The canoe that was hand-crafted by Mike Ormsby

The canoe that was hand-crafted by Mike Ormsby, a canoe-builder from Curve Lake, Ontario, who now resides in Toronto, Ontario.

By Sharla Peltier

The Great Lakes Nibi Gathering was held on the shore of Lake Huron at Ojibway Park, Kitigaan Ziibii (Garden River First Nation Territory) from July 14 to July 17, 2016.

Many Indigenous people and allies gathered with intent to care for Nibi (Water) and to bring forward calls to action. The gathering was spear-headed by the Onaman Collective, an Indigenous initiative to honour relationship with Aki (Land) and facilitate Anishinaabemowin re-surgence.

I was a participant at the Gathering and had a chance to speak with Mike Ormsby, who presented the voice of the Men’s Circle on Day 3 to the Council of Elders after the men’s day-long deliberations. Mike is an Anishinaabe artist and canoe-builder from Curve Lake, Ontario, who now resides in Toronto. He is a member of the Bear Clan and Mike’s Anishinaabe name is “W’ dae b’ wae” (Speaks Truth), which he received from the late Art Solomon.

Mike spoke about his experience in the Men’s Circle which gathered in a pine pole Lodge where Keepers-of-Anishinaabemowin gathered now and then over the course of the Gathering. Mike noted that the nearby women’s process of gathering with Nibi, their bundles and singing sacred songs reminded the men that, “we have to slow down sometimes”.

Every man was given opportunity to speak and be heard in the Men’s Circle and as they deliberated, the voices of the women singing in the Women’s Circle could be heard. This reminded the men of their important role as Fire-Keepers and so they built a fire and kept it burning during their deliberations. A talking stick was shared around the Circle and 29 notches were marked to represent the actions they would take to care for Nibi.

When Mike spoke on behalf of the Men’s Group to the Council of Elders the next morning, he shared the men’s regrets for not having stepped up for the women more in the past.  He voiced the men’s pledge: to support the women and to stand up and be stronger for them; help the water walkers and assume the men’s societal role as Fire-Keepers; help for people to get back to Aki; and, utilizing their gifts from Creator.

Mike responded to the opportunity by speaking his truth. Mike expressed gratitude for the ally who gave him a ride to the Gathering and had a truck so that he could respond to Bomgiizhig’s invitation to “bring a canoe.” Mike’s six-year-old hand-made birch bark canoe made the journey on the roof rack. A big part of me is still up there at the Gathering and I have good friends and good support from being there”. Mike spoke about the role of allies, “we need them as much as they need us. We can’t do this work for Nibi alone; it is too big of a job. It has taken us a long time to get where we are and it will be a long time to improve things”.

Mike said that The Great Lakes Nibi Gathering is important according to the 8th Fire Prophecy which guides us today in these times of change. “Either we continue as we are and destroy ourselves while the Earth goes on, or we go back to our original instructions”.

He was especially moved when the young girl, Autumn Peltier spoke about Nibi to the people in the Lodge. “When she brought forward the first Grandfather Teaching, Love, and wisely stated that we should love Nibi and ourselves, her message that ‘Love is the key’, really resonated with me. We have been told that it will be the children who remind us of the Teachings.”

Mike was impacted by his observations of families with children and from his experience helping a friend with his children at the Gathering. He shared his reflection that “it is the connection with the children that gives meaning to what we are doing to look after Nibi”.

Edward George, a 23 year-old young adult, canoed to the Gathering from Stoney Point First Nation. On the fourth day, Edward presented his vision for a Turtle Lodge – a Clan gathering place for deliberations important to all of us and Mike recounted his reaction.  “The way he drew it on the ground and asked us to commit to it… Boom! We are there! Then, during the feast celebration, as we danced around the Lodge, all of a sudden, “Water Dancer” (the birch bark canoe) was moving around the Circle with us.  The paddles were being carried too. That is when I knew she has her own journey and I decided to gift her to the Onaman Collective. When she is raffled off to raise money for a land-based Anishinaabemowin immersion camp, I hope I win so that I can donate her back again!”