Seeing the Light through the Heart of an Indian : An Interview with Frank DeContie
I first met Frank DeContie and his wife Sandra at our very first Harvest Gathering in 1997. Frank is an Algonquin ceremonial medicine keeper from Kitigan Zibi Reserve in Maniwaki, Quebec who received his teachings from elders and speaks his native language. He is also a substance abuse counselor and works in healing circles for people of all races. Frank is the first native person I have come to know who lives in a native community on a reserve, a life experience which has long disappeared from the landscape of many places in America, and from which we have much to learn with regards to the spiritual evolution of humanity and the healing of our planet.
Learning from traditional people who live with or have regular contact with their communities "in the bush" or "on the reserve" is not only a unique opportunity, but also an honor, I feel. I honor the sacrifices these people have made to maintain their communities, their knowledge and their traditions, even while the modern way of living encroaches daily upon them. Both through losses in land holdings and natural resources, as well as the infringement of mainstream media and attitudes, retaining native ways of thinking and living has become increasingly difficult, yet critically important, in the modern world.
Make no mistake: living in community for native people is neither glamorous nor inherently spiritual and oftentimes just as thick with political turmoil and materialistic greed as in any non-native community. In too many instances, centuries of cultural and economic oppression have created situations of a people fighting among themselves, poverty, substance abuse, violence, hopelessness, loss of identity and racism, to name a few. These modern day conditions are formidable obstacles which native people must continually work with in striving to preserve the spiritual and cultural traditions of their ancestors in upholding the "original instructions" given to their race by Creator thousands of years ago. These original instructions are the blueprint for humanity to be living in harmony on the planet with each other and all of creation.
In today's fast-paced, impersonal and materialistic society, I am humbled with gratitude and respect for Frank DeContie and all those I have met who still carry these teachings forward into the world at large, despite these many obstacles. The task is not an easy one; less and less people seem to have the time, desire or patience these days to invest in walking a path that does not always produce immediate gratification. Instead, people everywhere are looking for instant healing, instant enlightenment or instant status as a certified shaman or medicine person, another exploitation of native culture. Authentic teachings from traditional native people outside their communities are almost a rarity. Once again this year, Frank and Sandra DeContie have agreed to attend the Harvest Gathering in September to share their teachings and ceremonies for those who are interested to participate. I had the opportunity to meet with Frank on a warm, spring evening this past May while he was visiting the Massachusetts area, where we discussed some of these teachings, the future and looking towards the light.
Carol: You were talking the other day about how it has taken five hundred years for native teachings to be heard. What did you mean?
Frank: I was saying that it took five hundred years for non-natives to listen to the native people and what they have to share with their concerns - life on the planet, life cycles, environment and so on.
Carol: What are the native people sharing?
Frank: The native people are sharing their strong concerns of the life on this Mother Earth. They have three main concerns of what is happening on the Earth today. They are concerned about what the human race is doing to the life. And when I say to the life, I talk about the life of the Earth in general. The Earth is being very disturbed. She is being affected severely at this time. She is being contaminated and she is getting sick. This is the reason why there are many sicknesses and diseases going on in life today in human beings, the animals, the trees, the birds. Humanity is slowly killing the life and we have observed the life for approximately fifty years.
There have been many changes in the life. Our weather climate is not the same. The seasons are not the same. Everything seems to want to be so different and it is affecting everybody and everything. This is what I mean when I say about natives and their concerns of the life. The water element today is contaminated and the wells and the water are being affected. Everybody is suffering because of the water situation. The people are dying and are sick, the animals are in the same predicament. The trees are sick.
What is happening to what we call the Earth, has come back on us. The air element is polluted. Pollution everywhere. Acid rain affects all the environment. It affects the Earth and people get sick because the air is not clean. There is contamination within that pollution. Natives feel the changes. The natives want to come forth and share with the people these great concerns. As the natives look for seven generations ahead to the people who are yet unborn, what will they have? What will they live on? What are they going to do? So this is the reason why natives are very concerned. Natives give everything they have and they also taught the many different types of skills of survival to live on this land. As a result the people were able to live and survive in this land known as Turtle Island - the United States of America. Now the native people want to share their great concerns with helping the human race: how to live on this Mother Earth, how to be a part of this Mother Earth. And the saying, "Do not ask what your Mother Earth can do for you; you ask what you could do for your mother, the Earth."
Carol: We often hear people talk about the original instructions. What are the original instructions that the native people hold?
Frank: The original instructions are known as spiritual instructions. These instructions come from the Great Spirits and great Creator and Grandfather. These instructions are how to live on this land, how to care for this land, how to have values in this land, how to work together in this land.
Carol: Were the native people the only ones that have these instructions?
Frank: Native people believe that instructions were given to the four colors of man, the human race from the ancient time.
Carol: What are those instructions of how to live on the land?
Frank: First you have to love the land. You have to be concerned of the land. You have to have value within the land. What I mean by that is you take only what you need. That is taking with respect and honor in that way with the animals, with the trees, with the birds, with the grass, with the medicines and all other creations.
Carol: How can we do that when we don't live on the land anymore? We live in buildings and cities and towns.
Frank: Very simple. You have to learn how to use your heart again. Not so much your mind. Because when you work from your heart you bring out the love and care that Creator has given to you.
Carol: Modern people seem to be so far from that place, how can we get back there?
Frank: All people must ask themselves what is it that they want in their own life. The answer only can come from them. If they care enough for the land and for the Earth and for the environment; if they care enough for their children, their families, their communities, then it is time for them to stand up and do something the opposite of what they were doing before. I ask my wife many years ago, "What is it that you want in life?" She had a very difficult time to answer. I answer that for her. It is very simple. It is exactly the opposite of what you always had in your life. Native people work in simple ways. They talk in simple ways. They use their heart in simple ways. They use their mind in simple ways. So this is a connection in how they can have that closeness within themselves and within others. This is what you use to have the labor of love which is part of the sacred instruction to live on this Earth.
Carol: What is the labor of love?
Frank: The labor of love is what is defined as a person working from their heart to give of themselves and to give to others. When I say to others that means all the relations. To the human being, to the trees, to the grass, to the birds, to everything that is our life today. They take care of it with the labor of love.
Carol: This lack of love in people's hearts separates us from being able to care for all our relations.
Frank: Many things happen in this country for so many years. A lot of hurt and pain happen in this country, within all people, within everything that life contains on this Earth. Because of a lot of hurt and pain, what happens? There needs to be a strong interest towards reconciliation. We all need to reconciliate again. If they are able to reconciliate first within themselves and forgive themselves even when they did something wrong, then there is the changing process. There needs to be a healing that happens in the world today because how could a person use a spiritual way when there is a problem in their life. You need to take care of these things to have that change. How can a person step into a light when their life is in darkness? You have to deal with certain priorities in order for changes and these are the priorities I mentioned: reconciliation and forgiveness. If you're are able to do, you have love. We use love then.
When I talk about the darkness I talk about racism. I talk about how people hurt each other through racism. We have to do away with this racism and we have to take each other like a people and respect and honor each other in that way. We are able to do that if we use that labor of love. There is a lot of violence everywhere in the world today. I quote Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce nation, over a hundred years ago: "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." I heard this elder die of a sad heart. What happened to his teachings of doing away with violence over a hundred years ago? All the teachings of Chief Joseph are coming to reality into life situations today because as long as there is fighting going on we will never gain peace. We will never gain unity, gain that love.
There is a lot of dysfunction in life today and there is a fast world today. People are programmed in everything in how they think and feel how they should live a life today. People are sad to see the life situations within humanity. I believe some of them even passed away in the spirit world with a sad heart. It is now the new millennium. It is mentioned that there will be a changing process within this millennium. This was prophesied many years ago before any other person or people ever entered this land. This was prophesied to our people, the native people. And they were told that there will be a generation that will be born, that will want to search for a better way of life, for something good in their life. Our people say this is the generation of today. I'm part of that generation. So this is my part, my duty in life, to help people to help themselves. It is going to take many people to have a change, but we have to start somewhere. Not one person or one race could make that change. It will take the people of many colors and many races. What there needs to be is a serious commitment toward that change. And with that commitment comes a responsibility. I took this responsibility twenty years ago and I still hold that responsibility today and I will still hold that same responsibility tomorrow and in the future - for as long as I am going to live.
Carol: How do you carry out that responsibility?
Frank: Reaching out. I reach out to the people - people that care, people that want to learn. People that want something I share with them which was taught to me. I give to them what was given to me.
Carol: With so much pain and suffering that I see among the native people, it seems unlikely that this change could take place. The native people are the most oppressed people all around the world. Indigenous people, including those in the United States, live in the worst conditions and are subjected to violent physical, political and social injustice. How can this change happen?
Frank: I agree with you with this situation. The change is a very slow process because when we look at the problem we are looking at oppression. We have been taught to be oppressed people, meaning we keep things inside and are made to feel "less than" in our life. Our people say for as long as the sun will shine there is some type of future, there is some type of life. The world will not stop because of certain people suffering or in poverty or being sick. The world will still survive. Our elders are working and they're using their spiritual beliefs for a healing process not only within their own people, but all people in this land. Our elders have not been lazy. They had a meeting with the UN in New York City. They've been to Washington; they've been to Parliament Hills, Ottawa, Canada. They've been to Geneva, Switzerland, they've been to Germany. They have traveled all around the world to share of their great concerns of life situations today. So there is hope even though it is a struggle. That is the kind of life that we as native people have.
Carol: It seems it's been a struggle for a long time...over five hundred years.
Frank: At one time my grandfathers and my grandmothers used to walk in this land. They lived in this land with peace and harmony in their life. This was known as freedom. You did exactly what you had to do to live and survive. Today there are different areas where we as native people cannot even walk the land because we are trespassing the land. This is what we are told. And it saddens us to know of those types of omens. Today we can't even make fire, be a part of that fire, without a permit. It was the fire that was with us since the time of creation.
Carol: Where do we go from here?
Frank: We have to work with equality in terms of working together in a good way. We have to develop understanding about equality within the human race. You have to be able to sit down and recognize each other for who we are. Help each other so that we could have a better future. So equality needs to be implemented in the human race. We are the same people in the Creator's eyes.
Carol: What do you mean by equality?
Frank: When we talk about equality we talk in terms of spiritual. We are all people of this land, the sacred planet known as Mother Earth. The people have to learn to be people again and recognize each other as such. We have to stop hurting each other and putting each other down. We need that recognition within the human race. This is what was intended, that we live together as a people. Native people always had priority to the land, to Mother Earth because she is a female planet and this Earth means everything with native people. This is what the human race needs to recognize - how important this Earth is - and to do something about it, to heal her and to heal ourselves too. Because if we don't do this very soon Mother Earth is going to heal herself and things are going to happen. And I have been told exactly how it is going to happen. So people need to consider the life situation on the Earth. They need to consider what they should do in this situation.
Carol: What should they do?
Frank: I am only a guidance person. I don't tell anybody what to do. I could only reflect on myself. The way that it was mentioned to me as I live in this life is to do good things. Treat people good with kindness and generosity, love people, help people, give to people what they need, have values and have respect because respect is a courtesy. One of the sayings that was mentioned to me is "I am only a visitor in this land. I am only here for a short time. When I leave this planet I go back in the spirit world." When people look and visualize this saying - when they are a visitor treat everything with respect. They treat it with love and care. These are values. So, values need to come back, like gratitude. Native people are very grateful people. They are always saying, "thank you."
Years ago my people went to work giving their gratitude toward the sun, toward the earth, toward the stars and the universe, they were visualized as being pagans. This is not so. They were only thanking the life that is around them and up there and on this Earth. So they had a lot of gratitude. They lived a life of gratitude. When a person lives a life of gratitude they live a life of love and care. They live these values; they did not hurt another person. These are spiritual teachings. These are spiritual instructions.
My people believe in cycles, all different types of cycles. The nature cycles, the human cycles. Those cycles are repeated throughout the lifetime. We just follow with the way the cycles work and be grateful for these cycles. A part of that cycle is when that sun rises in the morning, we say "thank you" for Grandfather Sun. That sun gives us another day, another life. When the sun goes down we say "thank you" for giving us that day, for giving us that light, for giving us that life. Because the sun, the Grandfather Sun, takes care of life on this Earth as well. When you talk about nature cycles you look at Grandmother Moon. The Grandmother takes care of the life cycles, the water cycles, the animal cycles, the female cycles and so on. So we have gratitude toward Grandmother Moon and we say "thank you" for doing your work, for all of the cycles of today.
Our elders say that there once was a time when Grandmother Moon was visited and something came back here that was from her planets. Native people often mention our business is only on the Earth, not the universe, because we were not created there. We were not given that responsibility and capability to travel in other areas in the universe. Mother Earth is in the heart of the universe. She is very closely watched from other planets and all the spirit beings. So it is extremely important how the human race should be concerned of Mother Earth.
The life cycle that we see today is spring. It is that time of renewal of life and as we observe we see the leaves come out in the trees again. We hear the birds singing, we hear the little animals as they are running through the forest. The medicines begin to grow again. This is the life cycle. Spring is the time of cleansing, a time of healing. It is a time of growing flowers. It is the month of the flowers - May. This is how we define the month of May. The month of the flowers. Flowers are beautiful. So these nature cycles that stay with us today, the life cycles. We learn how to work with it, to work with joy and gratitude for that life and take care of that life because we are responsible. All people are responsible for the life. It was only people - the human race - has made a mistake in the life. Nobody else. The trees are still standing tall, straight giving their gratitude to why they were created. The flowers still come out in the flower time. Everything begins to grow as the way it was instructed, the way it was given. The bears come out of hibernation because it is springtime. The geese are going to fly north. In all these nature cycles it was instructed how it was going to work. It is only the human race that didn't fully follow the instruction from the Creator. That is why we have the problem today. Our people are very concerned and they are sharing something of their teachings to give to all the human race and perhaps they are giving their teachings so people will learn how to be human beings, how to be a people again because we are all people of the land. We take care of the land, we take care of each other, take care of everything. That's our responsibility.
Carol: What is your vision for the future?
Frank: My vision for future is for people to work together, to be a people and to live together as a people, to have a better way, a better lifestyle then where it is today. This is what I am working for. I am working for my people, the native people as a priority, because they're my people and I love my people. But I am also working for all people because there is a great need for guidance and teaching today. This is the reason that I come to the Boston area. My vision is hope. For as long as I am going to live and walk on this land there is going to be hope for my grandchildren and their children and so on, knowing that their grandfather tried for something good for them to have, hoping that there be a caring lifestyle in the future for everybody and for everything. I am hoping for the vision of a better tomorrow and tomorrows to come. I am hoping that all races, rituals and beliefs come together and recognize each other as such. I am hoping that humanity can serve one great Creator with one mind and one heart. This is a vision that I look towards the future.
There is a New Age movement today, as I understand it. This New Age movement is taking action, searching for their needs and their concerns within their life situations. I hope this New Age movement will find what they are searching for. Changes are in the process. Only people can make the changes. Perhaps the New Age movement will be doing that. But a vision is not only for one person, but the vision should be concerned with all humanity. Then there is the global vision of mending the sacred hoop. This is the great concern.
We as native people have made sacrifices. In our culture we believe with sacrifices someone will always benefit from the sacrifices. This is the reason we have our ceremonies. All the sacrifices that we give out are our traditions. Within our sacrifices we are always praying for humanity. We are always praying for the people. So we are trying to do our share, but we cannot be the only ones. We need other people to do the same work in the same ways with sacrifices. Perhaps by that we will gain the ways of survival. Perhaps we will understand the life on this Earth. Perhaps Creator will listen to us and help us.
There is a choice within all humanity. The choice has got to come from humanity. It is only the choice that's going to work. The choice is deeply imbedded within a person. I have made my choice. What about you? That's what I ask. It is mentioned in our stories that the choice of the path that we take is what we are going to receive: the choice of materialism or the choice of spirituality. What choice do we make? Our choice is an issue within humanity today. A person is given a free mind from Creator how to live on this Earth. No one could make a choice for anyone. The choice has to come from within, but we have to live with the choice and we have to work with the consequences because of the choices. So we are given that time today, the choice. Native people believe the Creator allowed the time for humanity and how they want to work with the choice. But we could only live for so long. We could only survive for so long. The way life situation is today we are slowly hurting ourselves. So the choice, when understood, is up to each person how they want to work with that choice - the choice of living today, the choice of living tomorrow, the choice of having your children to live and the choice of everything to live around you. This is what it's all about. So a choice is implemented toward that vision in the future.
Native people have a lot to share with all humanity because they know the teachings of how to live on this planet. They have much to share within humanity, but will the people listen to native people? This is what I question. Native people know the spirit way of life on this planet and on the next life. There are many rewards that we could learn from each other. There is so much that we could give to each other, but only if we would make that choice to do so. So I ask you readers of Spirit magazine, "Are you concerned of life situations today? And if you are, would you do something towards the life?" I am only one small pebble in the sand. Would you consider what was mentioned here and would you acknowledge this article? Or would you rather do otherwise? This is your choice. This is your life. But remember the wisdom that was mentioned here because of the choice.
It is mentioned, "Step in the light." To step in the light is another dimension, it is another area. It's a beautiful place to be, but it takes work. It requires work to be able to step into the light. We have to clean up the act. We have to change. We have to be a better people in order to step in that light because there is love and there is kindness, there is generosity, unconditional love and a great concern. The light can only come from within and when it is within, then there is a radiant glow within the person. Their aura is beautiful; their aura is strong. This is a light that we give to others. This is the light that is being promoted. Anyone can receive this light but it's only the people who reach out can be part of it. It is a good light; it is a good feeling. As part of that light is our great Creator. It is a beautiful place to be. This is not an imagination, but a reality. It is to be free - freedom - when you step in the light.
So this is what I have to share with you. I hope that it would be considered because time is very precious, life is very precious, love is very precious. Everything is very precious today, tomorrow and in the future. That is a vision as well.
Frank DeContie can be reached at 293 Kichi Mikan, Maniwaki, Quebec, Canada J9E 3B1. Phone: 819-449-4560. Frank will also be attending the Harvest Gathering this year September 7-9, 2001 in Becket, MA. For more information contact Spirit of Change at 508-839-2228 or visit http://www.spiritofchange.org
Carol Bedrosian is the publisher and editor of Spirit of Change, New England's largest holistic magazine.