Elder Dr. David Courchene is from the Anishinaabe Nation, Eagle Clan. He is the founder of the Turtle Lodge. See more.
As the free and independent Original Peoples and the true leaders of our homeland, our visionaries and prophets foretold that we would find ourselves leading a movement of spiritual awakening. It is not a political leadership that we must reflect, rather a responsibility to bring forward the teachings, values, duties and responsibilities of a way of life that has helped us to survive for tens of thousands of years. Our ancestors very much lived a spiritual way of life and honoured Mother Earth as a living and sacred entity, with a spirit at the core of her being. They knew all living life has a spirit.
The Elders say, “What you do to the land and Nature you do to yourself.” Because we have harmed nature, we have harmed ourselves.
As Indigenous Peoples we see it as a responsibility to offer a leadership towards understanding spirit and our relationship with the land. It is that spirit of relationship that we believe is most important to our survival. In our sacred lodges we are taught that our Great Spirit has blessed Indigenous People with the gift of knowledge of spirit and the Earth. What does this mean?
As a People, we have always acknowledged a Higher Power of Spirit whom we have called the Great Spirit. Spirituality defines who we are, and where we come from. It has defined our identity. As a People we believe that we are all children of Mother Earth. It has been the land that has offered our sustenance – our food, air, water, and medicines. The land has taught us the natural laws, laws that are self-enforcing. The land has given us our Original Instructions. Nature has inspired the thoughts we think.
In our leadership, we can lead in a movement that can help humanity come to terms with their spiritual identity and their relationship with the land. It is about a code of conduct lived in our homeland, based on natural and spiritual law. The leadership of that movement can be offered by spiritual Wisdom Keepers, who have lived and learned the ways of our ancestors.
They know Mother Earth and Nature have a voice – a language that we can hear in our hearts – that connects to our spirit from the spirit of Mother Earth. This is the key to how we have a sacred relationship with the land.
We are spiritual beings living a human life. Spirituality comes from within. All problems we face in life have a spiritual solution. Described in its most simple understanding, spirituality is to have a spirit of compassion and kindness.
Everything about life is about spirit. When we neglect or ignore spirit is when we can lose faith, and fear enters into our minds. When our Great Spirit gave us the breath of life, it was never to live in fear, and anger, and arrogance, but to live in the spirit of kindness. Death is an act of Nature. This virus is an act of Nature, as a result of our negligence of natural law. Through the great love of the Great Spirit and the great love of our Mother Earth, we will survive.
We need to surrender to the Spirit, admit our own helplessness and powerlessness, and turn to that invisible force of Spirit for the help we need in life.
The direct opposite of faith and love is fear. Fear weakens our immune system, leads to accelerated aging and even premature death. Fear starts in the brain and spreads through the body. What we think can affect our whole being. Fear decreases our hope.
During these times, we all need to have some hope for the future. Things need to be put into perspective. We need to find the grace to move through this. We have to surrender to the fact that Nature is in control and always has been. We need to stop and reconcile with Mother Earth for all the harm that we have done to her. All it requires is the effort on our part to walk on her, and talk to her. Tell her how you are feeling, how you feel lost and discouraged. How afraid that you might be because of the uncertainty that man has created for your children’s future.
I feel the most important thing that we can learn during these times of change is to understand how important Women are. Women have been given the same power that Mother Earth has, to be Life-givers. The Life-givers are the true teachers of life, connected to the deeper spiritual knowledge of the Earth herself. In order to become men, boys have to be initiated by Woman – beginning with their own Mothers and Grandmothers, and also by Mother Earth herself.
The more that the richness of Indigenous knowledge is acknowledged and accepted, the more we will come to know and realize how sacred our mothers and grandmothers are in life. Much of Indigenous knowledge is founded and grounded in the spirit of the feminine and Mother Earth. When Indigenous knowledge makes reference to Mother, we are making reference to all Women. Most of our teachings are very much balanced with the duality of the Great Spirit’s Laws and the Laws of Mother Earth.
We are all children of Mother Earth. As her children, we are to show respect and kindness towards her. We were all born from Spirit that holds the original instructions on how to live and be a human being. Of paramount importance are the Women, the Life-givers, and their role in teaching us all about the sacredness of life.
Our world will not change until we remember the Original Instructions we were given in how to be a human being. This is our gift of understanding as a People. We have remembered our instructions by staying in close connection with Mother Earth and with the ceremonies regularly done to honour spirit. We have to share with everyone why we love the land so much, and hopefully they will join us in becoming true stewards of the land.
This is the main message essentially that we are being asked to share from the lodges of our People.
I feel compelled to offer some words as to what we are living through with this pandemic called COVID-19. I fully acknowledge the concern it has caused for everyone. The concern has gone so far that the authorities have sent us into isolation, in hopes that the virus would not spread and take more lives. What has raised the level of concern has turned into fear and panic, in knowing there is no known cure for this virus and not knowing how long this will last, along with the potential of collapse of our economic system.
Currently the whole world is consumed with the issue of the coronavirus pandemic. As I sit in the quietness of my home, I am able to reflect on our current reality. Most everything that we are seeing on television is the continued reporting of the rising impacts of COVID-19. What we have had to absorb in our own minds has become so overwhelming. The media has been relentless and keeping it as the main focus of their daily news. As the news is reported, it leaves somewhat of a feeling of despair. What we lack is a message that offers hope for our future, for our survival.
From our lodges, we are being directed on how to approach this issue. Our ceremonies and Knowledge Keepers continue to guide us. Many of our teachings are shared in the sacred lodges of our Nations. Our teachings are about our relationship with the land and our relationship with the spirit.
The first thing we need to do is put things in perspective. The first thing we need to realize is that we are not in control of this virus. Although it is invisible, it can be very effective in taking life. We need to understand that we have always been under the control of Nature: Mother Earth. She ultimately decides our destiny, our own future. While things may seem random or chaotic to our limited human minds, there is no uncertainty in the spirit world. The Great Spirit and Mother Earth have an intelligence, and there is a plan in place, out of love for us, for our correction. Mother Earth will always take us back to the beginning of our physical humanness, to remind us why we are here.
Recently, there has been some news showing the positive effects that this self-quarantining has had on the environment. The air has become cleaner – no doubt Nature is receiving benefit.
As we now take time to reflect in isolation, let us take full opportunity to consider what we have done to ourselves and what structures and systems have been created that are not in support of natural laws. There should be no doubt, that because of negative values, we have harmed the Earth to the extent that it threatens the future of our own children. We took more than we needed, through our greed, to leave a world for our children now where there will be less for them to survive.
The virus has forced us to rethink our behaviour as human beings.
I heard an Elder say, “Someone must have done something really bad for all this to happen. Someone opened the door for this virus to enter at this time.”
I reflected on this, and it made so much sense. What have we done to Mother Earth? What have we done to each other as humanity? Why have so many resources been put into military power and nuclear weapons of war, while so many of the human population are in need of basic needs, food and water. Is that the world our Great Creator had envisioned? I think not.
We have always been in a state of evolution. Somehow, we have reached this time in our evolution that reflection is what we should all be doing. Our world is in need of a vision – a vision that can bring hope. A vision that can help unite us as the human family. A vision that can offer us a path that we can follow together, to become better stewards of the land.
Through an act of Nature, we have been brought to a standstill, a wake up call. We cannot continue to walk down this road that shows disrespect for the Earth. The first thing we must realize is that Mother Earth is a living entity. She is alive, just like you and I. She is a Mother to all life. We are all the Earth’s children. As we are her children, we must be prepared to learn from her. Everything that we need to learn must be about life. Our Elders would say, “if you wish to learn about life, let me take you to the land.”
Out on the land we are given everything that we need to live and survive. The water, the air, the medicines, even the thoughts that come into our minds, come from the land. Mother Earth has never changed when it comes to her laws. Her laws are about balance and harmony. They are about her love for all of the life she has given birth to. We are not the only ones who have been born from her – there is the plant life, the animal life, the fish life, the trees, our brothers the Buffalo – we have always seen all life as our relatives in this web of life. All life is sacred.
We are in a time of fulfilment of prophecy. In prophecy we have been told by visionaries of the past, and also current visionaries today, that a change will happen, that it will come through the form of Nature itself. It has been said that Mother Earth will give birth to a new life.
One has to accept that Nature rules and directs our development as humanity. Nature does not operate from man’s time – it has its own time. Nature operates in cycles, like a circle. We have the sunrise, then sunset, while the sun circles the Earth to return each sunrise. Each sunrise reminds us the Great Spirit has not given up on us. The Earth has been here for billions of years, and it will continue for what we may refer to as forever, until the sun burns itself out.
What we are witnessing today is an act of Nature itself. In response to our negligence, in keeping with natural law, Nature has allowed this virus to move around the planet. The virus does not play any favourites. It shows no prejudice to anyone. It doesn’t matter what status you may have, the virus can get to you.
All life has an ending – for us it could be death. Death is a part of life, and how each of us leaves this world has been predetermined. This was what the Elder told me: “Everyone has a number, and when your number is called, you surrender your physical life to move on in spirit to another world.”
What we are witnessing today is reflecting what has always been, and numbers are continually being called home. Not only are the numbers being called with this virus; there are also cancers, heart diseases, strokes, dementias, and other ways that humanity is challenged that are calling us home. It has been estimated that there are 150,000 deaths per day worldwide. Of these, 100,000 die of age-related causes. Heart disease and stroke are the world’s biggest killers, followed by cancer. The point here is that death has always been a part of life.
Our biggest challenge that we face today is not the naturalness of death but rather, how we are living our lives. Not one of us will escape death. Many of our relatives have gone ahead to prepare for their own families and their return. That is why in our culture, we connect to our ancestors, who help and guide us in today’s reality. We know that they are there, because we see them as they arrive in our dreams. We feel their presence in our homes. The Elders say we are never alone and we will never be alone. Even in these challenging times we are being watched by the spirit of our ancestors. We honour their presence, showing love and gratitude by giving them our offerings.
From dust to dust, the ultimate reality for everyone is that we are all here for a certain amount of pre-determined time. Living life is living our true purpose. Obviously we are not living our true purpose as human beings, which has brought about this current virus. We have lost our purpose and identity as human beings. There is a need for an immediate change in our behaviour. What we are experiencing today started long ago. It is rooted from when man lost connection to the land.
I feel compelled to offer my words as one who is following the ancestral ways of our people as the Anishinabe People. My journey began long ago when I was much younger. My journey has been closely connected to the Knowledge Keepers of our Nations, ones who have remained faithful and loyal to the ancestral ways.
Ever since my younger days, I have been involved in so many ceremonies. Never once have I ever heard that we walk our way in fear, but rather with faith and hope. As a People, we have a genetic memory of our own history as an Ancient People. Sparked by being in our sacred lodges and on our sacred sites, our genetic memory takes us as far back as our Creation as Anishinaabe People.
Somehow we have remembered the Original Instructions we were given by the Great Spirit. Remembering these instructions is what has helped us to survive. There were times of course our faith is tested, which I believe is what is happening today.
This is not something new for humanity. There have been other pandemics. In our genetic memory we remember the epidemics of the past. Much life was lost, and yet we survived, and we will survive this pandemic again. Some will be chosen to leave ahead of us, and there will be those who will survive. Whoever is chosen to live or move onto the spirit world is beyond our control. Whatever is chosen for each of us is under the Great Plan of the Great Spirit. We must show grace and surrender to the will of the Spirit.
Social isolation has been the world’s response to the pandemic. Rather than looking at isolation in a negative or restrictive way, we should take it as an opportunity to reflect on what has happened to our world. It is a time to get to know one’s own spirit as a human being, to be with our families, to connect with and teach our children, and to prepare for our own self-sufficiency.
We need to take full advantage of each breath of life we are given and live it with joy. A space has been created for us, to be with our loved ones, our children, our Elders. Whatever we do must be centred around benefiting all children.
Now is the time to teach them what is most important in their life. They are full of questions and want to know, “What is all this fuss? Why are people so afraid?” This is an opportune time to sit with them and comfort them with the truth. It seems the children are more accepting of the truth. They put their faith in their caregivers who must show strength and faith in the spirit of these times.
We can acknowledge that there is something so wrong in our world. There is so much information out there from the scientists, from the intellectuals who are able to describe the harm we have done to the Earth. When we get to the root, it has to do with our behaviour towards each other, and our selfish, greedy attitude towards the Earth.
We need to put things in perspective. Mother Earth has been here for a long, long time and she will outlive all of us. There are times when as a Mother she will show her power, that will leave no doubt of her power and existence. She may use the winds, the fire, the water, and of course diseases such as what we are witnessing today called coronavirus. This has all happened before, and in the Great Plan of our Creator, we were allowed to survive and to continue our journey to evolve to become beings of love and kindness.
In our lodges and our teachings we are consistently reminded of the circle of life. What we put into our circles will surely be returned to us. The grandmothers say to us, “The most important way that you can act, in your thoughts and in your words, is by performing acts of kindness in everything we do in our lives. This kindness is our foundation that includes all our values and teachings of positive behaviour.
Our ancestors and our current Knowledge Keepers continue to restate what our ancestors had always lived by, and that was never to overstep the Spirit in how we approach our survival, because the only way we get direction is from the Spirit.
We have to go back to the beginning to know ourselves. We need to acknowledge our spiritual identity in living life. Spiritual identity defines our distinctiveness and uniqueness as individuals, our gifts and talents, and our purpose. Spiritual identity comes with duties and responsibilities.
Being guided by the Spirit is a very personal process. Our thoughts have come from Nature itself, from Mother Earth. They are in the universe. They are not limited to the human mind. This may be challenging for some to understand. This is where we can help.
In Indigenous thought, which is reflected in our ceremonies and our languages, we rely on a higher spiritual intelligence at all times to guide our thoughts, which we then use to guide us in our actions. In our understanding as a People, our thoughts do not originate from our own mind. They come from the Spirit, and Nature. The intelligence of Spirit is ever-present in the universe, waiting to be asked for guidance. That is why ceremony was so important to our ancestors – they were always in prayer, invoking the Spirit to come within our presence, using our ancient tools such as the pipe, the rattle and the drum. Nature lives and breathes that spiritual intelligence, as Mother Earth is alive, always wanting to love us, always trying to reach us, and always ready to teach her children.
When someone has been in ceremony often, on the land, and speaking our languages, feeling that spiritual connection comes more naturally to them. They can hear the messages that the wind brings, they can feel when it is time to act, because their spirit is connected to the Greater Spirit in the universe that knows all and sees all.
It is when we do not honour that spiritual connection, when we overstep the Spirit by using our mind independently from the guidance of Spirit, when we fall short and make mistakes. Things always work according to the balance of Nature when we follow the Spirit. Our ancestors knew this. Continued attempts to control Nature will only lead to disaster and our own demise. All the answers we need will come to us naturally from our own efforts, and our own faith in the intelligence of the Spirit.
We need a society that must reflect more humbleness, showing more kindness. Ancient Indigenous knowledge is needed more than ever, to help humanity with our spiritual development. Our people have a way of finding humour, turning the seriousness of any situation. We have laughed our way through our hard times, using the power of love and laughter to lift us out of the darkness.
In order to fully feel the spirit you have to be with the land. Your thoughts come from the land, your peace comes from the land.
The Earth is waiting for us to respond. What can we tell her? It would be nothing less than a child talking to his Mother, asking for forgiveness when they have done something wrong.
A Mother must always show love for her child – this is the power of Women. A child’s journey begins in the womb of its Mother. She is the first teacher to the children. She must pass on to her children what she feels is the most important way to live. Every Mother will always say: it is love and kindness that you must live. At some point in their life the child will go through a rite of passage to go directly to the Original Mother we call Mother Earth. Mother Earth will be their true teacher of life.
Spirit is always drawn to those who are humble and live and act from the heart. If you consider yourself to be a person of the heart, then you have no reason to fear, to worry about your own life. We are no different from the animal world living its true identity – Nature will always provide.
Now is the time for change. This is the call of Nature: Change or you will not survive.
After this time passes, our lives will never be the same. We will have been all shaken from the experience. Of primary concern will be our survival. Will we return to what has divided and separated us from the land and each other as humanity? Let us now reflect on the kind of world we would like to see and be prepared to commit ourselves to help in building this world.
At the end of the day, we all have to realize how fragile our lives are, and how dependent we are upon the land for everything. Now, collectively, we must become true stewards of the land and teach our children the truth of that sacred relationship.
We can’t live without the Animal, Bird, Fish, and Plant life. Nature is essential for human existence.
In this time of great awakening, we cannot return back to the way it was. In this awakening, we come to realize more of the truth. Nature is helping reveal the truth, through her natural forces. Diseases are a part of Nature’s forces that are helping us realize more and more that there is something so wrong in our world. We need to let go of what does not work.
Mother Earth has the power to regenerate herself. What we should be most concerned about is ourselves as human beings. In Nature we have already seen the extinction of many life forms, plants and animals. In Nature, we can also be taken off the planet if we are not more careful. What has happened to one life form can happen to any life forms in the web of life because we are all interconnected.
We need to change…
Change never happens by the masses suddenly realizing the truth; it requires a few that can plant the seed of the New World. By Nature’s law it will change by a few, who truly honour the spirit, honour all life, and honour Mother Earth. These few would be called the people of the heart. Who is selected and chosen rests in our own hands. Ask yourself, “Are you a person of the heart?” If you are, then you must be willing to become a part of the leadership, which is guided by the spirit itself.
Our challenge is to find the spirit within our own being, moving beyond the limits of our own minds.
We need to let go of the arrogant thinking that we can control the Earth. We are not above Nature’s laws.
We need to reach a level of humbleness in support of Nature’s laws.
The journey we must make is to go within ourselves in connection to the land. This is a spiritual journey, which we must embark on based on our own free will. This will require personal courage and faith. But is there really a choice? The current way of living is really our way of dying. The structures that man has developed have become our way of causing and hastening our own destruction.
The world needs the people of the heart to survive. I have faith in humanity, that there are people of the heart in the midst. The beauty about all of this, is that each of us has the gift of choice, to be or not to be a person of the heart. We are free to make that choice. When we have gone through isolation, will we come out to live in the spirit of the heart, or will we return to the old ways that have not worked and will never work? The prophecy of the new life is about humanity building a new life that honours all life as sacred.
The hope we need rests in our hands. The answers we seek are found within, not outside of us. Nature is encouraging us to go within to find our identity, an identity that has specific purpose and meaning. As we move forward, we must be prepared to rebuild our world, laying down the foundation that honours and respects the Earth.
The spirit does not look at the colour of our skin, but rather looks at what we have in our hearts. This decides for each of us what is the richness of our lives – it is not material, but spiritual. We are spiritual beings living a human life. We have all come here to honour the vision of the Great Spirit called Creation. We have a universal purpose to bring peace and love into this world.
The destiny of the Indigenous People is to reach a time of offering a leadership. That time has arrived. Our leadership as a People is about inspiring and reminding the human family of our original instructions. Original thought lives in and comes from Nature. Nature is the greatest teacher.
Nature is only reminding us to follow her laws.
Elder Dr. David Courchene is from the Anishinaabe Nation, Eagle Clan. He is the founder of the Turtle Lodge. See more.