By Kelly Anne Smith
NORTH BAY—To start the cultural training session open to the public, Nipissing First Nation Chief thanked everyone for coming out on the brisk winter night. Chief Scott McLeod said that in Anishinaabemowin, “Truth means speaking from the heart. And that`s what George Couchie will do tonight.”
George Couchie is a retired Ontario Provincial Police officer who has been a cultural trainer with various police forces. He continues his work with Indigenous Youth. He is also Nipissing First Nation Anishinaabe from the Red-Tail Hawk Clan.
Meeting with North Bay Mayor Al McDonald, Couchie was encouraged to offer teachings to an audience of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people as a Truth and Reconciliation effort. McDonald wanted to learn more about Indigenous culture to pass on to his own grandchildren. The first, in the series of four taking place in February, was on culture at Mother St. Bride School on February 1.
In the middle of a large circle of three rows of people seated was a huge rectangle of blankets filled with items for the evening with drums from the women of the community. Women are the givers of life while the drums represent the heart beat.
Couchie told that we were seated in a circle for it is how we gather to hear the teachings.
“Anything with power comes in circles: the wind, the sun, water, and tornadoes,” he explained. “And we dance clockwise following the path of the sun.”
The earth is circular continued Couchie.
“The earth is our mother,” he added. “Never disrespect your mother. She gives you life. When we put down tobacco it is for our mother.”
Couchie said that Indigenous people are healing.
“When you lose your culture that void will be filled with something else,” stated Couchie.
Coming into the celebration of life is through the eastern door, the opening of the circle, he told the gathering.
“It’s about being happy, going into the eastern door way, about being good in life,” explained Couchie. “Then later as an Elder, it is now your turn to help others through their journey.”
A smudge was offered for all 140 people. Songs with audience members took place with Nancy Allaire encouraging everyone to sing along to her drumbeat. Zac Beaudette, Blair Beaucage, and Tory Fisher sang an honour song. Mindie Laviere-Martel and Melanie Beaucage in ribbon dresses sang a song celebrating Cree women.
They were asked why they sing facing each other.
“We are supporting each other,” responded Mindie.
The two women gave an offering of water and strawberries for ceremony.
The Truth and Reconciliation team, including Robbie Couchie, handed out pouches of tobacco to all the attendees as an offering of gratitude.
Couchie encouraged questions from the audience.
Local Matters owner Joanna Boldt asked about the meaning of the Indigenous colour wheel. George Couchie replied that there are at least 26 different meanings to the circular colour combination- the medicine wheel teachings. The four directions in each section help us learn on our journey.
In his book, Raised on an Eagle Feather, Couchie explains The Four Original Races – White, Yellow, Red, and Black.
“All were to be equal,” stated Couchie. “Today in our powwows we welcome all people from the four directions to dance and celebrate life. Each colour brings its own medicine into the circle of life.”
Boldt was moved by the night and will be back for all the sessions. She said the change in government in the United States has inspired her to be more involved.
“As far as I know, I have no Anishnaabe blood in me, but I sure resonate with the teachings,” noted Boldt.
During the two-hour interactive lecture, Couchie relayed the importance of the Seven Grandfather teachings. Couchie showed signs shaped like a footprint and explained the teaching printed on them: Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Wisdom, Truth and Humility.
Couchie held an Eagle feather up high telling the crowd that they are sacred within Indigenous culture.
“Getting one means you did something good and that you have integrity, strength and honesty,” explained Couchie. “I got one for working with youth. In court, I swear on the Eagle Feather.”
After the Kina maamwigdoo-wiikendaasmin cultural session came to an end, Nipissing First Nation Chief McLeod was beaming.
“I’m overwhelmed by the amount of people that showed up and wanted to participate in this,” expressed Chief McLeod. “Sometimes, especially with things going on in the world, you can feel hopeless. It might feel like the fight is an uphill battle, but seeing all this participation restores a lot of hope.”