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The Path to Biskaabiiyaang

Interview with Giibwanisi

by Interview with Giibwanisi

Entrance of ACTION (Anishinabek Confederacy to Invoke Our Nationhood) peace camp.
Entrance of ACTION (Anishinabek Confederacy to Invoke Our Nationhood) peace camp.

My English name is Richard, but my Spirit name is Giibwanisi. I am half Denesuline (my mother’s side) and half Anishinabe (father’s side).

Why is defending the land important to you?

Growing up, the land was something that I always took for granted. Like many Natives where I come from I grew up deeply colonized, robbed of my culture, language, and even my biological family. On weekend visits with my father he would take us for long walks in the bush where we would make fire and drink tea. My father was trying to instill in me what it means to be Anishinabek. Being Anishinabek is being equally a part of the ecosystem: not apart from it. We are intrinsically tied to the land: our food, our way of life, especially our ceremonies, require land and water.  

You used to be involved in the Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp, and you were the co-founder of ACTION (Anishinabek Confederacy to Invoke Our Nationhood). Can you tell us a bit about ACTION?

I think co-founder is actually a generous term. The whole idea of ACTION was really Johnny Hawks’ vision. I merely assisted in the vision. It materialized in physical form when we occupied the museum in Coldwater (April 13th, 2012), and later reclaimed a section of so-called Awenda Park (May 1st, 2012).

What was the camp’s purpose?

Our initial purpose was to set up an “information booth” directly on Highway 12 (leading from Orillia to Christian Island) to dissuade people from voting yes on the Coldwater Narrows Specific Land Claim Settlement. Later, we tried to start a movement where we could use the Pre-confederation Treaties (1764 Silver chain Covenant Belt, and the Two Row Wampum) to negotiate an option where we could “opt out” of the Indian Act.  We were also looking for our clan mothers, because they are fundamental in opting out and in re-establishing our Clan Governance.

How did your Band Council and Chief react to the reclamation project?

They were against us. The Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp was established to prevent the Coldwater Narrows Land Claim Settlement. Since the Chief and Council were advocates of the settlement, we were seen as a threat to the outcome of the vote.

What role does land defense play in biskaabiiyaang (decolonization)?

I think that land defense plays an integral role in biskaabiiyaang, but the answer is more complicated than just having bodies on the land.  

I had a very humbling experience when I met Wolverine in Secwepemc territory. He asked me if we had the spiritual blessing of our ancestors to be at the camp.  When I asked him to elaborate, he asked if I had fasted, Sundanced, or received a vision.  I said no. He asked me if I at least had the consent of the women of our Nation. I also responded no. Then he asked, “Well, who gave you permission to be there?”  I meekly said “No one I guess…”

“How many people you got over there at your camp?” he asked.

“Just the two of us most of the time.  Sometimes just me.”

“Maybe you need to get permission first?” he said.  He smiled and gave me a very in-depth history lesson of what happened at Gustafsen Lake, and why they took the specific actions they did.  I was humbled to my core, and I began to question my involvement with the camp.  

Can you explain the meaning of Oshkimaadziig and the significance of the 7th Fire Prophecy?

There are two ways that I can answer this question. One is the way I’ve answered it at dozens of speaking events and the other is one I’ve recently discovered through a vision I’ve had, and through the visions of Elders. This second way requires tobacco and sacred fire, so I’ll save that version for another time.

According to the prophecy, the 7th Fire emerges after the disastrous 6th Fire, where “Grandsons and Granddaughters turn against their Elders,” and “the cup of life almost becomes a cup a grief.” A New People called the Oshkimaadziig will emerge in the time of the 7th Fire. They begin the quest to decolonize by picking up the many things left on the trail by our ancestors. If the Oshkimaadziig are successful, the water drum of the Midewin Lodge will again sound its voice and there will be a rebirth of the Anishinabek Nation. The majority of Elders hold belief that we are in the 7th Fire, but there is a growing belief that we are only entering the 6th Fire.  

I would tell you what I believe, but like I said, I’ll have to save that part for the sacred fire.  

Do you think that settler allies have a role in Indigenous-led decolonization efforts and, if so, what is that role and where are the boundaries?

Settler allies can begin by fulfilling their commitments of the Two Row Wampum in the One Dish/One Spoon territory by breaking out their cheque books!  

All kidding aside this is a really important question, but also a very complicated one to answer at the same time. I think that those two words, “settler” and “ally” are some of the most bastardized words in the decolonization movement. Seems to me, any non-Native person can hold a flag, snap a selfie and tweet/Facebook on how they are a “settler ally” to Indigenous people. How does one define a settler? I think the term settler is a very whitewashed, diluted, and polite way of erasing racism, colonization and genocide with a single word. One can say, “My family settled here 4 generations ago…” or so forth, without going into the colonial history of how that privilege was afforded. Or then there are the newly landed immigrants, who may/or may not be fleeing colonial genocide in their own countries, who come and join the colonial project here, furthering our own colonization. Are they settlers too?  

I spent some time in Six Nations territory, and I was schooled on some of their history, like the Peacemaker Creation Story, the Hiawatha Belt, the Two Row Wampum, and the original intentions with the Dutch people in 1614. From what I understand about the Great Tree of Peace, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, any people or nation can be accepted into the confederacy, but they have to adhere to all of the laws of the Law of Peace. If not, their status can be revoked, and they can be removed. It is my understanding that this is what the original intentions were supposed to be with the Dutch in 1614. As a result, they were allowed to “settle” here. Do the offspring of those Dutch people (and later the French in 1701, and the British in 1764) uphold the values and philosophies of those original agreements? If not, then they do not get to use the term “settler.” I heard Reclaim Turtle Island refer to them as “invaders” or “occupiers.” I think that those terms fit more succinctly until said “occupiers” earn the right to the term “settler” (having agreed to adhere to the fundamental laws of territories in which they reside).

Is there a role and place for non-Natives? Of course there is. But those boundaries will be defined by the Indigenous people themselves.

Right now there are quite a few Indigenous reoccupation projects happening across Turtle Island as people stand up to defend their lands from destructive industrial projects. What lessons have you learned as a land defender that you would like to share with them?

Remember what Wolverine said. Get appropriate spiritual permission.

No drugs, no alcohol. The spirits will not come to aid those who are not spiritually balanced.

Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Check your ego. Ego includes patriarchy, misogyny, and chauvinism. Anything that has to do with “self” glorification.

Be prepared to make enemies, even with those whom you started your actions.

Never read your own press (Elder Vern taught me that).

If you’re involved in actions where you can be arrested, plan accordingly and memorize the contacts of lawyers and family members.

Document every action and involvement with the police and government agents. Use camcorders and audio equipment.

Know key points of the law, especially in regards to section 35 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Aboriginal Rights. Cops may not recognize your territorial authority, but they must follow the rule of law laid out in the Charter. They are also more inclined to do so when camera equipment and cell phones are on.

Do you have any messages for other Indigenous people, especially youth, which you would like to share?

I wasted a vast majority of my life running away from my problems. I turned to drugs and alcohol, because I didn’t have the tools to deal with my trauma. But I found hope in the Anishinabek way of life. Our ancestors made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could exist today. Cherish your life. Live your life in a good way so that you can become good medicine for your family and community.  

As one Elder put it, “One day the future generations will remember us as ancestors. How do you want to be remembered? Live like how you want to be remembered.”


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