Thursday, October 31, 2013

Settler searching for the sacred fire

The Facebook call went out- “Solidarity with Elsipogtog ; we will light a sacred fire at 5 pm at the Forks:”

 I gathered my belongings into the plastic milk crate on my trusty one-speed 1960’s bike and headed over the lovely new bike bridge crossing the Red River to the Forks.

  I reached Oodena Circle- a gathering place for many, many centuries, the place of sacred fires at The Forks. No one was there. I watched the people coming down the paths, wondering which of them would be the first to gather. No one came until one indigenous man strode out of his car to peer into the circle. I asked if he was looking for the sacred fire. He replied, ‘yes, but there is a blockade at Portage and Main. There are cops all over the place.” Then I noticed the police helicopter circling above the area.

 Oodena Celebration Circle at the Forks (photo by )

Part of me thought I should get on my trusty one-speed and head home. The other part remembered my Christian Peacemaker Team training - I wanted to be present, to stand in solidarity with the M’ikmaq people, the Acadian people and the Anglophone people of New Brunswick. This morning they had experienced a violent crackdown on their right to protest. If this was to happen today in Winnipeg, I needed to be a witness. [My CPT colleagues who were in New Brunswick wrote this account of 17 October-here]

On my way to Portage Avenue  and Main Street I passed streams of cars and trucks diverted to roads not usually travelled. The traffic cop helped me to cross the street. I could not hear it but I imagined the grumbling and swearing inside the vehicles, the drivers forgetting that each vehicle burned a sacred substance - the bones and muscles of millions of animals buried deep within the earth and then pumped out to fuel our desire for oil. This was not the sacred fire I searched for.

 As I found the east end of Portage Avenue that was totally empty of cars or people I heard the drumming. I came up to the intersection where no human usually dares to walk and saw a round dance. Police had blocked off all four roads with their cars. A few bikes were laid on the boulevard. I wasn’t sure what to do with my trusty one-speed so I walked with it closer to the circle, my bike helmet on and my face red with exertion.

 I watched and listened. There was a woman sitting in the very center of Portage and Main celebrating an individual pipe ceremony. There was another tiny fire five steps away from her. I thought they were connected - one fueling the other. Later I heard that the fire was the remnants of a burning Canadian flag. This was what the media reports focused on. There was no recognition of why an indigenous person might want to do such an action and no acknowledgement of the deep meaning of the pipe.


As I stood I heard a drum beat come closer and closer to my right ear. I looked and saw one of the women drummers standing right next to me. We looked at each other and she stopped drumming for a minute, taking a beautiful new handbag off her shoulder. It was sewn in the four colours [representing the four colours of all peoples: red, white, black and yellow]. She handed it to me, we looked at each other for another few seconds and she moved on, picking up the beat again.

 I stood in silence again. I had ridden downtown to find a sacred fire. There were no flames rising from the heart of Winnipeg’s biggest intersection, and I hadn’t expected to find any there, but as I thought about it, I knew I had found the sacred fire. Within each of the people standing and drumming and dancing and singing, there were billions of cells. Within each cell were the mitochondria. And within the tiny mitochondria there was the burning of the fuel of food eaten to create energy- the energy for life process such as movement and growth and activism and solidarity.

 This settler of Irish and English ancestry found the sacred fire at Portage and Main in Winnipeg, Manitoba on 17 October, 2013.



Saturday, October 12, 2013

Jingle Dress Healing Dance at Portage Avenue and Main Street, Winnipeg

This morning I woke up early to prepare for a bus ride to the center of Winnipeg. The day was gloomy and I knew that the temperature had dropped during the night  with a bitter wind, creating the first cold autumn day But I wanted to get down to the intersection of Portage Ave and Main Street where a very special event was taking place.

Several months ago I had read an article (reference) about James Anaya, the United Nations Special rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He had first requested to visit Canada in February 2012 and then proceeded to make at least  two more requests. He wanted to come to investigate the human rights situation of Indigenous peoples. However, our government (whose permission he needed to visit Canada) ignored or blocked his request. It was not until this month, October 2013 that he finally was able to come. Today, 12 October, was the day he was coming to Winnipeg.

In celebration of his visit a Jingle Dress  Dance was planned to occur at the main intersection in Winnipeg's downtown. The Jingle Dress and the dances associated with it originated with the Ojibway nation and traditionally have been given  a healing power. " A sacred obligation is carried by women who wear this dress as Jingle dress dancers are often called upon to dance for a sick or injured community member or to help families who are grieving."(reference). 

Thus today was a day to remember the almost 600 indigenous women from Canada who are murdered or missing and the people who are grieving for them. This is a topic that James Anaya will be investigating as recently the  Conservative majority federal government refused  to hold a national inquiry into the documented murders or disappearances.

I was quite early for the dance and when i got to the intersection nobody was there. So I walked down to Tim Horton's for a coffee and a pumpkin donut. As came back I watched people begin to gather. Many had a coffee cup in hand and greeted each other.
As the women wearing jingle dresses gathered you could hear the tinkle of the metal cones that are sewn to the dresses.
A call went out for all women wearing jingle dresses to line up to enter the big intersection as soon as
James Anaya appeared.
Two young dancers hugged each other to try to keep warm in the bitter wind.
The drum went out first, then the dancers followed.

Dancers from Treaty 3
A reporter holds a microphone down to the jingly metal cones to record the sound.
The dancers circled the intersection around the drums and singers