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11:00:25 End Interview - Joe Couture 1 T
JOE, IN THE COURSE OF THIS PROGRAM WE'RE GOING TO LOOK OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS IN A NUMBER OF AREAS. IN TERMS OF THE NATIVE COMMUNITY, WHAT STANDS OUT FOR YOU IN THE LAST 25 YEARS. WHAT KIND OF DEVELOPMENTS HAVE WE SEEN?
Well there's no simple answer to that but there are, I think, you know, like we were saying earlier sort of a general trend or there's a number of trends or characteristic tendencies. One of them, a majority of Indian thinkers, elders, academics would say that the bottom of the decline was the forties. And why then and not some other period in time? Well they brought back a number of veterans that had been all over the world and with that new ideas, new ways of talking, new dreams, new things to think about. And so 1945 would be the preliminary warming up phase to the late sixties and the late sixties would have been the moment when there was the explosion, sudden emergence of native organizations, political and service - political being the first.
YOU SAID SUDDEN EMERGENCE. WAS IT SUDDEN? I MEAN WAS IT LIKE -
Yeah. There were ah like in Alberta which is the area I'm most familiar with there had been - the Indian Association of Alberta had existed for years as a volunteer organization which met once a year, drafted some resolutions and nothing ever came of it and then they met again a year later. Well in 1969 that changed with the election of Harold Cardinal. Then sudddenly there was a political movement in Alberta. That was paralleled in Saskatchewan and Manitoba at the same time at about exactly the same time - '69 or '70, '68. The same parallel on the service side, the Native Communications Society of Alberta was the first communications society - it was a year or two later. The Native Counselling Services of Alberta at about the same time. And ah as it travelled across the country over the next few years, just about at the same time, the same kind of phenomenon.
DO YOU KNOW WHY? I MEAN WHY THEN? IF IT WAS HAROLD CARDINAL IN ALBERTA WHAT WAS IT IN THE OTHER PROVINCES?
Oh no one knows for sure. There ah no, no one knows for sure. There was a rightness, there was a readiness, there was an exasperation point reached. Who knows? It's a question of opinion as to why then it was those very people. You know, from a human standpoint, no one knows for sure. There are native prophecies and predictions around that and the old people knew just about when things were going to start changing and why as you know, over ah more like for spiritual reasons. In human social-political terms, no one knows for sure, I don't think.
SO THAT DEVELOPMENT IN THE LATE SIXTIES, I MEAN JUST AS THE DECADE WAS CHANGING, WHAT DID THAT MEAN FOR THE SEVENTIES? HOW WAS - WHAT WERE THE DEVELOPMENTS WE SAW IN THE SEVENTIES AS A RESULT OF (OVERLAP) ...
Well you know, there - I think what happened from the late sixties on was what happens with any organization that develops quickly. The late sixties, certain people got elected and said, well I'm going to take this job seriously and do something and Stan Daniel walks across .... waving a sausage. Then getting meetings with the bureacrats and the politicians which was exceptionally difficult and frustrting. But these men and women had the determination to do that. Then getting meetings, then - and these are phases and months and years are going by. Then getting grants, operational grants - and once operational grants were given, then staff were hired.
SO IT'S REALLY A BUREAUCRACY BEING PUT IN PLACE, AN INFRASTRUCTURE.
And infrastructure was being put in place. And no one knew, no one had any management skills at all in those days and so it was a massive on the job training experience in some ways whether it was on the service side or the political side. and I think all of the .... were taken up with that on-the-job sort of training. Advances were made. Gains were, you know, obtained. But it was still start-up stuff. It's only now with the ah late seventies and early nineties that you meet the now experienced manager, whether as a political leader of an organization or a service organization. You mention Maggie Hodgkin. Maggie is an experienced manager. Ah and others like her. Bill Erasmus was an experienced manager, and on it goes. I think you could find people like that and they're all in their late forties, early fifties at the most in the present ah leadership. And if you go down in the communities you find 30 year olds who most of the time now with very few exceptions have at least a community college certificate, if not a university degree or at least university level education to some extent. This is now. And of course all of these are more articulate and there are now - there's now a junior elder kind of generation that is like my age group. Hey, we were there in the late seventies, late sixties, you guys. You know we broke down the doors that you don't have to break down any more. And we've stayed in there and so we're 20 years older or 30 years older. And so there's that kind of political wisdom, contemporary political wisdom and the result of breakthroughs and trying and burnouts and fighting and screaming and shouting and ah withdrawing and coming back. And so my generation is very scarred in the sense of the political wars. The younger generation they don't have it easier because the problems are more complex than we ever realized. So it takes a more sophisticated mind and talent to develop and manage and sustain what's been started, what started in the late '70s.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT THE PROBLEMS ARE MUCH MORE COMPLEX THAN YOU REALIZED? DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU STARTED OUT THAT IT WAS A FAIRLY CUT AND DRIED PROCEDURE TO BE COMING UP.
Yeah we did. But we had no idea. No one had any idea on either side - government or native side - had any idea of the extent to - of the extent you know of ah social-cultural damage. The extent to which the cultures are broken down, have broken down. The extent to which - which is the flip side of accepted or mainstream indicators of social breakdown. As we talk, suicide rate is still rising, sexual abuse rate is still rising, addiction rate is still rising, families being born into welfare are still rising and on and on, housing is still a big issue. All the indicators of breakdown are continuing to rise as we talk. We had no idea the extent to which that was that bad. We knew it was bad but it was a question - we always had the right focus, we didn't have the sharpest focus. NO one did and so there's no blame to be given in the name of incompetence or ineptitude or ignorance or insensitivity, you know. It was just - we just had no idea because no one had ever worked at it before. Indian Affairs had never worked at it. They were supposed to but they never did. They couldn't, they didn't know how. and I'm not interested in attributing malice to them although Carter's book on Indian Affairs was a hot one. I don't know what more t say to your question but -
I GUESS IT'S JUST - IT'S BEEN A REAWAKENING FOR THE NATIVE COMMUNITY AS MUCH AS IT HAS BEEN TO TRY TO GET THE GOVERNMENT'S ATTENTION TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. IT'S A PROCESS OF DISCOVERY FOR BOTH SIDES.
As a footnote, no one knew the extent to which it would be complex, the complexity of takeover. That's complex. And ... I go to Sand Lake to use that as a reference point and they won't mind if I make a reference to them in public. They are running a kindergarten to grade 12 high school and they are - they have their .... a way up. When they first started they thought it would be rather easy to take it over and there are far more problems than they realized, just straighforward learning problems in a bicultural setting. No one has thought through bicultural education really. We talk about it. That's been the rhetoric for decades. Training teachers to work in a bicultural setting, counsellors trained to work in a bicultural setting so that they really know they are doing with a person whose identity has to have bicultural foundation. And on it goes. We had no sense of that kind of complexity and that's just in the educational domain. But it spreads out because everything is connected in a native community by and large. An educational learning problem is a family problem is a community problem. So everything - socio-economic, educational, cultural, social, political, all at the same time and you end up trying to hold in hand quite a few reins all at the same time in order to drive the beast or to run the machine or run it forward. It's going forward but we didn't know what gear to engage. I'm mixing metaphors here like crazy but ah you kind of know what I mean.
YEAH IT MAKES SENSE. IT MAKES SENSE.
Now we kind of know. We're starting to be able to say, hold on, it is complex. And you say, what's complex? Well, have you got a couple of hours? Here's my check list. We have check lists now like we didn't have five years ago even. And in the areas that are perhaps better known to this program - the Nietzche Institute and the Alkali Lake thing, even those people when they first started they had no idea how deep the damage was. And they only began to realize how deep it was when they began to stop denying sexual abuse. People are still crying over that one - the waves of that admission which was necessary in the name of healing. But that had to happen, but no one prior to breaking through the denial pattern - deep-seated inhibitory reaction to something awful which never should have happened but it happened and no one wanted to talk about it, let alone begin to deal with it, no one had the idea of how extensive and how widespread. You know the rest of us Indians would like to think, oh that's only Alkali Lake. No, it's right across the country.
WHAT HAS THAT REALIZATION MEANT? AS WE SORT OF ENTER THE NINETIES AND LOOKING AHEAD TO THE NEXT DECADE THOSE WAVES ARE - IT'S A ROUGH SEA.
Yeah. Well - one of the things it means, it seems to me, is - I've got to give a background kind of comment first. Since - with the '80s many Indians, regardless of what kind of INdian, have gotten back to or learned a lot about native healing, traditional healing methods and native spirituality - many. It's sort of like it's very in now, you know. And ah further to that, with that kind of return, many or a significant number at least of Indians, men and women, have become apprenticed in healing methods. And in turn that has spilled over on native training programs like the Neitzche Institute and the institute in B.C. and others across the country. So there - and also related to that, many of these same people doing the return in the general sense and people running the training and educational programs, many of these same people are recovering alcoholics. See, A.A. is still Canada's number one training program for Indians. It always was and still is. It rehabilitates more people than you can shake a stick at compared to any other program that's going. But the point is that brought in an awareness - exposure by natives to say A.A. or treatment, training, education, whatever, brought in an idea and with it an awareness about healing, and the process of healing. And particularly with work with recovering alcoholics, it's just common wisdom that if you want to heal you've got to admit that you need healing, see. And you're not going to sober up until you realize that you're really helpless over your addiction and that you need help and you scream for help. And that's the beginning of healing. So at that point not only are you reaching out and asking for help but you're also stopping denying that you ever had a problem in the first place.
AND IT'S OPENING YOURSELF UP TO BE ABLE TO TALK ABOUT IT.
Yeah and so the first step in the healing process is to stop denying. And the flip side at the same time to ask for help and that's what's happened around say sexual abuse. But that's - there was a time for Indians as well as anybody else it was difficult to admit to being an alcohol addict. And now it's kind of in. It ain't that hard any more to say well I've got a drinking problem. Okay, fine. Are you in A.A.? Yeah. Okay. Then you just move on. It doesn't alter the relationship. But there's more - there's an apprehension and a self-conscious and a feeling of guilt around sexual abuse still. Yeah, I mean for the victims, I mean that's common right across cultural societies here, Indian and non-Indian. Women will tell you it's so hard to bring myself - I should lay charges but I just can't or I won't. Cause I feel so bad, I feel so guilty, you know. We're only beginning to come to grips with that.
BUT WHEN THAT HOLD IS FIRM, WHEN YOU DO COME TO GRIPS WITH IT, I MEAN THAT CONFERENCE IN VANCOUVER WAS QUITE REMARKABLE.
Yes. (overlapping) ...
IN A SENSE I MEAN THE EMOTIONS WERE RUNNING HIGH. BUT YOU COULDN'T HELP BUT GET THE SENSE THAT THIS WAS THE FIRST STEP OUT. THIS WAS - AND THE - IT'S ALMOST LIKE A REAWAKENING.
Yeah. A new awareness. We're just using different words. Yeah.
SO FOR THE NINETIES, IT'S HARD NOT TO BE OPTIMISTIC BUT IT SOUNDS TO ME LIKE THERE ARE STILL ALL KINDS OF HURDLES AND CHALLENGES.
There is a confidence and a skill in place like never before. I kind of alluded to that earlier but there is a competence and a confidence. The two are inseparable, at least from an Indian standpoint they are, in my view. Competence - the ability to deal with the issue and change it. That competence is there now. And a pari-professional modality, if you will - it's not, you know, these programs like Nietzche and others aren't run by any of the Ph.D.s. Well it's not even necessary. It's a question of skills and they are in place and they're dealing with it or leading the way, showing the way. People who started into Indian medicine ways became apprentices 20 years ago. It's now 20 years later. There's a competence there and a knowledge that wasn't there 20 years ago with regard to the process of personal change and personal spiritual awareness development. And reclaiming the heritage, and what do you do to do that and do it well in an authentic and valid way. Well, that's in place now too. It's a positive - a positive energy that's kind of a pulsating energy and it's spreading. It's a confidence inspiring thing. It's a reassuring thing. It comes up, that's ours and we now know - we rediscovered how to work it and damn it, it's great. And it's not a romantic reaction. It's not a starry-eyed reaction. It's just that we always had that and we almost lost it. And this is better than anything we ever dreamed of, you know, in terms of meaning for ourselves and meaning of life for our children and our children's children and so on.
THAT'S INTERESTING. I MEAN THE PROBLEMS ARE MORE COMPLEX THAN ANYBODY IMAGINED AND THE SOLUTIONS ARE BETTER THAN ANYBODY EXPECTED.
Yeah. And they're simple. The solutions - in principle, when you talk principles here, it can be simply stated.
YOU SAID BEFORE THAT YOUR GENERATION KNOCKED DOWN SOME DOORS THAT PERHAPS YOUNGER NATIVES NOW DON'T REALIZE. THAT'S TRUE FOR FEMINISM AS WELL, ALL KINDS OF MOVEMENTS.
Oh yeah. This is not exclusive to Indians.
BUT GEORGE ERASMUS TOLD ME ONCE THAT HE WAS FEARFUL OF LOSING AH YOUNG NATIVES, THAT THEY WERE TOO FRUSTRATED AND HAD SEEN HIS GENERATION I THINK HIS WORD WAS - SCREW UP. THAT THEY HADN'T MANAGED TO ACHIEVE - AND BISHOP TUTU WAS GOING THROUGH THE SAME THING IN SOUTH AFRICA. HE WAS - YOU KNOW, YOU'RE AN OLD GUY, YOU FAILED. IT AIN'T WORKING. WE'RE GOING TO FIND ANOTHER WAY TO DO IT. IS THAT A DANGER OR -
Yeah. I believe so. Yeah. I didn't get to the conference you were at but I went to the one on Youth and Substance Abuse last fall in Edmonton, and it was a national conference, and it was a sobering conference. I've been - I'm a seasoned worker, you know, and I frankly was sitting there, boy I hope we're not too late and I've got to work harder than ever before along with others to do more than what we're doing with regard to the youth, right across the board - youth in school, youth not in school and the increasing number on drugs and social welfare families. I mean it's a massive problem.
WHAT DID YOU HEAR THAT WORRIED YOU?
Just the numbers.
The extent to which substance abuse - the extent to which there is substance abuse. It's no longer alcohol and drugs. And the extent to which the alcohol fetal syndrome children are increasing in number is scary. That impacts immediately on our school programs - special ed. and specialists and counselling and on it goes. And being born an addict, you know, and on it goes. The numbers of that are increasing. The numbers of single parent families are increasing. That's certainly non-traditional. Indian families are extended families by definition almost and yet here we have this single parent nuclear family phenomenon growing and that's just a symptom of the youth thing. Youth, I suppose you want to define it as 40 and under, 35 and under.
LET'S CUT THERE.
Start 12:18:12 Interview - Joe Couture 2 T
WE TALKED A BIT ABOUT THE CHANGES YOU'VE SEEN IN THE NATIVE COMMUNITY OVER A 25 YEAR PERIOD. ARE THERE EQUIVALENT CHANGES OR AT LEAST AS IMPORTANT CHANGES IN THE NON-NATIVE COMMUNITY IN CANADA?
Well there certainly are changes. There are probably equivalent or parallel changes - natives don't live in a cultural vacuum, a political vacuum. They're part of the global scene. We tend to forget that. But what's happened to Indians is happening globally I think. In terms of awareness, development - I kind of like that phrase. Awareness of what? Ah of what it means to be a human being. You start probing that question and then it forces you to question all kinds of things in your environment - the politics of the country, the the ah the delivery system of services whether it's government or business of the country, what the capitalistic system does, can do and what its track record is and what are the ultimate results of that system that we've had in place in this country for more than a hundred years. Indians and non-Indians are questioning that I think. So in that sense, more and more with each year and I suppose this awareness will grow rapidly exponentially over the next five years where Indian and non-Indian will suddenly become aware of each other of asking the same questions, looking for the same kinds of answers. And Indians saying, well we've got some answers. We don't have to find a new story to explain the world and life like you're doing. We've got an old story that's always new. And there are some Indians starting to talk that way with using exactly those words right now. And so the bottom line equivalent common denominator thing is here in a question form, I think at least for the sake of discussion, what does it mean to be a human being in this continent, in this world. And it - with the background being the history of this continent as it has unfolded and has impacted on and been played out by both parties, Indian and non-Indian.
WHEN YOU SAY THIS WORLD WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A HUMAN BEING, I MEAN IN A LITERAL SENSE IT'S THE EARTH AND THE SKY AND THE WATER AND THE ELEMENTS THAT WE HAVE - THAT SOME PEOPLE SAY NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE.
Relationship. And that's a fundamental concept, by the way, in native spirituality. Being a human being, being alive is simply a question of being in relationship and being aware of those relationships. And then of course that brings in the earth, the sky, the water, fire, the four basic elements. Ah becoming aware that everything is alive in a sense - everything. And because of that that everyone - like the Indians tend to say, it's an anonymous axiomatic kind of standing statement that we're all related.
HOW DO YOU VIEW THE - I MEAN ONE OF THE THINGS WE'VE TALKED ABOUT OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS IS THE INCREDIBLE GROWTH OF TECHNOLOGY.
AND HOW WE HAVE PUT SO MUCH FAITH IN MACHINES AND MAYBE THAT WAS JOLTED WITH THE CHALLENGER EXPLODING. BUT WE'VE REALLY TURNED OUR LIVES OVER TO MACHINERY. HOW DO YOU SEE THAT PLAYING ITSELF OUT? ARE WE LEARNING ANYTHING OR ARE WE BECOMING LESS SEDUCED BY IT ALL?
Well I'm aware that, you know, on the Western side certainly, a more increasing number of people are questioning that. On the Indian side, I think there's always been a sense of relativity with regard to technology in its most generic sense. The horse brought about a radical change in cultural life style when the horse arrived in North Ameria 500 years ago along with the gun. That radicalized the culture. They could move out of the bush out onto the prairies and chase the buffalo. In the context of those days that was a - they couldn't do that the day before, the horse came, then the next day they could do it. That was radical. And notwitstanding the reservation system which was sort of a concentration camp of sorts especially in the early decades of treaties that ah Indian - basic Indian attitudes regarding tools of any kind was that there are tools. And this doesn't make white people laugh but it makes Indian laugh when they hear me say, hey, you know, glad to be here, I'm glad you invited me, I feel deeply honoured and complimented. And I was asked to do this and to do that and I'm going to do it and I'm doing this with my computer in one hand and my pipe in the other. And the Indians crack up. That's not a contradiction for them. Because the computer is a tool, a sophisticated tool. We've only begun to plumb the potential of that because that's electronics and information and etc. etc. etc.
SO WHY DO NON-NATIVES, WHY DON'T THEY LAUGH?
I'm not sure. Ah - non-natives are not in the habit of laughing at themselves. The non-natives are the power people in our country. They're in charge. When you have power you tend to hang on to it so you tend to be conservative. On the other hand, Indians sort of had everything taken away, had nothing to lose. When you've got nothing to lose, you can laugh a lot easier about things, (chuckles) you know. But that's not a very deep reason.
IT ALSO SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TOOLS AND MAN.
I THINK SOMETHING FUNDAMENTAL THE WAY THAT -
I don't think Indians ever lost that sense of relativity of things. Everything has its place, has its role, has its importance and a tool's a tool. It just helps me function more efficiently, more easily and gives me the time that I need to give to the things that are really important - just a tool.
WHEN YOU LOOK AHEAD SAY TO THE NEXT 25 YEARS, I MEAN THE ENVIRONMENT IS OBVIOUSLY GOING TO BE, IF NOT THE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY, IT'S GOING TO BE RIGHT UP THERE, WHAT ROLE WILL THE NATIVES PLAY DO YOU THINK IN WHAT SOME PEOPLE ARE SAYING IS THE SAVING OF THE PLANET?
Well the role they can play is out of the - has to do with this body of knowledge they have, this heritage, a spiritual, intellectual heritage relative to the world, relative to being a human being. I said a few moments ago it can be summed up, you know, in one concept. What's it all about? It's about being in relationship. And what are relationships? What are the relationships that are fundamental? Relationship with myself, relationship with you, with others, relationship with my children, relationship with my family, with other families, with the community. Then in harmony with the environment, forever, and still the native notion, fundamental notion of relationship with regard to the environment is one of stewardship, not ownership. See we're radically different on that. As someone has said, if you took away that part of law which has to do with private property you wouldn't have much law left, you know, whereas on the Indian side they just don't have that same sense of ownership and proprietary in this and use of in an exclusive absolute way, certainly don't have the sense of accumulating. There are individual Indians who accumulate. When you look around my place, boy you've accumulated quite a bit. And if you saw my place in Konawagi, hey you've accumulated a lot. Nonetheless the fundamental attitude in the midst of all that is - it's very relative. Take it away? Okay. Give it away? Sure. Give it to somebody else? Yeah. You mean you'd give your computer to somebody? Yeah I certainly would think about it. And on it goes. It's a very - there's a detachment from material objects, things that is a characteristic of the generic native Amerian culture that you do not find in Western culture as it is at this time. Where it will go over the next 25 years, well that's hard to say. More and more Indians seem busy. Indians are busy reclaiming that heritage, see. I don't want to give the impression I'm talking about something that's fully in place. We're busy reclaiming, rediscovering. It's a roots trip to take off from that TV black film a few years ago. But as we keep talking to each other as we do this, especially people like me who are in the professions which is a non-traditional role which is a reason for saying I ain't your average Indian. And we meet at conferences and kind of lean over and say, are you still Indian? you know, cause we're busy - we think about it and we talk to each other all the time and we forge this new bicultural identity. And it has to do - the reference point back to how are you relating. And also we're discovering that people like to hear about that. They're interested, see. I give a - the reason why I'm going to Italy on this international conference as the token Indian was a year ago I was at a conference where two of those people heard me speak and I was just there as a token Indian again in a circle and talked about general things - about natives and the land, the spirituality of the land, the role of ceremonies and ritual, just what that is all about in the native context. And I was talking to top notch university people at this particular conference a year ago and they were all listening, you know. I know what it is in other settings to talk to academics. They're the worst audience in the world to try and hold, get their attention first of all and then hold it. And here I had a rapt audience. And so there's - that tells me and I've checked with the buddies, like the Maggies of the world. Well how are things? What are white people saying to you now? Yeah they're really interested in hearing about why we're doing what we're doing. So it's progress report that we keep talking from at the present time. Where will that take us 25 years from now? Well, to pick up on what I was saying earlier, in a very crude and very unfocused way, yet at the level of hope, I have that deep satisfaction that it will be better for my children and my children's children now. Ten years ago I couldn't say that. So it's hard to get specific on that. At least I find it hard. Because we're busy doing it. We're busy forging it. My ancestors didn't have to do what I'm doing to be an Indian. There's a good story, I don't know if you've got time for a story. You know, you've been around Indians a bit in your work and we talk about the legends and stories and that we - there are story tellers. We've lost a lot of those and with it a lot of the old stories. And I used to lament that. I said I missed out on that. I felt like I had lost a great deal and I had. But then it occurred to me one day, well we've got our heroes now who are acting out some stories. What about these stories, contemporary ones. And I put down a new train of thought. Years ago in the early days of the Indian Association of Alberta, we ran over a two year period - 1970-71-72, 18 elders' think tanks. Brought elders together on a regional basis, invited all the Indians in the area to come and camp for 2 or 3 days. We'll feed you, we'll sit and rap, talk with the elders. Great, great thing that we did. Totally unstructured and chaotic and yet we managed to have food and coffee and look after people. But we talked and talked and talked. And we needed to talk and talk and talk because we had never talked and talked and talked like that in years. And one of the stories was - is the final workshop of that chain which we held on past Labour Day on - at Long Beach on Vancouver Island. We had the whole beach to ourselves, 14 days. And we had the top elders of Alberta as they were then. And out of that conference, one statement especially - there were many statements. Grown men cried at that workshop more than once over the - as they discovered the power and vast knowledge of these elders that we had there. There was a great time. There were lives that were changed. Well, when we came to discussing education and identity instead of taking just one day we took two days. And at the end of the second day as was the custom, the guys, the elders discussed and we kind of gathered what we could through interpreters and we were stationed around, and you know, what's he saying? And ah ..... education and to sum up, it ran something like this. In order for us to survive, we have to become bicultural. We never had to do that before. And we have always survived on said 40,000 years of existence. Hey, we've got something going for us. That's what was implied with that. We have always survived. Now in order to continue surviving we need to become bicultural. Now that was a major moment. This was the philosophers of the tribe reinterpreting the history for the people. One of those almost cosmic moments. And further to that - this is a story I want to come to - this was a story to get to a story - other things were said in and around that idea of survival and becoming bicultural. And then the old guys are leaning back and kind of smiling because they had plotted in my lap, in the laps of the guys working as the staff. It was kind of awesome yet dismaying. How the hell do you do that? Louis the elder was speaking. Well go and master everything the white man has. But come back and talk to us once in a while. Well that kind of took a bit of the sting away - not sting but the awesome size of the responsibility, the overwhelming sense of responsibility. That kind of took some of it away but we were still in dead silence, just kind of reeling. There had been an extraordinary display over the 12 days to that point of unusual intellectual ability like the likes of which I've never seen - I've never seen before. So Louis got up again and says, look, in the fall if you come to my place and you want to go hunting to find a moose, he said I'll be able to tell you which way to go. I'll probably say if you go that way you won't find a moose but if you go that way you'll find a moose. Unsaid - it's up to you to figure out you've got to go around this muskeg and over that hill and down over there. You've got to track it; you've got to find the signs. But you'll find them. Because I've been watching the moose all summer and I know where they are. I know their habit. Then Louis went on to say, and once you've got that moose, bring it back and show me and I'll tell you whether it's a moose or not. See. Go and master the white man's stuff, forge that bicultural identity but come back and talk to us and we'll tell you whether or not you have mastered it and whether or not you have forged the bicultural identity. Now elders presently in 1991 are saying, yeah, good job, you're working on it, you know, and there's hope, I feel good. The northern people say, I feel good about what you're doing. And that's not an isolated comment. It's to people like myself and the younger ones, the 40 year olds and 30 year olds who are into professions and into political positions and the service organization management positions and - or just down and out grass roots counsellor work, you know, health worker, addictions worker. That's kind of happened.
OKAY. IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU -
We've just touched on points in an overview basis.
OH I KNOW, I KNOW.
We've hit the main points I think.
Start 13:18:25 Interview - Joe Couture 3 T
SO WE WANTED TO COVER THE INTEREST THAT NON-NATIVES ARE SHOWING IN NATIVE SPIRITUALITY AND QUESTIONS BEING ASKED. DO YOU SEE A LOT OF THAT?
Well a lot and increasing numbers of Indians ask or non-Indians ask and increasing numbers of non-Indians coming to ceremonies, especially to sweat lodge ceremonies and fasting ceremonies. Sweat lodge ceremonies by and large is for healing and fasting is for healing also but greater personal discovery and growth and release and stepping up in awareness. Increasing numbers of people wanting to do that from all levels of society. In the last ten years I've been doing - leading sweats, I mean leading fasts, especially you know illiterate guys, ex-cons through to univrsity professors and people from the business world wanting to learn ceremonies, learn from that. Part of that is out of their own dissatisfaction with their own ah church or their own denomination of their own religious background and they're looking for something. They're kind of desperate people in a way -
SPIRITUAL (OVERLAPPING) ... SPIRITUALLY DESPERATE.
Well spiritually hungry, if that's a desperation. Perhaps to say desperate is perhaps a little strong. But sincerely and earnestly seeking - yeah there are growing numbers of those.
ARE THEY FINDING SATISFACTION DO YOU THINK? DO YOU GET THAT SENSE THEN THEY LEAVE THAT THEY HAVE FOUND WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING FOR?
Many do. No one has any numbers on this so we're talking impressions.
Many do and some don't. Some get told frankly to leave and don't bother coming back. Some come in and they want to kind of take over. They start telling you how to run your sweat lodge. Or shouldn't you be doing this or shouldn't you be doing that. I says, look lady, you leave right now. Or we'll finish this ceremony and then maybe you might want to think on why you've come here. Or ah you screen them before they even get into the ceremony. There's some of that. There are numbers of people we call - Indians - a number of Indians call the the New Agers. They're on some circuit of sorts looking for quick fixes or quick changes or just curious pleasure seekers really, hedonistic kind of people who aren't interested in getting into themselves at all. And Indians are very serious about getting to know themselves. And so I can't generalize more than that I don't think.
I GUESS THE - I DON'T KNOW IF TRENDINESS IS THE RIGHT WORD BUT THERE CERTAINLY IS A NATIVE BAND WAGON THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE JUMPING ON -
NOW THAT IT'S FASHIONABLE.
Yeah, shamans are in.
SO IS THAT DISTRESSING -
No, not in itself because you know, I said earlier there are these standing prophecies about the white brother coming to the red brother and the time now is at hand for this - time has come to share the secret. So we're on solid ground in terms of rationale. There's a guiding principle to it. The problems are just pedagogical problems, teaching problems. Those who respond, no problem. Those who don't respond and start telling you how to do things, there's a problem. So that's you know not upsetting.
CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE PROPHECIES, THAT THE TIME HAS COME FOR THE RED MAN TO SHARE THE SECRETS.
Yeah, virtually - I'm told after - check this one out - virtually all the tribes in North America have had a longstanding prophecy - longstanding means probably 200 years or more - that runs along this line that the day will come when the white brother will come to the red brother for teaching. Now no one knew what that meant but the prophecy was there as there were other prophecies. And then a related prophecy was that the time will come to share the secrets. And ah and then word sort of coming around - travelling around North America that the time has come to share the secrets and that time was sort of like the mid-eighties. And which means, you know, what does sharing the secrets mean. Well I'll let you into a ceremony. See for yourself. You know it doesn't necessarily meana verbal sharing, a participatory kind of thing - some counselling, some teaching. And so there are all kinds of native culture workshops running right across the country just about virtually everywhere. Provincial and federal government agencies of all kinds are sponsoring native cultural workshops for their own staff development. There are training institutes that are entirely cultural based, Neitzche being one, on the Indian side. And on it goes.
WAS THAT PROPHECY BASED - THE TIMING OF THAT COMING TRUE IS IT BASED MORE ON THE NON-NATIVES' WILLINGNESS TO LISTEN OR ON THE NATIVES' WILLINGNESS TO SHARE.
Oh the prophecy almost is something that kind of comes out of the blue. Here it is. And some day that will come. Oh here it is. This is what it's like. That prophecy means this. This is what is happening.
WHY NOW THOUGH?
Ah - I guess there was some sense that there would come a time when first of all Indians would rediscover the meaningfulness of all of what they have and non-Indians would be attracted to that because it's doing this for them. And that has to be something and I'm instinctively drawn towards it or I'd like to know more about it if only to respect it as an outsider or get into it and make it part of me.
HOW CRITICAL WAS 1990 IN THE EVENTS - MEECH, OKA?
That was critical. It's too soon to write the chapter on that but Indian buddies of mine talk about before Oka and after Oka. Or before Meech and after Meech. There are those who say that Oka happened but time chronologic it happened after Meech and Elijah flipped the country with his eagle feather, you know. So something happened to the country at that point. One reinforced the other. The second was the most dramatic, it can be argued, of the two certainly its outer form was very dramatic. But that one Indian with his feather could flip the country is also dramatic also. It's just not as ostentatious as the other. Oka certainly demonstrated to many Indians and certainly does to me that no matter what the media said or official agencies said about it that the bottom line issue and the only issue at play there of any importance, the only meaningful one was the importance of the land and the attachment to the land. We could bicker, discuss and debate over the strategies used to make the point. But the point was you had Mohawks putting - willing to put their lives on the line to save their land. And I think that is what is resonating in the hearts and souls of Indians across the country from Newfoundland to Long Beach, Vancouver Island. I'm not alone in saying that. Somehow it seems right. There is a nobility and dignity to that somehow, but sure it was awfully messy and it remains messy. The psychological impact of the people in the in the Oka community. I guess there are still a lot of stress problems that need counselling and attention a year later. But they made their point. And I had Canadians - non-Indians call me and they're in tears - what's happening to our country? I'm so ashamed, I'm so embarrassed. These are French speaking buddies of mine. I said, well - we never had to talk about this before but let's talk about it for a while. I said I'm not surprised, but you are. I'm not shocked but you are. You're hurting. I'm not hurting now. When I was 20 years old and 30 years old I used to cry at night in my black rage over the tragedy of it all. But you mellow out over time if you want to stay in there and hang in there and keep working. So we had that kind of - I had that kind of discussion more than once with professional friends of mine from Ottawa and Montreal. And they in turn were saying, well their friends were shocked. And I don't get the sense that anyone has finished debriefing or reflecting on the phenomenon, on the event. Now will it carry over and spill over into politics? Well I don't know. Politics being what they are and Mulroney being as he is and --.
BEFORE THE NATIVE COMMUNITY -
But I think - I think you insinuated earlier but I was thinking it anyway is that the general population of Canada, whatever that is, I suppose the whole non-- the world is a non-politician in Canada which is, you know, the non-bureaucrat. There is a sympathy and an awareness like never before and even a certain impatience - why can't we clean this up? you know. Like sort of working man's reaction to it. Well it's a dirty rotten mess, let's do something about it. What are we - let's not - you know, what are we standing around here for? I think there's that kind of reaction across the country. But the institutions are -- tend to be conservative and they're slow to move.
And if they don't move then we'll have another Oka somewhere.
WHY DON'T WE END ON THAT NOTE.
(chuckle) Well Oka has been everywhere as far back as I can remember that it - remember back in the late sixties -
SORRY WHAT WERE YOU SAYING?
Back in the sixties and the seventies, the road blocks. It happened at Morley but they could have happened at Broadview in Saskatchewan or they could have happened at - well there was the big Anishnabe park thing in the early '70s at Kenora. Then there's - the powder kegs are everywhere. They were - they still are and it happened to go at Oka last summer but it could have - I was talking to - I was into B.C. in February and I said, could Oka have happened here last year to you guys? Oh yeah it could have happened right here at Capilano, in North Van, it could have happened at Chase in the interior. It could have happened up at Bitaras. The powder kegs are still there, you see. A group of people ready to explode saying this can't go on, this is awful. It's been going on for hundreds of years, decades. And we shout and scream and nothing happens. And we're tired of this and we want it to change. That kind of, you know, reaction - the explosion. And the government will send - for summer drill manoeuvres will move a battalion or two or parachutists from Trenton to Calgary or Vancouver and they will say, oh it's just manoeuvres. We know damn well it's a powder keg situation that they're worried about.
YOU KNOW IT JUST SEEMS SO DAMN OBVIOUS TO DO SOMETHING, YOU KNOW.
But it's hard.
IT'S NOT HARD. IF THE WILL IS THERE, YOU KNOW, WHY DO GOVERNMENTS SEEM TO HAVE SUCH A DAMN PROBLEM WITH FINDING SOME JUSTICE?
Our system, the infrastructure, whatever you want to call it is controlled by a small group. I'm not a pessimistic but whoever has economic control in the country runs the country. And our country is a capitalistic system and it's not a Christian capitalististic system, it's a capitalistic system. And the bottom line is profit. And so the human being doesn't matter that much. That does not mean that there are not enlightened capitalists, there certainly are. But they don't dominate. And with this global village thing which is heartening on the one hand, at the same time the economics have become global economics. You can't plan Canada's economy without thinking Madagascar.
And that's, to change that, I don't know what it takes to change that. It will be a slow struggle.
I SUPPOSE IN THE -
... Charter of Human Rights and that was put in place, that began something that bears watching. And remember at the time judges gave some public opinion, one of the saying this will change our whole law system with time. Whoever it was was absolutely right. But that's a slow change and it builds up on the basis of cases because that's the way British law system developed, common law developed that way. And ah - but then we are in unusual times and just in the native community, see only five years ago Alkali Lake. Five years later everybody is at least talking even though they're embarrassed, about sexual abuse, victimizers and victims and doing something about it. Five years later we're doing that. So it's moving along fast on the Indian side. And with regard to the economics of native life in Canada, well it's probably going to change fast too but no one knows how yet. I mean economic change requires sort of a business savvy and a competence that not many native people have. So becoming a native capitalist is kind of anti - is the antithesis of - it's just the opposite of what the tradition is. Being in relationship and sharing, you know, I mean having what you need as opposed to what you want and the capitalistic system is to get what you want. It's consumerism through and through because that makes money for them. That provides jobs and makes profit for the owners. It may be the best human economic system the world has yet invented but it's certainly not yet the answer. It runs something like that in my mind, you know.
It's funny, I'm just telling you the story my father told me time and time again when I was a little boy.
Yeah, my father was just a truck driver, fiery little Frenchman, 5 foot 5 barefooted and arms like that on him. He never lost ah in arm wrestling for a glass of beer. That was part of his reputation and which I kind of inherited when I started working on the docks. But my father was a grade 4 drop-out or something like that. But you know, he can do the Edmonton Journal crossword and maybe miss only two or three words. I can barely get halfway through. So anyway my father time and time again in those early years ah would lay out his sense of social justice in the country and how he as a truck driver was exploited. He didn't have that vocabulary but what I just shared with you a minute ago was really what the old man taught me and what his generation taught to their sons. Back home there were many men like my father.
PASS THAT ON TO YOUR KIDS.
Yeah. I have told that story. They don't understand yet because they're not - I'm not working class see. Working class, you'e into your body. You have to have a body to be a worker. You can be an egg head and just sit all day. Get strapped into the chair, you won't fall off you know.
OKAY. ALL RIGHT COME ON, PUT 'EM RIGHT THERE. COME ON. GO AHEAD. (LAUGHTER)
Oh yeah I did that more than once. That was fun. That was fun to do that.
IS YOUR DAD STILL ALIVE OR -