My travels have taken me to unusual places, and inevitably I meet audiences of many different kinds. The people of Northern Alberta, living in an area the size of Florida, and now known as the Athabasca Oil Sands, were one of these highly distinctive groups that I spent time with in March.
They are of the Cree and Dene tribes who, until only a generation ago, existed as their ancestors had for hundreds of generations along the trap lines. In the harsh environment of subzero temperatures for much of the year and mosquito infested forests at other times, these native indian peoples are brilliant hunters.
Starting with the fur traders 300 years ago this area has been a conflict zone between the western Christian tradition of “going forth and exploiting the land” and the native indian tradition that says the land is the seat of all knowledge, it is sacred, and is to be respected, because it is more important than the human. When geologists first discovered the oil sands they saw them as being too expensive to exploit but now the price is so high that some of the world’s largest oil companies are now investing vast sums to literally strip off a hundred feet of top soil, and then process the oil sands. In the process, they are completely destroying the native indian habitat (and sacred space) replacing what was once full of natural beauty with a desiccated space of featureless landfill.
“It is destroying our people,” I was told my a much-respected Elder, as she described why on average there is a youth suicide every week. “We need to ensure that the Gifts of Knowledge which have been passed from generation to general of aboriginal children continue to be told and retold.” She continued, “The Seven Traditional Teachings or the Gifts of Knowledge, cannot be used without each other, to leave out one teaching from your life is embracing the opposite of what they each are.” There is much, not only for the native indian peoples of Alberta to remember from these teachings, but for the rest of us in the west to learn. You can read more about them here.