Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are we empty shells?

Céad míle fáilte (Scots-Irish) and dzien dobry (Polish). In the language of my heritage this means hello and welcome. My name is Josh Campbell and up to this point my blog has been for personal use. For the next few months I will be using it as a commentary for one of my journalism classes. My areas of interest within this class are the environment and aboriginal affairs.

I have written two stories for our school newspaper called Ink. One was about a recent election for a local tribal council and the other about Cenovus Energy, an oil company working in northern Alberta oil sands and was recently recruiting aboriginal students at the University of Regina. Rather than commenting more on these stories I wanted to talk about an aboriginal speaker that came to speak to one of my classes (small intimate class of 10).

His name is Rick Favel. But he refers to it as the name society has given him. His true name is Mista-Tim-Kaka-ki-wopatat Kapinokosit. He explained the meaning of his name, but all that I could recall was the horse who comes over the horizon and finds his way home.

Mista-Tim-Kaka-ki-wopatat Kapinokosit is a Cree man, invited to our class to share about the way of the Nēhilawē (those who speak our language). The Nēhilawē is the name that the people used to refer to themselves. Cree was the name they used for themselves when speaking the language of the European colonists.

Many things in Mista-Tim-Kaka-ki-wopatat Kapinokosit's talk struck me, but above all else was an observation he made about people in today's society:

"When I look around today I see a lot of people walking around like empty peanut shells." Many people have the appearance of having things together but on the inside are hollow and empty.

I talked with another classmate who felt the weight of that very observation.

Spirituality and connection to the Creator formed the bedrock of this man. And you could tell that it wasn't an act, but the experience of someone who was intimate with the spirit world.

In addition, Kapinokosit spoke repeatedly about the "learning institutes of my people." He said they were places where his people learn many important things that help them live fulfilling lives. These places aren't the traditional type classrooms , but rather places where experiential learning takes place in community.

"Our psychology classes take place in the sweat lodge."

Not sure if any of you ever had the opportunity to attend a sweat? Last year was my first opportunity. I was invited out by an elder at the U of R. What happened that evening would take up a whole future blog post which I may get to in the next couple weeks.

What I can say here is that things were expressed and burdens lifted that would have never taken place otherwise. What hit me the most was how open and transparent men were throughout the whole experience. In general, men have a hard time sharing things that may be holding them back from living more healthy and wholesome lives (another whole blog session). The sweat provided a place where in the darkness and steam, mean could open up to each other and receive healing.

I recalled this experience as Kapinokosit spoke and couldn't help but think how beneficial these type of educational institutes could be to all people. Think about how frustrating it can be to always learn in Western ways, sitting and being told stuff you need to know like a money into a bank. Experiential learning is kind of a chic word now, but Indigenous peoples have been practicing this type of pedagogy for millennia.

Kapinokosit made a point of how sweats are open to all people.

Perhaps it could be a step forward in racial reconciliation if Euro-Canadians could not only tolerate First Nations cultural practices, but also see how much they could learn and benefit from them as well?

I really think that it is this type of cultural sharing that will help put us Canadians on level ground rather.

What do you think?