Sunday, September 29, 2019

Cultural Wellness Conference Held at Red Lake

By Michael Meuers - September 29, 2019 at 12:00AM

“Anishinaabe Teachings” with Veronica. Photos by Michael Meuers

Published September 29, 2019

Sponsored by Equay Wiigamig (Women’s Shelter)

RED LAKE INDIAN RESERVATION — A beautiful day matched the mood of Red Lakers, and others associated with social services and health care, gathered for a three-day Cultural Wellness Conference from 8-4:30 on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 8 to noon on Thursday, September 17-19, 2019.

Each day included general sessions with keynote speakers first thing in the morning and at the close of the day. Mornings and afternoons also included four or five workshops some repeated, some presented only once.

Entertainment was also on the agenda with comedy from Jonny R., a hand drum competition and round dance social.

Tuesday 9/17

After an opening prayer, song, and welcoming remarks, a general session was held for all those present. The keynote speaker, James Vukelich, presented “Seven Generations, Seven Grandfather Teachings.”

Vukelich has been recognized as a leading voice in Native Language revitalization efforts and spiritual teachings for many years. His insights on the interconnectedness of language and culture were developed in the field speaking with and recording elders and native speakers of the language in Canada, Michigan and Minnesota as part of the Ojibwe Language Dictionary Project.

The Seven Gifts or Seven Grandfathers’, or the Seven Grandfathers’ Teachings, is a set of teachings on human conduct towards others. They are:

  • Wisdom: To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom
  • Love: To know Love is to know peace
  • Respect: To honor all of creation is to have Respect
  • Courage: is to face the foe with integrity; (being complete or undivided)
  • Honesty: in facing a situation is to be brave
  • Humility: is to know yourself as a sacred part of creation
  • Truth: is to know all of these things

AM Workshops included: “Women Connections to the Water and Moon;” “Healing via increased Spiritual Understanding;” “Creating Positive Outlets;” “Drumstick Making;” and “Traditionally Smoking Whitefish.”

The Ojibwe Medicine Wheel

Ponemah Outpatient presented a workshop/teaching on the Ojibwe Medicine Wheel.

Traditional teachings of the Ojibwe people encompass all aspects of the person’s life in relation to the world around them. The learning process addresses and teaches about the inseparability of the emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual dimensions. Ojibwe people believe that everything happens goes in a circle clockwise, therefore the Medicine Wheel is a circle divided into four quadrants.

The Medicine Wheel is an interconnected system of teachings relating to the seasons, directions, elements, colors, and the cycle of life. It speaks of the need for balance, harmony and respect as bringers of happiness. It is an ancient system of traditional indigenous knowledge that many tribal peoples share under many different names.

Experience continues to be a fundamental principle of the Anishinaabe learning process.

There are two aspects: the Seen World made up of physical and mental, and the Unseen World made up of emotional and spiritual, all must be in balance. It is about ceremony. All that is life is in the Medicine Wheel. It is full of symbols and teachings.

Lunch followed with a Comedy Show featuring Jonny R., (Red Lake’s own Jon Roberts) who bills himself as the, “The Ojibwe Outlaw of Comedy who is the 2006 Time Person of the Year from the Red Lake Nation who happens to be a comedian with zero gigs that pays zero dollars and the World’s Youngest Dirty Old Man.”

PM Workshop Titles not repeated from above were, “Wild Rice Preparation with Gerald White and Andrew Jackson;” “Drum Teachings;” and “Making Outside Bread.”

Manoomin (wild rice)

The afternoon general session Keynote “Mino-Bimaadiziwin” (the Good Life) was again presented by James Vukelich who had also gave the morning keynote.


After a light breakfast, a welcome, and announcements, the morning general session featured Keynote speech entitled, “Lessons from the past, Shaping our Future” presented by Jeremy Nevilles-Sorell. The session presentation included ways Native people are using the teachings to build new leaders and strengthen communities.

Nevilles-Sorell is a Consultant, and Training and Resources Director. (White Earth Nation/ Winnebago) He spoke of “Mending the Sacred Hoop.”

“As Native people we have the knowledge, tools, and power to make incredible change in our communities. There are many incredible projects going on from reservations, to urban, and up into the native villages that are bringing back our teachings and integrating them into the way we organize and address violence against women.”

AM Breakout Sessions included: “Moccasin Game Teachings with Larry Vanwert;” “Healing via Increased Spiritual Understanding;” “Creating Positive Outlooks;” “Identity Through Language;” and “Anishinaabe Teachings” with Veronica Bratford who made some swamp tea. “Don’t forget to say miigwech,” she said.

Moccasin Game Teachings with Larry Vanwert

PM Breakout Sessions not included above, were “Wild Rice Preparation” with Gerald White and Andrew Jackson, “Drumstick Making” Brendan Strong, and “Drum Teachings” with Equay Wiigamig.

PM Keynote speech for the general session was entitled “Trauma and Healing,” again with Jeremy Nevilles-Sorell.

“Long ago, before colonization, there was a balance and respect between genders, responsibility of family and community, and a cultural means was used to address issues”, said Nevilles-Sorell. “But colonization led to destabilization of family, community, economics, social and cultural life.”

One slide showed a pyramid about the nature of historic trauma, and how it is passed on to new generations. Starting at the bottom of the pyramid, the slide showed that trauma begins with; Adverse childhood experiences, which then leads to social, emotional, and cognitive impairment, which leads to adoption of health-risk behaviors, which leads to disease, disability, and social problems, and which finally too often leads to early death.

The session closed with a small group exercise about ideas to initiate discussion on this important issue, and who interferes with those discussion, and how to address these challenges.

Evening Activities included a hand drum contest followed by a round dance social.


The morning featured an Equay Wiigamig panel that explained, in depth, the resources the Equay Wiigamig Women’s Shelter provides the community.

The Cultural Wellness Conference ended with closing remarks, raffle, and a closing song.


What Happened to Us?

Traditional Native American Spirituality

As taught by Ponemah Spiritual Leader (now passed) Larry Stillday

What Happened to Us?

“The traditional way of life that our Ancestors developed for us as our heritage was disrupted by the massive upheaval and immeasurable losses that was perpetrated on our people. We as a people have experienced and endured phenomenally rapid changes in the past 100 to 150 years. We did not have the physical, mental or emotional understanding of the foreign concepts, including the diseases that were brought to our land.

“When we were reeducated and forced to take on attitudes, behaviors and beliefs that were foreign to us, we lost the knowledge about how to think with a good mind and how we are to conduct ourselves. The most hideous thing that came out of being forced to take on those attitudes, behaviors and beliefs, was that we were taught to hate ourselves and each other so much, that we started to kill each other.

“We as descendants are now faced with having to deal with the traumas that were perpetrated on our people.

What Am I? Who Am I? Why Am I Here?

“The answers to these questions can be found in our ceremonies, traditions, beliefs, rites and customs. The traditional teachings are still as relevant today, as they were at the time of our Ancestors.

“Our Elders have always encouraged us to attend the ceremonies and listen to the teachings. That’s where the answers are for the many questions we may have about life. The teachings serve as blueprints for human behavior. They connect us to the teachers of the natural and spiritual world.

“Most of us may have grown up without the teachings of our ceremonies, beliefs, rites and customs. This is why so many of us are struggling and confused as who we are and why we are here. Reclaiming our tradition is our source of confidence and self-esteem. The teachings will help change our attitude about what we want to do. It will help us realize that we are good people.

“It is in the learning and coming to an understanding of yesterday that we can better prepare for the uncertainties of our tomorrow.” ~ROAD TO PONEMAH: The Teachings of Larry Stillday

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