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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Custer

Language is The Guiding Light

Decolonizing is like peeling layers of an onion. When you first get on the path of mitho-pimâtisiwin, everything about your life is confusing. Why did I make certain life choices? Why did I feel this way? Why did I think this way? Why did I pick that partner? Why did I believe what I believed? Each question I sought to answer revealed a layer of unhealthy thinking patterns that had been set in place years before by the engine of colonization. Residential Schools and the Indian Act had done quite a number on many families. To me, it was a psychological attack. A warfare on the minds of Indigenous people. Initially, the attack was on our children and removing us from the source of our wealth; the land. Then came religion and education delivered in English. The result of the war is the statistics of Indigenous people we see today. Many of our people suffer from addictions, poor coping life skills, poor diets, poor parenting skills and damaged relationships to our kin. Certainly, not all of us but a lot of us have been impacted by these attacks on who we are as Indigenous people.

When I wanted a better life for myself and my children, I began to think critically about my own thoughts and feelings. This was followed by learning how to make better choices. It has taken me years to get to a level of functioning at a decent level. I cannot say that I am truly healthy, because, every time I think I am okay there’s a wrench thrown in and a new opportunity to learn about mitho-pimâtisiwin happens. Most of the time, it is about relationships and learning how to treat people and myself with love and respect. Two words but they entail so many teachings, I can’t even begin to state how important these two are!

The opposite of mitho-pimâtisiwin is maci-pimâtisiwin. I sometimes hear people being referred to as “mitho-pimâtiso or maci-pimâtiso” one is a person who walks with love, respect, kindness, humility etc. and the other can be known as greedy, gossipy, mean-spirited, envious, egotistical and disrespectful. One leads to peace and the other to turmoil and chaos. One to strength and the other to cowardice. I don’t want to dig too deep on this one but you see where I’m going with this right?

To my understanding, decolonization is the undoing the damage that takes place in our minds. Finding what is truly Indigenous and what is not. Peeling the layers of beliefs and values that are not inherently Indigenous, tossing that aside and saying “that is not mine”. We are all at different levels of decolonizing; some are just starting out, wanting something better. Some are inching in through rediscovery of their roots and reclaiming traditions, practices, beliefs and languages. Some are learning to incorporate their findings. While some are what I like to call sages, they provide guidance through their wisdom. No matter what level anyone is at, we have to learn how to be patient, kind and understanding with each other.

What guides us in the journey of decolonizing is our languages. It holds clues on how we should approach our relationships to everything and everyone around us. It shines a light for us in what may be an unfamiliar path. Sometimes it is referred to as the red road or mitho-pimâtisiwin.

We are fortunate that we have many sages that hold these teachings for us. Jerry Saddleback is one that I have been fortunate to cross paths with, an elder from Alberta. He is a gifted orator who tells stories of the Cree language and what it tells us. Wilfred Buck, from Manitoba shares his stories of the sky world and our connection to the stars. Solomon Ratt, a Cree teacher from North-East Saskatchewan shares wîsahkêcahk stories. In them, we learn about our values, teachings and cultures. Dr. Stan Wilson, an elder from The Pas, MB, shares wisdom about the spirit world; that if people aren’t fluent then they should at least know a few key words such as pâstâhowin, pâstâmowin, ohcinêwin and nanâskomowin to name a few.

I have only named a few of our sages that are available to guide us when we want to find our way. All use language as it encompasses everything about our identities as Cree people, it is our guiding light to the path of mitho-pimâtisiwin.

I am grateful that the work of all these sages that help shape my thoughts and understandings; any errors or misunderstandings are mine alone.

ikosi pitamâ kinanâskomitinâwâw kâkithaw

Sophie is a residential school survivor. She attended Guy Hill Residential School in The Pas, Manitoba. Andrea is grateful for all the love and guidance her grandma has provided in her learning journey.
Andrea ikwa ohkoma Sophia

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