Katy Bowman and Philip Brass, who is a member of the Peepeekisis First Nation in the Treaty Four Territory of Canada, discuss Indigenous food sovereignty, and how moving for food can be the spine of culture. Plus, Katy answers listener questions on swimming as movement, and feet and shoe size.
00:02:35 – Reader Question #1 – Swimming and Natural Movement – Jump to section
00:06:42 – Reader Question #2 – Shoe Size and Your Feet – Jump to section
00:12:50 – Meet Philip Brass – Jump to section
00:16:21 – Food Sovereignty – Jump to section
00:20:28 – Nature as Therapy – Jump to section
00:28:39 – Getting Boys Back on the Land – Jump to section
00:34:31 – “Language Gardens” – Jump to section
00:42:18 – Privilege and Sustainability – Jump to section
01:06:48 – Where’s Katy Going to Be – Jump to section
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW:
The Dynamic Collective
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It’s the Move Your DNA podcast with Katy Bowman. I’m Katy Bowman, biomechanist and author of Move Your DNA and a bunch of other books about movement. This show is about how movement works on the cellular level, how to change your position as you move and why you might want to, and how movement works in the world; also known as Movement Ecology. All bodies are welcome. Are you ready to get moving?
KATY: Hello friends. This is the 10th episode in this short series of interviews I’m doing on movement; specifically the many ways movement – specifically the many ways people consider movement outside of exercise. I’d like to do a small shout out to Dr. Ihi Heke, who I interviewed in episode 99, whose sharing of his indigenous perspective on movement and health has been our most popular episode according to iTunes. So, Yay! You and hear it in my voice, it’s hoarse, from just saying “yay” and expressing gratitude to everyone who shared. Especially my New Zealand listeners. I really appreciated you getting the word out about Dr. Heke’s work. He is such an important voice in this movement movement. We’re starting to tune into to other cultural perspectives which is why I am excited to talk to Philip Brass today. He’s a member of the Peepeekisis First Nation on the Treaty Four Territory of Canada, for another indigenous perspective on natural movement.
But before we get there, I’ve got some questions on natural movement to answer. These are brought to you by our Dynamic Collective, which is a co-op of sponsors that includes: SoftStar, MyMayu, Unshoes, Earth Runner, and Venn Design – all companies that support some lifestyle element of natural movement, from minimal footwear; sandals, boots, running footwear, something to wear with your nice clothes. Something that you can feel comfortable taking camping and backpacking – for all ages and all seasons – to minimal furniture that includes sitting cushions and balls that allow more of you to move while you’re just sitting there. These companies sponsor this question and answer portion of each episode of Move Your DNA. And you can find more about them in our show notes.
So anyway, I posted on Instagram and there was a lot of discussion in the Instagram post, so I’ll like to that post in my show notes. But there was this great question from Kate. And her comment was: “No way!!” I’m assuming she said it like that because she put a bunch of exclamation points. “No Way!” That’s how Canadians talk. “I take my kids to the pool every week during the cold months and I always think “Katy wouldn’t count this as movement” because it isn’t weight bearing. Am I wrong?!? I’m so happy to hear otherwise!” So you can see exactly what I wrote back to her but for those of you who listen to this podcast, I’m already here for the answer. It’s like of course, of course swimming is a natural movement and I find it to be a critical natural movement skill given the fact that many of us will encounter bodies of water in our life and not only because it’s fun but because it can be life-saving natural movement knowledge. Right? If we change the word skill to knowledge and say I have the knowledge of how to move through the water then it’s very important. Is it weight bearing? No. Does all movement have to be weight bearing? No. So I guess as I explained to her: natural movement is a collection of many many movements so I would absolutely consider swimming to be a vitamin. It’s just that, right now, in a sedentary culture where we are picking and choosing maybe the one or two vitamins that we are going to consume, it isn’t weight bearing and so due to the laws of specificity and that we adapt to the movement that we do, you can get a ton of movement nutrients from water but you can’t get all of them. So many people will use water as a therapeutic approach. And not just children but adults because for those who experience pain when they bear weight it’s a way to allow them to continue to move. I get it. It’s fun. You can use water in many ways. You can certainly increase the movement nutrition found in a bout of swimming by considering all of the ways that you use your body and what you’re doing when you come to a body of water. For kids, I just would recommend just like maybe as a nutritionist would to make sure that swimming wasn’t the only motion that was being done. It’s certainly better than nothing and it’s absolutely something to be doing regularly to build up that skill set. But I don’t think that it replaces another movement nutrient. So that’s my only commentary on it. Do I think it’s awesome? Rad. Do I count it as movement? Yes. So, am I wrong? Yeah, I would say that if you thought that I don’t see swimming as a natural movement or something valuable, that’s absolutely not the case. I would like to ensure that everyone had the ability to move through water in the best way that they can. So anyway. Thanks, Kate!
So, here’s a question from Ines, who writes… “The last time I bought shoes I chose one size larger than I have been buying in the past years. Do you know whether increased foot mobility actually can lead to lengthening and expanding of the feet? Is that a thing? I’ve been doing the exercises from Whole Body Barefoot and Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief, as well as walking lots more in general and in minimal shoes. And alternatively, could it simply be that I’m more aware of toe and wiggle-space, such that previously I wasn’t realizing my shoes were too small but now I am? Thank you and just so you know, your work is having an impact on my life!” And obviously your feet, Ines. So thank you for this question. It’s a great question. So I would say that it can be both. It could be that maybe really maybe you hadn’t been paying attention to what your toes were doing in shoes before that your toes might not even have been extended to their full length before. Many people, especially generations previously where you might only get one pair of shoes a year when you were a kid, a lot of people report that they learned how to shorten their toes or kind of claw their toes which makes their whole foot length less because they did not like the sensation of bumping up against the end of their shoe and they were obviously growing while they were wearing their shoes. So it could be that, yes, you had just now started to feel the way your toes are interacting with your shoes and so you are buying a shoe one size larger because now that gives you the space but also quite often people experience an increase in the size of their foot. And so it’s interesting this idea of mobility seem to again, in our minds, we hold in a vacuum which is like, my toes can just go through greater ranges of motion. Whether it’s spreading apart, lifting up high, and that is true, but at the same time it’s also not happening in a vacuum meaning if you have a lot of foot tension, the resting length of your foot is less. So when people develop strength in the rest of their foot, they change the height of the arch. So in Move Your DNA I was really trying to call out that you are actually changing the lengths, you’re changing the lengths of certain segments. Because you’re usually measuring length along one particular plane. So it’s not that the bones themselves are getting longer, it’s that when you start playing around with multiple planes of orientation you will affect things like length. Same thing like height. They took my dad to the doctor – this is going to be a classic Katy Bowman aside – When I took my dad to the doctor they measured his height. And it was like, “Oh you shrunk an inch.” He was 89. And so she was just quickly explaining that the volume of your discs gets less and you know that can be one case. And I said, “Also though, if you’re not measuring how much farther forward his head or shoulders are, it can be that if your spine is just curling forward, your height is now traveling around a curve and not straight up.” So since you’re measuring height along the wall it could just be that he’s more forward. And it was like, “uh…what?” And then I showed her quickly the math. If you just take a string and move it forward, I said, “you see height, his segment length, hasn’t changed. He doesn’t necessarily have shorter vertebral bodies.” The height of the vertebrae themselves, or less mass in the disk. It’s just oriented in a different plane than what you were measuring. Same with the foot. So maybe that’s the holdup. It’s like, “Could my bones be getting longer?” Probably not. Could you have through muscle tension constantly chronically holding your foot to a functional length that is different than what those segments of your bones allowed? Yes. So anyway. You’re welcome, Ines, for that long sidebar about the time I had with my dad. I guess you know when people pass away don’t you want to talk about them all the time? I do. And when you combine that with someone who also wants to just talk all the time? There you go. Anyway, thank you Soft Star, everyone else in the collective: Unshoes, Earthrunner, Venn Design; maker of beautiful dynamic living space decor, and MyMayu outdoor boots for kids. For more information on these companies go to the show notes, click listen, click podcast transcripts. They’re linked on the top of the notes. And if you have a question please send it to me via firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to answer it. So let’s do this.
PHILIP: Hello. Thank you!
KATY: We were trying to talk briefly about how we met and neither one of us can remember the name of the conference but Saskatchewan First Nations, we believe it’s the nutritionist…?
PHILIP: Yeah it took place at the Treaty Four Governance center in Fort Qu’Appelle Saskatchewan and yeah, I believe it was Health Canada. It was dieticians there from throughout the province, of course, different first nations staff. I think mostly health staff that were present about a year and a half ago.
KATY: Yeah. It was September. So I guess we’re on the year and a half mark. It was beautiful and so we got a chance to work together. And I’m just really happy that you are here for reasons I think will become obvious. You are really immersed in a lot of things that maybe my listeners here understand in a theoretical way – or they’re trying to learn more about maybe their role in their environment and I just think that your perspective – your work – is so important so I’d like to share it. So I guess I’d like to start with my first questions which is: What does Natural Movement mean to you?
PHILIP: Yeah. And that’s such a juggernaut of a question. You know, because I think natural movement really goes and affects all aspects of life whether it be our physical health, the health of our – our mental health politics, and our life practices every day, in trying to find a sustainable path forward for future generations. So on just a practical level, as an individual, natural movement is something that, as I’m aging and beginning to feel the aches and pains from my life, it’s become very much of a conscious effort to go back to movements that our ancestors would have been familiar with, you know, finding just better ways to sit, or to squat, and to walk. All of these different ways that we see the toll that sitting in chairs or our cars and what have you, or repetitive movement through industrialized working conditions – just to see what that’s doing to our bodies and doing to our communities and doing to our ability to maintain cultural health in our communities.
PHILIP: Right. Yeah well for myself, indigenous food sovereignty is really recognizing just how important our food culture is to the overall well being of indigenous nations. I mean we can expand that out to all human culture but of course, I spend my time as an indigenous person focused on reclaiming indigenous ways of knowing and being, recovering from the effects of colonialism here in North America. And in my journey in life whether it be participating in our spiritual institutes and ceremonies, or whether it be just some of our festivals, such as Pow Wow or other aspects of culture, I’ve come to understand that our food culture really is the core.
PHILIP: People will say language is the foundation of our culture where I would argue that it’s actually our food culture that is the foundation and it’s that food culture that gave birth to our languages.
PHILIP: So we see in language recovery of indigenous languages, the language retention doesn’t seem to really get traction when students are trying to learn in a classroom environment. But when we put them back on the land and when they’re on the land that usually always has something to do with food production or food foraging because that, essentially, is how our ancestors spent their entire day was in the pursuit of food. So when we are on the land we quickly begin to reconnect with all of those – the linguistic sort of metaphors and references that are all on the land in our local ecosystem. So linguistically our indigenous languages they were emergent from our local ecosystems and from that life of food culture on the land.
KATY: Ok so we’re gonna speak about language for a second. What is being on the land mean to you? Or what’s the definition of that term as you’re using it?
PHILIP: Yeah well that too is dynamic and huge. I mean, being on the land – in a modern sense?
PHILIP: Well just in the modern sense, I mean, making a conscious effort to be out on the land as and then to redesign our lives on a daily practice. Where does our food come from? How do we value natural landscapes? Are we able to design our school schedules and curriculum in order to help support being on the land – being immersed on a regular basis so we nurture sort of ecological literacy in our children? As indigenous people, I mean, our relationship with the land is inseparable and we don’t have temples. Our spiritual interaction is so tied with what we’d call our spiritual grandfathers or grandmothers. The spiritual entities that are actually, they reside in the physical landscape. Whether it be the rocks, the soil, the grasses, the plant medicine, the trees. We recognize that these have spiritual consciousness and by immersing ourselves in it, we are able to gain contact and to actually have a reciprocal relationship of communication with that landscape.
PHILP: Well I think that of course, it’s therapeutic. It’s essential to our long-term well being as a species. I think, though, if we are only to take it in small doses, that’s not adequate. It’s not adequate for our well being as a species going forward for centuries. I think already our dispossession from the land over the last century is already having such dramatic and devastating consequences on our physical, mental and spiritual health. So to take half measures of say, “let’s just tweak our daily habits” or “tweak our school curriculum” I don’t think that it’s going to be enough. I think that we really have to look at making some drastic, systemic change in how we live.
KATY: So being on the land then, there’s a volume to it. So it’s not just like going outside and being in a green space. It also includes maybe having a portion of your dwelling or as you said this food culture is relating back to the land. So I want to talk to you a little bit since it is therapeutic – now a lot of the work that you do is with, is it just boys or boys and girls where you’re actually bringing them back into being on the land. So can you share some of what that – what the process of it and what some of the outcomes you’ve witnessed are.
PHILIP: Right. Well, for the most part, it’s only been with boys. I have done a little bit of work with girls from our local school as well – took some girls the other year on a fishing camp. The reason I work with boys is because there is someone else in the community that specifically works with girls. I guess I have the privilege I guess, in my family, I had a father who was a scholar and a professor but he had also grew up on land very much as a boy and had hunting and fishing skills. That was a very important part of our life growing up. And I have one older brother, he’s 9 years older, who also taught me as I was growing to be a boy. And I really took to that. I always felt a deep sense of belonging on the land and on the water. So from a very young age, I thrived in that environment and it was my first priority in life was to make sure that I was spending as much time being on the land and learning about my local environment and the skills that went with that. And then being the youngest in my family I began to have nieces and nephews by the time I was a teenager. And so a lot of my nephews, I began to teach them as well. That was a little over 20 years ago. So yeah, I spent a lot of time, many many trips – hunting trips, fishing trips – with my nephews. And then in the last four or five years here living on the Peepeekisis I had the opportunity to begin working with the youth in the community. I took a job as the community wellness coordinator which essentially is kind of the portfolio of a sport and rec, but also drug and alcohol and gang prevention. Because of course addiction and gang activity is always a struggle in any community stricken with poverty. So my way of connecting with a lot of the boys who seemed most at risk was to simply approach them and ask them if they wanted to go hunting with me. And of course, they would jump at that opportunity. And as I’ve come to learn, 95% of the boys that I worked with didn’t have a father figure in their life. So it quickly turned into some very deep relationships that I hadn’t envisioned at the onset but I built some relationships with some fabulous young men and, you know, they were labeled as criminals and as drug dealers and vandals and that sort of thing. But they were also very much social leaders. And carried a lot of influence in the community with their peers. And so that circle quickly grew. Word got out that Phil was the guy who, jump in Phil’s truck and you’d be off on some adventure for the weekend. We’d go hunting moose or go fishing for the weekend or something.
KATY: I want you to hear a little bit more of what this is like. So I’m gonna play a clip of a radio piece made by Katie Sawatzky who was a journalism student who at the university in Regina in Saskatchewan Canada. This first aired on her school’s radio show 2945. Katie tagged along with Philip and some of the boys. Have a listen:
Philip: It’s taken lots of coaching but the boys are really learning to work as a team because they have to stay in formation. Stay even with each other. If somebody falls way behind or someone gets way too far ahead, then the rabbits are a way to cut back and get between them, right? That takes a lot of cooperation. Ok. Nobody home. Off to the next bush. They’re like a little pack of wolves coming to the bush here. And that builds belonging amongst them. As indigenous peoples, especially, I mean our ancestors, we’ve been here for millennia. We have a deep spiritual relationship with this place. And it’s a powerful force in our lives. That’s good. Just stay about that close to the edge all around. Are you going to the middle Kiwana? Yep. We have an open area. [Katie: It’s a smaller one.] This gets thick and tangly so it’s gonna be tough going in there. Move slow Tyler. You should move slow because big Bill’s gonna have to go the fastest because he’s there on the outside. In fact, Bill you should probably be in the middle and let Kiwana be up on top because he’s got longer legs and can move quicker. These things matter. Especially since we have been forcibly removed from the land for over a century. You know, it’s the foundation of all our social crises in our communities. When you can get young people back on the land you begin to just see the ripple effects throughout their life, right? A lot of the negative social habits just disappear. There’s one right in between you and me, keep your eyes open, right in between you and me.
KATY: If you want to hear more of Katie Sawatzky’s radio documentary you can connect with her on Twitter at kdokesawatzky or find her on Facebook. I’ll also link to her in the show notes. Here’s more of my conversation with Philip.
For instance, as an example, there was a young man who was known for torturing animals in the community and been known for having killed some cats and some dogs and that sort in the community. And of course, he had been confronted by it. I think he’d been in trouble with the law as well. But I befriended him. He was very rough around the edges. But I began taking him out with me. And what I found was that when we took these sort of tough boys that had a hard edge, they were street tough, but they had no experience in the forest. They had no experience in a boat towed in the water. And when you took them out of their comfort zones they became very dependent and they were wide-eyed and very scared. And that then opened them up to receive teaching in order to discuss some of the difficulties in their lives. And it also provided me an opportunity speak about some of our traditional teaching around the responsibility of our relationship with animals. The responsibility as a hunter when taking life. Why you take life. When you don’t take life. What are the protocols around acknowledging the spirit of that animal? What animals would you not kill? And so the roles and responsibilities around the procurement of food or taking of life of animals is something that this young man really grabbed onto. And I never let him know that I actually knew about his habit of killing animals. I just saw the opportunity. Was able to introduce these traditional teachings in a neutral way. He grabbed on to that and he became the boy that was always teaching other boys from then on. He would be one teaching them about how to put tobacco down, how to pray, how to do these things. These kids – they’re just starved. They’re starved for identity. You know, their identity as indigenous people. What that deep relationship with the land is.
KATY: So you have found essentially community leaders and redirected them essentially back to being on the land and to some success have you seen?
PHILIP: Well yeah I mean it’s hard to measure success. I mean you, I run into the issue of just capacity.
PHILIP: I’m only one person, one individual. I can only spend so much time with individuals. And that’s the challenge, right? Of course, when you are dealing with youth who are living in poverty and in crisis you have to be available for them because they’re constantly facing challenges day to day that sometimes derail any progress that you’re making. But yeah, this plants seeds. You know sometimes even if you don’t see results in a year or two years, I mean sometimes it takes many years. But you’ve planted a seed in somebody. They might have a hard road to walk for a while but when you introduce young people to a relationship with the land I think that’s something they never will forget and maybe at some point in their life they’re going to come back to it.
KATY: I’m sort of laughing at my question. I have to apologize for my questions about… it’s just such a .. my cultural and way that I’ve been trained to see the world. “Tell me about the successes.” The fact that you were out there was a success. So again, I can just hear myself. That is such, that is my cultural bias – to not only value the moment by moment but tell me about … tell me about the mass application of the things. That was just Katy Bowman acknowledge problematic potentially element in her own way of seeing things. So thank you for so graciously responding to my cultural bias there.
PHILIP: We’ve all been hardwired to looking for results, right.
KATY: Yes. Thank you for being with me in that moment. I appreciate that.
PHILIP: All right.
KATY: Anyway, I’m just trying to think of so many different directions I can go. So you have a young child, right? Is he five?
PHILIP: He’ll be 6 on the 19th. A few days.
KATY: That’s just a few days after my son’s. They’re really close birthday. But we were talking about, I’m not sure if your son attended, but that there were some… we have a local nature school here but you said that there was a Cree? Cree-school where they were creating a way of introducing early language but recognizing that all the language is essentially centered – it’s all nature-based language, right? Because what else is there if you’re a natured based people.
KATY: With the axis of your culture being food, it’s all going to be related to things that you eat and have to move through. So what would you like to see happen with that way of preserving language and also simultaneously relationship with identity and landscape?
But anyway, around school curriculum. You have some First Nations from Canada who have had the ability to develop their own curriculum and implement their own curriculum in their schools just because they’ve had means and they’ve had the capacity in their communities to do so. I mean if as a First Nation in Canada, if we draft our own laws, we have that right, as sovereign, indigenous nations. But if we don’t, then federal or provincial laws will take precedence. And what we’re having now is you’re having a big push by both the federal government and provincial governments to eliminate that opportunity for first nations to draft their own legal frameworks and develop their own school curriculum and just bring us under the umbrella of the provincial school system and curriculum. Which, for myself, is horrific. Because it’s so, the provincial system is so rigid and academically centric. And so for indigenous communities, our needs are so fundamentally different than the mainstream society where we’re trying to recover or reclaim culture. So our educational needs are different. And yeah, making that link between language and land-based education and food education, I think, is vitally important. A lot of people, even in our own communities, they’re not making that link yet. I’m making these links because I’ve been involved in different aspects of that. I’ve been involved with language reclamation and I’ve been involved in food sovereignty but these two aren’t talking to each other. And I’ve really beginning to connect these dots and saying, “We need to stop putting these in silos. It’s holistic. They have to go together.” And we are seeing some – there are others who have observed that and are actually implementing that in their communities. I know in neighboring province of northern Manitoba, they’ve been really moving forward with food sovereignty initiatives – at first because of the expense of food in the north that has to be flown into these fly-in communities. So they’ve begun to get gardening programs, building greenhouses, bringing up all sort of new sorts of innovative little farming practices. They’re raising chickens and all these sorts of things that have never been done way up in the north before. And they’re seeing great success with it. IT’s being also connected with language where they, too, were beginning to see the loss of language in the younger generations. So in this one community, they had language gardens. And so they had a huge garden at their school and the older ladies of the community who all could speak the language fluently, they were the ones who were also still had gardening skills. So they were running the garden and the students would come out and when it was that class’ turn to work in the garden it was Cree class time and it was total Cree immersion in the garden. You talk about results. Monitoring results – the retention rate in language just went through the roof as compared to be in the classroom trying to learn Cree.
KATY: Language gardens. What a beautiful solution. I love that.
PHILIP: Yeah. And also with natural movement. Gettin’ our fingers dirty.
KATY: That’s all it is, yeah. Exactly And just being outside is natural movement. It’s kind of been reduced to sprinting and throwing rocks and squatting but it really is all of the interactions with all that is in the natural world. And that just includes standing outside in a breeze. You know, that’s definitely also natural movement. So I remember we were talking a while ago when we were together and you had noted that your personal family has practices that kind of make you an outlier within your own community. Like you don’t have a tv in your home, for example. How, and as far as even hunting goes. Are you an outlier within your own community because of the extent to which you are comfortable being on the land or have you noticed a change? How do you feel, I guess, having this knowledge or this understanding and wanting to expand it? How do you feel relative to the rest of your community?
PHILIP: Right. Well, I think I live a life of obscurity no matter where I go. I’m a little bit of a different creature than the peers I grew up with. But, yeah, you know, in the reality of a lot of First Nations communities, and it varies widely. I mean a lot of First Nations communities do have a very much of a homogeneous identity and a lot of cultural, traditional ways do survive. For others, you can go down the road to a different community and it’s going to be drastically different. And that’s very much in the instance of my community. I think the effects of colonialism, competing churches and religious institutions and then also the influence of the television and pop culture has pulled our people in so many different directions into such different states of consciousness. And so it’s very difficult to bring our community together and have, and share a lot of commonalities that were there just two generations ago. Our grandparents. Our grandparents had a robust food culture in the community. Everybody was growing good food up until the 1970s. You know, people had social relationships built around helping one another whether it was canning food, hunting together, fishing together. We used to have a lot of fishing happened in our community. Up until maybe 1980, but then our local lakes have become so polluted due to agricultural runoff and also raw sewage being released by surrounding cities into our water system. So we’ve lost a lot of that due to that. But yeah, I mean, a lot of the other fellows who are hunters here in our community, they might hunt, but they’re not hunting for the same reasons that I might be hunting. I see a lot of them might have adopted sort of Americana version of hunting. Trophy hunting. You know, looking for the big buck.
PHILIP: They watch the hunting channel and this is where they’ve learned their hunting skills and implemented them. Because we kind of had a lost generation there. And I think a lot of in my father’s generation it really hit rock bottom where nobody, really nobody was keeping that alive and well. And so in our generation, you see people getting back into it but some of them aren’t getting back into it for the same reason. And for me, they’re fundamentally different. They’re very different. And they encourage a very different worldview.
PHILIP: Right. Yeah, well I mean it gets into discussions around privilege, sustainability, does the natural world, is it able to provide for humanity as we now head towards 8 billion people. Yeah, I mean I don’t have the solutions for all of humanity…
PHILIP: …and I always think of ecosystems. The planet WAS a huge and diverse planet with so many different ecosystems. And the culture, the human cultures reflected that. The diversity in human cultures reflected that. And the big elephant in the room is monoculture. Whether it’s mono-crops or it’s the melting pot of monoculture in humanity. I know that so many see that as an honorable pursuit but myself, I’m very leery of that. I see great danger in pursuing mono-culture. Diversity is key to resilience as human beings. So I think there’s many different answers for different peoples where they are. And solutions going forward are going to be very diverse. You know, where I live, no present day, the province of Saskatchewan, I mean, you know, we’re a massive – we’re the size of California, Oregon, and Washington put together. And there’s only 1 million people there – or here in that massive space. And we have 2/3 of that is boreal forest. So we do have a different reality than say those people living in California as far as how much our natural systems can carry us forward. So I think for myself as an indigenous person, though, and this is something that gets lost and I think a lot of conversations when it comes around protecting land, you know, something people should be familiar with is the UN declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples. When it comes around who has first right of access to maintaining a land-based lifestyle – they’re hunting and gathering – I don’t see the capacity for everybody and it’s not a reality for everybody to live that lifestyle. But as indigenous peoples, we certainly have a right. Here in Canada we certainly do have that right to hunt, to fish, to gather, year round. We don’t have to adhere by hunting seasons. But of course that’s always under threat and there’s always pressure from mainstream society to eliminate that. And I think there is always this pressure to assimilate. To do away with our way of life. Which essentially is genocide. That’s cultural genocide.
PHILIP: If you want to do away with that land-based lifestyle you essentially are you’re reducing our cultural practices just down to very shadow spectacles of entertainment. You know, dressing up and dancing at a pow wow. But it really has no spiritual or ecological substance. And if we remove ourselves as indigenous peoples from our actual ecological function – we are key species on this continent. Just like the bison were. The bison and indigenous peoples were a part of the reciprocal relationship that actually made grasslands healthy here on the plains. With both indigenous peoples and the bison being removed. You know, we find ourselves, society finds itself searching for all sorts of ways to maintain grassland health but – cattle and rotational grazing and these sorts of things. But I think that when you remove indigenous peoples from the ecosystems that they emerged from, it’s inevitable that that ecosystem will collapse and so will that indigenous human culture. It will collapse. So it’s very important that we try to bring those connections back together for the betterment of all of u really.
PHILIP: Maybe I went off topic there.
KATY: No I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s off topic. I think that what happens is these are super complex issues and we’re so used to talking about food over here and language over here and human rights over here and ecology over here and it’s become so parsed that we kind of forget that it’s – there’s just one system.
KATY: Just one thing happening with so many moving parts that it’s so complicated that the tendency is just to think of global solutions. You know? And to recognize the wholeness of it, of something, is also dependent on the wholeness of each of the parts. And that’s I guess what I most appreciate about your answer. So no, it wasn’t off topic at all. Is this idea again that there’s an idea that equality would mean the single solution for everyone to have exactly the same thing throughout the globe and what I hear you expressing, I believe, not to put words in your mouth, would be that the needs are local to the ecosystems and you can define local, I guess, at lots of different levels. It’s that complicated. To keep thinking about it. And I also think it’s really just to tie into what you said now to what you said earlier this idea that language is springing forth culture is springing forth from a local ecosystem that this diversity that you see throughout the world includes the language and the cultures and the landscapes and the way that people interact with the landscapes that it’s all tied together. And that preservation of culture indeed requires preservation of the relationships that caused it to express, perhaps.
KATY: It reminds me of another conversation. Seems like we had a lot of conversations when we were together. We were talking about tobacco. So you were talking about not wanting to reduce a culture to maybe the symbolic, like the symbols of a culture, but the behaviors. And you were talking about tobacco. And of course I am interested in – my personal practices include 30 and 40-mile walks. You know, like these things where I feel like this is how I relate to my landscape is to physically walk across it. And you were talking about I guess the spiritual practice of exchanging tobacco but it being relating to the work that one had to do to gather it. If you could share some of that, I think that would help solidify for people listening who, I would say the bulk of our listeners are not indigenous peoples. And the idea of what is a spiritual practice? I mean everyone has their own spiritual practices. Let’s talk about tobacco. What is that relationship with tobacco, the exchange of it, what does all of it entail? You know, in a few minutes.
PHILIP: Right sure. Well you know you have diversity with different linguistic indigenous groups throughout North America but I think the bulk, the majority of us, we do all have a common relationship with tobacco or some sort of form of tobacco. Here on the northern plains, we didn’t actually use a tobacco plant. We never had a tobacco plant but we made a tobacco – a smoking blend used in our pipes. And we would use, we would call it kinnikinnick – which is bearberry, the bearberry leaf. And then that would be sort of the base and then the inner bark of the red willow tree and then other plant medicines added to that. So the procurement of that was very labor intensive. And it would also involve travel and sometimes trade. In some instances – and you would see variety too, depending on where you are. You know, how far north you are – you would see diversity in that tobacco blend depending on people’s surrounding flora and fauna right? But yeah, tobacco is always the center trade item but when I say trade item I mean when in buying, purchasing anything from – in a modern sense if I was to go to an elder and I want to learn a song, a traditional song, I would first and foremost use tobacco. Tobacco has to be offered. And the amount, now has changed. Because now you buy a packet of cigarettes or a packet of a pouch of tobacco. But traditional it would just be enough to fill the bowl of a pipe because that interaction that you would share with one another would begin, would commence with a pipe ceremony. So that tobacco would be offered for the prayer to commence that interaction. So tobacco is a very sacred tool that we use. But I’ve been interested in exploring what is lost in that process that we had traditionally in procuring that tobacco. The amount of walking that went into it. And as indigenous peoples, whenever we are on the land doing something whether it’s hunting, whether it’s picking medicines, there is also a massive amount of oral knowledge that goes along with it. There is creation stories that go along with that activity. There’s songs that go with that activity. There are specific prayers that go with that activity. So when we remove ourselves from that actual land-based lifestyle – of gathering – the knowledge and the stories and the songs begin to fall away as well. And when I talk to giving value to something, giving spiritual power and value to that handful of tobacco it would have been infused with that power through the labor that that person might do to gather it and through the songs and prayers that they had infused into that tobacco. So when it arrived at its destination it had great value. Where now today, you know, so many people, we just look to convenience. And we only see the surface of things. We don’t put any deep thought into, or action into the procurement of the items in this convenience culture. You run to the corner store and get a pack of cigarettes and go see an elder and say “ok can I get this song from you?” So much has been lost in that. Right? And I think we sell ourselves short to just say we can exchange one for the other. They’re fundamentally different.
KATY: Yeah, it’s a difference between a vitamin C tablet and an orange.
PHILIP: Yeah. Sure. Yeah. You need the fiber, right? And you need the substance.
KATY: And maybe even the work to pick it or the knowledge of how to plant it.
PHILIP: And this is how it gets back to natural movement right? The consequence of this is we see it affecting our bodies. The obesity epidemic in First Nations communities is astronomical. And Diabetes. Early onset diabetes in our children. In fact, I think our stat here, children born in the year 2000, they’re now becoming young adults, 18 years old, 2 out of 3 are expected to have diabetes before the age of 40. You know an example of this too, I took a group of boys, grade 5, 10 and 11-year old boys. I had nine of them. I took them out on a trap line snaring rabbits. Four out of the nine were too obese to even walk for more than 4 or 5 minutes in the snow over the deadfall and simply had to return back to the van. This is the reality of our people. This is the reality and this is the effect of being disposed from a land-based lifestyle.
KATY: Yes. It’s interesting, you know, in the realms in which I work there’s a resonating idea that movement and land-based practices, although I’m not sure that you would read that terminology are in our DNA, and then, of course, when you’ve had people removed from the land for a longer period of time – hundreds and thousands of years – you kind of adapt to not needing those inputs as much as a culture like yours, so recently removed from the land. I think that was maybe one of the first conversations that we had – where the consequences are so much…they’re so different for populations being forcefully, actively, displaced. And I’m trying to point out convenience and sedentarism and the relationship of that. And at first glance, it’s because of health. We can talk about things like diabetes and survival statistics but ultimately I’m very interested in movement ecology and what happens when you have masses of people becoming sedentary – how does that relate to cultural diversity? How does my belief that I have entitlement, privilege of sedentarism, ultimately start encroaching on others. These are more complex questions, but it really is my personal evolution and my relationship to movement for my personal health to the health and well being of others. And that’s really only a commentary to maybe for the listeners to tie in so much of my work to maybe some of the things that you are speaking of. Your things that you’re speaking of alone are super important. They’re of such greater importance than I would say the way my knees and my hips feel but just to kind of give people a sense of sedentarism and a lack of being able to move in a natural world is, I think, a really so much more important thing than our personal health. You know what I mean? I guess if that makes sense.
PHILIP: You bet. I say it’s always – in our traditional teachings, you know, never be human-centric.
PHILIP: Western society is all about human centricity. When we talk about climate change or we talk about how is this gonna affect … I always see people saying the same things: How is this going to affect human being? Well, we have to stop just thinking about human beings. We have to think about the planet holistically. All life. Life systems. And that, of course, comes back to us. But in our teachings, we put human beings at the bottom. And we have something called wahkohtowin. Wahkotowin is a loose translation is kinship. But it’s actually – there’s a lot of complex protocols. Wahkohtowin kind of governs family and tribal relationships between people but it also recognizes our relationships with all of our life relatives: all of the animal world. The plant world. The medicine world. Everything. We’re recognizing the ecosystem that you live in and how it functions – observing how it functions. Understanding the roles and relationships between all different life forms in that ecosystem. Figuring out where do we fit in. What role do we play in the health and well being of the function of that ecosystem and therefore we acclimate to its care and capacity? That’s the definition of an indigenous culture. That’s indigenous people. And so as we would enter and migrate into a new territory, we would be very highly observant of that care and capacity and the relationships with it and always place ourselves at the bottom and say, as long as we respect and take care of this ecosystem’s natural function, it will always take care of us forever going forward. That’s sustainability. Where you take the human-centric western worldview of dominance to put something under the plow and to essentially obliterate an ecosystem for human consumption needs – so we see this now where the grasslands of North America, 90% of it has been turned into mono-crops that are sprayed with insecticides.
PHILIP: What has been lost in that, it’s been absolutely devastating. It’s ongoing devastation to human cultures and to the function of – What did those natural grasslands, what was their role in carbon sequestration and everything else – in the function of the planet? So we always have to look bigger than our own needs.
KATY: Yeah. And our own desires. Personal preferences.
PHILIP: Well yeah. You bet. Yeah.
KATY: So here’s my question. My last question for you is, how is your work, what you’d like to accomplish, what you and your community require, how is that best supported by non-indigenous folks?
PHILIP: Well there again, diversity is key, right? Get to know indigenous peoples in whatever territory you’re living in. Their needs on the coast where you are are gonna be very different than the needs of my community. That’s the first rule, I guess. And then also the importance of not being rescuers. Not being – coming into an indigenous community and saying “hey I can see what you guys problem is and I know how to fix it.” We’ve had that for a century. And it always falls flat. I think that there’s a lot of very smart young indigenous people in communities all across North America. They know what they need. But they’re lacking the means. As we know, most of the wealth in the U.S. and Canada is in the hands of non-indigenous, not people of color still hold that power. And wealth. And so just supporting what other initiatives that are already happening I think is important.
KATY: Do you have a couple good examples? I mean we can put them in the show notes and point people to great indigenous lead, local community or even larger scale climate work?
PHILIP: I think climate work is really important and I think anybody who is doing food sovereignty. I mean there’s all kinds of food sovereignty… like I was saying – that’s the core. That’s the core. Everything else when you’re putting food sovereignty and issues back together that begins to heal the social fabric of a community. That brings back the language. That brings back economic prosperity. That beings to heal all of that that’s been frayed. And so, for myself, that’s where I see the most focus is needed, in those food sovereignty initiatives and I bet you in the U.S., every reservation is going to have a fairly good-sized community of people very conscious of that and moving forward with that. I know there’s a lot of conferences even more so in the U.S. than there is in Canada around food sovereignty. In fact, I think there’s one in your area very soon coming up.
KATY: There is, in Seattle.
PHILIP: In Seattle, right. And I think there’s another one in Iowa and another one in Sioux Falls South Dakota. So yeah, I think that’s a really good thing to be supporting. Here for myself locally, I’ve partnered with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. We’ve had the whole truth and reconciliation process happening. It’s very controversial – all stemming from the residential schools but we had the truth and reconciliation commission come out with 94 recommendations for both government and NGO organizations to take on in a healing process going forward for indigenous peoples in this country. I couldn’t list them all. You can google it. TRC recommendations. But different organizations might be able to say, adopt one or two. And so the Nature Conservancy of Canada because they have land, here in Saskatchewan they have, I believe, 150 thousand acres of natural prairie. They said well how do we, what role has the dispossession from the land – what role has that played in indigenous communities so how can we be of service. So going forward I’ll be working with them doing some contract work, exploring some land-based education opportunities. Getting First Nation schools/kids out onto natural prairie. They have buffalo, they have some massive buffalo herds in some of their bigger properties in the south of the province and they want to do partnerships with indigenous communities with raising buffalo. They also want to do food sovereignty initiatives. Really explore – right now we’re in very early days of exploring what all can we do. And over the next year I’ll probably be going out to communities throughout the province, First Nations communities, on behalf of the NCC letting some of our people know about the NCC and what sort of work they are able to do but they’re also taking that approach of letting first nations persons like myself – let’s go to communities. Let’s see what they can do. How can they be of support? They’re not prescribing a solution themselves. They’re just saying hey, we have land, how can it be of use.
KATY: Well thank you for all of that. Those are many many action items so I appreciate that. And I also appreciate you taking your time from your much more important work than being on my podcast to come and share your perspective and inform many. Hopefully it will trickle back, ultimately, to the work that you’re trying to accomplish. So I just want to say that I’m grateful that you have come on and I think you for all the work that you’re doing.
PHILIP: Yeah, well I’m very honored. And it’s all very important work. Thank you very much.
KATY: Philip Brass is a member of the Peepeekisis First Nation in the Treaty Four Territory of Canada. He is a dedicated husband and father and traditional knowledge carrier. He is a strong and emerging voice in the areas of Indigenous food sovereignty, land-based education, climate action, community health, natural movement and traditional Indigenous knowledge and wisdom. If you want to make a donation to support Philip’s work, he’s working with The Nature Conservancy of Canada to develop a number of land-based initiatives. You can donate directly to the Saskatchewan office of The Nature Conservancy of Canada. He’s collaborating with Jennifer McKillop there, and we’ll put a link to contact her in our show notes.
So there’s a link to all the events in the show notes. You can also find more info on my “live events” link on the calendar on NutritiousMovement.com. We will link to the barefoot park and the amusement park because even if you never get there yourself, in person, you have to check them out online. Spectacular.
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VOICEOVER: This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. Hopefully you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful, but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such.