Women gather on the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. The conference site is at Chiefswood, childhood home of writer, performer and pathfinder, E. Pauline Johnson. Our meeting tents stood in the yard she’d played in as a child in the 1860s. The towering oaks must have been saplings when she carried her canoe to the river. The restored house, built by her dad, Chief John Johnson, and her mom, Emily Howells, is a national historic site, now open to the public.
The annual conference offers an Iroquoian Perspective on healing and wellness. The name, At Husking Time, is also the title of a Johnson poem. The poetry helps readers imagine the land and people preparing for the coming season.
Roberta Jamieson delivered the keynote address. She spoke of Johnson as a pathfinder, a role model for all women, a woman who told it like it is. Roberta knows a lot about pathfinding. She is the first woman from Six Nations to become a lawyer, to serve as Ontario ombudsman, and as chief at Six Nations. She holds 18 honorary doctorates. For me, listening to her was itself worth the effort of attending conference. But there was much more.
Workshops ranged from a canoe trip down the Grand River, medicinal aromatherapy to a Haudenosaunee health model based on rings of a tree. We feasted on traditional food such as corn bread and Three Sisters soup. Finally we enjoyed a concert by the Six Nations Women's Singing Society who offered sacred songs and the funniest rendition of Old MacDonald’s Farm that I’ve ever heard.
In the Spirituality of Life workshop, Elder Sakoieta Widrick, of the Mohawk Wolf Clan, gave many teachings — including one about hair. Many people today know that a "Mohawk cut” means that the sides of the head are shaved. This was warrior style, he explained, and it meant that the young man was going to lose his mind, for that is what you must do to fight and kill. Then he spoke of the women’s ceremony for returning warriors.
"It is to return them to gentleness, to help them drop the attitudes and even memories that they have needed to fight." His statement shocked me. What would it be like today if women welcomed home soldiers with a ceremony to help them return to the community in a good, healthy way? Would that we might learn from these clan mothers and healers.
At the end of the conference, I asked two non-Natives what they thought it would be like if other Canadians could participate in a conference like At Husking Time. Marty Brown, a journalist and grandmother, reflected that if more women in Canada spent a day like this, stereotypes would fall away. Sarah Phipps, a city planner and young mother, said she believed that we would all learn to be more generous.
This year, At Husking Time, I'm imagining women preparing for the next season of peace, reconciliation and hope.
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