It’s Canada Day! Although it has been a long personal journey for me to become a Filipina proud of my roots and heritage, I also honour and thank the original keepers of this land where I first drew breath – the First Nations of Canada.
Canada still has a lot of healing to do. It is still very much a land stolen by colonizers and settlers. I celebrate the multiculturalism, the freedom I enjoy as a Canadian citizen, and the privileges I am blessed to have.
But I also do not turn a blind eye towards history and the injustice that our First Nations still live with today.
I wrote this blog as I pondered on how I can commemorate #Canada150 while still acknowledging that many see it as 150 years of stolen land and broken treaties.. This is my reflection as the country celebrated Canada 150 and how I may pay tribute to the First Nations of this land whom we should be honouring.
Two weeks ago, I taught a sunrise (well, actually, at 7am the sun was already risen so it was just a morning yoga class) yoga class. But it was no ordinary yoga class. I was compelled to merge what I learned from teaching Heart of Yoga practices and facilitating Inner Guidance sessions.
Inner Guidance is the method of innerdance that I learned from Amara Samata in Bali a few months ago and I continue to be amazed by this transformational process. Because both innerdance and yoga use breath as the bridge to the divine, it felt natural to try to merge the two into a flowing practice.
This experiment began with a yearning inside of me to honour the original keepers of the land of Canada. I mentioned this briefly when I reviewed my Remo Bahia Buffalo Hand Drum in my previous post.
When I got the drum in the mail, I knew for sure that I had to use it to give honour, respect, and thanks to the First Nations tribes of Canada. Drums are ceremonial and healing tools used by shamans across many cultures since ancient times.
First, I wanted to learn which tribes lived in Ontario before settlers and colonizers came. I wasn’t able to go too deep into my research but I learned that the Anishinaabe were the group of indigenous people originally from this region of North America.
When looking for a simple song to play on the drum from this tribe, I came upon the Strong Women’s Song. It was originally written by Anishinabe kwewag and Zhoganosh kwewag women who were imprisoned and made to suffer abuses at the maximum security Prison for Women in Kingston, Ontario in the 1970’s.
They sang this song to to support each other during their torture and solitary confinement. Today, the song is still sung at First Nation drum circles to honour them and the strength of women everywhere.
As much of Canada was preparing for Canada 150, I was also very aware that the First Nations people of Canada do not see this “birthday” as a time to celebrate. It is instead a middle finger to the indigenous people of this land which was stolen from them and for generations, they were made to suffer and treated as less than human by colonizers.
I felt strongly about honouring these original keepers of this land where I first breathed life and wanted to be very careful about not crossing the line into cultural appropriation – I hope I found a good balance.
I began the class with a spontaneous ceremony by playing the drum behind the hearts of all the participants who were seated in a circle. I played it like a heart beat to connect them to the earth and to each other, and then shared the Strong Women’s Song as well as it’s important story for the First Nations and women.
The innerdance-inspired playlist I mixed used mostly songs by Steve and David Gordon from the album Sacred Earth Drums. I particularly wanted to highlight the tracks: Prayer to the 4 Directions, Call of the Medicine Drum, and Sun Rise in Peace. Of course, Strong Women Song (the version of Raven Hart-Bellecourt and Lisa Musawagon) was the central theme of the playlist, as well as Circle of Women (I don’t know the artist, unfortunately). Other sacred and healing music by various Native American artists were also used.
Just like all innerdance playlists, the music was arranged for specific brainwaves to encourage peaks and diving deeper into each personal journey and process.
The asana I chose for the Heart of Yoga styled class were for connection to the earth and sky, and opening up the heart chakra. It was not a strenuous yoga class and I gave very little hands-on adjustments. Instead, I walked around with my instruments and did Reiki as I would if it were an innerdance session. Like innerdance, I also encouraged everyone to keep their eyes closed and only open them to look at me as I gave instructions for the next asana sequence if they needed to.
As a facilitator, I felt the energies rise the same way I would at an innerdance session. It was humbling and again, such an honour to witness the processes that were unfolding in this morning yoga circle. It was the first time I experimented merging yoga and innerdance and the feedback was so powerful that I know I must continue to explore this union of the two processes and see how it can be nurtured.
Some participants came up to me after class and said it was the first time they were able to practice yoga as a mind practice rather than just a physical advane asana practice. Many also asked me to conduct another class like this in Toronto and offered their help in finding a venue. I am so grateful for these women and their trust in this process and how it can transform them.
But the most important lesson for me came from a woman who shared with me later that evening by the campfire at the RAW retreat that at the end of the class when I offered the Strong Women’s Song again as our chant (instead of Om), she felt uncomfortable joining because of her family history as an nth generation Canadian.
She said her family came to Canada as settlers and her forebearers were very likely the ones who stole lands from the indigenous tribes and probably slaughtered them as well. She shared that she was not proud of this part of her family history and knows that many in her extended family are still racist and bigoted against the First Nations. She felt it would not be proper for her to chant but she sat and accepted the yoga of sound and its vibrations as a gift – if the spirits of the land would allow her to.
I felt that was such a beautiful and important message to share. We cannot change the sins of our past, but we can acknowledge and take responsibility for it. And only then can we honour those who suffered and make change to help those who live now and in the future.
I feel that there is so much more work to be done in giving justice back to the First Nations of Canada and by acknowledging them and the true history of what Canada was and is. It is the only way we can “celebrate” Canada 150 with honour and dignity.