Heartsong & Turtle Island

Rediscover Indigenous wisdom

In my worldview, which is based on the Woodland Cree upbringing, Mother Earth takes care of us all. Each of the animals — birds, plants, fishes and insects, as well as people, have a vital place in creation. In Cree, we call this wahkohtowin or the law of relationship.

I liken this to quantum theory where the energetic field that comprises all creation truly supports the statement that “we are all one.”

We have reached a time in history where we can see what’s happening across the planet with just a few clicks; we can create a list of all the devastation and destruction, decay and degradation with very little effort. The world we inhabit can become overwhelming, dark and inspire fear.

Sheldon Hughes

When I was told I couldn’t be around people a couple of years ago, I leaned into nature. The birds had no mask edicts; the medicines and the mushrooms welcomed my attentions and encouraged me to take them home with me.

In the quiet of the wilderness and riverside paths that fill the Edmonton landscape and surrounding area, I reacquainted myself with my childhood training — gathering berries, herbs and other edibles that were familiar to me: wild peppermint, saskatoons, cranberries, strawberries and raspberries, chokecherries in the late summer, when their bitterness becomes softened by the sun’s rays and they darken to near-black, with pits that can now be chewed.

But as I ventured into the wild during the lockdown, seeking reprieve from the chaos of society’s convolutions, I noticed myself foraging and gathering in ways that hadn’t been taught to me. It became clear that I was gently being shown by the plants and animals themselves which I should bring home, in exchange for prayers of gratitude and a tobacco offering, as I had been taught.
In opening my heart before each walk, breathing deeply and setting intentions to be open, kind and respectful, I found myself being impacted by new layers of awareness that seemed to come from the land itself.

“It’s as though Mother Earth herself has a crush on me,” I whispered to a friend, forcing her giggle of disbelief. And truly, it was: I was exposed to a whole new world of foraged gifts that I’d never noticed before, even in all my years of being a Cree hunter- gatherer and bushman.

The land itself shared her bounty with me, seemingly directing me to those things that my body, mind or spirit needed.

In my understanding, my Indigenous ancestors welcomed the settlers to these lands and waters because we did not “own” them. French river lots or fee simple title was not part of the Indigenous lexicon or understanding. There was enough here to sustain us all and to allow us to not just survive, but thrive harmoniously.

The treaties that were forged were spoken to us as “nation-to-nation relationships”, but in writing, said just the opposite and we have struggled mightily to find the balance of ways of life since that time.

In my heart of hearts, we are all treaty people — learning to live in harmony, sharing our gifts on this great land, our Turtle Island.

It is my belief that if we can learn to walk with our hearts open to her songs, the way will be made that much easier for us to do so.

This story comes from the Winter 2023 edition of Legacy in Action. Read the full magazine.