Countless times we have sat at kitchen tables – the smell of coffee and smoke in the air, a can of carnation milk sitting on a plastic tablecloth, old country songs playing on a crackling radio – patiently waiting in comfortable silence as we waited for our old people to speak.
When they finally spoke, you had to listen intently to hear the words in the soft voices with thick bush Cree accents.
Stories about boat trips, hunting and berry picking; picnics, skidoo rides and birch bark harvesting; summer camps, dog sleds and stars; snaring, fires, and bears. If you were ready, you would hear the stories of connection.
In each of these stories were hidden meanings that only someone could understand if they took the time to truly listen. Some stories may not have a particular meaning, but it is your responsibility to find what it means to you. You may never remember the whole story – some parts lost between sips of coffee and hardy laughs – but the parts that you did, you were meant to carry. These are our teachings. Tucked away in every story of being on the land, with family and friends, with four-legged creatures and swimmers, flyers and crawlers, we learned about our humility in respect to Mother Earth; we learned about braving the elements with love for all she handed us; we learned about the wisdom of the plants, animals and waters; we learned about the honesty and vulnerability it takes in being true to ourselves as Indigenous peoples – and often forgotten peoples – of this land.
Teachings present themselves when the time is right because the spirit knows when we have the capacity to understand them. The old people would say, ‘Walk gently on this earth. Be kind to everyone you meet – every being. Carry your teachings with you.’ It is when you feel it deep within your heart, and it sits right in your understanding, that you know you now carry your teaching. You are always learning – kiskêyihtamowin.