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Honouring our ancestors

By: Joanne Okimawininew Dallaire, Elder (Ke Shay Hayo) and Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation
November 01, 2021

A message to the community from Joanne Dallaire, Elder (Ke Shay Hayo) and Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

Everyone really nice to see you all. 

*speaks in Cree

That's my traditional name, Shadowhawk Woman.

I'm also stating that I'm from the Wolf Clan and *speaks in Cree Swampy Cree — my ancestry hails from Attawapiskat.

My role at Rryerson is Elder and Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relationships and Reconciliation.

So I'm here today to kind of talk about where we sit at the end of this month, coming up until the end of October.

And my traditional teachings, this is the time when we feast our ancestors.

Some nations call it feast for the dead and others call it feast for the ancestors; the idea is that the end of October, 1 of November.

That you prepare feast food for all the people in your immediate family who have passed on.

And then your ancestors that you may not know about, but that you've heard about, or that you know because of our seven memory seven generation blood memory.

That those teachings in that energy and DNA of your ancestors are with you, and so we feast that every year and we prepare a meal and.

We talk to the food, pray to the foods, say words to the food, while preparing it, this is going to be for an ancestor’s feast and through the ancestor’s feasts we don't taste the food because the first to taste the food must be the spirits.

So all the food is prepared and laid out and any water, drink, condiments are also there and then someone from a family or if it's a large community event and oshkaabewis is the ojibwe term for helper someone who wants to help prepare that spirit plate, so that spirit plate will contain a little bit of everything that's being offered for this feast.

And then there will be tobacco to send prayers to the ancestors and everybody participating to offer little tobacco on to the spirit place plate to honour the ancestors that they're feasting.

It's also time for you to feast for friends that you know that are in the in the process of saying goodbye to a loved one through the process of death.

And so, when all that tobacco is placed on that spirit plate, then that helper takes it outside and offers it to the to the spirit, by placing it by a tree that’s special maybe for ceremonies for the family or a rock or special place and then they come in and everybody eats.

And my teachings and the Feast of the Ancestors once everyone who has been invited, who was there eats, then the kitchen is closed off — all the dishes, utensils from the feast are left where they are, food is all left in the kitchen, not to be gone into until the next morning.

And so that helper and oftentimes the person who has done the ceremony will go back to the place where the ceremony happened just before dawn and gather all of the food that's left.

Because it is for the ancestors, and to take it out and offer it to the land and then regular cleaning and stuff can happen.

After that, the ceremonies then complete, but the importance of doing these ceremonies helps to build stronger communities — helps to build communities, communities like within Ryerson, like we used to do the feast for the dead every year at Ryerson. Unfortunately, since COVID we haven't been able to do that.

So that's why I wanted to do this: was to offer a teaching where I could talk to you, and you can see my voice and try to make it as personal as we can, in these times of COVID.

But it's really important for me that I honour my ancestors, you know my ancestry was in big question for a very large part of my life.

And I always, I come to find out, it always follows follows Indigenous ways of knowing and being and getting in touch with my ancestors, even though I had teachers who taught me from many, many nations, I learned very quickly that the basis of our teachings are are the same, just how subtleties and geographical changes which include landscapes and animals that would be present but there's all this fundamental belief.

That there is good in all and that it is our job to take care of each other, to provide each other with all that we need to be healthy and safe. Whether we're here walking on the earth, or whether we're in the spirit world and tending to your ancestors, tending to those people.sharing their stories keeps them alive and well in your family It makes you a stronger person, it reminds all of us that there's more than to the walk we just have here and now.

So when whatever way you choose to honour your ancestors. Let this be a time that you mark on your calendar, if you don't already follow some sort of ceremony, maybe this will be the right time for you to every year, think about these people, and when you share food, talk about them bring their spirits back alive. 

But for all of you, I wish you peace; keep your head above water, these are very difficult times.

And we have to keep our own spirit strong so make sure you feast your own spirit on a regular basis and take care of yourself. Thank you so very much for listening and until we meet again I say chi miigwetch, chi miigwetch, chi miigwetch, chi miigwetch,  all my relations Hiy Hiy. (Traditional Cree salutation)