Good Day. We hope that everyone is well and safe. This week the Lodge and Life Long Learning were very fortunate to have a Zoom with Anishinaabe storyteller and artist, Bomgiizhik, Isaac Murdoch, who is fluent in Anishinaabemowin and a keeper of stories. He is one founder of the Onaman Collective. He and other Onaman Collective founder, Christi Belcourt, are Indigenous artists and environmentalists who love the land and believe in the spirits of the land. They believe in the resilience and beauty of our people. They believe in our Elders and our young people. With everything they do, the underlying theme is always respect for the land and reclamation of the ways of our ancestors (source: Onaman Collective website). Isaac grew up on the land. He learned from his Elders and knowledge-keepers. He is well-respected by many as a language-keeper and traditional knowledge-holder. Awhile back, Life Long Learning shared Isaac’s story on Anishinaabe pandemic prophecies which is available online through the Yellowhead Institute. He is also part of Project H.O.M.E (Helping our Mother Earth) which focuses on returning to Indigenous Knowledge in finding solutions toward a sustainable and respectful future for Mother Earth. Needless to say, Isaac’s knowledge and work is amazing.
Isaac discussed many things and shared many teachings. He talked about how Indigenous knowledge and science have existed since time immemorial referring to this science as “high science”. Our ancestors were scientists (without today’s technology) of the land, water, animals, skies, and weather whereas Western science, by comparison, is not very old. He shared the importance of the land, water, and animals discussing how unity among First Nations (Indigenous) peoples and our allies is the best answer to protecting Mother Earth. Colonial structure(s) prevents this unity as so many now work in silos.
He talked about the reality of CFS/CAS and its impact on First Nations (Indigenous) peoples. Isaac believes this system is still causing trauma today, much like the residential school system, as it involves kids being taken away from their homes, families, and communities. Many feel disconnected from who they are as First Nations (Indigenous) peoples. This trauma can be passed on from what we know as intergenerational effects. But he believes, that in being created as Anishinaabe, he has a purpose, as does each and every child, and we have the power to change.
Isaac spoke of our ancestors’ systems and how they lived since time immemorial. Our people lived – sustainably – for thousands of years. The Western world has not been able to replicate such a system that does the same, sustainably. And he believes that Indigenous knowledge and education is critical today as we witness the destruction of the environment and climate change.
He reflected on the current education system and the immense change(s) that need to take place. Isaac believes in more individualized education which focuses on the gifts of children and youth. He emphasized the importance of being brave when it comes to change in education.
Treaties were also part of his discussion. He shared songs that his Elders sang for him which told him the true history and intent of treaties. The written treaties don’t reflect the spirit, intent, and oral promises of treaty negotiation with our ancestors. Treaty is the gift that they promised to our ancestors such as the Medicine Chest and more. Treaty is that they, too, must comply with Natural Law as well as with their fiduciary duty.
Isaac believes that First Nations (Indigenous) peoples have responsibilities to each other and to the land. There are Natural Laws that don’t belong to us, we simply follow them, by exercising respect for the land, water, and animals. With the onset of colonization, a lot of this understanding has been lost and replaced with contemporary ideation such as Crown land, the Indian Act, and more. We must return to and revitalize this respect for Natural Law. We see the impact(s) of doing otherwise in the world today. Isaac doesn’t believe that any First Nations (Indigenous) peoples are “stuck”. In fact, Isaac believes the opposite because it is First Nations (Indigenous) peoples who still withhold them traditional knowledge about the land, water, and animals. He advocates that people return to the land and return to our ways on the land.
Isaac did. He, along with partners, organized themselves and returned to the land and built a village. They are still building. He shared that the young people there are learning the language from their Elders after only three years. “It can be done,” says Isaac, “but it takes courage and bravery”. He prayed and at the same refused to allow in any toxicity. He didn’t have the time for toxicity in what he was trying to build. There was too much work to do. If there were issues, discussions were had. No gossip was or is allowed, no toxicity. He was and is for the land, for the water, and for the animals. His view is responsibility-based. It is what has worked for him in his journey thus far. And we know that he’s done amazing work.
Miigwetch for the share and the teachings, Isaac. Renew and revitalize.
*All of the above knowledge and teachings are from Isaac Murdoch.