In the ambulance, I kept my hands wrapped around my medicine pouch and asked the Creator to keep me awake and not to give into the fear of being called homeward. One of the paramedics ran some tests and told me that I was having a heart attack. He said there would be a team of doctors waiting for me and they would help me.
The team was at the hospital door and rushed me into an emergency room. They cut my clothes from me, and hooked me up to various instruments. They ran some tests and told me one of the arteries in the back of my heart was blocked. One doctor told me they were going to do an angioplasty, and he explained what the process was. Another doctor asked him if they should remove my medicine pouch. The doctor said no, there was no need for that because they were operating from my chest area down to my groin area. Tears of gratitude welled up because the doctor knew that although their medicine would save me physically, my medicine would protect me spiritually.
My doctors, nurses, paramedics at Hennepin County Medical Center were great during my three-day stay. They showed concern and, most of all, compassion for me, and helped me greatly to understand the core of humanity that exists in those who seek to physically heal the wounded, regardless of race or culture.
One of the doctors that I saw each morning was a mashkikiiwininiikwe (woman doctor). Throughout that time, she explained to me the nature of my heart problem, change of diet, exercise, outlook of life. On the first morning, we sifted through the reasons for my heart attack. Smoking and stress appeared to be the major factors.
She asked about the kind of work I did. I told her I was retired but was involved with the struggle of wild rice and mining. I said that for the past three months, I had been putting a lot of time into producing a coloring book and organizing a forum on the issue. I said I went from one pack of cigarettes a day to almost two packs, and I was under a lot of pressure to make everything work.
She asked me about mining and how mining affected wild rice. I told her that mining – taconite and copper mining – release sulfates into the water, the sulfates settle into the sediment, turn into hydrogen sulfide, and diminish the growth of wild rice – and high concentrations of sulfates destroy and kill the wild rice.
Then she made an analogy. She said the buildup of plague in my artery was like the buildup of sulfates in the water. Just as plague blocked the artery, so too did sulfate block a river and stream, and the results, if untreated, were essentially the same – disease and death.
However, unlike medical science that can clear an artery or repair a heart valve, the science of mining does not have a process to clearing a stream or repairing a river.
So the equation is quite simple. Sulfates clog Mother Earth’s arteries. Sulfates lead to the composition of hydrogen sulfides; hydrogen sulfides lead to methyl mercury. Methyl mercury enters the food chain through fish that, in turn, affects animals and humans.
In my language, we have a word – Gikendaasowin. Gikendaasowin means “knowledge,” but it is also used for the word “science.”
Gikendaasowin-mashkiki, used to imply medical science, is a wondrous, amazing science intended to heal and save lives. Gikendaasowin-biiwaabikokewin, mining science, does not have angioplasty or by-pass for the environment. Once the main arteries - the rivers and streams - of Mother Earth are blocked with sulfates and mercury, there is no method to clean the nibi for safe consumption for humans, animals, and plants. In this sense, science can be used for the advantage of people, but science can also be used to the disadvantage of people.
On several committees and advisory councils that I’ve sat on, I always hear the word “science.” I hear of scientific approaches – studies, research, and protocols.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently developed an advisory committee on Wild Rice Rulemaking. And it is from a scientific approach that they seek to clarify the definition of "waters used for production of wild rice." Of course, this is nothing more than scientific protocols to identify rivers and streams that produce manoomin. We, the Anishinaabe, already know this. We don't need scientific instruments or studies to inform us about manoomin - when it will grow and where it will grow.
Then there is the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce lawsuit - again based on science, but science that will support their endeavors to raise current Wild Rice/Sulfate Water Quality Standard from 10 mg/L to 200 mg/L.
We know raising the standard benefits the paddy rice industry – a multi-million dollar industry in Minnesota. Consider this - six million pounds of paddy rice is produced each year; 20,000 acres used for production of paddy rice; Yield per acre – 500-600 pounds; Approximately 20,000 acres used for the production of paddy rice; The value of Minnesota’s crop ranged from $7.5-$10.4 million between 1990 and 1995.
But who really benefits from those factors? Who benefits from a false food resource that has no connection whatsoever with the gift that our Creator gave us?
And there are clearly two-faces to the Chamber lawsuit because it also benefits extractive resource colonies like Polymet, Twin Metals, and Rio Tinto to establish lower water quality treatment standards. Water quality standards that will not only amount to the destruction of manoomin but also the ecocide of the northern Minnesota.
Although the Chamber lost their lawsuit, they have appealed. Obviously, the Chamber has chosen to pursue nonrenewable resources over sustainable resources, and has put profits first and environmental safety last.
In all this talk about “science” - where is the human factor; or, what I call the Anishinaabe factor? Why are our voices marginalized when it is our harvesters who know about these things?
We have a word for that. That word is Gete-gikendaasowin – traditional knowledge. Gete-gikendaasowin provides us with an understanding of how to live in our world. And, in particular, how to live in agoozo miinawaa gikinootaadiwin (balance and harmony) with Omizakamigokwe (Mother Earth). This understanding comes from the Original Instructions that were given to us by Gichi-Manidoo (the Creator)
The most basic instructions are the Four Orders of Life. The First Order is Omizakamigokwe (Mother Earth), followed by Gitigaanan (Plants);, then Awesiinhyag (Animals) and, lastly, Anishinaabeg (Human Beings). The teaching is simple – Earth, plants, and animals can exist without human beings, but human beings cannot exist without animals, plants, or the Earth. Therefore, human beings have a duty and responsibility to protect the other three orders of life.
I wish to speak specifically about the second order – the plants; and about one plant in particular – manoomin. When I speak of manoomin, I am speaking about cultural connections, spiritual connections, sustenance connections, and economic connections.
I am speaking of a prophecy given to us hundreds of years ago when my people lived on the shores of the Great Salt Waters – the Atlantic Ocean. When Gichi-Manidoo gave us the Seven Fires Prophecies. The First Fire told us of a great migration to a land where the food grows on water, and this land would become the Land of the Anishinaabe. Our ancestors found that land and, today, that land is being destroyed by extractive resource colonization.
And I speak of the time when Nenabozho – our Great Uncle – found the food and he was told by the tall, slender plants – we are called Manoomin , Nenabozho…we are the Good Berry and we are healthy to eat.
I speak of spiritual connections. Of a plant that is a composite being – a living being – with a jichaag (soul-spirit). It is a plant that will grow where it wants to grow, grow where it wants to feed our people. But if it is mistreated, it won’t grow. It will move elsewhere, to where it is accorded respect.
I speak of sustenance connections. This is a rich, healthy nutritious food that sustains us, not just in body, but also our minds. And it is a food that is part of our food sovereignty – food sovereignty retained by our leaders under treaties, retained rights that provide us with hunting, fishing, and gathering off-reservation.
And I speak of economic connections. A resource that provides an income to intergenerational ricing families. It’s not a great income, but helps to buy school clothes, perhaps a used car, and to pay a few bills. And, of course, to help feed the families through the long winter.
I speak about the 64,000 acreage of manoomin that grows in Minnesota. The combined total of 48,000 manoomin acreage is located within the 1854 and 1855 ceded lands. Who will protect this gift that was given to us? We know that Polymet won’t. We know that Twin Metals won’t. We know that Rio Tinto won’t.
It’s our responsibility. And each of us needs to develop an environmental ethics that will protect our environment. Far too many people believe in Shallow Ecology – an ethic that focuses on the idea that one has a duty to make sure that Earth stays in good enough shape so that human life is supported.
It is Deep Ecology that provides a point of view that gives what is called "moral standing" to animals and plants, and argues that they, like humans, are to be considered "morally significant persons.” Deep Ecology states that humans have a direct responsibility toward maintaining the environment for all forms of life. This kind of ethics is similar to the Gete-Gikendaasowin of the Anishinaabe. And we know that the enviro-ethics of Gete-Gikendaasowin provides us with the knowledge for a healthy environment.
There was a nurse who asked me about the things I had on my hospital bed. On my bed, next to me, I had my eagle feather fan, my eagle whistle, and a pouch of asemaa (tobacco). Around my neck I wore a leather pouch with tobacco. And this nurse, who herself was of foreign background, asked me about those things.
I told her that when I was first admitted to the hospital, I was asked what my religion was. And I told the person interviewing me that my fan, my whistle, my asemaa were my religion.
I told the nurse that when I was in the ambulance, at that time I only had my tobacco pouch on. And I told her that when I was in the ambulance and the paramedic told me I was having a heart attack, I held on to my tobacco pouch and I asked the Creator and I asked the spirits to watch over me, protect me. I asked them to keep my eyes open.
I told the nurse that what helped me was indigenous medicine. Western medicine saved my heart physically and traditional medicine saved my heart spiritually.
The nurse understood what I was saying. She told me…where I’m from, our medicine is water. Our water protects us. The nurse said – part of life is about medicine and it is important to believe in the medicine because only then does the medicine heal.
Belief in the medicine that will help heal our Mother Earth is Gete-Gikendaasowin because it is medicine based on traditional knowledge. This is the medicine that sustains me and it is the knowledge that guides me. It is a medicine that all good-hearted people – Native and non-Native alike - need to share as we as we face the most paramount question of our times – the environment. And we must share this medicine not only for ourselves, for our children, for our grandchildren. But we must do it for the Seventh Generation.
Mii sa go