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Life on the Land

Life on the Land

- Nishnawbe Aski Nation Indian Residential Schools in Ontario, 2005 -

The Cree and Ojibwe have lived in this country since time immemorial. They lived off the land by killing animals, birds and fish, and by collecting roots, fruits and berries from a wide variety of plants. They built their homes from trees and from hides of large animals. The hides from animals also supplied much of their clothing. Medicines were collected from various trees, shrubs and plants. Trees supplied them with firewood for heat and with tools and implements to assist them in their daily chores. The land provided them with everything they required to survive.

The Cree and Ojibwe lived in close-knit kinships (family) groups. These kinship groups were like an extended family, often consisting of man and his wife, or wives, along with the man's siblings, the wife's siblings, their parents, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents and sometimes close friends. All economic, social and spiritual activities were carried out with these kinship groups. Economic life was based upon sharing - sharing of food, tools, and equipment and sharing of chores, tasks and activities. This was necessary to their survival, but was also necessary to cementing kinship ties and creating new relations with other people (non-kin). Everything was connected and what happened to one person or group of people affected everyone who was close to the persons or within the kin-group. The overarching idea was the good of the group - there was little attention paid to individuals and groups’ rights always took precedence over individual rights. 

Cree and Ojibwe people used an informal method of education, which was part of everyday life and completely integrated with the rhythm of the adult community. In this model the children learned from all of the activities they participated in whether it was playing, helping or doing chores. They learned by assisting adults with their daily routines and through observation of how people carried out certain tasks. The children learned their language primarily from their mothers. When older, the boys accompanied their fathers most of the time and learned male activities, while the girls spent most of their time with their mothers and learned female activities. All children spent time with their grandparents and other older members of the community who taught them through the use of story telling, myths and symbols used to represent groups of ideas.