A mutually caring relationship

An aboriginal perspective
Based on an intervie with Frances Sanderson

April 2004

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All of creation helps us to survive—the rocks, the plants, the animals, the birds, the water—everything is part of our safety net. The Creator gave us these things to look after us and so we see the Creator in all things. All are signs that the Creator is present.

Look at a sunset, or a rainbow, or a river, or a child learning to walk, or a bird learning to fly. All these things speak of God as loving, giving, creative, inspiring.

The Creator shows us how to look after each other, how to look after all living things. We are the caretakers. It is when people become greedy that we lose our land, our parks, our villages. We lose birds, trees, what we need for food, for beauty and for clean air. All these things are lost because people want more. Greed is why we lose races of people; why there are wars.

Problems also arise when people put themselves above the rest of creation. They forget, for instance, that the trees are there to help us, providing shade, oxygen, wood for shelter and fuel for heat. The trees are not there for us to ravage for financial profit.

There is an old aboriginal prophecy from our elders—the seventh generation prophecy—that says you are to worry about seven generations into the future because seven generations ago our ancestors worried about us.

It is our obligation to ensure that there will be clean air and water, plant and animal life, and a place of solitude, tranquility and peace for future generations.

In quieter, simpler times, all we had to worry about was that we planted our crops properly so that the next generation would have food and learn how to farm. Today, we have many more ecological concerns.

Aboriginal spirituality teaches that you look after what the Creator has given you and those things will look after you. It's a symbiotic relationship. You look after the land so that the land will produce for you. You look after the water so that you will have water to drink and water to feed the plants and animals. It is mutually caring.

As an aboriginal person, I celebrate my faith from the time I get up in the morning until the time I go to bed at night. In the mornings we offer the Creator our thanks for the new day and ask the Creator to watch over us. We also call on our Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon, as well as all our little sisters, the stars, to watch over us.

There are also ceremonies in which we speak to the trees, to the plants, to the water, and we tell them that we are aware of the roles that each of them has been given—the birds that come in the spring to tell us it is time to start planting, to start getting the ground ready. We talk to Mother Earth. She knows when to wake up and start the flowers growing again. They all know their job.

Human beings are the only ones who don't know their job. As a species, we take years to learn how to look after ourselves. Yet, a flower knows when to go to seed, when to bloom, when to go to sleep for the winter, without being told. Creation teaches us.

Aboriginal spirituality is an oral tradition and does not have sacred writings. In our culture we remember what has to be done, we remember how to live properly. We bring respect for everything that we have, that has been given to us. You would not accept a gift from someone and then throw it away. The trees are a gift, water is a gift, the birds are a gift.

People have to change their way of thinking, especially people in industry and government. No matter what our religion or our belief, we have to live our faith every day of our lives. Being spiritual is something you do, not because you have to do it. With good teaching, the spiritual journey changes from being an obligation to a passion.

Frances Sanderson is a Catholic and an Ojibway from Birch Island, near Manitoulin Island. She is Executive Director of Nishnawbe Homes, a non-profit Aboriginal housing provider in Toronto.

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