Fostering Indigenous Identity through Connection to Land – by Andrea Williams

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As an Indigenous Community Educator with the Ontario Indigenous Centre of Excellence I have the privilege of being invited to participate in land-based gatherings held across the province. These opportunities allow for a chance to demonstrate one of the primary teachings held within Indigenous ways of knowing – land is our first teacher.

By modelling and sharing the importance of sustainability and stewardship to Mother Earth, I am taking part in planting the seeds for our future generations’ substantive environmental activism. As Indigenous people we inherited a connection to the land; connecting with the land and honouring the land is part of our blood memory.

This month I participated in a “walk with the land” at Crawford Lake Conservation Area in Halton, Ontario. Before we set out on the trail, I laid down some semaa and thanked Creation for its sacred medicines; I opened my heart to accept what the universe wanted me to gather that day.

On the first part of our hike, a beautiful bark of wiigwaas presented itself (which is also my son’s middle name) and I found a rich piece of cedar on the last leg of our journey. Birch was traditionally used to build canoes and baskets and cedar is used to cleanse the body.

Reconnecting with our teachings and plant medicines is the salve for my own holistic healing, but I can also share this knowledge with Indigenous educators I meet along my journey.  There is so much the land can teach us and by uprooting this knowledge I am ensuring that it will be carried forward not only by my children but the next seven generations to come.

 From a First Nations perspective, there are four parts of self: emotional physical mental and spiritual.   It is important to maintain a healthy balance, as neglecting to nourish all parts of the self leads to an imbalance in the whole self.

Indigenous perspectives on land and place have similar themes that are rooted in place-based learning methods that are used in environmental/sustainable education programs.  However, Indigenous perspectives on land and place emphasize:

  1. The interconnectedness between the natural and supernatural worlds.
  2. Relationship between land and identity.
  3. The role of ancestral languages in defining place.
  4. Connecting or reconnecting with the land in this way nourishes our whole self and enriches our holistic wellbeing.

Guiding our children to build relationships with the land and our traditional plants and medicines, fosters a sense of knowing that land is sacred and that we as Indigenous peoples have a responsibility to protect and care for the land. By demonstrating to children and families that land has knowledge we are strengthening community connections as we collectively work towards preserving our sacred land teachings.  When families and children can come together and build relationships, this creates a strong sense of belonging.  Thus, when children can see themselves reflected in their community and their contributions to the world, this begins to foster a positive self-identity. 

Andrea Williams