Spirits Rising – Bawaating – The Heart of Turtle Island
By Jane Finn
Legend has it that when the Chiefs of all the First Nations needed to find a meeting place to gather without boundaries, a place to exchange information, ideologies, trade goods, and socialize, they sent out a crane to find the perfect gathering space. He led them to Bawaating, the place where the fast water flows. Nestled between two sections of the St. Mary River, hundreds of years later, it remains a place with no borders except those created by Mother Earth. A place to align mind, body and spirit to make a change and make a difference.
The crane is a powerful and auspicious totem in almost all cultures. Crane is a harbinger of long life and success. They are protective, wise and generous. They pick their battles carefully, choosing quiet wisdom and privacy over aggression. When he chose Bawaating, he chose well.
In 1997 this significantly historical land site was transferred back to the care of the Ojibway people of Batchewana. Under their stewardship, it remains a natural oasis within an urban landscape, a safe haven accessible to everyone who wants to learn, explore or heal and respect the land. A place where you can feel into the culture and the tradition and learn how we can partner in the journey towards Truth and Reconciliation.
When the Anishinaabe first gathered at Bawaating, it is said that the fish were so plentiful that you could walk on their backs from one side of the rapids to the other. Today the fish are fewer, and the rapids less powerful as a result of the locks, but efforts are underway to conserve these precious resources to fuel the local economy and provide for future generations.
Blessed with glorious clear skies and kissed by the sun, we cross the narrow walkway at the Canadian recreational locks and arrive at what is now known as Whitefish Island. A big sign welcomes us and, I can almost hear the voices and sense the presence of the seven generations that have come before and the seven generations to follow.
Our group spent a pleasurable couple of hours meandering along two easy hiking trails, spotting ducks, foxes, beavers, and baby turtles. The sense of peace was palpable. All too soon, it was time to leave as more adventure and discovery awaited us. We left Whitefish Island via a 14-person Voyageur canoe that allowed us to make a very deep and personal connection to the waterways.
Under Peter’s command from Canoes for Conservation, a not-for-profit organization, we learned how we could contribute to the preservation of the environment while realizing better health and a sense of well-being.
We paddled just below the rapids and heard the churn of the fast-flowing waters and felt the energy. Over the next couple of hours, the dialogue focused on the history of the Soo and learning some Indigenous words while fostering a better understanding of local cultures and tradition and what we have in common.
All too soon we docked, but we were in for another surprise, a tour of the Canadian Bush Plane Heritage Centre, and for the next hour I was awed and inspired by the courage of the pilots who led the way fighting for our country during two World Wars and then used their talents to develop our Northern shores.
A few days later, on the longest day of the year, Summer Solstice, when the earth is bathed in glorious light, I was honoured to be able to attend the Indigenous Day celebrations. As the drums echoed with the sound of a heartbeat, I was entranced by the beauty of the regalia, especially the Jingle dresses and how the dancers’ feet seemed to barely touch the ground. The music spoke to the past, the present, and what is yet to come. As the flags were retired, I was at peace.
Later that evening, as the sun settled behind Whitefish Island, I’m reminded that the evolution of life moves from the East to the West, and I count my blessings. In minutes, as I stroll along the boardwalk, I’m joined by my loon who was always present whenever I made my way to the water’s edge. Loon stands for hopes, dreams and the things that we want to have and achieve.
As the sun sets and the sky lights up with fireworks, I’m optimistic that we can heal the circles that have been broken and find our way forward.
I can’t close without a big shout out to Lindsay, who did more than host us. She shared her knowledge, her values, teachings, lore and culture with us as a friend, a mentor, a teacher and an ambassador for Sault Ste Marie.
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