12 Ways I'm Sharing My Native Heritage with My KidsSelena Mills
For me, traditional, four directions Native parenting refers to ways of raising children that have changed over time, the roots of which are being reclaimed with increased pride and solidarity everyday. Much of the traditional parenting philosophies that my partner and I practice emerge from Native people who share history, blood lines, knowledge of territory and values, and who want to pass these values on to their children.
Children have always been at the center of the circle of life — the center of the circle of caring among Native people across Canada. Children do not belong to us; each child is a sacred gift from the creator to be cherished, protected, and nurtured into well-rounded thinkers, respectful of all living things and the land.
The traditional values and cultural practices that I am constantly developing and learning about help me as a parent. They help me raise healthy children in today’s urban world as a bicultural parent, (incorporating a strong cultural identification in conjunction with holding Western world-views and practices.) While there are many differences among tribes and nations, there are some universal values, beliefs, and practices that often transcend those barriers. The spiritual connection to child-rearing and the involvement of the “extended family” is something my partner and I value immensely.
The real work comes in merging Euro-Western and Native parenting values, not only because we are a culturally blended family, but because we believe there are benefits to both. The Native approach centers around the spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental connections (Source: Best Start: Ontario’s Maternal, Newborn and Early Child Development Resource Centre, P.20), that we hold in high honor for ourselves and each other as our ancestors did. Future generations depend on this as does the fate of the land and the waters of this world. We must incorporate all four into every plan of care with our children. It’s not always easy, however it’s always worth it.
“When you have that gift of balance, you know you can walk in the White man’s world and you can succeed but you also have your foundation; you have your values, your traditions, your beliefs, and your customs.” Quinton Crowshoe
On Raising Integrated, Joyful Children from a Native Perspective… 1 of 13
My elder has ingrained within me that parenting is a sacred gift and one of our noblest of endeavors. Read on to discover how we integrate the traditions and teachings of my Native ancestors into my children's lives...
"Grandson, children are the purpose of life. We were once children and someone took care of us, and now it is our time to care." — Eddie Belevue, Cree Elder
The Circles of Love and Influence 2 of 13
These are just some of the folks in our extended family that I spoke about a little bit in my intro. All of us can identify with the expression: "It takes a village." This is exactly what creating a circle of love and influence is about. These are most of the sponsors that we've called upon for our children over the years, having officially been joined to our circle during my kids' naming ceremonies.
While the traditional ways of Native people may seem unique, the bottom line is that our parenting is defined by patience and kindness, much like other cultures rich in nurturance and love. Community support helps (fairly) young parents like us learn new parenting skills and provides role models to our kids. These sponsors know how to nurture caring relationships with others and/or are very familiar with Native culture and traditions and are able to share this with our children in a positive way.
The Importance of Ceremony 3 of 13
When my elders talk about understanding our ways and our people, they always tell me it is most important to learn about values, beliefs, ceremonies and the language of our people. We need to understand where we came from, all of our relations, who we are now, and what we need to be in the future. This helps us to achieve the balance necessary in living the good life. I watch my children experience belonging and pride when they are connected to their culture through tradition and listening to the voices and teachings of their elders. At their young age, this is normally done through celebration, song, dance, and storytelling — all of the ways to a kid's heart, I tell ya.
There are seasonal ceremonial gatherings and solstice gatherings. (Again this differs from tribe to tribe, nation to nation — we are not all one type of "Indian.") Some of us have Naming Ceremonies for our children (we did) and Walking Out Ceremonies to lift up our children from toddlerhood into childhood. I am not describing all Native/Indigenous ceremonies and traditions, this is just some of what we do. There is quite a bit of debate amongst different tribes about the effects of colonization and how we can appropriately share the ways of our ancestors with the world.
Bringing Tradition Home 4 of 13
Recognizing the importance of parental health is also a big part of what we do at home. We focus on our own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs since our children are connected to most everything we do and everything we are. This includes how we act, react, and what we say around our kids.
Of course we make many mistakes; this isn't about perfection. It's about allowing ourselves to be human with the right to focus on our own nurturance as well so that we can be better able to face the stresses of everyday parenting. Our Sponsors play a key role here, too. They are great friends to us and provide support, advice, and a quiet ear that we often need when tradition becomes complicated and misunderstood within culturally blended families, which we are.
Food Is Medicine 5 of 13
This is a mantra that crosses over into many different cultures. Holistic health and wellness is achieved in part through the balance of body via the food that we eat. Having a vast knowledge (and continually growing that reserve of knowledge), based on the nutrients that different foods and herbs hold is part of the Indigenous approach to parenting.
Passing on this knowledge and respect for food to our children (for the earth that grows the food, the animals that sacrifice in hunt so that we may eat, and the health of our minds and bodies) and skills (gardening, cooking traditional foods, etc.) is also a series of responsibilities that we value as parents.
The Importance of Storytelling 6 of 13
A dominating factor in Native parenting that I definitely prescribe to is constantly examining the stages of child development and honoring the formative importance of the early years. I am always exploring new ways to communicate with my kids and examining how their little brains develop through play. Storytelling is a prevailing source of communication and sharing of our teachings with our children and is one that I adore.
Storytelling can happen in non-verbal ways too, through dance, performance art, and the drum. Singing songs is another way we tell stories, teach, and communicate with our kids. After all, babies and toddlers are recent arrivals from the spirit world! They posses a special wisdom and natural gift for storytelling, too. What they say should be listened to and respected. You know, within reason, because TODDLERS.
Traditional Dance 7 of 13
This summer marked the first time Abby and Wyndham joined in the Tiny Tot dance circle in full regalia. What a milestone! There are many types of traditional Native dance and hoop dancing as well as boys traditional have turned out to be the two that my boy Wyndham is naturally drawn to and Abby loves her some Jingle Dancing.
Learn more about Hoop Dancing and other Traditional Native styles of dance!
The Sacred Four 8 of 13
Whether we're having a little smudge together in the morning for a connective cleanse as a family or during ceremony or to bless food during a feast, it is important for my kids
to understand how the four medicines are weaved into the very fabric of our traditional practices and ways of life.
1. Sema (tobacco): Used mainly for prayer and as a gift offering. (For example, I offered tobacco to our Elder when I asked her to conduct our Naming Ceremony. We also often give little tobacco bundles to guests at ceremonial feasts and traditional gatherings and offer tobacco to the fire during ceremony.)
2. Kiishig (cedar): We use this in many ways. I boil and simmer it in a pot on the stove for a longtime to make tea when we're sick, or to permeate the air like a humidifier would. Cedar baths are very soothing and relaxing (especially for pregnant women) to purify the body.
3. Mshkwadewashk (sage): Dried sage made into bundles is most often used for smudging homes and bodies during prayer. Smudging with cedar can be cleansing for the body and the brain but can also help with envisioning things and putting ones thoughts in order. Smudging is also used to bless food and cleanse people and tools before ceremony.
4. Wiingash (sweetgrass): The very first plant the Creator made, sweetgrass represents the hair of Mother Earth. Since it's a very powerful purifier, braided sweetgrass is also used for smudging.
The Sacred Seven 9 of 13
Ah, the Seven Grandfather Teachings. These teachings have been passed down orally throughout the centuries and many versions have been written by Elders over time.
1. To cherish Knowledge is to know WISDOM
2. To know LOVE is to know Peace
3. To honor all Creation is to have RESPECT
4. BRAVERY is to face the foe with Integrity
5. HONESTY in facing a situation is to be Brave
6. HUMILITY is to know yourself as a Sacred part of creation
7. TRUTH is to know all of these things
Image from the children's book, 'Respect' by Chad Solomon (part of the seven-book series teaching children the seven Grandfather Teachings through storytelling)
Traditional Art and Crafts 10 of 13
From day one my kids have worn lots of handmade clothing and moccasins, many of which have been made by myself or other traditional Native artists. Part of respecting Aboriginal arts is knowing, passing on, and including the teachings that accompany each art-form or craft. For example, I used to make dreamcatcher mobiles and would include the story/teaching with the dreamcatcher for my customers.
I still make dreamcatchers — both traditional and modern — for my own kids, friends, and family. I'll continue to share these teachings, keeping the art-form authentic and alive as it should be and this year I made regalia (a jingle dress) for the first time for my daughter. I look forward to continuing teaching my kids the value and importance of supporting authentic, Native-made goods and supporting Native artists!
The Pow Wow Trail 11 of 13
Hitting up the Pow Wow trail used to be a far-off dream when Trevor was touring steadily in the summer as a musician. The end of this summer brought a change in that regard and we enjoyed a few Pow Wows together. This is a really fun way for different tribes, clans, and nations to come together in sharing their different traditional dances, songs, drumming, regalia, teachings, ceremonies, and enjoy some friendly competition. I love watching them take in all the good energy that singing, dancing, drumming and visiting friends new and old brings. We hope to make this a tradition for our family in attending a few Pow Wows each season, June through September.
The Little Things Aren’t So Little After All 12 of 13
I believe that healthy children with involved parents leads to a healthier community. I believe that what we teach our children about other cultures, even when it relates to something as simple as say ... Halloween, really does matter. These kids we're raising do eventually grow up with many of the stereotypes, values, and opinions that we pass onto them.
Unfortunately, Euro-Western education often perpetuates colonialism and assimilation. As uncomfortable as such a statement makes some people, it's the truth. When mainstream programs and public schools try to introduce some cultural content, they are often unsuccessful in engaging Native kids because the curriculum is based on a culture or cultures that the students are unfamiliar with. There is a failure to recognize that there are over 600 separate First Nations, MÃ©tis, and Inuit cultural groups, and each has their own traditional culture, language, and needs.
So we shall teach our children at home what the history books don't teach them at school and continue to empower our children in becoming "little warriors." We want to develop children who are proud of their rich culture and voluntarily stand up for the rights of the land and their people. We want our children to grow up to know what the terms colonization, genocide and oppression mean in a direct reference to their own people, so our children can learn to revere their culture with pride and dignity.
My Own Continued Learning 13 of 13
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