Annex A – Opening words: The Ohenten Kariwatekwen
Before embarking on any important piece of work, whether it is during a meeting, or the creation of a document, many people believe that it is worthwhile to say a few words before all other words that come after. Some call it a prayer. Most Indigenous People have some form of opening. The Kanien’kehá:ka People call this the Ohenten Kariwatekwen. We are taught that we say these words to acknowledge and honour our Creator, however we perceive him, her or it to be. We are taught that we say these words because we all come to this moment in time from our own respective journeys in life; we all have different experiences that led us to this very moment where we are reading or hearing the words to come. It is important to acknowledge and honour our own journeys. We are taught that we say these words because it reminds us of what truly matters in life and what we should be grateful for every day. We are taught that we say these words so that we all then become of one mind as we begin to conduct the business at hand.
We are taught that we begin these words by first acknowledging all the people in our lives. The Creator sends many people to walk with us on our journeys; sometimes they stay only a brief time, sometimes they are there to give us a lesson. Sometimes they walk with us for a season, and other times, they are with us our entire lives. No matter the amount of time they spend with us, we acknowledge and honour them. We offer our greetings to the people, and we thank the Creator for bringing them into our lives. And now our minds are one.
We now turn our thoughts to our Mother, the Earth. We recognize she provides all that we need in life, as long as we also take care of her. We often take for granted the simple act of walking, sitting or lying on the ground. As she supports our every move, we are drawn closer to her. We acknowledge and honour her, and we offer our greetings to her. And now our minds are one.
Our minds turn to all the forms of water that flow across Mother Earth. We think of the rains, the streams, the rivers, the lakes and the oceans. We think of how powerful water can be, and yet it flows and adapts around solid objects. We are taught to let our minds be like water; formless, shapeless. We think of how important water is to all forms of life, and we give thanks for the waters that quench our thirst. We acknowledge and thank the Creator for providing these waters. And now our minds are one.
Our minds turn to all the fish life that lives in the water; they were instructed to clean and purify the waters. We think of all the forms of water life, whether it be the smallest plankton that feed the biggest whale, or the leeches that feed off other fish, or the fish that swim amongst the reef. We marvel at their beauty and we are grateful for how they nourish us. All of these creatures have a place on Mother Earth and have a purpose; we offer our greetings to the fish life, we acknowledge them and thank the Creator for making them. And now our minds are one.
Our minds now turn to those other things Mother Earth provides, and we think of describing her beautiful dress. Our Mother’s dress is made green with lush grasses of every shape and hue. It is the colour of the beautiful flowers growing all around us. It is the colour of the bushes and other plants that we may nourish or grudgingly pick from our gardens. We think of the amazing fragrances that sift through the air if we only just close our eyes and focus on them. We acknowledge and honour these plants, we offer our greetings to them, and we thank the Creator for providing them to all of us as they sustain so many life forms and show us beauty. And now our minds are one.
We turn our minds to those plants that naturally bear fruit, sometimes at different times of the year. We think of all the varieties of fruit that are found all over Mother Earth.
We pick the berries to help sustain us, and we harvest the apples and other fruit to make our desserts, and to put in our children’s lunchboxes. Sometimes, we simply have to reach out and the Creator provides us this food. We offer our greetings to them, we acknowledge them and thank the Creator for these things. And now are minds are one.
We next think of the medicines that we pick. They say the Creator’s medicines are the root of all other medicine. We were taught how to speak to them; how to observe them so we don’t harvest too many from one area; how we ask for their help to heal our sickness and pain. We try to remember what our ancestors taught us regarding which medicines are for what purpose and we try to pass on this knowledge to our children. We offer our greetings to the medicines, acknowledge them and honour all the medicines the Creator has provided us. And now our minds are one.
We next think of all the root life that all growing things have. We think of how it connects them to our Mother, like an umbilical cord. We think of how important it is to have roots in our life because it grounds us to a place, a people or a time. We think of how the roots stretch and search for life-giving water; our roots nourish us. We rely on these roots because even if the winds take us, when we reach Mother Earth again, we are able to put down roots. We offer our greetings to them, acknowledge them and honour all the root life the Creator has provided. And now our minds are one.
Our minds turn to the vegetables we plant and harvest; we grow them from seeds; we nurture them, feed them, and we water them. We consider how they may grow better with other plants, or how to protect them from the sun, the winds and the insects. We are happy when they blossom, and we are sad when we find one wilting or dying. And at harvest time, we are grateful for the food they give us so freely. We offer our greetings to them, we acknowledge these plants and we thank the Creator for providing them. And now our minds are one.
We turn our minds to the tree life; there are many families of trees on Mother Earth, all with their own instructions and purpose. We think of how they help us with shelter and provide shade on hot days or warmth when it is so cold. We think of their sap that supports us in spring after a long winter. Many people of the world use the tree as a symbol of peace and strength. We offer our greetings to the trees and thank them for being with us. And now our minds are one.
Our minds turn to the animals that share Mother Earth with us. Since long ago, they have taught us lessons when we take the time to listen to them. They give their lives to feed us, and they give their skin and fur to clothe us. They work together with all other animals to create a complete system; the cycle of life as we call it. We offer our greetings to all of them, we acknowledge them and thank the Creator for putting them on Mother Earth with us. And now our minds are one.
Our minds turn to the little creatures that live everywhere among us; the insect life. We think of the ones in our gardens, and the ones that fly. We think of all the creatures that eat the insects, whether it be bats at night, or the fish, and the birds that fly. They take care of the plants, and they work with the animals. Insects form a cornerstone of life and without them, other life is not possible. We offer our greetings to them; we acknowledge them and thank the Creator for putting them on Mother Earth with us. And now our minds are one.
Now we turn our minds higher, to all the birds in the sky. We think of their beautiful songs; they say when we are sad, we only need to listen to a bird sing and our hearts will be lifted. We think of the geese that signal the changing of seasons. We think of the woodpecker that searches for food so diligently. We think of the eagle who inspires us to be greater for the good of all. They remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. We offer our greetings and acknowledge all the bird life and we thank them for sharing the world with us. And now our minds are one.
We turn our thoughts to the powers we know as the Four Winds that constantly flow across Mother Earth. They bring cold air or warm air. They provide a gentle breeze or they shake the trees to spread the seeds and pollen. They purify the air we breathe and we think of how to take care of the air so that every breath our loved ones may take is pure. We offer our greetings to them, acknowledge them and give our thanks to them. And now our minds are one.
We turn our thoughts to what we call the Grandfathers: the thunder beings. With their storms and lightning, they bring forth the life-giving rains. They say they keep the evil underground by the roar of their voices. They rage over the Earth and the waters. We offer our greetings to the Grandfathers; we acknowledge and thank them for being with us. And now our minds are one.
We turn our minds even higher to our elder brother, the sun. Our elder brother is with us each day to watch over us, protect us, and give us strength. Our brother works with all living things and all living things flourish under his watchful eyes. We offer our greetings to our elder brother, acknowledge him and give our thanks. And now our minds are one.
We next think of our oldest grandmother, the moon, who watches over us every night. She is the leader of all the women of the world and guides them on their cycles like her own. She governs with all the waters of the world and shapes and moves them. By her changing face, we measure time, and she announces the arrival of new children into the world. We offer our greetings to her, acknowledge her and give her our thanks. And now our minds are one.
We give our thanks and think of all the stars in the sky. They help light up the dark nights with our grandmother. When we are lost, they guide us home again. They remind us that we are only a small piece of the Creator’s plan. We offer our greetings to the stars, we acknowledge them and thank them for being with us. And now our minds are one.
We turn our minds to the enlightened teachers the Creator has sent to us to help guide our way. They have come to different people and they speak their truth and instructions. When we forget to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. We send our greetings to these caring teachers; we acknowledge them and we thank them for their direction. And now our minds are one.
We now turn our minds to our Creator. They have drawn a path for us to walk on from before the time we were born. They chose our parents, and they put the obstacles in our path to help us learn and grow. Sometimes we stumble and fall, but if we are brave enough, we can continue our journey despite these obstacles. The Creator gives us the joy we feel in our hearts and the tears that come from the depths of our sadness. We offer our greetings to our Creator and send them our thanks. We ask them to look after our loved ones as we are occupied with the business at hand so that we are not distracted. And now our minds are one.
We have now come to the end of our words. Of all the things we have spoken of, we did not intend to leave anything out. We ask that if you think we have forgotten anything, you put it in your mind, your heart and your soul for the good of all of us. Now our minds are one.
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