It came full circle, past, present, future. Remember where you come from. And use those teachings for our future generations.Lisez l’histoire de Mike Etherington
Wachay. My name is Mike Etherington and I am originally from Moose Factory located in James Bay, ON. I am Omushkego descent and have carried on the ways of my families teachings both personally & professionally. I shared a story that highlighted a pivotal moment in my life that helped create my understanding of what it means to be Aboriginal. It is about my time in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut and a late elder by the name of Mariano Aupiardjuk. Here is a quick bio of the wonderful Elder I had the chance to meet:
In 1923 Mariano was born in this desolate wilderness of brutally cold winters and short, cool, summers. Survival meant harvesting the animals that also eked out an existence. Seal, caribou and musk oxen provided the necessities of food, clothing, fuel and materials for making tools.
In 1942 Mariano and Marie Tulimaaq were wed in a pre-arranged marriage in Repulse Bay. Mariano continued to hunt sea mammals but also trapped fox, to barter for other items at the Hudson Bay Company. Like many Inuit, Mariano experienced periods of deprivation but no one of his camp perished.
In 1981 Mariano and his family moved to Rankin Inlet. As the modern world engulfed the ancient Inuit culture, Mariano was advised to leave his traditional lifestyle behind. His vision was different, however. If the Inuit were to survive as a culture he felt they must keep the ties to the old ways alive. In pursuit of this goal, Mariano spends time traveling Canada, teaching traditional knowledge to young people. Believing current and future generations should know how to survive on the land, Mariano Aupilardjuk helps keep tradition alive.
This story is about a late Elder by the name of Mariano Aupilardjuk. I had the honour to have been invited to his home and hear about the ways of his people the Inuk and a teaching he wished for me to carry on in my journey. He lived in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut and I had in my calendar to visit him again this past year but unfortunately he recently passed away to continue his journey to spirit world.
It was sometime in spring, and I was sitting alone at home wondering how I am going to bide my time in this small community of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. It is located on the shores of Hudson Bay much further north than my home community of Moose Factory in James Bay. My parents spent numerous years here working within the community and I decided that I wish to spend some time and visit them. One day I was invited by this well respected Inuk Elder to his home to spend a few hours with him and enjoy a cup of tea together. Unfortunately he did not speak English and I could not speak Inuktitut, so we had to be clever and have a translator present during our time together.
He was small in stature and had a very warm presence about him and I could see in his eyes a lifetimes worth of knowledge that he held within that he wished to share a bit of with me. As I arrived to his place, he kindly opened the door to show me in and had some tea ready then showed me towards the table where we both sat. Before any dialogue began he presented forward to me three granite rocks, all three of which were in different shapes. I felt as though our time together had a purpose so I began to examine these rocks the first one was round, black and very circular with a strong foundation. The second rock was jagged, beat up, and small, with a small stick to support it, had little foundation. The third rock was round, not as round as the first, but had a foundation that could support itself.
He said ‘take your time’. As I examined and thought about it I said to him ‘is it indigenous knowledge?’. As the translator relayed the messaged to him he smiled with excitement and said ‘yes, that’s exactly it, I have asked hundreds of people to interpret these rocks and you’re the second to see it as such’. With that began our conversation. He went back to the first rock and held it in his hand and said ‘this is Indigenous knowledge, this was our way for many generations, it has a strong foundation you see, it was holistic in nature, and worked for our people. I was raised this way, on the land.’
His demeanor slightly changed as he picked up the second rock, as he explained ‘this is where our youth are today. There clashing between two worlds. One of the traditional way and one of the modern way. It is jagged because it is abused, it is weathered, it is confused, and that stick shows that this has little to no foundation, it needs support. Our youth are unsure which path to take so they began to be misguided and take on things that are not healthy for them.”
Finally he picked up the third rock and said “this I believe is our future. It is the balance of these two worlds. As much as I would like to return to our traditional ways it is not practical as it is hard to survive on the land these days with all the changes. But the modern way, we cannot let the youth forget who they are, their history and where they come from. So we have to adapt and find a way to bridge these two worlds together. That I believe is the way forward, the rock is not perfect, but it will work so I see that as our future”
As he laid the rocks down, he said that this is representative of our past, present, future. And he shared the story of the rocks that he found them one day along the shores and he thought they looked like they had a purpose to which he now uses as his teaching tool.
He said ‘You said Indigenous Knowledge and I said that was correct. But these three rocks also have many understandings and interpretations. They can be interpreted any way you see. It is about how we create balance within ourselves, within our surroundings. Everything has a positive/negative.’
He pushed the rocks aside and said I want to show you these. As he begin to lay down old artifacts of traditional Inuk tools which were made of bone, ivory, and sinew. Old hunting tools. He said these are tools that I used when I was a young man and my family has carried with us for many generations. He shared the stories of how to hunt seal, the patience it requires to be an excellent hunter. He saw in my eyes I got excited when I saw these tools because I too as an Omushkego (James Bay Cree) have grew up with the hunting traditions.
As he was explaining these tools to me, he referred back to the rocks and said ‘I want you to remember, it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, it might be years from now but someday, someday you will have three things of your own that will help you create an understanding for yourself. ‘ After he was done sharing the tools we continued our conversation on things such as: healing practises, medicines, justice, storytelling and with that came many questions. I was excited and caught up in the moment so I was asking Aupilardjuk all these questions, and as he heard he began to laugh and said “I understand you have many questions, it is not my place to answer these but you’ll learn these as you get older, and one day you will also understand: life is simple.”
With that we ended our meeting and I shook his hand, took a few pictures together and we parted ways. I never forgot that meeting since and it has been 6 years since I met him. I always that about this Elder and his words resonated with me very strongly since that day most importantly of which was: it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, it might be years from now but someday, someday you will have three things of your own that will help you create an understanding for yourself’
I am happy to say I have found those 3 items.
It took me 6 years for his words to come full circle. Those 3 items are a drum frame without hide, an Eagle feather with a ribbon, and a Tamarack Goose. And why these items?
I never forgot Aupilardjuk’s words, I think about him daily and have his picture of him and I together at my work space to remember our short time together. That meeting with him changed my life immensely and I will share the story of each item and how these are all connected.
Drum Frame without Hide
This drum frame has been in my family for many years and my parents were living in Waskaganish for sometime and they mentioned that they had this drum frame, at the time it had caribou hide on it, but one day they heard downstairs a loud bang, like a gunshot. So they went to check what it was, couldn’t find it, eventually they found that it was the drum hide that split. So they removed the hide but always kept that frame in their possession which they eventually gifted to me and had in my possession for quite some time. Now onto the second item.
Eagle Feather with Ribbon
I was recently at the Truth and Reconciliation commission attending as a youth with my cousin who gifted me with the Eagle Feather and Ribbon saying ‘you have kind words Mike, and I enjoy what you had to say this Eagle Feather has been with me on my walks and this ribbon is for our youth, I want you to carry it’. So I carried it in my possession. Onto the third item.
My family always made tamarack geese when we were younger, they were old hunting decoys but now they are viewed as art pieces. My mom had one at her place and I was talking to her about and she began explaining the story of the tamarack goose, saying you know this originated in Moose Factory our area, but it wasn’t until the 1960’s or 1970’s it became commercialized now people just view it as a piece of art instead of what it was intended for back then’ after she said that something clicked in me, and Aupilardjuk’s words came to me after she said those words.
I had all three of those items with me at my parents place when those words were spoken. It came clear. That drum frame without hide, represented the gap in our cultural/traditional practises as Omushkego in James Bay. Our history, our past, of what has happened with residential schools, treaties, fur trade etc. The second item eagle feather was our present, where are youth are today, that ribbon highlighting the issues and conflicts our youth are faced with and how they are struggling with their own identities. The eagle feather spoke of my spirit, it was fluffy, and in my kind nature to continue being that way. And finally the third item the tamarack goose. It represented our land, the animals, our traditional, our respect we have to the environment because our future is at stake, and we are not respecting mother earth.
It came full circle, past, present, future. Remember where you come from. And use those teachings for our future generations. This came to me after recently hearing the news of Aupilardjuk’s passing. I do plan on one day to returning to Rankin Inlet, to show my gratitude and gratefulness of the teachings that were passed down to me.
In closing I would like for those who read this story to accept and carry on what Aupilardjuk has shared with me as it was his life’s work to teach others, so with that I say ‘it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, it might be years from now but someday, someday you will have three things of your own that will help you create an understanding for yourself’. Meegwetch.