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Keepers of the Earth: Earth Day should be everyday

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The Earth Day we know today was originally founded in 1970 by US senator Gaylord Nelson. Senator Nelson initiated this movement in order to bring greater public and political awareness to the environmental crisis that was emerging and falling upon an apathetic nation.

Traditionally as Onkwehón:we people, we never needed a special day on a calendar to remind us of our inherent responsibilities to care for Mother Earth. Our ancestors lived in balance with all living things, from the smallest plants to the largest animals.

Nothing ever went to waste and gratitude for the abundance of sustenance from the Earth was expressed through our ceremonies, prayers and the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen. We were given the title and duty of Keepers of the Earth; to protect and honour our loving, giving Mother.

What a stark contrast it is if one were to look around our community today. Multitudes of garbage can be seen in our waters, parks, streets; everywhere.

Once lush properties rich with trees and medicines have been clear-cut to appear “more attractive.” Yards are filled with scrap or fuel-guzzling vehicles.

The amount of household waste on recycling days pale in comparison to the loads of black plastic bags on our curbs on Friday mornings.

What have we become as Keepers of the Earth? Have we forgot our original teachings? Do we recite the thanksgiving address without showing that gratitude in our every day lives at home?

We stand up and fight proudly for this land at any opportunity we have – most recently in protest to the raw sewage dumping in the St. Lawrence River – but are we truly taking accountability in our lives with the exception of speaking out every now and then?

There will be those of you who may respond with, hey, I’m doing my part!

Maybe you’re recycling. Maybe you’re teaching your children to have respect for our land and the animals. Maybe you have a garden and are focusing on sustainability.

If that is you – or a similar type – then maybe you are stepping up to your role, but the truth is that there is so much more that we can and need to do as individuals and as an Indigenous society.

Community initiatives, such as The Eastern Door’s 20th Annual Spring Cleanup today, are a great way to start somewhere and to make a commitment to our land, our Mother Earth, to each other.

To spend a morning, or even half an hour, to clean up the spaces we say we would die fighting for, is not a whole lot to sacrifice, considering all that we receive from it.

This column is the first of a bi-weekly series that hopes to inspire you, the reader, to look at your current practices and hopefully make a change for the greater good – whether that is your recycling routines, the vehicle you drive, the household products you buy or the makeup you are putting on your face each morning.

You do not have to be a scientist, conservationist or biologist to care for the planet and its inhabitants. All you need is a little bit of knowledge and a solid commitment to make better choices for us all, each and every single day.

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Onawa has 10 years of experience working with youth and adults in the fields of education and career counselling. Since 2013, she has been working as an Employment & Training Counsellor with Tewatohnhi’saktha. Her skills and interests are multi-disciplinary; also working as the Art Integration Specialist for the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre’s Expansion & Renovation Project and as an environmental columnist for The Eastern Door. She is committed to the betterment of her community on many fronts: education, labour force, economic welfare, preservation of language and culture, and the environment, and aims to be part of the helping profession for many years to come.

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