Who You Have Become Today: Learning About the Good Life and The Seven Teachings
Mino pimàtisiwin translates to “the good life” in our Cree language, Inineemowin. Ni key yan mino pimatiswin,” I have had a good life.”
Ni kee ohpeekeewin (I was born and raised) on the reservation in Norway House Cree Nation, Manitoba, on May 3, 1973. My foster parents are Donalda and Sonny “Boy” Halcrow. I was adopted by them when I was one year old. When I turned seven, they already had six children. Being in a big family like we were always busy getting ready to go to the bush. The good life I have learned and seen comes from my parents and the land, our ahskeey. They would take us to a trapline or the bush, a place like no other. Here we could hunt animals like beaver, goose, elk, duck, fish, rabbit, moose, caribou, muskrat, marten, lynx, wolverine, wolves, and wild chickens.
My father was a hunter and fisherman but mostly a trapper. Trapping in the wintertime is some of the best memories I have. I would sit there for hours and watch him skin the fur off the animals he trapped. He had this brown knife that was held together with electrical tape. After skinning the fur off, he would pull it inside out, pull it over an oval board, and nail it to the bottom to stretch it. My dad would have his little nails in his mouth and spit out one at a time. So weird that he did that, but it is a fond memory of mine. After drying for a couple of days, I would help remove the nails, pull the fur inside out, and feel it. When the fur was ready, my father would gather it and trade it for money. This is the part of the fur trading he loved the most. That is how he made his living to provide for the family. I call him my father because he adopted me from his brother.
The land-based activities I engaged with my family every day were berry picking, fishing, netting, hunting, trapping, boating, swimming, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. We also did a lot of plucking, cutting ducks and geese, burning them over the fire and learning how to start a fire. The food that Dad hunted for our family was never wasted. We grew up eating wild food like fish, beaver, rabbit, duck, and geese. I ate fish that was prepared and cooked in many ways, like making it into a soup, boiling it and frying it. That is why to this day, I do not waste food, even if it is not wild food.
My mom made bannock without measuring cups. She always eyeballed it. She would tell me to get a bowl and pour the flour, saying, “Right there.” She would also get me to get water from the lake just using an ordinary teacup. She would tell me to put in a quarter-size salt and three-quarter size baking powder. She would tell me to use a tablespoon to scoop out some lard, say, “Two of those,” and then tell me to mix it together.
In Cree, we use one-word demonstrative pronouns.
- Nata – get it
- Nèhi – those (far)
- Nèki – them those(living)
- Nèma – that (far)
- Akota – right there
- Akonà – no more
- Nìso peyko – just two of those
- Nètè itèhki – far side
- Nitohta – listen
- Apisìs – little bit
- Omisi – this way
- Ota – here
When we were told to “come here,” which in Cree is astam, we never answered back to say “wait” or “what.” That was disrespectful.
These are just some of the words we would hear all the time when doing something in the bush. I still use them to this day with my children. I loved listening to my parents when they talked in Cree, directing us or telling stories or “I love you.” I had to listen carefully because it built up the skills that were needed socially. There was no place to be shy. Especially me being native. Kawina nanepewsa – that is when I knew what I needed to do.
Being out on the land is a hugely different environment to learn. The land was waiting for me to learn and love. It was a place for me to get away from trouble. It was a place for me to be at peace. It was a place for me to be free. Our days start early. I remember we were not allowed to sleep in. Mom would say in Cree, “Don’t be lazy. The day won’t wait for you,” Kawina kihtimi. Mona ohyak ka pehewkawin.
As I reflect on my life, there are things that I would like to instruct my children. I want to continue to show them how to live their lives in an effective way and how to create a good life for themselves. My parents were strong, wise, and giving, and they shaped me into who I am today. These seven teachings are values I try to practice every day.
- Sákihitowin – LOVE – Love has shown me so much empathy, for the land, in the bush, and hunting. Love is within me.
- Kistènitamowin – RESPECT – I had the most respect for my parents. They have shown me how to listen, be on time, have manners, and have dignity and integrity.
- Tapwèkwènìtamowin – HONESTY – I had to be honest with myself on how far I could push myself and honest when working or being around people I loved.
- Tapètènitamowin – HUMILITY – to be humble, use my best judgement, and have confidence. I try not to brag or boast. I must be humble to others and take responsibility for my actions.
- Sòkitèhèwin – BRAVERY- Getting up in the morning, facing the day, and being brave.
- Kakètèwènitamowin – WISDOM – To think before I speak and be a good listener. I find myself giving a helping hand. I share my language and my heart. Life is short, so what really matters to me is love, family, friends, and enjoying life to the fullest in the present moment.
- Tàpwèwin – TRUTH- I admit when I am wrong. I do not take things that do not belong to me. Play by the rules, and most of all, be true to me.
I am a mother of five. I wish I could have taken my family to the bush. The closest thing to a bush is picking berries and just swimming in the lake. My life experiences from my early childhood years, which I will always cherish, to my family’s traditional upbringing from home to trapline, to going to school and leaving my community, living the urban lifestyle to pursue my dreams and beyond.
I am a proud Cree woman and am thankful I was raised the way I was. It made me who I am today.