A Chapter Review of In the Words of Elders, Aboriginal Cultures in Transition

Amélie Pinard

"That's why I say music and dancing, that's whats going to connect us all." (Margaret Paul)

In the Words of Elders, Aboriginal Cultures in Transition is a collection of sixteen testimonial interviews shared by Elders that come from different aboriginal cultures. But what does the word "Elders" mean? According to Margaret Paul, who is a Passmoquady from St Mary's First Nation, Nova Scotia, it can be defined as "old people that were wise, kind, that knew a lot. (…) The people that had wisdom of what was wrong and what was good and those that have been around." (p.13). Margaret Paul was interview by Emily Faries in the summer of 1994, and had the kindness to share her stories, thoughts, and secrets. Her traditional name is Monimkeeque Bedug, which signifies "sound of thunder".

During the interview, she shared her life story, which was very interesting to read. She went to school from grade one to grade eight, in Passmoquady. She said she didn't like school at all, because she thought what was taught to them was useless. She would be sitting at her chair, in her classroom, looking at her home and wanting to be there, because that is where her heart was: at home. Her father left when she was young, and he took her two brothers with him. He said that he was going to be back with the two boys, and he just left with them and never came back. The years passed by and a priest helped her family to find the boys. They were at Residential Schools. Margaret Paul didn't go to high school because she was scared of going to the White School (that is where they had to do their high school).

She said her life changed when she quit drinking, and then she quit smoking because she wanted to be able to sing. She mentioned she loves to talk with anybody, and that people would just come to her house, sometimes from sunrise to bedtime, just to talk and listen about what people have to say. She really has a lot of wisdom, this Margaret Paul. I feel she is the kind of person who feel safe talking to, because she knows how to listen and she has the wisdom words to tell you. She loves to gather together with people because she feels like there is so much to share! She prefers sleeping on the floor when her family comes over because they can talk, tell stories and be close. She misses that part of their culture, when the different generations would live in the same house all together. She said that the dishes and the cleaning up can wait when you have people over, because she doesn't want to lose that moment.

She talks a lot about the feeling of losing one's identity. She said that when she was young, people would ask her if she was an Indian, and she would answer yes, because that's all she knew. I feel there were parts of their aboriginal culture that went away when she was young, but she worked hard to reappropriate this culture with her family. Their generation has a lot of difficulty identifying themselves. They don't know who they are, and that is what creates a lot of suicides out there. She said people should be proud of who they are, and especially, they should know who they are. What is sad is that, no one wants to be white as being an Indian because of what they did to their ancestors. She said we have to teach kids to be proud of who they are. Some children would answer "no" is they were asked if they were Indians. They were ashamed of their culture because of what they had seen on T.V., about Indians are bad, Indians are lazy. A lot of them think they don't have a voice, and that was they have to say is not important.

For the love of music, she quit smoking. I think singing is what saved her, and put her on the right track. Music is a really big part of her Passmoquady culture. It has more power that we think. She is known as a traditional singer in her community, and can reach young kids through her songs. She said it might be the way they can start to express themselves again. Babies are even enchanted by the sound of music; they cannot even talk yet, but when they hear the sound of a drum, they move to that motion. Music frees people from their worries, and it connects them to Mother Earth. In fact, it just connects us all.

Dreams are an important feature of their culture. They are some kinds of visions, and they have to do with your life, your role in that life, or what you have to do. She said it was really important to listen to your dreams, and to take them seriously because they talk to you in some ways. They have meanings, and sometimes you find those meanings later on in your life. They can reveal you some information you are looking for.

Finally, I think I would like to be an Elder someday. You know, someone that has so much wisdom, that everyone wants to ask pieces of advice, that gives some kind of comfort, and that know so much about life. Margaret Paul surely is an important figure in her community. She is proud of who she is, and she wants everyone to have that feeling of pride. For sure, life isn't always easy, but the first thing she does when she wakes up in the morning is looking through the window, and seeing a beautiful new day.


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