Cree Cultural Perspective on the Natural World – Mike Koostachin
Attawapiskat First Nation Member Mike Koostachin submitted the following statement to the Federal Regulators on January 21, 2004. It concerns the impact of a possible diamond mine in the James Bay lowlands.
We would like to thank you for providing us the opportunity to share a few beliefs from the principles of our traditions. As you know, we had few opportunities to do this when your ancestors arrived in our land. Just as we have few opportunities to explain how we feel about the development since it was proposed. We believe that all things, plants, animals, people, water, trees, air, rocks and mother earth, need to be considered for such projects, not just in the present, but also for seven generations. We are here after all, because of the foresight of our forefathers, and like them, we must be mindful of those who are yet unborn for seven generations to come. If we may, we would like to invite you to do the same. We know that it is difficult to think this far ahead. The rapid changes that are occurring in the world today have overtaken our Turtle Island and soon to be our community as well, and the first step in accomplishing the foresight that is needed, is to carefully consider the whole environment around us. When this is done with kindness and respect, then the spirit internal to all living things will reveal itself. The elders have instructed that the knowledge thus gained is the basis of planning for the future.
First and foremost of our concerns regarding this development is the impact on our river. Since ancient times we have regarded water as a precious element, and hold it as a sacred part of our ceremonies. The creator used this sacred element, along with that of air, the spirit of fire, and mother earth herself to create humanity. All living things are made up of water and depend on it to live. Indeed, not one of us can blink an eye, draw breath, or even speak without water. Every cell in our beings requires this element in order to function. Today, as in ages past, we still honor this life giving force in our daily ceremonies. The women of our nations are the ones who conduct the water portion or our ceremonies, since they share with water the power to bring forth life. It is the eldest and wisest women present, usually a grandmother who conducts the teaching and instructs the rest of the women about responsibility to care and protect the water as a powerful spiritual and medicinal entity. We know that our community, as well as the James Bay and the surrounding rivers are like the veins of mother earth. We are, therefore, deeply concern about the Victor Project proposed for the development. (Will these septic beds leach into those veins and pollute them?) We are also worried about the many substances that will be used by the proposed victor project. Will the chemicals begin to poison these veins of water that the mother earth has graciously supplied? If this project proceeds, we would like assurances that the river will continually monitored, so that problems will not go unnoticed.
Our final concern is the proposed shredding of the forest. This may increase the flow of pollutants as the soil and thus groundwater (muskeg) movement will change. It will also open this area to the introduction of new plants and animals, at the expense of those already here. Though this development proposes to spare many trees, it will sacrifice just as many. When we look out into this wooded area, we do not simply see a bunch of trees. For us, every tree is an individual entity. Some are male, and some are female, not in the botanical sense, but in the role that each tree plays. For every species and variety, some will grow more slender and stretch their branches upwards; these are males. Some will grow wider and stretch their branches outwards; these are female. They can be seen in families, with the young saplings of the mature mothers and fathers being shelter by the giant grandmother and grandfathers trees. As more than one species begin to grow together in the same forest, they start to form a community. These communities have steadfast in their tasks since the beginning of time. The trees hold a very special meaning and purpose to all living things. They have provided medicines for our sick and the materials to built our homes. They fed our fires so that we could cook our food and warm our shelters. They shade us from the sun, shelter the small animals, birds, and insects, and most importantly of all, purify the air that we breathe and the water we drink. We believe that such unwavering devotion is truth, the truth of kindness and love, the truth of strength and respect. As with all other creatures, trees willing provide our needs. In return they must be treated with kindness and respect due to any family and community. Will their kindness to us be forgotten? Will the respect they are due be ignored? Will the truth they represent to us be, quite literally, cut down?
We know that when your ancestors arrived, it would mean more people and that more people would mean a great use of the land. But, our ancestors also knew that survival required a respectful relationship with the land. They knew as well that it meant a respectful between our two peoples, and an understanding one another's ways of life. Have we been granted a second opportunity to work towards a shared responsibility in our relationships? The creator placed the plants on mother earth first, then the animals, and finally the humans. We need to reciprocate the kindness given to us by the water, by the animals, and by the trees. We are concerned that the rapid changes which will be brought about by this development and the addition of potentially toxic chemicals will alter the behavior of the plants, the trees, then the animals, and eventually us. In our language there is no word for “planning”, the closest expression we have is “Neegan kee naw paa ten pay keatch.” It translate as “Thinking Ahead Carefully.” If this is to be done, then both you and we must act on the wisdom learned from the past, share kindness in the present, and respect a common hope for the future.