Coming Home through Permaculture and Aboriginal Teachings

by Bonita Ford.  Creative Commons, Attribution, 2016.

Manitoulin sunset

Our relationships with Anishnabek people and teachings beckon us ever more deeply.

This journey weaves strong threads that connect and reconnect so much of my life leading up to this point. It's like dots being connected to dots, a vision coming into focus of what had already been there. It's like having half of a puzzle – the pieces I have reveal half of a picture – and then discovering that a friend has the other half of the puzzle. All the pieces fit together and this puzzle picture becomes more whole. Of course, one picture is only one picture, and is not the WHOLE of Life. It simply offers one perspective or one lens. And as far as lenses go, I do find this lens to be a very helpful one.

Seven Fires Prophecy

While we were on Manitoulin Island last autumn, I read about the teaching of the Seven Fires or the Seven Prophets from the Ojibway, Anishnabek people. It still brings tears to my eyes when I read: “[two prophets] told of the coming of the Light-skinned race.... If they come wearing the face of... brotherhood, then there will come a time of wonderful change for generations to come. They will bring new knowledge and articles that can be joined with the knowledge of this country. In this way two nations will join to make a mighty nation. This new nation will be joined by two more so that the four will form the mightiest nation of all.” (I believe this refers to people from all Four Colours and all Four Directions on Earth.) “Beware if [they] come wearing the face of... death. You shall know that the face they wear is the one of death if the rivers run with poison and fish become unfit to eat.”

Now we find ourselves at a time when “the Light-skinned Race will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light... an eternal fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood. If [they] make the wrong choice of roads, then the destruction which they brought with them in coming to this country will... cause much suffering and death to all the Earth's people.” (The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, by Edward Benton-Banai)

The Seven Fires Prophecy gives me a story, something that resonates in both my heart and mind, that helps to frame the work we are doing in the world. To me, it is about bringing together and uniting our collective knowledge, wisdom and Medicine (teachings) from around the world to create a healthier, more beautiful future. Our globalised-industrialised-consumerist culture and systems, or what we might call the “Taker” culture (a term from Daniel Quinn) or the “destructo-culture” (a term from Stella Strega Scoz), leaves a wake of ecological and social destruction in our path. If we fail to transform this diseased way of living – the majority of us are partly stuck in it and it affects us all – I believe that humanity will perish. And it is possible that we destroy much of life on Mother Earth along with ourselves.

So our work with our Anishnabek friends are just a few threads in this greater tapestry that we are trying to revision and reweave.

Sacred Manitoulin Island

Bridal Veil falls, salmon spawningOur trip to Manitoulin Island last year was like a small pilgrimage. It was like being called to the heart of the land, being welcomed back to a warm fire by friends and community. Our work with the Debajehmujig Storytellers began as a mutual exploration almost two years ago. Since then, our relationship and our understanding have taken root deeper in our hearts and minds.

At the start of our visit, Sébastien and I took three days to visit the island and relax. In 2014, it rained during most of our three days there, so we really wanted to come back and visit more of the island. From the top of the cliffs on the Cup and Saucer trail – looking out over woodlands, wetlands, small bodies of water inside the island, and the expanse of blue water and blue sky surrounding the island – was awe-inspiring. It was very clear to me why this island was and is a sacred place for the First Peoples.

We also got to see salmon swimming up-river and spawning. (I was shocked to learn that Atlantic salmon spawned in Ontario and were declared extirpated from Lake Ontario in 1896; it seems that restocking and restoration of spawning grounds are slowly helping to restore populations in the Great Lakes. A correction to my original post: salmon are anadromous, meaning that they spend their adult lives in saltwater and go back to freshwater to spawn.) It was amazing to watch these fish, to think of their individual lives and the lifecycles of generations that have been doing this since when? Considering all of these things makes my mind pause; it's like looking in the face of life's mysteries and the inherent intelligence that nature holds, and realising how little the mind understands.

When I think of the teaching of the Seven Fires, I am deeply touched. There are still healthy fish swimming in some rivers. I believe that more and more people are coming together across the world, and that this unification strengthens us all (my own life has been strongly connected to people from all Four Colours of the Medicine Wheel). I can think of our gathering on Manitoulin as a small gathering of people from Four Directions within Ontario.

Permaculture & Anishnabek Knowledge

Cup and Saucer trail, ManitoulinOn the island, about 65 people attended our public gathering, called “Permaculture and Aboriginal Knowledge – Aambe Ktigeda, Let's Get Planting!” I found it exciting and inspiring to help bring together friends and colleagues from Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto, Saint Catherines, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and beyond. There were people we respected greatly who had travelled over nine hours to be there. There were good friends and familiar faces from the island. There were new faces from the island and new faces that came from the cities. It is so beautiful to me when strangers become friends, and when friends become community.

Perhaps what was most special for me was watching Grandmother Francine (who lives near Ottawa) together with Grandmother Jeannette (who lives on the island). It was a privilege for me to hear them encourage each other to share the practices from their own communities (eg. prayers and songs), even when some things were different. I was very touched by their mutual respect, their generosity and grace. I aspire to this: to honour people with such generosity; to welcome a stranger as kin; to value our similarities; to hold our differences with mutual respect and acceptance.

In March, our friends from Debaj will be coming to our home (in this place we call Perth, which is also unceded Algonquin territory) and will connect with other Algonquin leaders and allies in our area. This will be on our way to “The Spirit of Sustainable Agriculture” conference at Harvard, where we will be co-presenting a workshop together.

In May, we are planning a Permaculture Design Course for Anishnabek participants with teachings from the Anishnabek community. I look forward to returning to Manitoulin Island; to gardening together, eating wild edibles, swimming and sitting by a sacred fire.

In so many ways, this work, this learning and this journey have been a “coming home” again and again. We are coming back home to community, coming back home to Mother Earth. May this journey continue to bless and enrich All of Life. May we each find our place, our own sacred relationship and the gifts we bring for All of Life. May we continue to strengthen these circles of community for our own good and for the well-being of All Life.

We dedicate this to All Our Relations. 


For more about the Seven Fires Prophecies:


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