Powerful Words from a First Nations Elder

A year or two ago I was fortunate enough to hear elder Sykes Powderface speaking to a small group of mostly First Nations students at Exshaw School in the Canadian Rockies. He was telling them stories of growing up, of learning from his parents and grandparents, and the students sat riveted. When he asked them a question they looked about nervously and giggled but he didn’t press them. He told them when he gets up in the morning he waves back to where he was sleeping and calls “Come on, Sykes.” You have to call your spirit after you or it will just lie there and sleep. When you are feeling without energy or lost or confused, you need to then call your spirit after you because it has lingered somewhere without you. We can only be at peace when we are with our spirit, and the spirit needs our help too in order to find its way with us.

I try to give thanks every morning. Sometimes it happens when I’m still lying in bed, half conscious and curled under warm blankets. Other times it happens in the shower, or walking to the truck, or even – because we’re living in odd circumstances at the moment – when I’m emptying the black water tank on our trailer. It’s something else that I remember from that talk Sykes gave to a small group of students at Exshaw School.

He told them – told us – that everyday he wakes up and says, “Thank you Creator, for another day.” That’s it. He remembers to thank Creator for simply being present. I start my prayers now with this sentiment as well. I am not of First Nations decent, but neither am I a Christian or a Buddhist. What I am is someone who has a deep respect and connection to nature, so I loosely model my spirituality on that of our First Nations. I then try to give thanks for specific things in my life; a great Ponderosa Pine tree I’m holding, a flock of nuthatches fluttering in low, nearby branches. Lately however, I’ve been struggling to find specific things to be thankful for. I give thanks for my health, Tricia’s strength on which I’ve been leaning heavily, a call from a friend I haven’t spoken with for a long time. But the last few days I stand in the fields or on top of a hill and I have nothing. I felt bad about this until today.

I have the belief that everything is one thing, that outside of our own constructs there is nothing that separates us from everything else. So when we give thanks for something minute and precise, we’re actually creating a separation from us and that thing. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, I think it’s important to recognize that which we’re especially grateful for. But conversely, I realize now that it’s not a bad thing to simply give thanks, to thank Creator, or Christ, or the Universe for another day.

Thanks for another day. Those are powerful words.

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