The Spiritual Dimensions of Water

On September 17, 2012, Elder Dave Courchene of Sagkeeng First Nation discussed the spiritual dimensions of water.

“Water has always been the rite of passage to life,” Courchene explained. “Water is a healer. We are immersed in water in the wombs of our mothers, and when we are about to ride into this human world, water is set free to create the passage.”

Courchene explained that many Indigenous Peoples follow the same overarching law, which in the Anishinaabe language is called Ogitchi Tibakonigaywin, or the Great Binding Law of the Creator. This law, honoured above all others, identifies that everything and everyone in the universe – including water – has spirit and is therefore related. For this reason, Courchene noted, Elders have always told people to “be careful what you do to the land because what you do to the land, you do to yourselves.”

Ogitchi Tibakonigaywin is rooted in the Seven Sacred Teachings, which are central to many Indigenous cultures and apply to all people. The teachings are respect, love, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth.

Understanding and practicing these teachings will “create a kindness in us so that we can be kind to each other and the land,” Courchene explained. “Our challenge in this human life is to be [a] being of kindness – to share, to love, to be honest. That’s all we’ve got to do.”

The Critical Conversations seminar series is designed to start an ongoing conversation on First Nations and the Right to Water. Each week, we will post some of the most interesting questions raised by our audience.

Issues discussed this week:

As university students, how can we find balance in our lives?

Courchene noted that Elders always advise those facing challenges to “go back to the beginning,” meaning to one’s spirit. Participating in a sweat lodge is one way to do this.

“Once you’re able to deal with the spirit itself, then you can deal with the emotional aspect of the self, and then with the physical aspect, and then the intellectual aspect. You’ve got to be able to put all of those together – you can’t just have it one way.”

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