Niniwag Men's Gathering:(A retreat to discuss men's health)
Sadly, I have to dedicate this to the memory of Gary Dubeau, and Ken Fraser.
Also, some of the images are altered, or do not include people to whom, I was unable to get permission to share publicly.
It's been over a year ago now that I was invited to the Niniwag Men's Gathering. The Ninwag men's gathering was scheduled for a fall weekend at the summer camp Kitchikewana which is on Beausoleil Island. The camp is affectionately known as "Camp Kitchi". The group was made up of indigenous men from the community and they welcomed the metis community in the persons of Gary Dubeau, Ken Fraser and myself. I can truly say that we were honored to be part of the group and our presence, particularly Gary and Ken, who were honoured as elders.
In our first meeting it was told to us that we need to be more careful with our health as the number of Grandfathers in our communities is low. One of the things I took to heart is that the traditional beliefs had men being Grandfathers after 45. Grandfather rolls are that of teachers and guides on the lives of all young men in the community.
Nibwaakaawin—Wisdom: To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom. Wisdom is given by the Creator to be used for the good of the people. In the Anishinaabe language, this word expresses not only "wisdom," but also means "prudence," or "intelligence." In some communities, Gikendaasowin is used; in addition to "wisdom," this word can also mean "intelligence" or "knowledge."
Zaagi'idiwin—Love: To know peace is to know Love. Love must be unconditional. When people are weak they need love the most. In the Anishinaabe language, this word with the reciprocal theme /idi/ indicates that this form of love is mutual. In some communities, Gizhaawenidiwin is used, which in most context means "jealousy" but in this context is translated as either "love" or "zeal". Again, the reciprocal theme /idi/ indicates that this form of love is mutual.
Minaadendamowin—Respect: To honor all creation is to have Respect. All of creation should be treated with respect. You must give respect if you wish to be respected. Some communities instead use Ozhibwaadenindiwin or Manazoonidiwin.
Aakode'ewin—Bravery: Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. In the Anishinaabe language, this word literally means "state of having a fearless heart." To do what is right even when the consequences are unpleasant. Some communities instead use either Zoongadikiwin ("state of having a strong casing") or Zoongide'ewin ("state of having a strong heart").
Gwayakwaadiziwin—Honesty: Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave. Always be honest in word and action. Be honest first with yourself, and you will more easily be able to be honest with others. In the Anishinaabe language, this word can also mean "righteousness."
Dabaadendiziwin—Humility: Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation. In the Anishinaabe language, this word can also mean "compassion." You are equal to others, but you are not better. Some communities instead express this with Bekaadiziwin, which in addition to "humility" can also be translated as "calmness," "meekness," "gentility" or "patience."
Debwewin—Truth: Truth is to know all of these things. Speak the truth. Do not deceive yourself or others.
*The men's retreat was not just men, as they very intelligently added elder Vera and her helper Sheila, as it was understood that men's health is not accomplished without the presence of the female side as well.
The biggest thing that was discussed and learned was that we should return to the land. That returning to land and the traditional aspects of our culture will lower the stress on our people. I can attest that living even for three days in a simpler pace and time, connected to the land, was a great way to lower the stress level of modern society.
A few stories:
On the first night I wanted to explore, so I wandered down to Tonch Point. We only had a hour or so before supper, so it was on my mind when returning to the camp, when my path was blocked by a rattlesnake. Both sides of the path were blocked by heavy grass, so I did not have a way back. I was pretty sure that I was going to have to sit there, while the supper bell was being wrung, and perhaps into the night. Finally, I was saved by some of the other campers who had borrowed mountain bikes coming by. The snake seeing himself out-numbered, pushed into the bush. Not having seen a single rattlesnake in my life i was amazed to have seen 4 or 5 rattlesnakes while there. (In the colder weather prior to hibernation the coldblooded animal needs to gain heat from the sun, so can often be seen out.) Rattlesnakes were not the only wildlife we saw as there was a visit from bears, foxes and a painted turtle.
The ever present chipmunks and squirrels.
Each morning, without any prompting Gary would build a fire in the firepit. Once started and with some huddled around, Gary would go in and have a coffee. Being a kid's camp, the coffee maker was old and slow, so Gary allowed one of the mature women also at the camp to take her coffee first. This made for a forty minute vigil by Gary waiting for the next pot to brew. He never complained.
Ken would often tell of his roll at the mental health center easing the minds of those there who were in need of traditional healing.
The camp is on the location of the village where the origins of the Beausoleil first nation once resided. Just outside of the main building and in forested areas can be found the remnants of the foundation hearths of cabins used at that time. Later, settlers like the Corbiere's also had residences in and around Tonch Point. Not far off are pits where it is believed people dug for treasure believed to have been left by the Jesuits.
My ancestor, Louis Beausoleil, a metis original, lived somewhere on Beausoleil, I would like to believe in this area. I hope that my spirit made connections with his while here. You could feel the spirits.
In the area of the camp, archeologists have dug and found remnants of fishing camps from long ago. Camp Kitchi was established in 1919, ten years before the island was designated a National park in 1929. Beausoleil Island is on the border of where the Canadian Shield meets the Boreal forest.
I would like to thank the Georgian Bay Metis for making this trip possible for myself and my dearly departed friend Gary. When Gary had asked if I wanted to go, I jumped at the opportunity, on the morning I picked Gary up, he had asked me if I knew what to expect, neither one of us had really read up on what to expect, it just felt right.
Pipesmoke of the Past