5 Indigenous Teachings for National Indigenous Peoples Day
Learn about Cree Author Shayla Raine and her latest book "The Way Creator Sees You"
Reconciliation and decolonization are big words. From my experience, they mean different things to different people. Some folks would like to see major changes to our country and culture, while others envision more modest changes but would like a fair system that gives everyone the opportunity to thrive and share their gifts with the community.
Personally, I enjoy interviewing the change-makers. I enjoy hearing from individuals who see a gap, a problem, or an area that could be improved upon and then dedicate themselves to finding the solution. Being the change you want to see sounds nice, but it is a lot of work and there is no guarantee your idea will be successful. To be that person, you have to be courageous, hardworking, and passionate. When you hit a bump, you have to find creative solutions. That is exactly what Shayla Raine did with her book The Way Creator Sees You.
Shayla wanted to create a book that aids in healing ties within Indigenous families and help children embrace their heritage and features. Shayla had a passion for writing and creating and chose to turn it into a source of inspiration for others. She put in a lot of work to bring this gift to her community. Not only did she write and help illustrate her book, but she also self-published it. The Way Creator Sees You has been covered by Indiginews, CBC, the Toronto Star, and was even featured in the Comeback Podcast which is hosted by two Indigenous sisters.
After reading this coverage, my partner Rebekah and I decided it was worth a trip up to the Okanagan to record our first travelling podcast. We packed our car with chairs, video cameras and microphones to sit down with Shayla to hear more about her journey. We chose to meet at the Okanagan Indian Band, and recorded right near the water and the pow wow arbour. In the podcast, you can hear birds chirping, and bugs flying in the background.
In our conversation, and those I've had with other amazing Indigenous leaders, got me thinking that there is a lot we can learn from Indigenous culture. I believe there are tools and insights that we can gain from First Nation customs that would, if applied, enrich people’s lives. If everyday Canadians adopted these traditions into their lives, we would strengthen our social fabric and all be a lot better off. I don’t believe the teachings are controversial or political in nature.
1. Treat Your Seniors/Elders with Respect and Listen to their Stories.
In Shayla’s book The Way Creator Sees You, one of the main characters is the child’s Kokom, which means grandmother. The character was inspired by Shayla’s grandmother. Kihew, a Plains Cree boy is taken on a journey by his Kokom to embrace his name and the origins of his hair. In Indigenous culture, Elders are a source of knowledge and wisdom. They pass on teachings to the young ones, and ensure they live a meaningful life. During the pandemic, we saw that seniors did not receive the care they deserved, particularly in Ontario. It is important that we listen to our Elders, and do our best to learn their story.
2. Ensure the Food You Consume is Healthy.
In our conversation, Shayla highlights the importance of reigniting Indigenous diets. It is one of the reasons she chose to take human kinetics at the University of British Columbia - Okanagan, and it is the focus of her upcoming documentary. I think people are starting to wake up to the fact that fast-food eating isn’t only bad for your physical health, but it is also bad for your mental health. There is a growing movement of people who don’t want antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. At the same time, there are people who don’t want to eat meat if it is stuffed into tiny containers. Shayla reminds us that if your food is unhealthy, it is likely unhealthy for you as well.
3. Take Care of and Stay In-Tune with Your Body.
I believe This is another topic that people are becoming aware of. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, saunas, floating, running, and breathing exercises are all examples of reconnecting with your mind and body. Many people feel like they are so busy and don’t have a second to breathe. This disconnect can become worse and manifest itself in various ways. Shayla highlights the importance of ceremonies for Indigenous people. Most ceremonies have you turn off your phones and be present.
In a Fraser Valley context, Elder Eddie Gardner hosts sweat lodges where individuals are able to release toxins out through the warm environment, but also connect with individuals through conversation and careful reflection. Nina Zetchus is the owner of Luna Float, where they provide saunas, float tanks and other great wellness services. In a float tank, individuals put down their phones and climb into a dark tank of water and float peacefully. This can be done with music, or you can be in absolute silence where you strictly focus on your breathing for up to 90 minutes. In my interview with Nina, she talks about the similarities between saunas and sweat lodges and the health benefits that you can experience.
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4. Learn About the Ecosystems Near You.
In my interview with Sonny McHalsie, he highlights some of the stories that have been passed on and what they mean. Carrielynn Victor explains why Indigenous place names are important. First, you have this pristine piece of wilderness, untouched by human tracks. Then, you have a path walked by brave adventurers exploring the great outdoors. Shortly after, you have a more legitimate path that everyday community members use. A few years later, it becomes a paved path with a parking area and picnic tables. From there, it becomes a community with townhouses, apartments and residents. Over time, it ceases to be what it once was - and place names play a role in reminding us in the hopes that we work hard to preserve the beauty for future generations.
No matter where you live, you can begin to take steps to connect with the environment around you. Learn about the names of the rivers, streams, mountains, hills and wildlife that exists in your backyard. If you can, take steps to protect it whether it is donating to a local organization or joining the local organization and volunteering. Be proud of where you are from and be involved in vibrancy of your community.
5. Remember You Have a Gift To Share.
We all have a gift to share. Imagine if Shayla Raine didn’t write her book, or chose not to publish her book? We all miss out. We as a community don’t benefit from her story, her abilities, or her knowledge. The same goes for you. If you don’t share your abilities then we as a society are worse off. That is why it is important to me to highlight individuals who are doing great work and making a positive difference - because they set the example!
You can listen to the full interview between Shayla Raine and I on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube and all other podcast platforms. You can grab her book, The Way Creator Sees You, on Amazon today. You can also follow her journey on Instagram or Facebook.