If there was one wish I would like to see come true, it would be this. “I wish that life was simpler and clearer, not more complicated and more confusing.” This wish is certainly “wishful thinking” to those who believe that life is never easy. I agree that life is often difficult, but does it have to be so bloody confusing and complicated?
I’ve been told by some Elders in my area, Moose Factory, that the bush was a hard life, but a good life. At times, families had to struggle to get enough food to eat, and at other times, there was plenty to be had. Hard work was a necessary and everyday part of life on the land. These days most of us just stroll, or more often drive, to the store to get some food, and occasionally go out hunting or fishing to get some fresh meat. Yes, it is easier to get food these days. Well, back in the good old days survival was a clear and simple issue, just like NIKE tells you: “Just do it.”
Hey, wait a minute. If getting food these days is easier, shouldn’t life now be easier and simpler for us? Well, in the old days, getting food from the land was hard work and it took a lot of skill and experience to make this happen. When we were confronted with the need to survive, it was a simple fact. We didn’t really need to think about it too much in our daily lives except to learn about it, teach it and “just do it.” It was hard work, but simple for our lives.
Today, it is easier to get food and a lot of other things as well. We buy pork, beef, chicken, fish, pasta, bread, veggies, milk, eggs, fruit and a lot of take-out food. We also buy food that really isn’t food at all, such as chocolate bars, chips, candy and pop. With the amount of “junk” that kids consume these days, you’d think they were treating it like real food. Unfortunately, all of this convenience has come with a “high price.” In other words, it is easier to fill our bellies these days but it has become more complicated for us to survive as healthy communities in mind, body and spirit. We are bombarded by many influences which promise to make our lives easier, simpler and happier, when in fact our lives are becoming more complicated by the minute and more confusing in the process. It makes life on the whole more difficult.
When we lose control over what we eat and what our children eat, it is certain that we have already lost control of many other things in our lives. There is a bigger world out there beyond family and community which not only feeds our children, it also teaches them who they are, who they are not and what they must become. The grocery store is a depot for food and other products that originate from other places in the world. The television brings words, stories, ideas and entertainment from that bigger world. For many years, our local schools and churches have been teaching our children to connect with this same larger world in order to succeed in life.
In reality, these so-called “conveniences” or “fast-lanes to success” replace our own people’s roles as providers, teachers, parents and decision-makers. In effect, many young adults and children march to the beat of a different drum because our very own cultural values and beliefs have been replaced. In a world of “convenience,” we’ve lost control of our lives and things are neither getting easier nor simpler.
Convenience has uprooted many aboriginal families and communities. For the price of these conveniences, we have lost touch with the land, the animals, the plants, the water and we have even lost touch with our own spirit. Had we rejected the convenient life, our cultures would probably be much more in control and much stronger. When you think about it, if we wanted to remain culturally strong we would have to remain materially poor. And, as a trade-off, if we wanted to become materially wealthy, we would have to become culturally weak. Sounds like a sensible idea. But, in reality, this has not happened. Today, many aboriginal communities across this country are culturally weak and materially impoverished. There has not been any “trade-off” whatsoever. We’ve been “screwed and tattooed” by others deciding what’s best for us, and we must take part of the blame for not getting up and protecting our own cultural values and beliefs.
It has been proven that the convenient life is not an easy way out. In fact, it has caused our lives to become more of a burden than anything else. In that big and competitive world out there, our own people have little chance to prosper. Non=aboriginal people themselves are having problems enough trying to cope in that big world. It’s a very complicated and confusing way of life. In order to “make it” out there you have to be extremely knowledgeable about certain things and you have to be the “best” at what you do. In doing all this, you run the risk of becoming culturally and spiritually void. Back in our communities, we are feeling the effects of the larger world. Yet, we are basically unable to live up to the standards of that larger world in order to compete in it. Heck, we can’t even function at our own pace at the community level.
Our own youth today are facing this confused reality. They are caught between a “rock and a hard place” and have no clear and healthy options to turn to if they want to build their own family life in the future. Living on the “Rez” is no living when unemployment is high and living in the city is not much easier. At this point, I do wish that life was simpler and a lot clearer.
In these crazy times when there are fewer and fewer options for our own people, is there some way of changing for the better?
For one thing, we have to quit looking for a “way out.” We’ve done this over the years and we have discovered that this “way out” has meant weakening our culture and pride, and handing our children over to another culture. If anything, we need to look for a “way back in” so that we may concentrate on our mind, body and spirit all at once. This means relating to the land again and trying to see how each one of us can “work hard” at bringing our own families together for mutual support.
Our families, friends and culture have always been our healthiest options. This still applies today because that bigger world out there is getting bigger, more confusing and bitterly competitive. Everyone wants a piece of the convenience it promises. It’s like throwing 10 jelly beans in a crowd of 50 children in which 20 per cent of the children get the real convenience of eating one jelly bean, while the rest of the 80 per cent push hard but get absolutely nothing in return. It’s funny how some of our communities do reflect this sort of unbalanced split where 20 per cent are employed and the rest of the 80 per cent are jobless.
You know, even if we do have very little in our communities, we still do find moments when we can laugh about things in life and bond as families and friends. We can still get along even though we have no jobs or don’t have good housing. It does go to show that even in the toughest of times, we still have to depend on one another for our own emotional and spiritual survival (hey, the Prime Minister won’t do it for us). This is where we have to look in order to “get back in.” Being more wealthy isn’t going to solve the problem because becoming wealthy means competing against your own people, and after all, it’s virtually impossible to get wealthy on most reserves anyway. In the old days, the bush taught our culture to give and share, to be patient, to understand and to work hard at doing these sorts of things for each other. This quality still survives in us in these new and tougher times.
In order to rebuild this quality in us, we must believe in, feel and become aware of the fact that the bigger world out there has never been and will never be a part of who we are as aboriginal people. If we push ourselves toward that bigger, world, we will become lost and absorbed into it, because in all its complexity and competitiveness, our aboriginal identity will mean nothing. The land and what it has taught our culture over centuries of time is the source of our true identity and spirit. Our personality and character have been been shaped by living close to the land and not shaped by living next to a skyscraper in downtown Toronto.
In all, there are three basic options for us living on reserves. One, we believe and go for the promises of the bigger world out there and lose ourselves in the scramble for the jelly bean. Two, we continue to accept the influence of the bigger world into our communities and slowly and painfully give up our own culture and values. Or three, we work hard at recapturing and understanding what has truly kept us going in all the hard times. Here, we will find hints of our own cultural spirit still kicking within us. It hasn’t completely died yet.
For my own people, the land is still around us, and from it, we can still learn the spirit that it provided for us. As we have become accustomed to the convenient life, however, this third option is likely to be viewed as unreal. If this is the case, then our own culture must be equally unreal. This is the viewpoint we drive into our heads when we begin to believe that the bigger world out there has something better and more exciting to offer us.
If we look at all our cultural weak points such as loss of language, loss of relationship with the land, loss of contact with Elders, loss of spiritual and medicinal knowledge, and the loss of bush education for school education, and then add these kinds of losses to our overall material impoverishment, the sum total we end up with is the price we’ve had to pay for the so-called “convenient life” promised to us by the bigger world. For other aboriginal groups around the world, they too are paying the same “price,” if not a heavier price. The only culturally spiritual road we have left before us is to get up and change this situation for the better, or else risk losing it all.