Beating the Drum on being connected

Beating the Drum

Beverly Blanchard is an Ojibway First Nation from Northern Ontario.  She holds a degree in Economics. During the last twenty-two years, she has worked as a consultant to First Nation and Inuit organizations in a variety of disciplines including: homelessness, suicide prevention, violence prevention, childcare, HIV/AIDS, women’s issues, business planning, and economic development. She has also designed and delivered Aboriginal awareness and stress management workshops to Federal government employees. Currently, Ms Blanchard is a life strategy coach, author and energy healer in Ottawa. She is the author of the blog Ancient Wisdom, which will be found at

Cultural influences are universal and eternal

By Beverly D. Blanchard
True North Perspective

29 March 2013 — It is unfortunate that when we look at history, all too often we look with a myopic view. We pick and chose scenarios that support our presuppositions about what happened. In addition, we apply today’s morals and values and think that how we live today was the same as days gone past.

As First Nations we tend to focus on the diseases and the devastation that were brought to the Americas by the Europeans. We have a tendency of saying the white man destroyed our way of life even though there were commodities and lifestyles that made our lives easier. It was the adoption of some of these ways of life that eventually moved us away from our spiritual connectedness.    

Every culture in the world has been fertilized by another. Throughout the course of history, explorers and traders brought back to their homelands spices, herbs, vegetables, songs, animals and concepts that influenced changes in their own culture. These individuals also influenced changes in the countries they explored or conquered.

Today we look at various nations and associate certain foods as the culinary traditions of a particular country. We look at Italy and think pasta and tomato sauce, not realizing that pasta originated in China and those tomatoes have their origins in the Americas. The vanilla which flavours those wonderful pastries was originally from Central America.  Onions along with beans and cabbage which became the main vegetables of European cuisine in the 1500s were imported from China and India. The South American potato helped spark a population explosion in Europe. It was the Europeans that brought the honeybee to the Americas which ensured the growing of grapes and apples.

As First Nation people, we often say these are our traditions and many times we do not recognize that the traditions we have adopted over the course of time came from other countries. In today’s First Nation communities, there are many foods that we would not have eaten before the arrival of the Europeans. Take for instance, the food that we call bannock. It is a mixture of flour, baking soda and water. Many do not understand that bannock was an influence of the Scottish scone and wheat was not an indigenous plant to North America. It was imported from Europe. 

Hollywood has created the image of the strong First Nation brave on his horse galloping through countryside. Yet, horses were not indigenous to the Americas. Horses along with cattle, and pigs were brought to the Americas in the 1500s. The horses made the First Nations more mobile and allowed them to travel greater distances. Unfortunately, the introduction of the horses and cattle also destroyed much natural foliage in the Americas.

The most important metal that came to the Americas was iron. It provided knives and other utensils which made life easier. Although the wheel was known in Mesoamerica, it was the Europeans that introduced it as a form of transportation.

Guns and gunpowder, which originated in China, and were brought to the Americas by the Europeans, although making First Nations life easier, also created an environment of warfare and competition. Not only could we battle with the French and the English, we could now wage greater battles with our own First Nation enemies. As Ojibways we were known not to get along with the Mohawks and we had bitter battles with Dakota Sioux.  

Since the time of the arrival of the Europeans to the Americas there has been a blending of cultures. I think it is important that we recognize the interdependence and intermingling of the cultures instead of dwelling on the past issues. One of the basic philosophies of the First Nations was we are all one and all connected. It is unfortunate that this basic tenet too often gets forgotten.