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New Writing & Links

In the articles published below in magazines like Canadian Geographic and Vogue, you can follow the website link to learn more about the land, water and climate work of Norma Jacobs. We will also sometimes include excerpts from forthcoming book chapters and articles by N. Jacobs.

Two Row Education: Dreaming our Earth Medicines Gaehowako N. Jacobs & Timothy B. Leduc “Many on the ship have the same concern, and I have heard some talk about all the institutions and historic politics that are impacting their ways of living. How long is it going to take for them to unravel where they have come from and why their family is here now? It is a huge journey and task to unravel all that, but we have to say that it is possible if we are of a good mind and come to ǫ da gaho dḛ:s… We need to start now! -Gaehowako N. Jacobs (in Jacobs 2022, 42) “My education in the medicines around us is that of a novice, but I am starting to learn of the spiritual mystery that cannot be contained in the sterile indoors and dualistic gulfs of our colonial languages, schools, universities, and other institutions of the ship.” -Timothy B. Leduc (in Jacobs 2022, 258-9) ... Our circle teaching asks each of us to reconnect with the dreaming of Mother Earth as the source from which each relation of the land, forests, water and air brings forth their medicine into this life. The hope is that we can each find ways of bringing the dream of our Earth walk to life through confronting colonialism within ourselves, the ship systems we are struggling with, and in our diverse communities. In this chapter, we try to represent our circle teaching by beginning with an elder teaching by Gae Ho Hwako that she has shared in our Two Row workshops on who she is in relation to the diverse medicines gifted to us in this life. This is followed by a reflective response to that teaching by Timothy who offers a dream of what it means to decolonize and naturalize his relations on the Two Row river of life, and through that models one way of respectfully coming into relation with Indigenous teachings. Before closing with words from Gae Ho Hwako, we invite the reader to come into our circle by reflecting on these teachings in relation to colonial impacts and the medicine you are responsible for in this life. “It is a huge journey and task to unravel all that,” Gae Ho Hwako says, “but we have to say that it is possible if we are of a good mind and come to ǫ da gaho dḛ:s… We need to start now! ⸙ Gae Ho Hwako Norma Jacobs: We need to start by recognizing our gifts, how we arrived here. Our Indian names are our foundation. Gae Ho Hwako is my Ongwehowe name. It means ancestral females holding the canoe before me, and it positions me in an ancestral line of great women of the Wolf clan in the Cayuga Nation of the Great Haudenosaunee Confederacy. I am given the responsibilities in our canoe of empowering myself, family, community, Nation and Confederacy. Though we have our names, responsibility and stories, some of us are also tied into other entities or cultures that have impacted our true identity. All of this brings in a lot of history, brings in our past. We are always a part of our past, and we bring that into our present. There are so many medicines out in the world, and they are all working together. Every time I open the door to go outside, I see the creation and how wonderful it all is. To see the way it all changes each season, to see the colours coming alive in Spring, the trees beginning to blossom. Everything is in a process of change. Those changes are part of our beginnings. Our creation stories talk about that. They ask to reflect on ‘how we got here?’, and ‘where we come from?’. That is all part of our identity, our medicine. How has colonial history changed our thinking, disconnected us from some of our relations, and moved us away from our culture? The winds are changing right now and they are bringing many things. They have traveled across the country and gathered with them medicine that can cleanse our lands. They have a cycle that is never ending, and they are always encouraging life, embracing life. Through our acknowledgement, they tell us a story about our beginnings. They are medicine in how they come to greet us and embrace us in a way that only they can. That is their gift. When people come into our life, that is also medicine. They bring a medicine to us in the way they care for us, share some words of condolence or celebration. Our words always impact the minds of others through the messages we bring. Our words are really important, they are medicinal. How we speak to one another, how we have a conversation is important to reflect on and understand because we are bringing our gifts together. We can be medicine for each other, and in the same way there are medicines in our stories. That is what our stories are really about, bringing some form of learning that can help soothe or give us insight into what is happening in our life. By gathering our stories from the past and bringing them forward, we can look at them and face the issues in our lives. There are messages within our stories that can bring healing, consolation and reconciliation. On New Years day, I birthed life. I used my breath to blow life into the doughnut dolls I was baking. I remember the stories shared about the doughnut dolls, a story of connection, from my Great Aunties. I also remember elders like Jacob Thomas tell the story of relationship; how the doughnut dolls were about recognizing our in-law relations. I especially remember my Aunt Maggie. She always made stories so interesting and mystical, greeting us with smiles and laughter, making us welcomed to her home. She always wore an apron, and sometimes she smoked a pipe while taking a break from cooking or sitting in a rocking chair after dinner. So many things were shared. She always had doughnut dolls for us. When I was mixing up the dough, I remembered what she used to do. I included her in my dough by bringing forward some of these experiences. My Great Aunties were so knowledgeable, and when we gathered there was sharing about their activities like sewing outfits and darning socks. No one darns socks anymore. My mom would get a mason jar and put the sock on there and mend it. Sometimes she would be at it for the whole afternoon. In these processes they would be humming a song and smiling, so I put those into my dough as well. At special times, the men would be have singing practice and the women would get up and dance in the next room. They had such great steps as they reflected the movements of plants and animals, fancy stepping. I remember some of the old songs and can picture some of the movements. The creativity of the dancers makes me smile!! As I remember these times, they are included into my dough mixture. I love baking and cooking because it helps to lift my spirits up and reconnect with the ancestors, stories, songs and dances. I try to keep the story alive, and then maybe my grandchildren will feel the ancestors’ energy and be re-enlivened by the doughnut dolls. They will then remember that our minds are powerful, they can touch our spirit. It is mystical, but also helps me to understand the power of our mind and our spirit. We give thanks that we still have the ability to learn and share our stories with one another. Our stories do so much for us. We can learn from them, and they bring us together. They tell us to reflect on things in our life. They tell us how to connect with each other. We have a great power to connect with who we are and with creation. Our stories are here to support us, to help us move forward, to recognize our strength and our abilities. Our greatest gift, our greatest medicine is to be able to use our minds to create things that will bring us goodness, that will bring us peace. We all have creation stories, all of us, every Nation, every culture has a creation story. This journey that we are on together is really about finding who we are as people, and to do this we need to look at how history has impacted us in the many different ways, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. We are always trying to enhance our life and think more clearly about our journeys. To do this, I often return to reflect on our creation story of when sky woman came from the Sky World to bring this new life. She must have wondered where to go as there was just water at that time. But the birds had been sent before she fell to prepare this journey. They were there to support her as she entered this Earth walk. As the birds came up to guide her journey down, those animals from the water dove for that medicine of mud below the waters that would give us new life by placing it on the Turtle’s back. Right in that story, we learn about the medicine of the animals. They are connected, they are sacred because they have been in the water. Water does many things, purifying, cleansing, washing, clearing away. Water is medicine. When we have tears, they clean out our systems. The rain that comes to cleanse the Earth is also medicinal because it gets rid of all of the negativity and diseases that come during the Winter. We need to understand those cycles, and so we give thanks that they are coming again to help us. Water is very gentle and nurturing, but it also has a strength beyond its own measure. It can be turbulent in a storm. But water can also be turbulent because of things that we put into the water that limit its ability to regenerate. Colonialism has created so many damns and detours for the water. We can also reflect on those changes in terms of our own bodies. Where have we put the damns up in our systems that cause us illness. If we look at the land and where the damns are, we see how they collect things that do not allow for the natural flow of water energy to happen. We have many illnesses in our body because of these blockages. Things are not able to flow gently through our bodies. These blocks can come from our colonial traumas when we do not heal them. ... The Creator had such a vision to be able to see into the future and give all these medicines that we have for curing illnesses. In the hospitals today, Western medicine utilizes a lot of our medicines, but never give credit to Indigenous people. Our idea of medicine is not the same as that of Western doctors. It is not something that you can take as a prescription. Our medicines are gifts that come from our environment because each relation was assigned a responsibility to take care of us. When we landed in this place called Turtle Island, all these medicines grew and provided us with life, with entertainment like being able to watch the birds. Our idea of medicine is so different from Western culture because we are always building that relationship with creation and ourselves. We have an understanding that when we honour and respect our relations, then those gifts will come in into our life in a way that is very healing. We have to open our minds to receive those messages that are so important for our relationships, for our continuance on Mother Earth. These messages can come to us through dreams and visions. Knowledge of the medicines comes from people who are able to see, who we call seers. Our minds need to be open to receive, but if we are not connected spiritually then we miss out on this relationship which is so powerful. We miss out on an understanding of those processes that happen on a regular basis. Medicines are so needed in every aspect of our life, in our minds, in our hearts, in our bodies. Spiritually, we need to utilize them by interpreting their language into our minds so that we can understand the messages they bring to share with us. I was always told that our mind is the most powerful gift we have. I believe that; I know it to be true. All I have to do is think of the history of our people, the Haudenosaunee, and what they survived so we could be here today. Someone dreamt about us way back then. We are someone’s dream. Amazing! ⸙ Timothy B. Leduc: Most call me Tim, but when I write I go by the name given to me by my parents, Timothy. Over my time of teaching and writing with Gae Ho Hwako, I have come to reflect upon this practice in relation to the importance of Indigenous names as reminders of one’s gifts, the medicine our spirit is trying to embody in this Earth walk. The original meaning of the name Timothy is “He who honours God.” But as my canadien and French Catholic ancestors have long held strong to a God who is seen as wholly outside of creation, the Two Row’s river of life, I have been re-learning from my Indigenous teachers what it is to honour the great mystery through all our Earth relations. For three decades I have been on a decolonizing journey toward renewing a more grounded sense of who I am as Timothy, one “who honours the Creator (God) through his Mother Earth relations.” The dream of becoming this medicine as I co-teach with Gae Ho Hwako, “ancestral females holding the canoe before me,” is what I want to reflect on here. “We have to open our minds”, Gae Ho Hwako teaches, “to receive those messages that are so important for our relationships, for our continuance on Mother Earth. These messages can come to us through dreams.” There is medicine in our dreams. They can keep us connected to the journey we chose for this Earth walk. Sometimes dreams can startle us awake, particularly when the power of colonial and modern systems have put us into such a deep sleep where we have forgotten to honour the medicine around and within us. The journey that led me to co-teach the Two Row with Gae Ho Hwako in many ways began twenty-five years ago with a dream that unravelled who I thought I was and how I was relating to the canoe and Turtle Island. My education in colonialism began in the late-1990s with my first social work job in a northern fly-in Indigenous community where I was housed in a Roman Catholic mission that no longer had a priest. Near the end of my time in this mission, I had one of those vivid, disturbing, dreams that begin with the impression of awakening in your bed, but you are still asleep. As I lifted the sheets and left my room to go down into the basement, I heard from outside drums and songs of the Indigenous community in ceremony. Each step took me deeper into a darkness unlike any I had experienced before. Slowly, I entered a basement that in waking life was not as extensive as it was in this dream world where it reached under the adjoining church. Settling into these earthy depths, the drum from outside seemed to reverberate like a heartbeat as I felt a presence from beyond the visible handing me something. As my eyes adjusted, I realized it was a knife with a beautiful gem-adorned hilt that glowed with luminescent colours. The way it contrasted the dark absence remains etched in my memory, as does what came next. With the gift came the faint yet clear instructions that re-directed my blind awareness to an overbearing shadow beyond me: “you need to kill God.” Waking with a startle, all I felt at first and for years after this dream was the fear of my Catholic upbringing. Its focus on an external God authority and a distrust of lands that were in some way evil stoked an urge to turn my back on this dream. Over time, I learned that this fear was much older than myself, my family and my recent ancestors. I could read of it in the words of a Jesuit missionary to one of the first seventeenth century missions on Turtle Island: “I perceive in myself a great desire to die, that I may enjoy God; I turn with all my heart from all created things, which must be left behind at death; my heart is at rest in God alone” (cited in Greer, 2006, 8). All that is good is outside of Mother Earth; is to be found in the authority of a church and God distant from “all created things,” from the diverse medicines of all created relations. This Christian intention scars any Indigenous community that struggles with the legacy of a mission or residential school, even if its original form has been replaced by a now modern Canadian mission like the child welfare system. Every once in a while, we are offered a glimpse on how our actions partake in old cultural and familial patterns. My intimate place in this mission brought to the surface memories of summers at a nunnery cared for by my Papere, my mother’s father; and of his sister, my great aunt, who was a Sister in the Order of St. Joseph asking me to consider the priesthood. Later in life I uncovered familial connections to an 18th century Mother Valade who initiated the Grey Nun missions with the Red River Metis and a northern Inuit community I came to work with (Leduc 2010). Then there was my father’s side whose family I learned in the wake of working in the north had ancestral relations with some of the first Jesuit missions along the St. Lawrence River. How much of what I was doing in that social work mission was following, in a semi-conscious way, ancestral patterns and conflicts? Many times since then I have found myself reflecting on this in relation to the poignant words of Carl Jung: “A human life is nothing in itself… It is part of a family tree. We are continuously living the ancestral life, reaching back for centuries…; we are paying the debts of our forefathers” (1972, 320). In the decades since that dream, I have come to appreciate the medicine contained in its images. My descent from within the mission clearly positions my Two Row work in a different place on the river of life than the Indigenous community who, from outside that ship institution, is pushing back against the same mission. The work of Gae Ho Hwako is clearly rooted in her Six Nations community and Haudenosaunee culture, in the indigenizing drumbeat. Those spaces are not where my spirit chose to be born on this Earth walk, and thus the quality of the work I undertake in our co-teaching is different. ... Decolonization asks us to confront those institutional and cultural beliefs that have the goal of cutting us off from our medicine, from our dreams. Such a journey will inevitably evoke that fear I felt in descending the steps below the mission. Indeed, for me to publicly admit that all my academic writing, teaching and community work has emerged from this and related dreams could be a kind of professional suicide; at least if I still wanted to be of value to the ship systems in their colonial or modern form. Once we begin that cutting away, we then need to ask what medicines do we plant in the Earth of our living relations. It is in these sacred depths that I have come to feel the indigenizing drum-beat of Gae Ho Hwako and other Indigenous teachers. But those luminous gems on the knife guide me in a different direction than indigenizing as I search for early canadien, pre-Christian and other forgotten ancestral traditions of the ship, like those which inspired Jung and have the potential to be “naturalized” in good relations with the Indigenous medicines of these lands. As I say in our book after drawing upon the insights of Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013), “We are called to deconstruct, destabilize, and prune the ship, starting in the place where we work and live. But that is not all, for in the living spaces that open up, we need to begin naturalizing those viable seeds from our … ancestry that can take root here in the spirit… of diversity, indigeneity, and life on Mother Earth” (2002, 257-8). Just as with Gae Ho Hwako putting all her stories, love for Aunties and ancestors into the doughnut dolls she creates, I am trying to bring my dreams, stories, ancestors, and Mother Earth relations into our Two Row teaching. Our dreams can be guides to activating the unique medicine that we are, to become a seed in these depths amongst the diverse medicines of Mother Earth. I cannot help but return to the words of Gae Ho Hwako once more: “Looking at those flowers tells us about our community, how the different people in our life all have a different character. We all bring a different medicine, so it is important to open our minds to those relations that appear before us.” What a beautiful way of dreaming the Two Row forward. Nya weh, Gratitude, Merci/Mercy. ... ⸙ Gae Ho Hwako Norma Jacobs, Closing: We wake up and the sun is shining and we should remember to give that acknowledgement of thanks. This morning I woke up and gave thanks that I am still here. Perhaps in some small way I can today be of service to someone, or even to myself, to honour myself for having this day. What can I do to move outside of myself, to recognize my gifts and be of service to someone else, whether it be just a smile, a greeting, a wave, or just an acknowledgement of life’s gift in someone else. All of this gratitude is present in our Thanksgiving Address as we acknowledge the day in how the sun comes, the wind comes, the rain comes, the thunders come, all the medicines come. ...

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