Please note: The first portion of this essay was written by me, Robert DesJarlait. It recounts my own experiences with Larry Stillday. The second portion was written by Michael Meuers. It was originally published as "Taking Care of Mother Earth: Spiritual Leader's Parting Words Before Walking On."
I apologise for any inconvenience or misunderstanding this may have caused. My main intention was to provide a look at Larry's teachings - teachings that I was exposed to at several of Larry's presentations. With that said, Mr. Meuers should be rightfully credited with documenting Larry's teachings.
I was first introduced to the teachings of Larry Stillday on March 23, 2007. My son, Miziway, and I attended Red Lake Healing Day. White Bison hosted the event and Larry was one of the moderators. In the wake of the tragedy of March 22, 2005, Red Lake Healing Day was a day to grieve our loss, and to find ways to strengthen our community. The event featured five mapmaking sessions that focused on youth, adult men, adult women, community leaders, and elders. The outcome of each mindmapping circle was presented to the entire conference.
What was important to the youth? To speak the Ojibwe language. To love each other and get along. To put an end to violence and youth suicide. To help the elders, respect them and care for them when they are sick. To stay clear of drugs and and alcohol. And to have fun: kick ball, basketball, football and the enjoyment that academic learning can bring.
The men sought to be responsible to family and comfortable with change. The women, to be spiritually grounded in cultural childrearing. The leadership group valued shared leadership as clean and sober teachers. The Elder group emphasized values, morals, forgiveness, courage and spirituality.
I was also introduced to the concepts of Wellbriety and the White Bison programs. In the following months, I undertook training and received certification in several White Bison programs including Fathers of Tradition, Families of Tradition, and The Medicine Wheel and 12 Steps for Men.
The following year, June 2008, Miziway, my daughter, Makina, and I attended Larry’s Wellbriety Fest held at the powwow grounds in Ponemah. Because of my training as a White Bison facilitator, Larry asked me to do a presentation on my alcoholism and, more specifically, my addiction to marijuana.
The most important part of the Wellbriety Fest was Larry’s teachings. Using Anishinaabe teachings, Larry provided a solid base for sobriety, healing, and balance. In addition, his wife, Val, gave me a copy of “Anishinaabe System of Care.” Many of the concepts in the book were from Larry’s teachings. I was told that the book was intended for Ponemah’s chemical dependency program; however, I was to consider it a draft since it had yet to be used in their programming. The book is an extremely valuable cultural resource that deeply focuses on Anishinaabe concepts, values and principals.
One of the criticisms of White Bison is its perceived generalization of Native American traditions – a sort of pan-Indian program for sobriety. However, White Bison has always emphasized that its programs open to cultural interpretation that are specific to a tribal community's needs. As such, Larry went beyond the generalizations and taught a culturally specific path for sobriety intended for Anishinaabe people.
Larry was a strong believer that the way to find one’s center precluded using alcohol and drugs. He once told me that you can’t find the center if you’re drinking, smoking pot, using pills. He acknowledged the difficulty and struggle of alcoholism and substance abuse among our families and communities. Yet, he never wavered in advocating for a life free of drugs and alcohol.
Unfortunately, I didn't attend Larry’s teaching on April 10, 2014. However, I did find a transcript which is provided below. As a colon cancer survivor, my healing has included western conventions – i.e., surgery and monitoring. But my healing process also includes traditional systems of care. For this, I've depended on several teachers, and one of them is Larry. I’m grateful that I met this man and learned from him.
On May 22, 2014, Larry passed into the Spirit World. Although he is gone from us physically, he remains a spiritual presence. His thoughts and ideas are with us from which we can learn a path of healing, balance, and harmony of the Four Aspects of Being. As Chi-Ma’iingan has said: “We are the ceremony…we are the ones we've been waiting for.”
Taking Care of Mother Earth
By Chi-Ma’iingan (Larry Stillday)
Taking care of Mother Earth comes from the fact we were given the responsibility as caretaker of the earth. Since we are of the earth – to take care of Mother Earth – we do that by taking care of ourselves. It’s an interconnected, interdependent, interrelated system. Since we have become separated from the earth, we are separated within ourselves too.
My how we have become detached from ourselves. We are spirits having a human experience, not humans trying to be spiritual. We are here to complete that human experience.
Our culture and our language are still here because our land is still here. This is where the Creator put it, on our land. Our ancestors are waiting for us.
Many of us have been brought up to believe that our health depends solely on the quality of healthcare we receive. The truth is we are responsible for our health, we are the ones who make lifestyle decisions that contribute to our well-being.
The power is within us to create the wellness in our lives.
We have been taught – and continue to be influenced to think – in terms of pieces of ideas and concepts – rather than in integrated terms of ideas and concepts, which is more in line with our way of learning.
Thinking this way has led us to look at our spiritual, emotional, physical and mental aspects of our being as if each aspect is completely separated rather than being interconnected with each other.
State of Imbalance
Thinking in this way has led us to think as if our bodies, organs and systems are separated from our thoughts, emotions, and spirit. This is a state of imbalance.
State of Balance
For us, health is more important than the absence of disease. It is a state of optimal well-being. This is a state of balance. The way we were given to think and learn, gives us that power, within ourselves, to create the wellness we need in our lives. That power is the power of choice.
For us, (tribal peoples) optimal well-being is a concept of health that goes beyond the curing of illness to one of achieving Mino Aayaawin – wellness. We are given everything we need; these instructions have not changed.
Achieving wellness requires balancing the four aspects of our whole being; this holistic approach involves integrating all four aspects as an ongoing process.
Giwinjigadawan o’wnowen gayganawendamoog – The four aspects of our being, starting in the east then clockwise: spirit, emotion, body, and mind, that we are to take care of, were given a name – Nitaawigi’iwewin maajiigi: the growth/development of being.
We use the Circle to explain life, and use the ancient symbol of the Medicine Wheel to illustrate the cycle of life. To understand the cycle of life, we must first understand the teachings of the Medicine Wheel. Some think this is a religion, but it’s a symbol, a teaching tool.
We use the Medicine Wheel symbol to represent a non-linear model of human development.
Each direction on the wheel offers lessons and gifts that support the human developmental stages. The lesson is to remain balanced at the center of the wheel – while developing equally – the spiritual, emotional, physical and mental aspects of one’s being. To make circles, you have to be at the center.
Our life consists of four aspects of existence. We have to seek balance, wholeness and fulfillment in our lives. We need to heal, develop, and integrate the four aspects of life within our lives.
If anything is sacred, it is the human body. Hold yourself sacred.
The four aspects of our being also have boundaries. Our personal boundaries protect us and give us a sense of who we are. They are not fixed. We change them with what we feel and who we are with.
When our boundaries are intact we know we have feelings, thoughts and realities that are separate from others. Our boundaries tell us where we end, and where the other person begins.
Spiritual Boundaries relate to our beliefs, experiences, and our relationship with our Creator.
Emotional boundaries distinguish our emotions and responsibilities in relation to others. It draws an imaginary line or a force field that separates us from others.
Physical boundaries: our physical space and privacy.
Mental boundaries apply to our values, opinions, attitudes, and thoughts.
Healthy boundaries give us self-respect, self-esteem, self-image, and self-worth.
This empowers us to make good choices and take responsibility for ourselves, always keeping the self at the center of the Wheel.
In the Four States of Being, we bring balance to our lives by honoring our spirit, heart, body, and mind. We develop a solid self-concept – by knowing ours and respecting others – boundaries.
In the Four Aspects of Health; we are reminded that well-being is an ongoing endeavor, not a destination. The Four Aspects of Health – for spirit, heart, body and mind – must be kept in harmony and balance to obtain optimum health.
The Spiritual Aspect
This is our inner essence, the part of us that exists beyond time and space and connects us to the Universal Source and the Oneness of Life.
Developing our awareness of our spiritual level gives us the experience of a feeling of belonging in the universe and gives us a deeper meaning and purpose.
Our spiritual aspect provides the foundation for the development of the three other aspects. It develops our relationship with our selves, with our creativity, our life purpose, and our relationship with our Creator.
The Emotional Aspect
This gives us the ability to experience life on a deeper level. It gives us the ability to relate to one another, including the world, on a deeper level. It’s the part of us that seeks meaningful connections and contact with others.
Developing our emotional aspect – and knowing/applying its boundaries – allows us to feel a wide range of human experience with our five senses and find fulfillment in our relationships with ourselves and others. This aspect is about our feelings, our range of emotions; from fear to anger, love to happiness and joy.
Emotional well-being is not the absence of emotions, but our ability to understand and value our emotions, and to use them to move us forward toward positive directions.
The Physical Aspect
Our body is a vehicle we have been given so we can experience the world. It also includes our ability to survive and thrive in the material world.
Developing our physical aspect involves learning to take care of our bodies and enjoying it. It also means developing skills to love comfortably and effectively in the material world.
The Mental Aspect
This is our intellect, our ability to think and reason; it also consists of our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and our values.
It can be our greatest gift or sometimes our greatest curse. It can cause us to have terrible confusion or bring us profound understanding.
Developing our mental aspect allows us to think clearly, to be open-minded and to gather knowledge and wisdom through our life experiences from the world around us.
All Four Aspects of Our Being Are Equally Important
In order to feel whole and lead a satisfying life, we need to spend time and attention on understanding, developing and integrating each aforementioned aspect.
All these aspects must work together to make us a whole person. What happens to one aspect affects all other aspects. Since all four aspects must work in harmony to achieve wellness, each aspect needs our attention and care to perform at its best.
The spiritual you requires inner calmness, openness to creativity and trust with your inner knowing.
The emotional you needs to give and receive forgiveness, love and compassion, needs to laugh and experience happiness.
The physical you requires good nutrients, exercise, and adequate rest.
The mental you needs self-supportive attitudes, positive thoughts and viewpoints, and a positive self-image.
Health is defined as a balance among the Four Aspects of Being. Reaching a balance in life is an ongoing process.
Manidookewin / Ceremony
There is great value to aadizookaan – a sacred story, legend or myth. It helps us develop the aspects and is often used in manidookewin – ceremony.
Manidookewin is about integrity, the balance of Spirit, Heart, Body and Mind.
Ceremony is to celebrate the new phases of our lives. It also celebrates when we can’t figure the rest.
Healing and ceremony push you in the direction of need. You heal yourself, not someone else.
Sometimes we do things with manidookewin, but we are the ceremony. How is it they say? We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Our well-being encompasses all of our parts, not just the physical body; however, taking care of our physical body is an important element in caring for our whole self. It is important to listen to our body because it tells us when it needs our attention. Pain is one indicator that it needs our attention.
One of the easiest things we tend to forget is how everything within us is connected. We must continue to giving equal time to those four areas of our lives, because if one or more suffers from lack of attention, they will all suffer causing imbalance and disharmony.
That’s your song – we are talking about rhythm. Happiness comes from the inside, not the outside.