Each family lived on and protected its ancestral territories; they knew the names of the rivers, the mountains, and the age-old secrets whispered by the trees. We are all children of Mother Earth, whose hair represents the trees and whose veins represent the rivers. We belong to her and we each have a definite place with her. She is both our mother and our home; she holds a place at the centre of our culture and her balance is the balance of us all. Travelling through the territory, we understand the meaning of things and learn to manage the important and essential moments. We are the dispossessed children of this maternal womb, chained to a small piece of the landscape that we once roamed in its entirety. From the Cree territory to the north, the Atikamekw territory to the east and the Ojibwe territory to the west, the Anicinabe Aki extended as far south as the St. Lawrence River. It was and will always be our home, our temple, our heritage.
There is no word for art in anicinabemowin. However, we know how to recognise and create beauty (Minwashin). In our age-old songs, in our inspired dances, in the colourful patterns that adorn our clothes. Whether for fun, to pass time, to decorate or to indicate landmarks, our ancestors carved, engraved, drew, embroidered, danced, sang and told stories. We have always been artists without knowing it, and we express our culture through our creations. Our art is the witness of our existence, our knowledge and our know-how. If the transmission of this knowledge and know-how has always been essential, it is because it represents a way of life specific to our Nation.
History is the little sister of language. It is history that, for 8,000 years, has described our way of life, related the arrival of the Europeans, the fur trade, the war with the Iroquois and the British, then the forced sedentarization, the residential schools, and the loss... The painful loss of children, family, dignity, language, culture, and even the loss of ourselves. There is this terrible history which makes us wounded humans but also resilient ones. Then there is also this other history, the one that has built the imagination of our culture, in our own language, in this way of thinking that is specific to the anicinabemowin. It is the history of the creation of Mother Earth, that of the first Anicinabek, the one that, because it knows how to designate things, makes them exist at the same time. It is history that explains, beyond reality, the relationship between everything, the influence of spiritual beings, the magic of the fairy stones and the healing power of the land.
Language is at the centre of the head, at the centre of the human being, at the centre of the community. It modulates our way of thinking about life and seeing what surrounds us in a common way, shared for ages. It is articulated and thought out in movement, just as movement emphasises the meaning of our actions and words. It has been developed and learned in movement, on the land, between two paddle strokes, during portages and other journeys. Language is what makes it possible for us to have nothing bigger and nothing smaller in our heads, but everything completes each other to form a harmonious whole. It is what has made it possible to transmit our history and culture, first from ear to ear, then through writing. Sometimes imposed, sometimes silenced and banished, it has been weakened, punished, colonised, invaded by the words of another language, soiled by the mouths of another culture. Today, we must take care of it, clean it with tenderness and feed it. It carries the hope, the values and the autonomy of the nation.
What we have left from our ancestors, every little thing they left behind or gave to us, is a testimony to our thousand-year-old culture. Our heritage teaches us about the ways of ancestors, reveals their imagination, their creativity and their ingenuity in coping with difficulties. These are their stories, our stories. The objects they made with their hands and the names they gave to the landscape are our heritage. Although the concept of heritage does not exist in the Anicinabe culture, we must protect this heritage, as it is the memory of our culture and history that we wish to pass on to future generations.
We are connected to a spiritual world, the world of spirits and the spirits themselves. From time to time, we need to concentrate and feel this connection in order to go beyond what our five senses tell us. We need to get away from these bodily senses, anchored in reality, in order to find ourselves and the reason for our existence on the land. There are moments when it is necessary to stop and simply try to understand. It is important to reconnect with that world, which is not tangible, but always close to us, within ourselves. And we must open ourselves to the world, through ancestral rituals and ceremonies, to feel and understand it and to access the knowledge that comes from the manifestations around us, from the words of an Elder to the presence of an eagle. First, we must be able to recognise and then read the signs.