SASKATOON — After holding a daylong ceremony on the bank of the South Saskatchewan River May 24, Maria Campbell and guests shared an evening presentation at the Broadway Theatre entitled “Water Songs for a River City.”
“We have to go back to traditional ways, the ways of our old people,” noted Campbell. “They did things like the water ceremony that you were invited to today, and they told us we have to go back to those things because they are the gifts that will help us.”
Noting that she worked with many old people along the way, she introduced Don Kossick, a non-indigenous “elder for the day” who was one of six guests to share her keynote. Others included Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch, who conducted the water ceremony, as well as Winona Wheeler and Glenda Abbott, and knowledge-keeper Joseph Naytowhow, who closed the evening with his song “All One People.”
“I feel hopeful,” said Campbell. “To see the young people involved in the water ceremony this afternoon was really powerful and gives us hope that your kids and my kids are going to be OK.”
“Water is sacred, water is our life. There is nothing more essential to our life and future generations than water,” noted Belcourt. “It is time to start a revolution for the waters. If we don’t have water, we don’t have a future. It’s just that simple.”
Asserting that the water, air, and the future of our children and grandchildren are threatened by a new reality that includes rapid climate change, Belcourt noted how different things had become in only a generation.
“We thought that the lakes were clean and the resources were endless, and it’s just not the case,” Belcourt said, adding that the focus must shift away from greed and individualism. “The antidote to greed is to give. Individualism is a great mistake: we allow ourselves to believe that we have a right to things, rather than a responsibility.”
“In our teachings we’re taught that our bodies are like the earth, and what happens to the earth happens to us and what happens to us happens to the earth. I think it’s important to note that colonialism trashed our lands and trashed our lives,” said Wheeler, noting that when possession was taken by settlers, damage was done to the waters and lands. “Our bodies were damaged, our minds were damaged, our spirits were damaged, and as we were beaten down our lands and waters were being beaten down, too.”
“There’s long-term damage that we’re living with here, that we’re doing our best to fix. But we can’t do it by ourselves, and there’s a big hullabaloo about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Recommendations,” said Wheeler. “Reconciliation — what does that mean? That doesn’t mean you guys say ‘Sorry’ and we say ‘OK.’ That’s not reconciliation. The only way we are going to reach reconciliation is if the damage that has been done is fixed.”
Abbott greeted everyone and their ancestors when she began her talk. “They say when we gather like this, it’s not just us who are sitting here,” she said. “With us we bring all the ancestors who have supported us to bring us to this day, but also each and every person in this audience has their ancestors they have brought with them tonight.”
She explained that every gathering like this is important because everyone has brought their own special energy, under the theme of reconciliation in this case.
“There’s too many coincidences in my life not to have my ancestors guiding my path,” noted Abbott, before talking about the water runners who are reconnecting stories, communities, and fulfilling the Eagle and Condor prophecy. “The prophecy states that after 500 years of colonization, our people would come back together, and we would come back strong through our culture and our traditions.”
The water runners collected all the major waters of every river and lake in the western hemisphere that it crossed, explained Abbott, adding that the water has masculine and feminine energies, and is the life blood and definition of each territory as it absorbs and carries unique properties of each area. She explained that part of the ceremony was giving food and tobacco, petitioning the water for forgiveness, and acknowledging all that water gives us.
“I always say that the biggest injustice was not only to the Indigenous peoples, but to the Europeans who had lost their connections to their lands and their ceremonies. When nations come together and share their teachings and stories equally, that’s a blessing. Each of your ancestors is sitting in this room along with ours.”
Naytowhow shared songs and stories, including a fast he undertook in the mountains and how the rain drop he licked off a leaf was the most delicious water he’d ever tasted. “How precious water is,” he said. “Next year at the riverbank we’ll fill that beach up for the water ceremony — maybe have several hundred or a thousand people.”
Campbell closed by noting that while Saskatoon didn’t feel like her city, she has always worked hard to make it better.
“It’s not to make anyone feel guilty, angry or defensive, but we have to be able to talk about those things. My seventh generations have to have a place here just like yours do, and it’s up to us to make this place a good one, together, where they don’t have to be afraid of each other, and it’s up to us to make it better.”