For European descendents, prophecy is where religion, the environment and politics meet. But for First Nations and other aboriginal peoples, they are one and the same—a fusion of spirituality, environmental awareness and leadership, the starting point for healing the world.
Anishnaabe elder Dave Courchene, winner of this year’s National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Culture, Heritage & Spirituality (the February 24 awards gala will be broadcast on APTN on April 13), eschews apocalyptic prophecy per se. Rather, he says, the new age foretold by the elders is already upon us. As founder of Turtle Lodge, a learning institution designed to bring all human races together on our common path, he seeks to make this teaching available to the world.
Youth and a new consciousness will carry us into the future, he told Indian Country Today Media Network in a recent interview.
You summoned youth to a vision quest at Turtle lodge during the Winter Solstice last year. What role will young people play into the future?
[The elders] refer to this time as a time of rebirth, and they say that a new life has arrived. And it’s going to be very important to engage the young people to help support the laying of a vision to help take us beyond what has divided us and separated us as the human family.
And the elders carry this knowledge that we need in order to help us transcend beyond this violence that we live in today.
And we say the young people always bring a new type of strength and energy that can help support the vision of our people, the vision that has come through our ancestors as the first people of this land.
There are so many young people in urban centers who want to know who they are. So we’ve supported that initiative. The elders that have come to the gathering have endorsed it fully. I’m really overwhelmed that the young people came, the elders came to show their support.
Our people have always been guided through nature, through the forces of the universe. That’s why we’ve been able to survive as a people in spite of attempts to destroy the connection we have with the forces of nature itself. For me it’s an exciting time for our people, if they can come to recognize the opportunity that we’ve been given by our creator.
How are young people manifesting their interest and involvement?
All these young people just suddenly appeared out of nowhere [for the Winter Solstice gathering]. They want to watch the sacred fire, they want to sit by the drum.
All we need to do is hear what the young people are asking for, and the call to share this knowledge that some of us have been so blessed to receive from the elders.
What is the 8th fire?
Really a prophecy that is being fulfilled. The 8th fire talks of the birth of a new people. The “new people,” or the leaders of the rainbow. And they would come from all walks of life.
We of course would have our leaders emerging from our own people. [The prophets foretell that] the Indigenous People would be propelled into the forefront, to lead a movement of the turning back to the original understanding of our own creation.
There is a law that all Indigenous Peoples follow, and for us it’s Anishnaabe people, we call it the Ogitchi Tibakonigaywin, the great binding law of the Creator. The 8th prophecy [is] for all people to understand that we’re all linked to each other, we’re all linked to nature itself.
The tree inhales what we exhale. But when the tree exhales the air, we inhale the air. We need to breathe. It’s the great binding law that the Indigenous People understand so well. What binds us all and is really reflected by nature itself is the love of the creator, the spirit of love.
Without nature, without the land, we don’t live, we don’t survive. The prophecy of the 8th fire is really about the leaders that will arrive, that will come from all walks of life.
Witness the Occupy movement. That’s a reflection of the human being dissatisfied or not happy with what’s ruling the world. There should not be disparity between the rich and the poor. The great binding law is to share.
A few people have taken much more at the expense of the ones that have just as much right to share in the abundance of the land.
So the 8th fire is really the lighting of the fire as a reflection of what is sacred, what is the purpose of living this human life.
You have shared the stage with the Dalai Lama. Are there parallels to Buddhism in your outlook?
I don’t think there’s any doubt that there are parallels. In any truth you look at the uniqueness and distinctiveness of religion itself.
[There are] similarities in Christian teachings.
I’m sure for the great love of the creator he positioned people like that to help mankind to elevate itself to a greater understanding of life, and certainly other cultures, in Asia and Africa, you would have teachings that are parallel.
Indigenous people have [instruction] to remind us of how we should live and behave as human beings. We’re a very ancient people here. We’ve evolved with a spirituality that can bring all spiritual understandings together. Our teaching is not about conversion but rather about supporting the spirit of the human right to freedom.
We’re very much a people of ceremony that would remind us of within our own blood memory of where we come from. This is a very special time that we’re involved in that will allow us as the first people of this land, the great opportunity to share with the world where we come from.
And again the 8th fire, the Indigenous People—our relationship to this higher power of spirit that has given us this blessing of life.
The land is our reflection of this higher power spirit—it’s in our reach, it’s all around us.
Our time is here now. We have to speak the truth as it has been told to us. And people say, how do you know this? The answer’s very simple—the Creator told us. The Creator has spoken to us through our dreams, through the ceremonies.
That’s why we’re such an oral people, because we allow the spirit of the Creator to speak to us. The creator doesn’t speak to overrule other people, another culture. The Creator speaks on behalf of all. This is the wisdom and the knowledge of the elders and our people.
How will people know they’re the new people?
It’s when they’re able to hear the spirit in their heart. It’s when they hear the voice in their own spirit.
The challenge for us is to become an instrument ... to bring love and peace into this world. We will never have peace and love in this world until we are able to find it within ourselves. The old people constantly remind us of that.
To be ourselves we honor and respect our identity. We were given instructions like any other race of people—specific instructions on how to live and behave.
Is there a significance to the apocalyptic predictions for 2012?
I never hear the spirit give any specific date of the future other than, we should be living in a more natural way. There’s no doubt that what we’ve done as human beings, we’ve created such an imbalance.
When we talk about global warming, it’s a cause that we’ve created ourselves as human beings. And if we continue to live in arrogance that’s exactly what’s going to come back to us.
Nature is the enforcer. If we help support that imbalance we’d better be prepared for the consequences of that. In the belief system of our people we owe our existence to the land. We can’t continue to support practices that destroy life. That is not the truth.
Economic policies that continue to destroy the land…. We cannot continue to support those kinds of concepts because we destroy our own future.
So many predictions are out there about solar flares, the black hole–Earth–sun alignment. Does it signify an apocalypse?
[That happens] when you start to spend too much time in our minds … Within our own spirit the spirits will always guide us to what is natural, what is the truth.
We should be concerned with our survival. We have to make a shift. We’re all in it. We’re all in that same ship [Earth] now, trying to survive.
You know what I find so hopeful of course is the knowledge of the elders saying, Calm down and allow the spirit to guide us through this.
That’s why we’re in the lodge right now, because we defer ourselves to the help of the spirit ourselves. We invoke our ancestors. We invoke those who help create a light for us. And that light is really the knowledge that we need to take us out of this darkness that we live in now, darkness defined by violence…. We’re not living and walking the path of the heart.
Given the opportunity [I’d] like to speak about the beauty of who we are. And we continue to rely on the gift that we’ve been given. The drums [are] the heartbeat that has the power to wake all of us up and call us to order.