I briefly met with Chief Theresa Spence at her teepee on Victoria Island this afternoon. What a patient and gentle lady. She patiently listened to a woman who tried to impress her with merciless boring stories about how she noticed poverty amongst Aboriginal people. Her self-indulging meaningless accounts came in the form of an ongoing barrage of underlying guilt. I felt embarrassed for her at that moment and noticed how everyone present in the teepee rolled their eyes indicating their awkwardness. One of the Chief’s helpers tried to get the woman to finish up by reminding her that the Chief might be tired, and there was still a big lineup of people waiting to speak to her.
With this scenario playing itself out just before my turn with the Chief, I suddenly questioned my own motive to see her. How presumptuous of me to think that she could need my insignificant emotional support? Yet, Chief Theresa sat there, frail after 27 days of fasting, patiently listening to every person who wanted to meet and speak with her. She is strong despite her humble appearance. This is the thing…it is so curious how everyone is welcome to sit with her, tell stories and laugh and cry with her. How wonderful to be so available to everyone.
Before I was allowed into the teepee, I had to explain my business and line up with others for my turn to go into the teepee when earlier visitors left. Each person in line got an opportunity to be smudged while we stood waiting in the frigid cold. The teepee I was told was nice and warm inside. People who were managing the routine and procedures were sincere and welcoming. They were thoughtful and methodical.
While in line I contemplated again my motive for coming. The beautiful view of Ottawa from the island had floods of memories moving through me. 15 years ago on this very island I encountered my first Aboriginal experience. It was a spiritual homecoming to me having just arrived in Canada from South Africa. It was the Aboriginal people who made me feel at home; made me have hope that peace was possible amongst all people despite their differences. It was the Aboriginal people who demonstrated with their open hearts the love that they so believe in. And now I stood there again, in a totally different moment, a political one where these same Aboriginal people struggled to be heard. They have to go to extremes to demonstrate their need to have discussions about meaningful issues to them. Why is that so?
Now that I am sitting next to the Chief, while this babbling woman is monopolizing the rhythm of visitors, I suddenly think how important it is to support her. My instinct was first to support her against this woman’s barrage and then the sense grew from there to something invisible, something more than what I could even know of. I felt my arm forming a comforting barrier around her spiritually and I knew that I did not have to have any particular reason or any words or story to tell or questions to ask her, but just to be there with my supporting presence. Words are sometimes redundant. But I also knew that I had to do what I felt in my heart to do today. The moment to do so was then and not any earlier or later. The time was exactly right.
So when the wordy woman left, I turned to the Chief and commented that she must be very tired by now. I gave her a braid of sweet-grass and a signed copy of my book. In the book I wrote to her that she should stay steadfast in her vision. I thanked her that she, with her people, the Aboriginal Culture, is the carriers of Love of our Mother Earth, whom most of us are neglecting today. I don’t understand politics but I do know this: the Aboriginal People are the carries of spiritual wisdom and our connection to our earth, which we are all neglecting. I thanked her for being the ‘light house’ and reminder to honor our earth and each other. She thanked me and looked interested in the book. We laughed about when she would even have a moment to read it. Then I left with admiration and gratitude for having an opportunity to once again have an Aboriginal experience on Victoria Island in the middle of the Ottawa River.
I still wonder and will wait for an answerer about the purpose and message to me from my psyche about why I had to encounter such a wordy woman there. Maybe it is just to accentuate the humbling fact that no matter who and what we are like, we are all welcome to be present and support each other in whatever way we are capable of.
(Thanks Sulyn Cedar for the photo.)
Love and Blessings,