Returning to the Roots: Pathways and Strategies for Resurgence in Indigenous Communities

Being born into a race or culture is not enough to sustain one’s heritage. This is especially crucial for Indigenous peoples who desire longevity for their culture and history. Leanne Simpson, an Indigenous writer and academic, paints a beautiful image of the choice mixed Indigenous peoples must make to avoid the destruction of self-identity. An elder had shown her Nishnaabeg teaching rocks that contained three paths: the one on the left represented the White way of life, the right represented the Nishnaabeg path, and the middle ended abruptly. The elder explained that it was the path of those who had “mixed blood,” and that those who walked it had little time to get on another path (Simpson 73). Resurgence is defined as an increase or revival after a period of little activity, popularity, or occurrence. There are several pathways or strategies, Simpson argues, that will aid in a resurgence for the Nishnaabeg and Indigenous people alike by restoring ancient teachings: the need to confront funding mentality; the need to confront linguistic genocide; the need to vision resurgence; using ancient treaty and diplomatic mechanisms to build solidarity with neighboring nations. To perpetuate that for future Indigenous generations, the people of the present must set aside divisions over mixed blood and status and instead focus on decolonization and restoration of values (Simpson 74).

The perfect system requires returning to the ancient Indigenous teachings that show the future generations the value of their heritage and way of life. However, Simpson cautions that the method by which the ancient knowledge is taught is equally important to what is be taught. According to Nishnaabeg Knowledge Keepers, “the process…use[d] for transferring that knowledge will either positively or negatively influence the outcome.” (74). It is not enough to show Indigenous children the way; they should be led by example and encouraged to appreciate and respect their cultural background. Instead of being shown their heritage behind an observation glass, the children should be actively a part of their language, have a strong connection to the land, and practice Bzindamowinan (listening) to be fully immersed in their culture (Simpson 74). This cannot be accomplished if the teachers, the adult Indigenous peoples who hold the most influence, are not doing those things considering the Knowledge systems. Settler systems usually misinterpret Indigenous teachings and the government education systems will not show children the Indigenous children the way, so it is fully the responsibility of Indigenous peoples to ensure their future generations are brought up correctly.

One strategy necessary for the resurgence is the removal of the funding mentality that plagues many Indigenous peoples. The need for funds to aid desired projects and programs often puts Indigenous peoples at the whims of both government and private organizations. These institutions are usually looking for their best interests over the Indigenous peoples’ and are unlikely to fund anything that supports decolonization. The answer is not to convince these organizations to fund said projects, but rather to utilize tested methods for decolonization. Simpson believes in growth without funding, such as grandparents teaching their children the ancient ways, and communities and families supporting the Knowledge Holders (77). The ways in which this knowledge is passed is also crucial, and Simpson suggests returning to the oral methods of teaching. It served Indigenous people well for many years and the fact that it is not written down does not make it less effective than Western ways of pedagogy. Excessive written record also destroys natural resources, argues Simpson, which are already in dire danger (77).

It is not enough to revert to one’s cultural ways of knowledge if the traditions are merely observed as opposed to being practiced and utilized daily. A culture’s language is a cornerstone of the heritage and should not be taken lightly. “Too often,” says Simpson, “I have academics, non-Native and Native, myself included, speak and write about the importance of language…only then to go on and speak or write entirely in English.” (78). English is incapable of fully expressing the Indigenous Knowledge systems because Indigenous languages were created to have a symbiont relationship with the culture of beliefs of Indigenous peoples. Many of the ancient laws and teachings are strictly in Indigenous languages, much like how the Torah remains in Hebrew to honor Judaic tradition and value. If Indigenous peoples across the world do not try to teach children their cultural language, “as many as 90 to 95% of the world’s spoken languages…may be facing extinction by the end of the present century.” (Simpson 79). The rebirth of native language could be greatly aided by allowing Knowledge Holders to play a crucial part in the education of Indigenous children, even if that means combatting traditional Western ways of academia. Strategies such as the Master Apprentice Language Learning Program are perfect embodiments of what it means to pair Knowledge Holders with students for optimal language learning without requiring the assistance of colonial government and education programs.

Nishnaabeg Knowledge Holders teach that the first step in change is a dream or vision (Simpson 81). Simpson illustrates the importance of vision by sharing a story of when she asked Indigenous students at the University of Victoria to come up with a better plan than the British Columbia Treaty Process. At first, the students were stuck on the flaws of the Treaty, unable to offer up a viable solution. When they began to formulate their own ideas, Simpson learned that brainstorming and dreaming “laid out a long-term strategy to move forward.” (82). The power of vision cannot be underestimated. However, vision is lost without action, and therefore it should always be a fluid and ongoing process. The Indigenous Knowledge Holders believe a powerful tool in inciting vision is to create a strong connection to the land (Simpson 82). Elaborate education systems and programs funded by the government are hardly necessary to create this connection. It can be accomplished virtually free by simply providing the time and space to allow students to formulate their own relationships with the nature around them (Simpson 82). The local elders, not curriculum, are instrumental in the success of this strategy.

These educational tactics are lost if Indigenous peoples cannot find a way to relate to neighboring nations to build solidarity. Reviewing old treaties and international relationships among Indigenous nations can provide “contemporary models for Indigenous solidarity in both urban and reserve settings.” (Simpson 83). Knowledge Holders and elders are helpful in this area because they understand the political traditions that made ancient treaties successful. Reverting to these ancient ways, however, requires a deep commitment to one’s heritage and traditions (Simpson 83). For the Nishnaabeg Nation, pre-colonization relations were based on values from the Seven Grandfather Teachings which were formularized through the concept of “Gdoo-naaganinaa, Our Dish.” (Simpson 83). The idea behind the concept was that all native peoples were eating out of the same dish, i.e. their territory and the resources that came with it. This was strongly driven by environmental awareness and concern, and the mutual respect for the land allowed multiple adjoined Indigenous nations to live in harmony. Each nation was expected to follow their own traditions and governance while respecting the lives of those around them, both human and non-human. Returning to this method would allow Indigenous peoples to better free themselves from the shackles of colonization while simultaneously returning to their traditions and culture.

The answer for resurgence lies not in support from external organizations; instead, it found in within Indigenous communities. Newer is not always better, and in the case of decolonization, Indigenous peoples will only be successful in creating a flourishing culture for generations to come if they revisit the ancient teachings that have withstood the trial of time. By utilizing local elders, Knowledge Holders, native languages, and nature a classroom, Indigenous culture will resurge without external funding and systems. Native cultures must not be afraid to break away from the Western traditions that were forced upon them during colonial times. The Indigenous way is radically different in how it relates to the land and being a part of this world, and the Knowledge Holders are the key to adequately dispersing this information to future generations (Simpson 85). It will only be successful, however, if Indigenous peoples are willing to risk the separation from the annihilating jaws of Western culture. Only then will the children choose the right path.

Works Cited

Simpson, Leanne. Lighting the Eighth Fire: The Liberation, Resurgence and Protection of

Indigenous Nations. Winnipeg: ARP., 2008. Print.


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