Grassy Narrows: Listen to the Voices

by Sandra Rincón
translated by Duane Ediger

Since concluding a full-time presence in Kenora, Ontario on May 31, 2005, CPT continues to place small teams there for 8-10 week periods several times a year to support the ongoing work of the Anishinaabe Peace and Justice Coalition. In addition, CPT sends short-term delegations to Kenora and nearby Grassy Narrows.

"We are Anishnaabe. The Creator gave us this land to take care of, land sacred to us because it gives us life." These words of a First Nations Elder in Canada awakened in my heart the pulse and voice of my South American indigenous ancestors.

Fourteen men and two women, with ages totaling nearly a thousand years, shared about their lives and struggles with a CPT delegation in Grassy Narrows, Ontario, in March 2006. The wisdom transmitted by each Anishnaabe has borne their nation's life, culture and traditions for more than 13,000 years. It sent chills up and down my spine, especially as I remembered with sadness all the indigenous wisdom lost in my home country of Colombia.

"We were removed from our homes, taken far from our parents and grandparents, far away from our nation." I frequently hear the voices of Anishnaabe and other First Nations men and women in Canada who survived Residential Schools, where they "learned" religion, math and English. But they refused to forget their loved ones' faces or the smell of home-cooked food, and shed millions of tears hoping for a quick exit to freedom.

The schools attempted to impose on thousands of Anishnaabe a certain way of thinking and seeing the world. But the wisdom of their culture and history kept calling out from their hearts, saying, "you must be who you are: Anishnaabe."

The same call gives me a longing to know who I am as I listen to the voices of Anishnaabe women: beautiful, strong, powerful, sensitive, sweet, brilliant; mothers, wives, daughters, nieces, Anishnaabe. The spiritual strength given these women by the Creator has allowed them to persist in the long struggle for their nation.

That same struggle exists in Colombia, and it has been for me a source of energy, pride and hope. As a mestiza (of both indigenous and colonial ancestry), I want to listen to the voices, including my own, that defy all attempts to be silenced.

Though others turn away and deny First Nations voices, I listen to the questions they raise: How can humans think it possible to possess something we have not created (forests, gold, oil, fertile land...)? If all are brothers and sisters, why don't we see it that way? Why continue in the race to self-destruction? As my ears remain open to these voices, may my life give answer to such questions.