Thursday, November 15, 2012

Senator Matilda Lewis of Onion Lake Cree Nation at Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation

Here is not only a tribute to women, but a call to "get to know yourself first." Senator Matilda makes me think about my own mother and grandmothers, and also my sister, sister-in-law, daughters, cousins, aunties, nieces. And then there are all those women who are my elders, my teachers, my friends, my students, my colleagues, and my sisters. I am blessed.

Senator Matilda Lewis:  Onion Lake Cree Nation
[English with Cree translation to English]

I wish to greet you all.  I am happy to see you participate and listen to the proceedings to find out about the Treaty and the promises that were made to us.  I was told to speak about the role of women.  My grandmother taught me about the role of a woman and all that entails in my life.  She counselled me about many things.  I was raised by my grandmother – nōhkom – who taught me what makes a woman.  I was taught in the traditional way the roles of mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers.  I was educated in the nēhiyaw way.

When nōhkom talked about Treaty, she said, “Get to know yourself first.  When you do that, you will know your role.”  She talked about the Creator, the sun, moon, pipe, stem of the pipe, and sweetgrass.  The government did not give those to us.  They were given to us by the Creator.

As women, we are sometimes discouraged.  Today, our men are always first and the woman last.  A long time ago, the woman was greatly respected.  The old lady sat there and represented the people on planning and gave opinions on all aspects of running the community.

God as I understand him, our Creator, he made kikāwīnawaskiy – Mother Earth – the plants and the sun.  My grandmother taught me about the ceremonial aspects of the universe and the interconnectedness and the meanings of the pipe and the stem, so I would understand myself and my role.  You have to know those to live a good life.

Nobody can take your Treaty away from you.  No one is going to break the Treaty but yourself.  The sun was used to make the Treaty promise – to keep the Indian side of the promises because it gives us life.  You have to know its significance in our life because it is so easy to take something that is handed to us without thinking first what implications may arise from our decisions.

Everywhere I go I see that we always put our men ahead and women always come last.  When God decided to create women he took a rib from that man.  He didn’t take it from the back so we could be at the back; he took it from the side, to work together alongside with our men and Leaders.  It’s time women make a move and help our Leadership.  It’s time to make that move for our children, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.   It is time to connect to Mother Earth, Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Rock.

We, as women, are made different.  We are made to endure pain and to have patience.  We have been given that spirit to produce life, to carry life and it is our responsibility to care for that life.  We need to raise our children and grandchildren in the right way.  We have to counsel them and lift them in high esteem.  We look to our Mother Earth to see how we should take care of our children.  But a lot of times, when I look around, I see children crying.  I see women crying.  Sometimes the children have been abandoned.  It is up to us to nurture that child.

When we talk about our Treaty rights, we talk about the way we are going to live to respect life, our way of life on the land, and how we treat our fellow man.  Our language is very spiritual.  Our utterances are very profound when using our language.  Love comes from the heart through praying.  The woman’s prayer is strong.  I have seen answers from the prayers said by women.  They speak from the heart; the heartbeat of a drum.  We talk about the spirit.

Do not be ashamed to be an Indian.  When you are ashamed of being an Indian you are only weakening your being, denying your strength.  That is where you lose hope.  That is how you begin to lose the understanding of how God made you.  Accept the way the Creator made you. 

Sometimes I look around; what old lady is going to show affection and give encouragement and words of endearment – an old lady that has white hair – an old lady that will show affection and be herself for she has gone through life with lots of experience.   Some of these children don’t know who their parents are and where they come from.  Some children are orphaned.  Many are lost in the system.

As women, we have to stand up and say I got work to do and my job is to lend that hand, to work alongside and encourage the Leadership.

page 74-75 , excerpt from
Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation

Dakota Dunes Casino and Conference Center
March 29 & 30, 2012

shared as public document with permission from
Dan Bellegarde, Executive Director, Treaty Governance Office

CD of Chiefs' Forum on treaty Implementation available for $5.00
or free transcript is available
by contacting Dan Bellegarde at

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