Healing the water through healing us
For: Professor James Wilkes
By: Dawn McIlmoyle
Class: INDG 3631
One only has to look at a Globe of the Earth or a map of the planet to see that we are a world full of water. Mother Earth is covered in Water and it has been told that in the beginning before the Earth was even a habitable place it was all Water. There were many creatures living in the World of Water however no humans (D. Longboat, 2017). The Creation story holds many valuable lessons but one of the most valuable is that Mother Earth has provided for us everything that we have ever wanted or needed (D. Longboat, 2016). If I were to paraphrase Professor Dan Longboat (2017) for the three rules of Creation I would say they are to be good, kind and loving and respectful to all your relations; to be good, kind and respectful to all of Creation and let it be your teacher; and Be thankful for all things that keep life going in a cycle and sustain us. In an introduction to Indigenous Environmental Studies course I was taught that we are taking things for granted. Our physical bodies, our minds and our environment. Our health has a direct correlation to our environment (D. Longboat, 2016). If we are degrading ourselves and our environment then how are we showing honour to the Creator and all things yet to come. If we do not live responsibly than what will be left for our children, grandchildren and their children. The coming generations are what is most important, what will be left for them if we continue the path that society is walking. When considering Mother Earth and our Environment the most important thing we need to remember are the 5 R’s which are relationships, respect, responsibility, reciprocity and restoration (D. Longboat, 2016).
It is my humble opinion that our Mother the Earth is suffering because she is not being thanked and not many people are grateful for her sacrifices. So many people take from the Earth and they never give back. How exhausting it would be if people were constantly giving their time and energy but never receiving anything back. If people did their jobs but never got paid they would constantly complain and probably not go back to that work environment. What makes the Earth any different? Could you imagine someone digging your insides out and not caring, not even using anaesthetic. Our Water is becoming polluted at an alarming rate and most people are taking it for granted as if clean water is a given and will always be here. More and more people are turning to bottled water and paying money for a resource that has always been here and should be appreciated. Water has been turned into a commodity for enjoyment and pleasure. You only need to go to a lake on a weekend in the summer to see what Society has done to our beautiful waterways. Water is not being appreciated because people do not see what it is for. This paper will discuss the importance of water and how it can be used to heal people. Water deserves reciprocity. Water gives the Earth and Creation so much vitality and it is rarely appreciated. It is the writer’s opinion that more and more people are getting sick physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, because the Earth is sick. By returning to nature and giving the proper thanks for the wonderful gifts it gives us may be a turning point. Mother Earth is suffering. Her blood is polluted and her guts are being exorcized. This paper will attempt to show that by respecting the Water and learning about it we can use Water in a reciprocal relationship and by healing the Water we can heal ourselves. This paper will be restricted a Canadian Indigenous view of our Mother Earth and water. I will attempt to weave relevant literature which will lead to an ecopsychological viewpoint of how we can take Indigenous Knowledge of the Water and benefit all human beings that are in need of repair through such things as mental illness and PTSD. Our Mother is out of balance and society is out of balance so if we (Human Beings of the Earth) could restore balance and harmony to nature and make it feel important than perhaps we could save Mother Earth and all of humanity. This can only be done by through the intimate knowledge of Indigenous people and the lands they care for.
In 2010 a paper was commissioned by the Atlantic Centre of Excellence of Women’s Health and the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence by Kim Anderson where she interviewed eleven grandmother’s who were of First Nations, Metis and Inuit decent. This paper will be the basis of my literature review as I discuss the topics brought up by these traditional knowledge holders of this beautiful Country we call home. The body of this paper starts with a lovely quote from Grandmother Jan Longboat about how “Water is life.” The direct quote from her is:
“Water is what sustains us. Water is what brings us into the world, and water is
what keeps us in this physical world. And so, it’s our life. – Jan Longboat p.9”
Water comes in many forms and I think many people forget this. It is a well-known fact that our bodies are made of water and that we will die if we do not have access to clean water. I do not need to reference this as it is something that every person should know regardless of race, religion, gender, age or prestige. When a child is born into this world it enters the world with a rush of water before it. Its amniotic fluid yes but it is the water of life. According to J. Longboat in K. Anderson (2010) everything that our spirit in this world needs is contained in the water in the womb. Your feelings and thoughts right from conception are with you in the womb. Grandmother Pauline Shirt also adds that when you are in the womb with the water for the gestation period and you are taught and cared for by the person carrying you. Your mother. When you are born she states that the spirit of the water helps with the birth and the child flows out like a river. Water is life as it sustains the baby in the womb and helps with the delivery, it is also in the breast milk and colostrum as soon as a baby is fed upon birth. The biggest thing I noticed when reading these teachings was about how the baby was washed and cared for when coming into this world. I have had two children and watched many born and in the hospital, they did not really wash the baby down. The nurse grabbed a wet cloth and wiped enough to make the infant clean but that was it. It is the mother’s responsibility for that first bath and it is usually not easy without guidance. The Grandmothers discuss how important it was for ceremony and medicines with the birthing process and that because water is spirit it can be used for medicine (Anderson, 2010)
Women are the water keepers of our Mother the Earth, although this is mostly only acknowledged in Indigenous societies (McGregor, D, 2008). It is well known that the World has been fighting water issues and have made some big policies as I found discussed in White, Murphy, and Spence (2012}. What I have discovered in much of the research I did on Indigenous Women and Water in Canada is that they are very excluded. There have been many commissions done about safe drinking water in Canada and many studies done (White, Murphy, & Spence, 2012; McGregor, 2012; LaBoucane-Benson, Gibson, Benson, & Miller, 2012). It is alarming to me that when knowledge is sought about water in the Communities by the Canadian Government and legislating bodies they do not ask the women. The men are approached for their stories of the Water and what it means to them. Men do not have the same connection to water however it is just as important to them. Upon visiting our class in 2017 an Elder named Solomon Wawatie spoke of how the DNA of Indigenous people is in our rivers and lakes, ponds and streams. It is the very blood of our Mother and filled with the spirit of its original inhabitants. In one paper it is discussed how colonialism has resulted in leaving Indigenous peoples feeling powerless over their positions and futures. Because of colonialism and society becoming patriarchal women have lost their positions. The Indian Act and residential schools only added to these attitudes that women in Indigenous societies were not important (LaBoucane-Benson et al., 2012). This paper also includes teaching but from a male Indigenous perspective but includes the information about how we all need to come together and work as a community collectively with no distinction. It is even stated how children of the coming generations need to work with Western and Traditional Knowledge if we are to have hope for tomorrow (LaBoucane-Benson, 2012).
As a non-Indigenous settler to this territory I have realized how important water is to our environment and this literature review was eye-opening for me. Continuing in Anderson (2010) we find Grandmother Josephine Mandamin speaking of how Water is sentient and Water forms relationships. Grandmother Jean Aquash O’Chiese in Anderson (2010) points out the relationship between the water in our bodies and the water on our Mother the Earth and the interconnectedness. Life is dependant on all of these connections. They are what sustain us continually. Many of the Grandmother’s also pointed out that water is changeable. It can carry different energies and different spirits. Grandmother Pauline pointed out that all water is special just like people, it all has different purposes and different work to do. The Grandmother’s point out in this article that in the past people knew the purpose of the different waters and who was to enter them and who wasn’t. What was sacred and what wasn’t (Anderson, 2010). Water is now a commodity that most people have no clue where it originated from or what they are putting in their body. One of the Grandmother’s commented on how anything that is put into plastic is dead so essentially it is my belief that bottled water is doing nothing but killing human beings because we are drinking something that the spirit has been taken from.
Water is being taken from Indigenous communities and diverted so that Cities can have clean water. Indigenous people are being denied access to clean water at an alarming rate whereas people who have no clue what the water means are just abusing it. Shoal Lake First Nation Reserve #40 has not had clean water for over 20 years and it is only recently anyone is doing anything. A few documentaries have been done on this Reserve and how the city of Winnipeg has clean water but they do not. An interesting one to watch where Shoal Lake #40 is mentioned is Colonization Road done by Firsthand and CBC Canada. (http://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/m/episodes/colonization-road). White, Murphy, and Spence (2012) point out the paradox Canada has in what they even view as what safe drinking water is. Committees and policies are adapted throughout the Country for people without even asking the people. Indigenous people are often left out of decision processes because of colonialist practices. Environmental discrimination is a well-known fact to Indigenous people and has many references in this article however the main point is that the Canadian Government has created a dependency and is now limiting growth. They pour money into projects with little or no thought as to the process of such things or who should be involved (White, et. Al., 2012; McGregor, 2012; McGregor 2008).
Water as Medicine and for Healing
Anderson (2010) then goes on to discuss that Water can Heal and what it takes for the Water to be able to keep sustaining us. Grandmother Ellen White is quoted as saying:
“Water will agree to help you with anything you ask of it.”
-Ellen White p.21
Water is often used to cleanse us when we are dirty and in this way, it protects us from harmful bacteria and things that may make us sick. Water is often used in ceremonies for protection and cleansing of spirits. This paper references Grandmother Ellen White saying that people used to ask for protection from the water and then dunked themselves in it four times (Anderson, 2010 p. 22). While attending a Full Moon ceremony at Curve Lake First Nation a Grandmother told a teaching of how she had asked for an answer for menopause and the answer was in the water. I do not have permission to use the exact teaching so I will not go into detail about it. Suffice to say it was the first time I truly realized that water was for more than drinking and bathing. In an Indigenous Studies class I started to attend in the fall of 2017 we had a visiting Elder Grandmother Shirley Williams and she spoke of how the water was always important to her and when she was in mischief as a youth her Elders sent her to the water. She said she learned so much from the water and it had a profound impact on her life.
Water carries spirit; therefore, it is just as alive as you and I. Water can hear and if you listen water will talk to you. It is explained in Anderson (2010) that we can get negative energies entangled in our own and when we bathe, shower or go to the water we can ask it to wash away these energies. This reminded me of when I have heard people say they need to wash their sins away when they have had indiscretions. This must be done in a respectful manner though. You could not just get in the water and ask away for a million things. There is no respect in that. This is where Reciprocity comes in. If someone asks you to do something in a manner where it is an order and there is no thankfulness in it you would most likely not want to carry that out. You may do it grudgingly and then hold a resentment against that person because that is the way society is conditioned. The water will clean us, it will nourish us and it will be there for us whenever we want and it does this without asking for anything from us. However, one only needs to look at the condition of the water anywhere in the world and you can realize this isn’t free. The water is suffering and not many people who are not close to the land can see this. As a little girl I can remember seeing the pollution in the water and knowing it did not belong there. This was 40 years ago when we could still swim whenever we wanted to. The lakes and rivers were not polluted to the extent that they are now. I was never taught that water was important but I knew it was and I had a connection with it. I have conducted mini social experiments with women and water on my own and not in a scientific manner. I have asked women who know nothing about Indigenous culture or traditions to explain to me what water means to them. I have not had one woman yet tell me that water does not bring them peace and tranquility. Many women tell me that when they are sad they often go to the water and one of the most interesting things I have learned is that when some women are in pain they seek solace in the bath. It reminded me of a childhood commercial where the woman is in a bathtub with bubbles and soap saying “Calgon take me away.” These women have no clue that they have an inherent physical, emotional, mental and spiritual connection with the water. They see it as a convenience provided to them to cleanse them or relax in. I asked some of these women if they had ever thanked the water for joy it provided them and I got looked at like I had three heads. Suddenly I was an outsider in the conversation because I had suggested thanking a natural resource. Why would anyone do that? I often go back to the Biocultural Framework taught by Dan Longboat (2016) when I explain things to people about how everything that we do has an impact on us, the Earth and all of Creation. To change people’s behaviours and practices we need to change attitudes, which consists of changing values and beliefs. This all boils down to culture and how each and every culture applies to an ecosystem (D. Longboat, 2016). Our Earth is multi-cultural and each nation holds its own beliefs. Within Canada itself we have a broad range of nationalities and the First People here know this land intimately (Anderson, 2010; Anderson, Clow and Haworth-Brockman, 2011; McGregor, 2012; McGregor 2008). We should be listening to the people that know and care for the land the most. As normal human beings we advocate for the things that are most important to us. Our health care, our justice system, our education, our possessions. These are not the important things. And how often are we thankful for the things that are given to us quite freely. Most people do not get upset until the things that they use so freely are no longer there. In society I would not keep giving freely to someone who kept taking from me and did not say thank you. So why should our Mother the Earth be any different. Her frustration is building and she is getting so sick and people are complaining. Our waterways are polluted. Springs and ponds which once were homes to animals and plants are now polluted. The spring where my own non-Indigenous family first settled in Mount Pleasant, Ontario as one of the first settlers in the area is now undrinkable. When my son was born in 1994 this was my only source for clean water for him and I. I would drive there and fill the jugs to sustain my son and I but I never thought of thanking this precious resource. Now it is polluted. No one can drink from it. People took advantage of the resource and did not appreciate it. I often go to this place and I talk to it and try to make it feel important again. I take it gifts and on special occasions I go visit for the serenity it provides me. I may not be able to drink it anymore but I can make sure it knows it is still loved.
When these women I ask about thanking the water look at me strangely and I begin to educate them in a way that I feel I have no right to I ask the Creator to help me remember the teachings of my teacher Dan Longboat and the true honest teachings of all the people that I have heard and felt in my journeys. I tell these women that if we can appreciate the water the way we appreciate superficial things than the rewards are endless. Indigenous Women are leading the way through Ceremonies and Water Walks. They thank the water every day. The spirit of the water is with them in everything they do and every cell of their very being (Anderson, 2010; McGregor, 2008). I tell these women that it is so simple to thank something that gives us such nourishment and joy but it is not something that is high on their list of priorities. I cannot change their attitudes or years and years of conditioning that we ask for things without giving the proper recognition to what really deserves respect and honour but I can plant seeds. By my constant educating and asking them questions it causes them to think about the water and how important it really is in their lives. When my young girlfriend was leaving for an extended trip to Australia the advice I gave her was that when she was homesick and sad and felt like she had nothing to be thankful for to think of the water. She giggled and said I was sweet but almost every single picture she sent me from Australia had the water and her in it. Conn (1998) speaks of an ecopsychological perspective of health. She speaks of how in Cartesian Duality humans are separate from the non-human world and somehow think they are superior. Each person must identify with something separate from another. This causes disconnection in Society. Most people do not realize that their own illnesses are manifestations of their exterior energies (Conn, 1998). She describes the definition of a Native American word for insane/madness in the Okanagan language. This spoken word includes four syllables each with a definitive meaning. Briefly the first syllable represents the tendency to talk inside your head; the second syllable is speaking of being scattered and having no community; the third syllable is for having no relationship to the land; and the fourth and final syllable refers to a total disconnect from the Earth (Conn, 1998). Well if this is a definition of insanity and madness than it is my opinion and mine alone that a good majority of the world is insane or totally mad.
Conn (1998) goes on to reveal in her paper that in order for one to have good health one needs to feel connected and unique. That includes opening oneself up to the Universe and realizing there is more out there that just material reality. Last year I conducted research into using nature as a healing tool for PTSD and mentally ill Veterans and I have been watching Veterans groups and seeing more and more people turning to nature to heal. More and more of them want to run away and live off the land but they do not know why. Many wounded people have begun to look to Indigenous ways to heal as they know the land better than anyone and they know the Universe. I can remember being young and the only thing I knew about Indigenous people was that they knew everything was alive. I knew this as well but when I spoke of it I was quickly silenced. I never understood how someone could tell me that what I thought wasn’t right but the people that lived a few miles from me could believe that with all of their hearts and beings. I was ostracized and abused for holding different beliefs and then finally supressed them all. My connection with Mother Earth was suppressed and my healing did not begin until I was reconnected to her. My ecosystem is the Earth and the Water is her veins and lifeblood (Anderson, 2010; LaBoucane-Benson, et al. 2012). Water is often appreciated for its physical and chemical qualities and the fact that it can do amazing things like be a solid, liquid or gas but rarely is water ever acknowledged for its spiritual properties (Blackstock, 2001). Blackstock (2001) also points out that Western Science’s definition of an ecosystem includes the organism is separate from the environment. Each organism and environment is studied individually and broken down to its basic compounds. Everything is separate from each other. Water is not really mentioned as a separate part of the ecosystem it is grouped in with the physical environment. Indigenous people and women especially know that the water is alive and has a spiritual component to it that is too often forgotten. If you go back to mythology and look at the Gods and Goddesses they have connections to the water, it is even mentioned in Blackstock (2001) the ancient Greeks believe the Earth was once a water world formed from water.
Humanity needs to go back to basics and start appreciating the things that really matter before they are gone. The water is polluted, used as a commodity and for summer enjoyment. The animals and plants that depend on the water are getting sick from the pollution. Cottagers are complaining about things like manoomiin (wild rice) growing and blocking their prestige expensive waterfront. At a town hall meeting the cottagers were so frustrated they resulted to name calling and speaking about how they were entitled to be able to get their boats and jet skis in and out of their properties because their families had owned it for generations. One woman spoke of how her grandfather had owned that land on that lake for 80 years and there had never been an “invasive species” like manoomiin there to her recollection. My heart hurt and I was filled with pain for a plant that has just begun to resurge. The water is shallow and something has happened which has allowed for optimum conditions for Indigenous people to harvest manoomiin. This little hardy plant is coming back because it’s people need it. The water, the plants, the trees, the animals, they are all sick but still here for us because they know their original purpose. Professor Dan Longboat (2017) stated that if we are not thankful for things than they will disappear. I have a granddaughter and the day she was born my whole life changed. I was not worried about the world when I had sons but the minute she came into my life my awakening began. Our Mother the Earth provides us with everything we need and all she asks of us is to be thankful. How hard is that? How hard is it to appreciate the little things? We say thank you for things all the time without thinking twice because that is the way we were raised for the most part.
My task at hand is to bring the Bio Cultural Framework alive in everything I do and make sure that people realize that the Indigenous people of Canada and all over the world have the answers. Everyone has the answers if they can open themselves up enough to the Universe. Trauma rips people open spiritually leaving them with a wound in their soul that only our Mother the Earth can heal but she can only do that if she is healthy. I am going to take my stand with my Indigenous brothers and sisters and my wounded friends and I want to help ensure that our Mother is appreciated, respected, honoured and cherished ALWAYS by all people. I am a human being of the Earth. She is my mother. My father is the Sun, my grandmother is the Moon, and my grandfather is the Sky. I am neither a woman or a man, I am a free spirit and I live to please the Creator each day. I pray I can do him justice and honour him in all that I do each and every day on my journey to reconnect women back to the water and its importance. I have a granddaughter now. It is my duty. My Service to Creation. I hope this paper serves as an introduction into why water is important for health and how we can begin to use it to heal but only if we are thankful. Reciprocity in everything. Thank you for your time and again this is my interpretation and my words of the research I have done. My thoughts and I am only one person.
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