miyotehewin – The Good Hearted Ones

miyotehewin – The Good Hearted Ones

(Sponsored by the University of Saskatchewan)
© 2010 Louise Halfe, Skydancer
Saskatoon, SK.

Halfe2The journey of the teacher is to be in the “fire of creation.”

Teachers are guides, mentors, and tricksters. Great teachers are filled with great imagination, enthusiasm, with voracious appetites to learn, explore, and share. True teachers are people who love to play.

These good-hearted ones are not afraid to be wrong, nor to look ridiculous. They have the ability to capture, motivate, and maintain their students’ interest. They know when to give, to scold, to encourage, to be empathic, patient, and to share their humor. They celebrate the achievement of their students, and know when to step aside to allow their students to flourish. Their quest is to share their vision of the “fire of creativity.”

These traits are contagious, and the astute student will often attempt to emulate them.

Let me share one student’s comment on her teacher:

“I practically owe the man a limb, or my first born, or perhaps a limb from my first- born. This statement is one small way I can attempt to return the man favours he has granted me. After hopeless attempts to find the words to honor Professor X, I am reminded of a quote he once used to comfort me in the grim hours after an essay deadline had lapsed. Robert Frost, he said, spoke of writing as something that is “never finished, (only) abandoned in despair.” As I continued to pore over my unfinished paper, subsisting on a diet of finger-nail fragments and cold coffee, his encouraging emails brought me great relief. I find myself needing Frost’s reassurance now, as I struggle with every sinew of myself to justly represent his singular insight and compassion. To write a“letter of recommendation,” as I suppose this is, is to tread some very fine lines between jargon, cliché, and sentimentality – possibly the Holy Trinity of bad taste in Professor X’s eyes. I must be very careful in my approach. Were he dead, he might roll in his grave. Thankfully for all, he is not, but he would surely shift uncomfortably in his La- Z-Boy.

Instead, I choose to share with you the sleepless frustration of my plight to give Dr. X, my most formidable and unrivaled influence, the recognition he deserves. After sleeping next to my thesaurus, even rifling through the bombastic language of history’s greatest orators hoping for the “right words” to pelt this page like shrapnel, I am giving up. I am abandoning this letter in despair.”

This creative energy resembles the teachings of my culture and it is contained in the Cree language. Its revelations are startling.

I shall, then, move you from our birth-place and continue the cycle to our final journey.

I am going to digress a little at this point.

I grew up on a reservation. Our log-shack was remote, our closest neighbors were my grandfolks and other relatives within a mile or two from one another. We seldom visited, as we were all caught up in the acts of survival. My parents taught us the “art of observation.” I was taught to hunt, skin and butcher game through non-verbal methods. I also watched my grandfolks work the land and live their spirituality. I helped gather and grind their medicines. I inhaled the medicine power.

When I was taken to residential school all this fell asleep.
My capacity for thought was regulated, contained and directed, and filled with fear and shame. As an observer, I aquired the dysfunction of both home and residential school. I became a non-thinker and generally acted out of emotion.

In my recovery I drew on my residual grain of curiosity. The man I married not only became my life-long companion, but a teacher. Shortly afterwards I met a Jungian psychiatrist who invigorated and nurtured critical thought. He’d often ask, “What do you think?” and I’d want to hit him.

When I was directed from “my dreamer” to return to my traditional teachings, I sought out an Elder. The Old Man was a war veteran, chief of our reserve and a spiritual leader. His family became ours. He encouraged us to “think from the heart,” contemplate this “life way” and to “walk our talk.” The ceremonies opened a whole new world of perceiving. I also had two female mentors or Elders: another therapist who taught me how to return to the emotional life without being controlled by it, and one who taught me to validate all that I experienced.

In the midst of this intensive learning I also met Professor X, who has been my mentor, educator, long family friend, and companion in curiosity.

I cannot credit my success without these fine teachers, “they brought out the spirit in me.”

As another student so graciously said, “In teaching me about rationality he succeeded in leading me to faith: faith in myself, faith in the genuine kindness of others, faith that every one of us can have a positive effect…These are some of the hardest and most rewarding lessons of life. It takes an extraordinarily gifted teacher to be able to impart them.”

Now with this background, let’s continue the walk around the four corners,

East South West North


wasakomhteno. ssakastenohk wa punok:
Light unfolds,
from the thick forest of nowhere.
The sun follows,
sun fire peers and arrives from the heart,
fires light up fields of strawberries,
and illuminate the big heavens,
this great being.

The skin-covered eyes reach to do the labour,
in front of them.
They are struck by lightning, branches of,
the dozens of riversmthat ripple in a bone-lodge.

Here the bent and crooked.
Beings give their Creator,
a hard time.

This is not the language of the poet, nor is it the language of the everyday speaker. In essence the read poem is translated verbatim from a Cree thought.

A more straight-forward translation in English, more common, thereby more accessible, might be as follows:

Toward the sunrise East arrives,
dawn lights up the fields of human hearts,
illuminates everyones’s eyesight.

Skin–covered eyes stir thought and sight.
Their fingers reach to do,
the task in front of them.

They are struck by many tiny lights,
pathways in their brains,
housed in human skulls.

In a sweat lodge they pray,
give over to God their difficulties.

sakastenohk, wapunok in English means “ East.”

More specifically it refers to the emergence of light, a deeper essence of something before the event of dawn. This cannot be found entirely in words. No language — not Latin, Greek, or English — none of these tongues has a monopoly on the origins and meanings of words. Cultural differences, practices and perceptions play a huge role in on how language is lived and evolves. From “East,” sakastenohk, from this one Cree word I also derive the word “heart.”

The essence of dawn has and contains heart, the place of love. wa punok.

To see into the East, suggests the heart and the eyes are open. sakastenohk is a Teaching word. sakastenohk implies the command: “See!” “Look!” through your own eyes or the eyes of another.

The bone-lodge is a sweat-lodge. For the mainstream thinker it may resemble the sauna. For the Aboriginal people a sweat-lodge is a spiritual cleansing practice and healing ceremony.

In the lodge’s darkness “all the relatives/relations” cry and witness one another’s story. Even the willows, the skins and the elements making up the lodge or hogon are watchful. In the lodge, the water, wind, rocks, and fire are spirits who witness and participate in this story making, this story-sharing.

A true Teacher is knowledgeable without being conceited, passionate without being a missionary, somebody with principles and a deep capacity for empathy.



apihta-kisikawi – sowunok.
The sitting half-day,
in this south wind,
the sacred big heavens split.

I share the view,
the abundance spread on the,
table blanket of the dirt.
The bodies underneath gather.
And multiply in hunger.

While pisimwpesim, kesika’wepesim.
Clothes all it sees and holds,
this brief light,
hovering in the universe,
across the sky.

There is much to be realized in the Cree thought and translation in this stanza.

Again, to simplify in plain English it reads as follows:


At noon I eye the great abundance,
This sacred beam of light spreading particles,
on the table-spread of Mother Earth.
Her hunger guts and my hunter guts gather,
and hunger multiplies,
while the sun hangs in mid-heaven.

apihta-kisikanotahk – translated into English, this expression addresses the South. Cree translators call it “meal.” To be a little more specific we call it “this sitting half-day”, or more specifically “the sun splits the heavens and envelopes the universe.” “Eyes” in Cree translate to mean “ Big Heavens,” which refers to how vision creates the world. The eyeballs reflect the universe. tawinikewin means this abundant spread. Spread not only implies an abundance of food, it also refers to the spread and abundance of the land. “The bodies underneath” are the cells that make up the human body, and more specifically it refers to the bodies of our organs.

We are created by vision, by light, particles of something greater than our understanding. kesika’wepesim is the sacred and supernatural sun. sowunok is a powerful place where the sun soars, its great eye wide and all seeing.

The preservation of language is important. Cree is ahcahkw – my soul, my thought, my spiritual awakening, which I will address further into this discussion. Language is the soul’s voice.

Too often in literature courses, despite serious discussion, the material remains dead. Professor X could resurrect a poem from oblivion, make iambic pentameter ripple through the air, alive again, and keep a line spinning. ..for hours afterward. Anyone who says the technicalities of poetry are boring has a lot to learn.

pahkisimotahk, naka’pahunok

SOUTH (in other words)

splitting and traveling,
Dancing in being,
The sun drops,
a piece of its broken self.

naka’pahunok, a moment,
when the falling sun,
stops, does not move.
Watching from this steep hill,
the sun dances down,
fierce, through the wind.
Heavy and full it leaves drops,
into nowhere.

My dream spirit,
pawakan laughs at the,
singer, who shouts “All hearts
will kill the crooked shits.”

I felt her moving her legs,
frantically one morning.

I asked her “What now watcha up to?”
Dream-spirit replied,
“My body is in motion.”



West, after a full day’s meal the sun “drops” into the nowhere where dreams and visitations are born. naka’pahunok, over there something or someone is stopped, no one knows where or what stops the movement, and for a moment the sun hangs still by the edge of the earth, by this steep hill lip. Then the sun falls into infinity.

Anus, – misiwahkan, derived from the word “river,” where matter is expelled from the tunnel of our bodies. The expelled material is composed of what we’ve ingested; it takes the shape of our being. In Cree, “This is our crooked spoor. His crooked being humbles us.” Shit reminds us of our composition. These are the “building blocks of our bodies,” our “I” state.

A dream is not simply a dream – Crees believe it is a spirit that fills one with stories. It is our job to discern the teachings, whether or not they are meant for others, or just for ourselves. pawakan: the dream spirit is indeed spirit. In its power place a guardian presides, is alive, resourceful and intelligent. The dreamer and dream embody themselves.

The mainstream thought of this stanza would be understood as follows:


This dance through the sky,
the sun’s belly is full,
and drops into nowhere. Stopped
by the edge of the earth, the sun has
nowhere to go except down.

In the darkness of sleep,
I dream of a singer who shouts
“all good people will kill evil.”

I felt her moving her legs
frantically one morning. I asked,
“What now? Watcha up to?”

My dream replied
“What does it look like?
I am exercising.”

This sun dance, this “literal” drop off of the sun, brings about the dream spirit, which speaks to the sleeper. She is in motion and cannot say she is exercising because that would not explain her motion, be it stretching, running, or walking. Even in sleep we are not still, nor silent. If anything, we are in a state of intensive listening. An attentive state of stillness, of being. We are learning

A dream is in many respects is a quest. It plants the seed of wonder.

In our legends, wisahkechkaw asked the help of a muskrat for a palm-full of soil, so he could use his talent. From his breath he created the world. One must make concrete the secret language of one’s dream, make it live for oneself and for one’s people. Teaching.


nakahpehanohk, kiwetinohk,
I have been heading home
Towards the place where the ice and rivers arise,
with a full knapsack of rattling bones.
I have been returning home
for a long long time, towards
the place where the wind blows

I’ve crawled on my belly,
hands and knees. Still the wind
blew me like a frayed leaf.
The wind puts everything in motion.

Even my bone-lodge swims in the depths of
her makings. This wind squeezes my heart
drives the rivers which carry her breath.

Her breath is sour, a rotten mammoth,
the first being, a rose thistle,
humped-back creatures,
little people, even a butterfly.

I am a servant.



kiwetinohk, North, or literally “going home”. It travels from its mouth-place where the ice-beings emerge and melt toward the wind. The wind will blow our breath in the direction of our ultimate death, for she is the last element we release on our death-bed. I am told the breath of everything, “all my relations” that ever inhabited this earth, this universe, their breath is captured for infinity.

The elders teach that the wind “exercises” all things, so all things can bear the elements and the constant changes in life. The wind exercises the brain to stimulate thought, and makes the lungs to breathe and heart to beat. The wind travels through the body, entering by through the nostrils, via the lungs and into the blood stream. And it leaves, at times, through our anus.

I am going home,
with a bag full of wounds. I’ve
been heading there for a long, long time
where the wind blows incessantly.

I’ve been swept by the wind,
forced to crawl.

The wind makes everything move:
my thinking is exercised,
my blood carries the wind.
She is in all things, in everything.

We are enthralled. She is both
spirit and soul. I am her flesh.


This place of “wisdom” is where we tasted and ate all that we know. It is a destination where we carry our wounds. This is the place where we’ve eaten our flesh, and gnawed the bone of wisdom. Wisdom, iyinisiwin, the home of intelligence where not one strand of grey hair allows us to forget that in knowing we know so little. She humbles us to our knees and once again we become child-like. She is the teacher of good being, of good character. We arrive to contemplate the mystery of survival, and of life. Knowing can occur anytime in one’s life. We seek kiskeyihtamowin – memory, again related to the wind. This inherent memory that asks us to reflect from the blessed knowledge, the act of the blessed heart and what it eats through the help of the wind.

In other words, The sacred things we have eaten from our hearts, we know and have gathered from the wind.

The ceaseless presence of the wind is the finest and greatest teacher. Knowledge is alive, aware, intelligent, constant, and responsive.

One needs heart and thought to uncover memory, and use it as a tool when one is confronted with Mystery. One can ask it questions. Knowledge is a companion, a friend, a guide. Hence the ceaseless presence of the wind, as the finest and greatest teacher.

In “The Crooked Good” I wrote:

I, e-kweskit, am a dreamer.
I dream awake. Asleep. On paper.

The Old Man said the universe,
the day, was the story. So
every day I am born….

What is inspiration? It comes from breath; it comes back to spirit and the heart. When a sudden gust of wind takes one by surprise, one is struck by its unexpected arrival and presence. One is in awe. In Cree to inspire – miskweyihtamipay– is to acknowledge the arrival of a sudden insight. The true teacher is one who is inspired by the spirit power, manitowatamiw. Sudden insight is derived from knowledge and guides us in what to do.

Both student and teacher are in a reciprocal process of this a spiritual energy-exchange. To understand this is of cosmic importance. We as a society require must be constantly engaged in the task of learning and teaching. It and is beyond the scope of the “mere” undertaking of an activity.

Teachers, then, guide their students to research, critique and come to know his/her own Self. The student learns to be the “master of self” as well, thereby enriching all of “our relations.”

I have learned to value each sunrise, every mouthful of water, every breath, every morsel of food I take – although like any other human-being I have a tendency to lapse into unconsciousness. Without the services of these Spirits, however, I would not exist.

We’ve gone on a walk-around together as teachers and students, from sunrise, to dinner, to supper, and into sleep within the great circumference of East, West, South, and North.

We are on the umbilical cord – tisiyeyapiy – tied to our ancestry and tied to pisimweyapiy, to the sun beam, the rainbow, and the heavens.

This lead us to the concepts of Relationship.
wahkotowin — with others.
wahkohtamowin, with family, relatives.
wahkomakan, with the natural universe and the relationship with one another and with the cosmos.

It is a series of concentric circles, circles within circles, that starts from the seed of life and is in a constant state of change. The travel is not as clear cut as we want, or wish to believe. The journey is bent and crooked. It takes many detours. Even our relationships with others is not a straight path. We are both shadow and light. We are in a sense “the Crooked Good” – those people who are usually good, but often crookedly.

The custom of many Aboriginal tribes is to conclude a prayer or speech with “all my relations.” “ka-ki-yow ni-wahkomakank” addresses the Great Mystery in all its inclusiveness.

The Elders talk about preparing, perserving, and passing on to the seventh generation. For wisdom to grow it must be passed on. This cultural inheritance – isihcikewin -the way life,/ things, /or events are carried out and done is essential to, pimacihowin – a life way, directed by the wind, to those yet to be born. The Elderly.

One man, my teacher and elder, used to say of our ceremonies and language, “This is our psychology,” Pihtakoyawek. wisahkecahkw is the Cree trickster and the beholder within our legends and stories. She/he is born both of the heavens and from the roots of the earth, an entity well loved by the Great Mystery. wisahkecahwk walked the land to bring about harmony. He is atayohkan, the story-maker before the arrival of humans.. The trickster’s name is also loosely translated to mean the bitter, enlightened soul/ spirit. She/he is our medicine — teacher and student simultaneously, as well as both mythos and logos. wisahkecahk is the teacher of morals, values, humor, and the ironies of life. We are all inhabited by her/him.

I myself am called ewanisin, the ewaniho generation, translated as, “She is lost,” “I have lost the way,” “she has lost her way due to circumstances beyond her control. ”

I have lost much.

I was unable to answer these basic questions:
Who am I?
Where do I come from?
Where do I belong?
What are my aspirations?
How do I achieve them?
What is my spiritual practice?
Who do I go to to gather all this information?
Where is my voice?
What does it sound like?
What is my culture?
What are my traditions?

Sometimes tentatively, sometimes with fierce energy, I attempted to find “my way.” Over the years my sense of who I am and where I belong has become clearer. Often I function on the margin of others’ universe.

The Old Man told me one day after a Vision Quest, “You will find like minds and like hearts, do not despair.” I have taken in his words and look forward to meeting more. For we belong everywhere.

And nowhere.

From the cradle I inhaled woodsmoke,
tanned hides, smoked dry meat and fish,
tobacco and sweetgrass.

wisahkecahkw, pahkahkos,
nohkom atayohkan, cihcipistikwan,
witigo and, pihesiw
walked, crawled, flew, swam,
and danced in my her dreams.

I watched nohkomis
crawl beneath a blanket covered table
sitting beside hot rocks, steaming waters,
and darkness, a bundle of herbs and roots
things I lost along my way.

My granddaughter didn’t understand.

Tarred by the starving sun,
muscled by root, stone, beet, and hoe
I worked along side my family.

We wept through the bar fights,
our broken bones encased in plaster.

Blind we birthed children
Into the adult world.

Now and then the sweetgrass
flamed our midnight-filled rooms.

Year after year, Sundays were packed
with a crucified man from some foreign

Children from the same reserve,
branches of our blood, became
the frontier of tribal war and bones.

I danced with a toothless tar-boy on the reserve,
wore Nancy Sinatra boots,
a see- through pantsuit
in a Calgary bar, flew on Jamaican rum,
thumbed my way from bush to city,
city to mountain to bush,
smoking that cigarette,
drinking more.

Many, many sleeps, many, many winters
many, many dreams, I fasted in the eating sun.

Four elders, white and brown, women and men
fed my soul.

Like an infant in a moss bag
fingers reached for the lost smoke
that traveled through the den
of my hibernation.

For years I walked
mute, deaf, and blind in the corridors,
muttering sin-filled prayers in
the residential school chapel.

On the hillside, starving for voice
the first thunder of thought
grew lightning in the field of my heart.

On my hand, pawkan, the dream
planted a memory stick.
The wind rushed through the wound.

TO TEACH: kiskinwahamake.

The true teachers are the blessed dawn-filled persons who have chewed and eaten, the ones who give away their knowing.

They are the story-tellers. They teach and model and work through the oral tradition.

They work through facts, providing insight and understanding. Some achieve this very deliberately, whilst others do it subconsciously. This process not only captures the mind, but also the heart, inspiring imagination and creativity. The true teacher is the interface between logic and reason on one hand, and the realism of dreams, imagination, creativity and the paradox of lived reality on the other.

A mind without a heart is ruthless, while a heart without a mind is rootless. The Elders say the longest journey is between the head and the heart.

And now, I come to a very short conclusion.
My journey with you is a ceaseless ending.

I will still my voice, while your silence brews.

All my relations. Ahow.

Copyright © University of Saskatchewan 2003-2009