Posts Tagged ‘Wilfred Pelletier’

watersheds and linguistic patterns

March 6, 2008

Bob Lovelace

When you look at a map or a picture of the linguistic groups in North America before contact what you will see is that those linguistic groups conform to the geography itself.  The major linguistic groups were located in the major ecosystems of this continent and the diversity within these linguistic groups were set in watersheds.  People lived within these watersheds and they adapted.  They were people who were not materially oriented but rather a knowledge-based society.  The highest order of human beings have the ability to adapt to local environments (rather than being displaced and taking an ideology into their new environment to change it into something different.)

I place our ancestors in the category of highest human beings.  They were a knowledge-based society who knew how to adapt to local conditions, local ecosystems.  The amount of knowledge that they had within these cultures was much more than what we have as individuals today.  For example, think about what’s in your fridge in terms of plant material.  How many plant species are in that fridge?  You ‘d probably come up with about 25 if you have a fairly diverse diet.

Algonquins in the Ottawa Vally used about 250 plants in their annual diet.  And they needed to know the succession of these plants: when they would be available, where to harvest them, who they could be sharing that harvest with.  Often they would have to go into a neighbouring territory and share the resource with others,  the same way we do with our wild rice today. People from Alderville and Curve Lake come and help us harvest the rice so relationships are built around food-sharing as well.  And often those 250 plants are also used in different successions.  Milkweed’s a good example. I hope most of you have enjoyed milkweed at that stage just before it flowers, at that rosy red stage.  It tastes really good, even better than broccoli and then there’s the stage when the early pods are really good.


The old people in Europe in the Mediterranean used to talk about the cornucopia and I think that’s a really good explanation of what the knowledge system amongst indigenous people really is.  They understand what a cornucopia is.  And they also understand the pharmacopia of plant medicines.  That takes a tremendous amount of complexity;  intellectual,  spiritual,  emotional complexity,  to gather all of that knowledge and pass it on in oral tradition where it is encoded in stories and songs, dances and drama and even in jokes.   There are all sorts of way to encode that information so that it’s remembered from generation to generation.  And that really talks about a relationship with the land that requires the highest level of the human order.

So I asked myself how did we get here?  How did we get to this point?  In my academic studies,  I started looking at Europe and asking these questions.  What I found was that 1700, 1800 years ago in Europe,  people lived in an indigenous state.  For the most part,  they weren’t unlike the Algonquins,  they weren’t unlike the Cree.  They lived in an indigenous state and they were knowledge-based cultures.

At a time in the early part of what we know as the first millennia they became Romans.  They were colonized by people from the Mediterranean.  They lost their language.  They lost their spirituality.  They lost their ability to express their cultures in a meaningful way.  Their dances, their dramas, their stories were submerged within the control of another culture.

Then it began to make sense to me that we’ve lost the process of knowledge-based cultures.  The process of losing our understanding and attachment to the land has to do with the way which some cultures have dominated others.

So it’s quite apparent to me that we all suffer from colonialism,  that all of our cultures have been diminuished,  in large measure,  by colonialism.  The effects of that are that instead of the oppressed wanting to gain back what they have lost we’re taught as an oppressed people to look to those who would see themselves as our masters and to say the only way to freedom, to liberty,  is to acquire that they’re got.  And so the whole direction of our western cultures,  and I’m including aboriginal people as well because we’ve been largely westernized,  is to look to those who would put themselves up as our masters and say, “We want you’ve got.  That’s our way to freedom, that’s our way to liberty.”

In truth ,  it’s exactly the opposite.  We can’t construct sustainability.  We can’t turn our intellectual minds to create what sustainability is.  We can’t develop technologies that will bring us to a state of sustainability.  Certainly, we need to adapt technologies to help us with that but we have to understand that the process isn’t going and taking what the masters have.  It’s recognizing that the binary itself is flawed.  We have to go back to understanding that you cannot take the relationship with the land away and that the relationship the so-called masters have with the land is flawed.

We have to form those relationships with the land over again.  We have to listen to the story of the pipe.  We have to find our own stories that tell us about the values of living close to the land and allowing the land to shape us.  Because that’s what happened.  When you look at that map of those linguistic patterns you see the cultures because language is often the principal signpost or the principal vessel in which cultures exist.  When you look at that you’ll see that the world itself shaped those cultures,  that it’s a relationship and it has to be a relationship of utter dependency.  That’s the binary;  that we are totally dependent upon this world — but thank God we are, because that dependency is what sustains us.

This is a story that sums up these ideas. It’s a story told to me by Wilfred Pelletier author and elder at Carleton University for many years and a great storyteller from Manitoulin Island.  This is a story he learned from the Cree and it goes this way.

Sometimes when someone comes knocking at the door, there’s no no one at home and you don’t have the proper clothes to wear to answer the door. What you need to do if you find yourself in that position, that situation,  is you need to open the door, go outside and you need to breathe the air and draw it right down into your heart.  Then you need to bend over and scoop up some soil and put it in your heart.  Then you need to go to the water and you need to scoop some water up and you need to put it in your heart.  And you need to take a leaf off a tree and you need to put it in your heart.  And you need to open your eyes and look all around and put it in your heart.

Then when someone comes knocking on the door you will be home and have the best clothes to wear.

From a teaching  given on January 26, 2008

March 1, 2008 was Bob Lovelace’s 60th birthday.

Bob was in prison for his birthday but I’m sure he’s not feeling sorry for himself.  He’ll have a lot of birthday cards to read.  And he’s doing time thinking.  Bob can really think.  His wise words to all of us will resonate and keep us from being shrill and ineffective.