Sneller Says: Got Almonte Spirit?

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Wakonta pilahuk. Great Mystery, thank you. I say this to come from a place of oneness. No matter our belief system, we are all united by what we don’t know.

What is Almonte spirit?  A crowd at the falls for Light Up The Night listening to Wayne Rostad signing Christmas in the Valley while a Hallmark Christmas movie is being filmed on Mill St? A team of puppet-wielding b-ball players in a slam dunk competition jumping ninja-style off the the head of the Naismith statue jamming into the bucket on Little Bridge St? The old water tower visible for miles around projecting its message of friendship and peace? They’re all pretty Almonte-ish – but I’m going to go ahead and go with the last one.

As we pass the winter solstice the wheel of a new year begins. The year ahead of us, one of building bridges. Traditionally this is a time of rest, reflection and story-telling.  Well ol’ Sneller is here to tell you a story… about a man named Brady. No, that ain’t it… Oh yeah! I remembered what I was here for to say. For to say what is Almonte? Kindly forgive me I get side-tracked real easy-like.

What is it about the old water tower that screams “Almonte!”? The word is written in feet high letters across it. Is it the literal metal tower erected above the townsfolk that holds the spirit? No, it is not the literal. If the tower literally embodied Almonte’s spirit then it would have dissipated as the tower was taken down. It is an idea behind the symbol. An idea that existed before and after this tower. The idea that we are a community of friends.

This spirit is embodied in small actions. The wave of a hand on country roads to oncoming traffic. The smile and kind words shared with a passerby on the street who looks a little down. It comes from a place of love. Not the ‘I love your tuna casserole’ type-love, but real love. The kind of love that gets your exhausted arse outta bed in the morning to do for your kids. Whether it’s mucking the stalls or jockeying a desk. The kind of love that a warrior carries into battle to protect what they hold dear.

This spirit is our true heritage. A heritage we hope to preserve. To keep the memory of a way of being. We express this desire to preserve the spirit in different ways. A heritage conservation district, a call to remember the old ways, the effort to preserve the falls, are all expressions of that hope. This spirit is most easily seen through our children. Nothing is a better indicator of our success than the spirit of our youngest generation. Nothing a better insurance for our future than the spiritual health of our kids.

Families children come from are all different. There are kids who get much of what they need at home. Others who rely more on community members outside the house.  For those children who are not getting all they need at home, that community friendship is invaluable. The farmer who employs a child to work and learn. The sports coach who takes someone under their wing. The teacher who helps a kid develop academic skills. The artist who helps a youngster express themselves. Call these the 4 A’s; agriculture, athletics, academics, arts – these are all areas Almonte’s spirit embodies.

Some say Almonte’s culture is ‘right-wing’.  Like them “Re-Elect Paul Dick” signs I remember as a teenage boy. The signs that became teenage boy humour with an R to replace the L and the addition of an apostrophe S.  Still makes me laugh today, but do left or right labels truly represent our culture? Are they not terms used as often to insult as to identify? Do they have meaning today as so many issues defy the so-called right-left paradigm? These are new words not old ones. Words that have not been common in our speech for even 100 years. They do not do the job of describing our heritage.

We talk about our shared heritage in different ways. The falls are an example. The recent heritage of the falls as a tourist attraction. The somewhat older heritage of the falls as hydro-electric power generation. The still older heritage of the falls turning the mill wheel, and the ancient heritage of the falls as a sacred place. Not a resource to be exploited but a living thing we connect to.

The falls sacredness comes from the shape the living water has carved over the rocks since the glaciers retreated. Sacred for the eels – long a staple food – and other water creatures that traverse the falls. Sacred for the sound of the rushing water that brings peace to the human heart. Sacred for the waters that carry away our despair and remind us the circle of life is eternal.

The spirit was there in the settlers to the Valley. It came with the place names given to remember the ties that bound. Reviving names of the most loved places the settlers left behind, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Kintail. It is there in the music of the ancient pipes and the Highland games.  It is there in the desire to build and prosper.  But it was not new to this land. That spirit of friendship existed long before this time. It existed with the Anishinaabe (Algonquin) and their spirit of friendship that greeted these settlers to a new land.

William Commanda (1913-2011) Algonquin Elder and Chief holding Three Figure Welcoming/Agreement Wampum Source: International Cities of Peace

From these old Anishinaabe ways the friendly spirit of Almonte originates. A nation of people who have given freely and deeply. It is remembered in the Three Figure Welcoming / Agreement Wampum belt once held by William Commanda. Settlers to this land have built upon this base. Locally we remember this history in small ways through place names, Indian River, Indian Hill Road. A small acknowledgement for thousands of years of care-taking the land.

Respect starts from recognizing this truth. You need only be human, not Anishinaabe or Native to hold this respect. A respect we are now relearning as essential to our survival. History is forgotten at our own peril, and forgetting is not a benign act. It is deliberate.

Imagine that old Almonte water tower represents our shared history. Say it is 120 feet high. Then in one more generation the time since the settlers came to this part of the Valley will account for 2 feet of that total. Some interpret remembering this history as a call to abandon all modern technology and return to living in longhouses, hunting and trapping. I’m down for that, but it ain’t the point.

The point is to remember what this history tells us about the circle of life. In informs modern decisions we struggle with. How to live with the technology we’ve created. How to nurture life another 400 generations. An ancient concept we would do well to think about when making the most modern of decisions like how to handle nuclear waste or keep our waterways free of plastic.

When we start from the place of remembering our beginnings everything flows naturally. When we honour a Nation’s culture of love for the land, we in turn see other cultural traditions to honour. The tradition of agriculture that reached Europe 5000 years ago. The culture of music and art, bagpipes carried into battle and used to mark memorials for over a millennium.    Athletics (physical culture) our history of organized sport. Our academic culture, a history of love for seeking knowledge. Another culture that existed on Turtle Island long before settlers arrival.

They are embodied in the Seven Grandfather Teachings; Wisdom – to value and preserve knowledge, Love – unconditional and peaceful, Respect – to honor all of creation, Bravery – to face a foe with integrity, Honesty – being honest with ourselves and others, Humility, you are equal to others, not above or below, Truth – to speak it and know these things.

This holiday season I endeavour to bring words to this Almonte spirit. If these words do not ring true simply leave them here. If they stir your heart then take them as your own. They are my gift to you.