s childhood. Was it a childhood full of love, security, sense of belonging, living on the land with traditional dwellings, belonging to one’s parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts and so many family members?

Learning by observations of one’s life. Learning values, beliefs and norms of a nomadic lifestyle that was passed from generation to generation. This was one’s true self, one’s language, one’s culture, one’s community. It was a reality for Eeyou Astchee. One was living his or her true self, true identity, who one was meant to be.

Then another culture came into one’s life. A culture that was so different in every aspect of the word. The language, values, beliefs and norms were so strange and so foreign.

We took their ways, their material possessions that would make our lives easier and faster. We took their religions, their educations in order to co-exist with them. We gave up our own ways, because they made us think we were lesser than them. They put us in their own schools away from our own people, from our own culture, from our own communities, to try to make us in the image of them.

They told us our language, our culture, our communities were wrong and their own ways were right and better. This story is told by people over and over and over, again and again. As people who want to empower ourselves, we need to understand ourselves first, our childhoods and most of all the years we lived as oppressed children, adolescents and adults.

“And in doing so, revive the indigenous control that we have over our own lives, our institutions and over Eeyou Astchee.”

This is a very powerful, strong, bold statement.

Without understanding our oppression as the indigenous people, we still copy the lives, values and belief systems of our oppressors. We become oppressors to our own people. We hire non-Native
people as consultants to know what is best for us. We hire non-Native professionals, non-Native managers, to be our experts.

These experts have the skills, the knowledge and most of all the education that goes with it. These non-Native consultants, non-Native managers are still in control of our lives, our institutions.

And we speak to take back our lives, our dignity, our pride once again to empower our lives. We speak of “our institutions over Eeyou Astchee,” but what is the real reality?

Here, there are so many examples in “our institutions” where we still have more confidence in non-Native professionals rather than with our own people because the education is not there. We are a society where so many of us are high-school drop-outs because of personal blockages. And we still have this belief that we need to have a piece of paper to hold a high professional job.

This kind of belief is usually felt greatly by the Native Cree woman. My thoughts, my sadness, my pain go back to the relocation of my town, Fort George. Who had the control and power? I always felt it was a non-Native consultant, an engineer who had all the answers. Why?

In “our institutions,” Cree people get put down or laid off because there is no confidence in them. We are still lesser people, lesser human beings, and this is still tolerated by our own Cree leadership and Cree management.

How can people, non-Native professionals, come into our lives, our culture, our communities, and work and know what we need?

Without speaking our language, without living our culture, without being raised in our communities or having instilled in them our values, our beliefs, our norms of a First Nation person. How do they know what our needs are? We were robbed of our person, our identity and our dignity. Then are we doing the same thing, robbing “our institutions” of what Cree institutions are meant to be for Cree people. We take their institutions and we try to recreate carbon-copies.

Someone once asked, “What is the Cree Social Services?”

“Cree Social Services is in the heart and soul of every Cree person.”

We need to go to our own people for teachings, knowledge, feelings and thoughts to find the answers for our language, our culture, our communities for Eeyou Astchee. To take control of our lives, to empower our lives, who we are as Cree people.

We all need to reflect, to see, to understand where we truly are as Cree people.

For my article I make dedications to:

My sister Daisy Herodier, who put her heart and soul into preserving the Cree language and Cree culture in our Cree schools.

And to Janie Pachano, who put her heart and soul for so many years into preserving the Cree artifacts and Cree pictures in her own home for future generations.

And to my Elders, Robbie Matthew and Matthew Ratt, who put their hearts and souls for so many years into preserving the Cree teachings, Cree legends, Cree morals, Cree values and Cree beliefs and passing down to me of who I am and who I was.

And to the Circle of Women who welcome medicine people into their hearts and souls for other teachings of other Native nations.

And especially to my friend Daisy Ratt for being my support and light in times of weakness and catching me when I want to fall. Also for giving me encouragement to start writing.

Least of all to my grand-daughter Kyla for giving me the chance to teach her of her own language, her own culture and her own community.

And to my three children, Jody, Angela and Derek, my sincere regrets for not being there for them as children as an Indian Mother.