Thursday, 31 October 2013

My Interview with an Aboriginal Elderly

      My first impression of Amaroo was that he seemed to be well integrated and comfortable in his environment. His office appeared like a miniature home – with an intricate and vast collection of items that looked to be of value to his identity. I immediately sensed his positive energy and began to have heightened curiosity over what answers he may provide to my questions. I met two of his students, who happen to volunteer for him but were mostly there to seek his company. They spoke highly of him and I got the sense that they felt accepted and comfortable to be in the space where he was. His sense of humour was unfiltered and refreshing. I let him steer the interview in the direction which he felt comfortable as to not disturb any thought processes or to miss on other vital information, however irrelevant to the subject assigned, that I could utilize in my personal and academic life. It was clear he had an interest in teaching others about his background while being aware of the possible sensitivities they may have. I later understood his philosophy as a whole to be the influencing factor in his treatment of others.

     The Aboriginal member relates and recognizes himself as a part of an ecosystem; whole on its own and one that is not in need of humans to sustain its presence. “If we all left this building, the plants and the earth will take over and engulf the place; it’ll do without us,” he explains. All that mankind requires for living is perceived as essentially available in nature. In this way, the human is left to seek assistance and sacrifice from the elements of nature. Nature is defined as not merely the presence of living things or greenery, but as the essence of every living and non-living object which comes from “Mother Nature”. One has a connection with all the elements of Mother Nature and in order to survive and live amongst her presence in a peaceful way, an Aboriginal recognizes that he must confine in whichever object, living or non-living that he could possibly utilize for his survival. Amaroo explains how when man is forced to take the life of a plant to heal himself, he may offer it tobacco and seek its permission with full conscious knowledge of the sacrifice of this being that has given its life to sustain his. “Nothing is considered inanimate; all has a spirit.”

     With the emphasis on Mother Nature as being the essence of being and the provider, one might wonder where the woman fits into the Aboriginal philosophy. According to Amaroo, the indigenous community shares the realization that without women, man cannot exist. The women spends nine “moons” – synonymous to the monthly appearance of the moon- in pregnancy where she gives the “gift” of water in the form of embryonic fluid and the one of music through the beat of her heart. She mirrors Mother Nature and gives in the same way. During her cycling of the menstrual cycle, she is celebrated in the group for her ability to bear children and undergoes a specified ritual which involves beating percussion through drumming, seeking connection to Mother Nature through an expedition in the mountains and bonding with other women as well.  The man, on the other hand, is the provider of fire - another vital element for survival – and his presence in necessary that ultimately maintains a harmonic balance between fire and water; symbolizing the essence of male-female relationships. Indigenous members believe that they are born pure in their health, mind and spirituality. With the passing of time and the subject and object of wrongdoings, one can become scarred and his/her body will begin to show the signs of this disfigurement through illnesses and other ailments. So in order to maintain optimal health, one must use preventative measures through exercising of healthy lifestyle habits away from addictions and ingestion of harmful foods, along with avoiding a sedentary way of living. Indigenous members acknowledge and perceive the world as being interconnected; whereby the defect of one of its parts damages the orchestra as a whole.

    Offenses directed towards Mother Nature manifest themselves in a multitude of ways and encompass the social, as well as the ecological dimensions of Aboriginal discourse. A human must be mindful of his relationship to all elements of Mother Nature and the lack of sensitivity or good intention is a transgression on her behalf. One must be grateful for the “gifts” of Mother Nature- as well as the ones of women to their offspring as a whole- by firstly acknowledging their sacrifice and secondly, taking great care in these gifts as to never be wasteful or indulgent. Furthermore, Indigenous discourse generally involves thinking “7 generations ahead” and having full awareness of the circle of life by being careful to not disturb the cycles manifesting in nature. “We’re all related”, he tells me. “If you look outside you’ll see Mother Earth dancing this time round” – referring to the leaves falling swiftly in their diverse array of colors. Mother Nature then proceeds to arrange for the upcoming spring by preparing through the long days of winter; waiting patiently for the season of mating and rebirth under the blanket of snow when she will take on the massive burden of caring for the young once the weather gets warmer. She not only is a phenomenon in herself but she is an example for mankind to live by. Her cycling through the seasons mirrors the cycling of our days and calls on our need for rest and our inevitable rebirth with each passing day.

     Amaroo recalls nostalgic memories of hunting trips with his father that was a time for connecting to family and keeping traditions alive. He remembers hunting various animals that would provide his family their required protein – while emphasizing hunting for the sake of maintaining a necessity which comes with the sacrifice of Mother Nature. “We don’t believe in hunting sports”, he states. Amaroo mentions that much of the issues mankind faces with the environment such as global warming and the scarcity of fresh water came about from a desire to have what one does not need. In the pursuit of money and power, Amaroo brings his point to light by recounting instances where he has witnessed and heard of accounts of capitalist efforts to force and bribe members out of their native land for the claim of precious resources like gold, wood, mercury and diamonds. This has inevitably lead to the destruction of wildlife through grazing of trees and careless forest fires and to the pollution of water tables and many lakes. Despite the unfortunate circumstances and pressures the indigenous community has faced and continues to, Amaroo never forgets to mention particular individuals who have been able to raise awareness and collect solidarity for efforts to halt more cruel acts to the environment and to other human beings as well. He appears too humble to also mention his own efforts on an academic level that have resulted in revival of indigenous tradition, raising of awareness of the humanitarian as  well as the  environmental conditions while spreading the word of co-existence and respect of all that is living and non-living. He mentions his philosophy while also acknowledging his current conditions of living and the need to adapt in some ways to the mainstream lifestyles and the state of his environment.  He admits that his shoes have rubber soles and he sports a miniature diamond on his finger while driving a car. However, his reality which fulfills a purpose in society compels him to conform to a specific extent in order to be able to carry on his role as an academic and teacher. We both seemed to agree on intention and not being wasteful or indulgent with our consumption as being important in affirming both traditional beliefs and the realities of everyday living - they don’t appear to contradict one another. Although it doesn’t make witnessing a place of memory and connection to nature a few years later become grey with infrastructure, pollution and housing a less than complicated reality. Nor is it any easier to listen to families of members who were forced to enter residential schools and experience brutal living conditions and unjust degrading and inhumane acts. “When water is still, our reflection becomes clear. But as soon as you make a change to it, the ripple propagates everywhere and clouds our vision.”

Stay tuned for part 2

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