Students at all levels are heading back to classes this September. Many people send their children to school—or go to school themselves—believing that an education will contribute to independence, self-sufficiency, and a more successful life.
As Indigenous people, we all have our own ideas when it comes to ideas of success. A successful life can mean a variety of things: wealth, a big fancy house, fame and popularity, prestige, good health, a happy family, a connection to a higher power, or a strong sense of identity.
Essentially, for Indigenous people who have fully embraced modern lifestyles, success may mean a prestigious career, a large home, a fancy vehicle, regular vacations to tropical locations… a life that resembles our white neighbors. For yet others, success can be measured by following Christian or Catholic religions that guide their daily moral existence.
Money is important for Indigenous people in our current times, but does wealth measure success? Clearly, money is about survival but not success. Without money in our pocket we’re unable to eat or even survive. Most of us want a comfortable lifestyle in which our family has enough to eat, has roof over our heads, stays warm during the cold winter months, and a vehicle to take us where we need to go. Money is needed for gas, tasty food, commodities, and nowadays, even clean drinkable water that doesn’t make us sick.
If we do really try, we might be able to survive without money: but this means more effort and sacrifice to get what we need. It means going out to live in the bush in a cabin without electricity and using horse and wagon as transportation. But even repairing and maintenance of these things cost money. The fact remains that our society is a material based one that depends on pieces of paper called money. How long this continues remains to be seen.
We sometimes hear that a life based on money is bound to disintegrate and cease at some point in time. In the last three decades, our society has changed drastically and continues to change everyday with advancements in the economy, technology, worldwide transportation and movement, and world catastrophes. As Indigenous people, will we ever have to go back to old ways? Unlike the times of a long time ago, today we have women who are the breadwinners of their families, a range of seemingly incurable illnesses such as diabetes, ailments requiring regular dialysis treatments, and rapidly advancing technology that influences all our lives—even in our Indigenous communities.
On the other hand our earth is rapidly changing – consumerism and materialism is quickly leading to environmental destruction. Our water is getting destroyed, our forests are being cut down, air is getting polluted, the earth and land is being torn open and our natural resources taken out for wealth. All of this destruction of our land, water, air, and earth is being done to gain more money to survive in this modern day and age.
For those of us who hold strong beliefs in traditional Cree spirituality, a good (or successful) life, relates to the life our ancestors lived. From this perspective, the old ways of believing and living are those that we need to model ourselves after in today’s world. From this viewpoint, our traditional nehiyaw (Cree) values include acting in kind and selfless ways when it comes to helping our relations, elders, and the less fortunate; valuing people and relationships over material belongings, having the humility to know we are not any better or less than the people around us, having a strong sense of identity, and remembering who has the real power in our lives-the entities that we can’t visibly see around us. A life guided by these Indigenous traditional values is considered a successful one.
It seems that education and success go hand-in-hand for many Indigenous people today. We’re told that when treaties were signed, chief signatories made sure to include education as a treaty right so that the future generations of the time would learn “the cunning of the whiteman” through education. The chiefs envisioned the benefits of learning these ways such as literacy and math, as this was needed for our survival into the future.
In today’s age, the work we do is also tied to a successful life. When we are not working, we are usually not seen as successful because we have to rely on others for our own survival and well-being. A lot of times, living a successful life usually means you have the money and power to help others and get things done. Having some power means having a strong voice and using it in a good way. An individual with this kind of power needs to have a good dose of self-esteem, confidence, integrity, and be guided by our Indigenous values rather than money and prestige; which ensures the person has the integrity to act in healthy ways that consider the benefit of other Indigenous people.
Building our self-esteem and self-confidence means taking healthy risks and using our best talents and gifts that are within each of us. As individuals, we all have one or two positive talents or abilities that we are passionate about and bring us joy. When we recognize what we’re good at then we can look at how to bring it out in ourselves. In our Indigenous worldviews, the ultimate purpose of ones life is using our talents and gifts to give back to our people by improving the quality of Indigenous relationships and healthiness.
I wrote this blog to help clarify a life of success, because it somehow influences what we do in our daily activities. Many people are returning to school with the idea that this will lend a hand to helping them survive in this day and age. It’s a touchy subject because in our troubled economic times, jobs are becoming scarce. And education leads to better jobs. Which brings into question, what is a successful life for Indigenous people and how can Free the Spirit Consulting help you in this regard?
My own belief is that a truly successful life is primarily about being psychologically strong, emotionally happy and having healthy strong relationships. We need to take the time to clarify where we see ourselves living a life that we see as successful. This means going through the transformation and shifting our actions to lead us where we want to be. As a facilitator, I do workshops on goal setting and motivation, stress management, and problem solving, which can help clients achieve this clarity. On that note, I invite you to consider the services of Free the Spirit Consulting for yourself or within your organization to find out what success means to you and how you can achieve it. Contact us today!