“All Nations will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life.”
The old saying is, “All Nations will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life.” I want to think that gathering with my relatives from All Nations is an example of this as I think back when my two grandsons, Sage and Daysin, were in their toddler years; how fortunate my family was to experience such a gathering at the Sundance tree.
My name is Isabel Scribe. I am a wife of 44 years, a mother, sister, grandmother of six, and many more from my sisters. I grew up in Northern Manitoba on the shores of the Nelson River, pre-Jenpeg (Hydro Dam), during the day school and residential school era. At the time, it was a small community; we all spoke our language and were never afraid to express ourselves.
I attended day school in Cross Lake, Manitoba, now known as Pimicikamak Cree Nation. I attended day school (Wapack-United Church), where we were told to speak English at school, but we spoke in our language to each other after school hours. My parents passed away in my earlier years, so I was raised by my grandparents, who wanted the best for my sisters and me. I was sent to Winnipeg during my teenage years to continue my high school education at Fort Richmond Collegiate. This was when I realized that speaking my Cree language would become a barrier. Even though I knew how to speak from day school, I had to learn to communicate effectively with the urban world. I realized I had to learn fluent English, and I had to learn fast so I could speak for myself. I learned from my cousins, relatives and friends I met in high school.
At times, I did feel discouraged because of my broken English. I felt ashamed and shamed at times when I was able to speak English properly. This seems to be a common experience among my peers. Due to this shame, we ensured our future generations would know how to speak English so they wouldn’t experience the same struggles and barriers when navigating and surviving in society. My only prayer was my children and grandchildren would remember how I spoke.
I met my husband, Charles, a pilot from Norway House, Manitoba, close to my community Cross Lake. Our main transportation was a plane. We relocated to Norway House, where I lived for a couple of years. I had two daughters, and we would take the time to explore the land and waters. We would fly to isolated beaches, fish alongside the plane, and make various hunting trips in the north. My life was rich with land and fresh water. We eventually relocated back to Winnipeg.
As my children grew older, they seemed to have integrated into urban life much easier than I had. They had an advantage in English because it was their first language. They only knew a little Cree, basic words like eat, sleep, and come here. I eventually went on to complete my high school while speaking my language fluently. I never lost connections to my sisters back home, and we always kept in touch through the years and communicated in Cree. My family grew up listening to fluent Cree. We had a bilingual home.
As my children grew older and with the birth of my only son, we began to go to Native American Church Ceremonies, Sweat Lodges, and Sundances around our community. We started to meet friends from many tribes that we often adopted as relatives. We began working as a team and creating a ceremony and prayer community. This brought many friends and relations. My husband and I would often be invited to attend ceremonies. I found myself in many parts of the United States and Canada participating in gatherings of various feasts and ceremonies. I built a family from All Nations, where we all were united in prayer. Our young family was active in ceremonies and began to embrace the culture from many walks of life. I noticed that when my children sang, they sang in different languages. This made me proud to see them embrace all languages while seeing no difference. We were all one under the Sundance tree and united in prayer.
Why do I reflect on this?
Reflecting on my humble beginnings and remembering my roots, I was thinking of the growth up until now as I age into my old age. My journey was very rich in prayer, gatherings and ceremonies. We gained knowledge and teachings from various tribes. I found that when we unite in prayer, there is no difference when it comes to the language. We all seemed to understand each other and get along no matter what language was spoken. We all spoke one language: the language of love for our families and each other.
Nowadays, I find society has to compartmentalize everyone, for example, Cree, Dene, Sioux, and non-Indigenous. In many ways, society has made it confusing for our young people where it appears they need to gravitate to an identity. I learned that under the Sacred Tree of Life, there are no labels; somehow, there is unity in accepting and understanding each other. Prayer is only one language.
Our advice to the young people who feel they are lost and have lost connection to their home and family. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your Elders no matter what walk of life they come from. Learn the songs and listen to the prayers when they talk. That is where you will find the beautiful words of prayer in the language. All the good thoughts and positive words go into those prayers. Attend powwows, join a support group, cultural groups, and ceremonies. You will open up to a new journey and a new family, even though it might feel discouraging at times.
Hearing my grandchildren speak the language is a great joy as a grandmother. I am observing how motivated and curious they are about learning their and my roots. They nourish their connections to the homelands. Hearing my grandchildren tell me they love me in my own language is the greatest blessing. They want to speak Cree as badly as I wanted to speak English. I no longer have to feel ashamed to speak my language as the youth are embracing it. Instead of shame, I feel my knowledge is needed for our future.
I am proud to see how my family has had the opportunity to learn through me because many Indigenous people have lost their language. We are at the age where we witness the last fluent speakers of extinct languages. Returning to the Sundance tree will open up opportunities for growth, knowledge and spiritual connection to what it is like to be truly Indigenous. It doesn’t matter what ceremony you attend or which tribal Elder you want to seek knowledge from. It doesn’t matter what language you speak. You will be accepted and respected as a relative no matter what tribal affiliation you have. I am grateful to see this cycle, like the Sacred Hoop of life, that is often talked about. I see that young people carry pride in learning. I have hope for my future. I am witness to see the young people and how much it has changed. I encourage our youth to maintain their knowledge of our culture and language. It is a lifelong journey of challenges, but it is worth it.