To the Expositor:
On Tuesday, August 9, I drove to Wiky to find the Burns Wharf Theatre only to find out that it was in Manitowaning. At least I had found the dump earlier and got rid of the amazing amount of trash that we had created in three days of vacation. My husband Terry and the kids were having their golf day and I was going to experience some First Nations culture.
I had read in The Expositor that Tuesday was the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Manitowaning Treaty. Thankfully there was an article that explained to me the significance of the event. I had no intention of making the sunrise opening, but hoped to get there for the 9 am start. I ended up arriving around 2 pm.
There was a huge tent and people carrying out food and bundles. The feast had just ended and the ad said that all were welcome to join in all of the festivities, but I didn’t know what to bring and don’t like going to any party without a contribution, so I was glad for my late arrival time.
The grassed area was partially filled with chairs and people circling the staging area where three small fires were burning.
It was very hot and sunny. I sheepishly entered the grounds and sat on the grass and knitted while preparations were going on for the next part of the event.
The heat became far too uncomfortable, so I moved over to a bush that offered some shade.
The pace was slow and relaxed. As I looked around, I realized that not many tourists had taken advantage of the open invitation. Men and women of all ages populated the area, many wearing or carrying symbols of aboriginal culture. I sported my Junction (a west-end Toronto neighbourhood) t-shirt. It seemed appropriate to identify myself as a tourist from my neighbourhood in the big city to the south.
It wasn’t long before I was offered a bottle of water that I gladly accepted. I was not asked for money, nor could I even offer any as it happened so fast.
I was then witness to the ceremonial signing of the treaty by the First Nations chiefs of Manitoulin. An explanation of the three fires was given by a chief in Ojibwe. I did not have a clue as to what he was saying, but I knew that there were some important words being spoken by a very wise man. I took the opportunity to meditate using his voice as my guide. It worked. He offered some English explanations and the main message that I took away was his request that the children be taught their Ojibwe language and culture.
I personally believe that it is very important for everyone to know their roots and understand where they come from. It is a shame when people become so homogenized that they no longer have any connection to their ancestors—I am one of those.
From what I am understanding of the Anishinabek people is that there is a rich culture rooted in respect for our natural world and each other. These teachings would benefit all races.
I was witness to the drummers and the voices that sang and the people circling the fire in a march like dance raising their arms and voices on cue together every so many beats. It was beautiful. A tear came to my eye.
The day was concluded and the organizer made his thank you speech and then announced that all should come up and help themselves to the giveaways.
Gifts were laid out on blankets. People rose and made their way in a very slow fashion and gently chose a gift or two to take away with them.
I rose as well and proceeded just so that I was being respectful. I stopped at a woman who was recognizable as someone with authority for the event and told her that I was a visitor and did not feel right accepting a gift without giving. I was told to please go ahead and do so.
I did what I was told and was totally enamoured with the selection left. There were books and posters. My choices were the teachers manual for children on the teachings of the medicine wheel and a book titled, ‘Voices of the Land.’ My hope to learn more about the First Nations culture and traditions can now be realized at a level that I can understand.
I joined my family at Rainbow Ridge and shared my experiences of the day with them and they told me about their nine holes.
I am so glad that I had decided to go off on my own as golf can be played anywhere, but there would never be another opportunity to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the signing of the treaty. There would probably not be another public event in my life that I would attend where I would not have to buy a ticket in advance, be given a drink without having to pay and be given gifts for simply being there. This combination would have caused a riot anywhere else.
I am thankful for the experience.