You Need to Understand That Your Journey Matters.
Think about your shoes — the ones you wear most often. If you’re wearing them, better yet, take a look.
How long have you worn these shoes? Do you remember your last pair? Where have you walked in these shoes? What have you done in these shoes? What do you plan to do in these shoes?
Thinking about this is one of the tenets of the teachings behind moccasins, Indigenous or Aboriginal footwear (politically correct term may vary depending on location) and in particular, from the Ojibwe and Cree elders and scholars I spoke to on the subject while producing the short documentary Moccasin Stories. Understanding your journey as the path you walk is important to discovering and understanding who you are. Understanding that life is a journey is important to help you heal, cope, understand, and enjoy life’s twists and turns.
At 26 I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. A few months later, after a miraculous surgical procedure, I quit my job at a startup, parted from a girlfriend of 8 years, started to work in the film industry, enrolled back in university, and decided I’d pursue a degree in education. Fast forward through the next two years, my tumor grew back, I received radiation treatment, with the situation being the nail in the coffin for another relationship in which we, like the last, lived with each other. Shortly after, I entered a post-degree teaching program, changed my tune about life in general, met my wife, traveled to Thailand for a month, made two broadcast documentaries while juggling school, then, finished school, got a call after an interview and got a dream teaching position, and the day after got told my brain tumor grew back. I’d need surgery, the same open skull risky business as the last time around.
Long story short, I’m typing, telling my story, and teaching. So, to spare you the details, I was incredibly fortunate that things worked out again. But, in between each of those commas in the story were periods of suffering, stress, challenges, achievements, triumphs, and celebrations. Minds and ideas changed, people came and went, and I became a person much different than the one at 26.
During that tumultuous period, I produced the short documentary Moccasin Stories. I heard stories like mine, ones where people experienced suffering only to eventually find joy. What I found was that there was never really an ending to that story, only changes, more suffering, and more joy. And, to be fair, I heard stories that featured far more suffering and less joy than my own.
I showed the documentary to an Indigenous Educator, a principal of an innercity school. She immediately spoke to me on the topic the film covers, of the personal journey one experiences, and the change one experiences. She told me something that wasn’t explicitly said in the film, something along the lines of,
“You take many steps in life. But you can only walk in the same moccasins for so long. Eventually, they’ll wear out, and you’ll need a new pair. You need to recognize when you get a new pair. Sometimes you’ll just get one, you outgrow a pair, or a pair falls apart. Sometimes you decide you need a change, and that you need a new pair of moccasins for your journey. You have to be okay with this change, the changes in the past, and you have to understand that things will change in the future. Nothing lasts forever.”
This person knew nothing of my life. Little did I know that I’d be facing another surgery weeks later.
During the filming of Moccasin Stories, we learned that Ojibwe and Cree children are given their first pair of moccasins when they begin to walk. This begins the education of personal growth, the teaching of how to approach life in these Indigenous cultures.
These youth are told that the steps they take matter.
These youth are told that where they “walk” in life is important.
They’re reminded that others will follow in these footsteps.
These youth are told that they have a purpose in life and that they are not wandering through the world aimlessly.
Moccasins bring people closer to the earth — you can feel the ground under you as you walk. This should make you appreciate it more.
As an educator, I try to install this in youth. It’s hard. Especially with high school students.
“I never thought about my purpose before,” is a phrase I commonly hear.
“I’m not sure where I’m going in life,” they say, when I ask them if they’re mindful of their past steps and the direction they’re headed in.
So many youths and so many of us are anxious. We live in anxious times. We move fast and more is expected of us every day. It’s hard to stop and think about the steps we’re taking.
But we need to.
In Canada, we’re taking steps to incorporate Indigenous learning into the classroom. It’s part of a national strategy aimed at reconciliation with Indigenous people, which aims to unite the country, and as a recognition tactic in terms of the colonial relationship we’ve had with Indigenous people. Frankly, what’s often missed in Canada’s reconciliation project, which was initiated through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated Canada’s role in residential schools, is that there’s an opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and communities by studying and implementing Indigenous knowledge into society.
This is difficult to do. There’s much work ahead for educators and communities. Many fear cultural appropriation and cite a lack of knowledge on the subject. Including Indigenous perspectives in the way of Indigenous authors in the classroom is a step of many. They, like the students, learn from these texts. But the real step forward for these educators is to begin to understand, adopt, and implement Indigenous teaching into their classroom community.
I’m still learning how to do so. It will be a life-long pursuit. And this is coming from a white-skinned card-carrying “Indian”, which is a fancy way of saying that I meet the government’s colonial standards of being a member of the First Nation community. I still grapple with my own identity and I’m not alone on this matter.
Moccasin Stories was both a film project and a quest to understand a little bit more about who I am. I had no idea that it’d help me understand my journey, that it would give me the perspective that would allow me to better heal, and that it would help me discover my purpose.
I’m not bitter about the challenges I faced in life. I do wish, however, that I would have been taught about moccasins at an earlier age. I wish the teachings, the idea about the steps one takes in life, would have been reinforced throughout. Moccasins are quite a brilliant tool to teach through, to help those recognize their life journey, their steps, and the fact that others will follow in those steps one day. Driving that mindset into youth creates a culture that fosters better parents, teachers, leaders, citizens, and communities.
Moccasins also help us realize that the path we’re on isn’t permanent — that your journey isn’t a straight line. One day your moccasins will wear out. Oe, maybe they’ll appear to be fine, only to tear on a sharp object. Perhaps you’ll be able to repair them and continue. Or, maybe you’ll need to get yourself a new pair and set off on a new path.
Mocassin teachings help us slow down.
They provide time to critically reflect before taking action.
They remind us to think of our purpose.
They connect us to the earth, and the more we’re mindful of the earth, we’re mindful of each other.