Susan McPherson Derendy describes a dream she had in which women in ceremonial regalia dance around a fire in front of her childhood home. "I can see colourful shawls and ribbons flowing as they beckon us with waves and gestures to come, seemingly in slow motion, inviting us to join them around that fire, to join the ceremony of life." (Illustration: Nevada Lynn)

Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

My faith has led me back home to myself as Cree

"It is in circles of sharing and learning from others that I continue in my healing."

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I begin with a dream I had many years ago now. 

My sisters and I are at home in Churchill, Man., down on the river flats along the banks of the Churchill River where we grew up. Our home is across the road, some 50 feet from the river at full tide. We are walking around on the road that circles the community where one can drive in and then back out again. (It was a pastime of ours growing up to walk around and around that road.) 

It is a sunny day with a beautiful, gentle but strong breeze. Our house is still there but the porch is gone and in its place is a firepit on sand. A fire is going, and women in full dance and ceremonial regalia are around it. I can see colourful shawls and ribbons flowing as they beckon us with waves and gestures to come, seemingly in slow motion, inviting us to join them around that fire, to join the ceremony of life.

The first time we go by, I notice the women but I am deeply connected to my sisters and our time together, walking and enjoying each other’s company, laughing, talking and catching up — a special joy I have not known elsewhere. I am drawn to the women more and more each time we walk by as they continue to call, “Come, join us.” My spirit is drawn to them until finally I walk away from the deep love and connection I have with my sisters, to join the women in what I have come to see now as the circle of life, even the full circle of life — minopimatisiwin.


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Though it was within me always, I sought for love and truth my whole life, from many places, including western perspectives and Christianity, which are merely a bridge to a destination rather than an end in themselves. With a deepened focus on relationship and community wellness, and a calling to the apologies being lived out in an Indigenous context, I often begin circles and community conversations with, “There was an Indigenous world view happening here before contact, and since time immemorial, there were over 600 Indigenous nations, unique and distinct societies who cared for each other and for the land.”

My story comes from different experiences, but a pivotal time was a group book study with a prayer and counselling process that led me to the truth of the question, “Who am I?” It led me to my Cree identity and who I am in connection to all of Creation. 

A significant and profound revelation for me is to know that Creation is divine revelation. This is what inspired, strengthened and encouraged my ancestors and relatives in the life they lived on this land prior to contact. This truth was what gave them all that they needed to live, love the land, thrive and survive. The divine is within me, too, and in every person and every creature. I have this ancestral connection to their presence, strength and wisdom, even today. 


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It has been said that the purest form of spirituality is to find God in what is within me and everywhere in this present moment. I saw this in my mother, Celia, whose only language was Cree. When she was on the land or when watching birds from the window, her whole demeanour changed. This spoke to me about Creation and divine revelation and her relationship to it.

My faith has led me back home to myself and to personal reconciliation, which I have in turn invited others, Indigenous or not, to begin by knowing their own stories, the stories of the land and the people that were there before. It is in circles of sharing and learning from others that I continue in my healing. And so the spiritual journey continues.

Each morning, I look to the east and give thanks for a new day, and I acknowledge and give thanks for the Indigenous nations from the east, the ancestors, ceremonies, prayers, songs, elders and youth. I then turn to the south and acknowledge all the nations and ancestors, their languages and stories, storytellers, leaders, women, children. I turn to the west and acknowledge the nations from the west, their ancestors, their languages, dances, regalia, spiritual practices. I turn to the direction of the north and give thanks for the nations, my ancestors, the languages, the songs and stories, the strength and skill and knowledge of the land. Finally, I turn to the east again and give thanks to the Great Mystery for my life, my story and all that has brought me full circle. Ekosani — ninanaskomon.

***

Susan McPherson Derendy is Nehiyaw (Cree) from northern Manitoba and resides in Anishinaabe territory in southwestern Manitoba, home now to many nations including the Dakota, Nehiyaw, Anish-Nehiyaw (Oji-Cree), Métis, Inuit, Dene, and settlers and immigrants. She is the Keeper of the Learning Circle at the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre.

This story first appeared in Broadview’s September 2022 issue with the title “Nihahcahkowin, my spirituality.”


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