"Living the Mashkikiikewin Life"
It is no secret that our ancestors lived much healthier lives than most of us do today. They were fishers and hunters and farmers and gatherers of seeds, berries, and roots. Their diet was filled with vitamins, natural sugars, and healthy animal fats. The only processed foods they knew were manoomin (that sacred grain that grows on water, often erroneously called "wild rice"), zhiiwaagamizigan (maple syrup), and nooka'iiwagwaan and nooka'iskawaan (pemmican made of, respectively, dried meat and dried fish mixed with berries). All very nutritious and high in unsaturated fat, minerals, and antioxidants. No added preservatives, flavors, nutrients, and other man-made food additives that are bad for a person's health.
Frybread, and "Indian Tacos" you say? When our ancestors were deported from their land and onto reservations in the 1800s, they were kept from their traditional agricultural foods such as maize, beans, and squash and healthy meat given to them by their relatives the elk, moose, buffalo, deer, and rabbit. Rations of flour, salt, sugar, and lard took the place of those traditional foods. Then, later on in time, modern society "topped" this by introducing white rice and genetically modified corn and building factories on our lands that systematically contaminate the lakes and rivers — which results in toxic drinking water and heavy-metal poisoned fish and manoomin (wild rice). So, since the rez folks only had access to flour, salt, sugar, and lard, this new "Indian tradition" came about. This is where the frybread (or bannock as our relatives north of the border call it) and "Indian Taco" came into being. So we're basically looking at an evolution of Native cuisine triggered by grim circumstances. Frybread, or bannock, became a new staple dish in our communities. Our not-so-long-ago ancestors often added dried fruit or spices to the flour, then fried the dough in a small amount of oil over a campfire. Later on, influenced by intertribal powwows, all kinds of unhealthy stuff was added to make it a "taco." Since then, a life without this round, doughy, deep-fried treat that makes the mouth water just thinking about it has become unfathomable.
Our ancestors approached life in a sacred manner. GAA MIINIGOOYANG: “That Which Is Given to Us” used to be a notion that was central to their worldview. Gaa miinigooyang refers to the traditional Anishinaabe belief that everything we have is given to us by Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery, as a gift that we must humbly give thanks for.
Traditionally, the philosophy of gakina gegoo, or inter-dependency of all things, lay at the heart of the economic system of our ancestors: the individual was dependent upon his community for survival, the community was dependent on nature for survival, and nature was dependent on the Spirit World for survival.
The traditional definition of wealth has always been the ability to have enough to share with the community, and to give away what one does not strictly need in order to survive. Sharing with each other and giving away more than one receives were therefore the greatest of the virtues…When taking a mashkiki (plant), ojiibik (root), or mashkosiw (herb), one always explained to its spirit why it was being done, and offered some asemaa (tobacco) in return. While putting asemaa in the hole one would respectfully tell the spirit of the dug-up plant or root that the spirits allowed it to grow in that certain spot for the benefit of mankind and that the tobacco is been given in return so that the plant will do it’s best to make the medicine work. This is the way it has always been done and always will be done.
Now. It has taken us Anishinaabeg many strings of lives to develop our bodies so that we coexist peacefully with gaa miinigooyang - the natural foods that Aki provides us with. However, due to land loss, reservation politics, internment in Catholic horror factories and a myriad of mental health issues resulting from it, most of us Anishinaabeg (although not all!) lost touch with the old Ways. This development only took three to four generations to complete. This means that we haven’t had the time to develop resistance to many of the foods and diseases that modern society throws at us. Foods that are manufacturing processed and contaminated with all sorts of synthetic substances. Fish contaminated by heavy metals and drinking water poisoned by plastic bottle producers and oil and gas spills because of leaking pipe lines and devastating health effects caused by nuclear waste from power plants that were put on our lands. Whole communities, particularly in Canada have been and still are being exposed to large amounts of radioactivity, causing nausea, vomiting, hair loss, diarrhea, hemorrhage, destruction of the intestinal lining, central nervous system damage, and, ultimately, death. It also causes DNA damage and raises the risk of cancer, particularly in young children and fetuses.
So, what we don't need is more Wiindigoowin. What I would call: living a mass media-fueled consumerist life style. What we do need is Mashkikiikewin — what I would call, living a life based on gathering medicine. More literally: gathering strength from the earth. Because strength can be found in the earth, not in factory products.