“Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.” (Alexie, 54).

Education: Is it really for everyone?

           That question has been increasingly on my mind since we have been discussing those who are differently abled, and those who are made disadvantaged by society in this course.  A novel that was recently brought to my attention, and I think reflects the hierarchy which the educational system presents, is Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. This book displays the difference between the advantaged and the disadvantaged, and how education can work to keep each category within the limits of their current society. 

            For example the educational system on the reservation where Arnold/Junior lives can be understood as keeping future generations to spheres of suppression, which has taken place towards the Indigenous population for generations. This suppression works to keep them to a disadvantage. This can be understood as working to govern their lives. This is evident here:

“My school and my tribe are so poor and sad that we have to study from the same dang books our parents studied from. That is absolutely the saddest thing in the world.

And let me tell you, that old, old, old decrepit geometry book hit my heart with the force of a nuclear bomb. My hopes and dreams floated up in a mushroom cloud. What do you do when the world has declared nuclear war on you? (Alexie, 57-58)

            It becomes evident in this quotation that these out dated textbooks work to represent much more then out of date information. They work to represent the reservations poverty, and the outside world’s low expectations of those who are educated there.  They hinder the future generation’s chances of success as the textbooks work to suppress the students by providing inadequate means of education. The textbooks represent that society is trying to keep these students to a disadvantage. The educational system on the reservation is purposely using the same means of education for generations, it can be suggested that this keeps future generations to the same spheres of past generations, spheres of poverty, and disadvantage.

            This is further reinforced through Arnold/Junior going to school outside the reservation, and the vastly improved educational treatment he, and the other non Indigenous students receive there.

           Although this book is fiction, this can be related to real life. As, upon researching I found out the following was happening in the year 2010, “Provincial schools are paid more than double that of on reserve schools for student tuition. Over the past 10 years these on-reserve schools: education funding increased 19 per cent, while in the same period provincial systems funding increased 45 per cent” (Web).  If education was really for everyone, would the same amount of funding not be available to residential schools as non residential schools? If our country really wanted everyone to be given the best chance of success, they would start with funding the schools equally, as education is where we learn the tools of life. One spends more waking hours with ones teachers throughout childhood then one does with anyone else. It becomes apparent to me that it is fundamental to give every child the same means and chances of success.

           Currently Harper has promised an additional $1.9 billion in funding for Indigenous education starting in 2015. The fact that this is for 2015 reinforces that Canada has kept the Indigenous population purposely to a disadvantage for generations upon generations.

            In my final project I will be using Alexie’s novel for examples of the way in which the educational system creates hierarchies which place students at a disadvantage.

 

Works Cited

 Alexie Sherman: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. 2007

 CBC, First Nations to Get More Control over Education: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/first-nations-to-get-more-control-over-education-ottawa-says-1.2527266. CBC 2014

The Aboriginal Multi-Media Society. Canada’s Aboriginal Education Crisis:

http://www.ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker/canada%E2%80%99s-aboriginal-education-crisis-column. 1983-2014

 

 

 

 

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Look East.

In the previous blogs I have looked at residential schools and the empowerment of traditional ways of healing wounds associated with that experience, I have looked at the healing ability of nature, and how it can sustain us using traditional Indigenous ways of knowing,  I have also looked at the ability of stories to empower and heal. In this blog I will be speaking of the empowering qualities of the Medicine Wheel.  I will focus on the four directions, and the empowerment and stages of each direction. medicine_wheelThis is called a Medicine Wheel or Sacred Hoop. I have been taught there are many different kinds of medicine wheels depicting different things, this one depicts the four direction life cycle.  Professor Karen formerly of Trent University teaching Indigenous Theater, once stated that the four directions life cycle was our stages throughout life.  It unites all of humanity through the colors depicted on the wheel. She stated that we are all born in the east, where our minds, and spirit are a clean slate, we are all born the same in this way, with a soft spot on top of our head ready to absorb ways of knowing. We then move to the south for the duration of our youth where we begin to learn things and the soft spot atop our head begins to close towards the end of our youth.  Then one journeys to the west for adulthood where the soft spot is now hardened and we possess the ways of knowing to put into use.  The north is where our life journey come to an end and we are the most wise, being able to pass on what we know of this life. This is what I have been taught about the journey throughout the life cycles.

The Medicine wheel is a way of knowing our lives and is different across tribes, “The Directions can also represent:

  • Stages of life: birth, youth, adult (or elder), death
  • Seasons of the year: spring, summer, winter, fall
  • Aspects of life: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical
  • Elements of nature: fire (or sun), air, water, and earth
  • Animals: Eagle, Bear, Wolf, Buffalo and many others
  • Ceremonial plants: tobacco, sweet grass, sage, cedar”

Through the Medicine Wheel a way of knowing is expressed which empowers one to be given insight into their life journey, and the journey of others. For example through the Wheel one can see that the Eastern stage of life  is where the journey begins for all things of this earth. For example Professor Karen stated that in looking to the East we are able to find the traditional ways of knowing the Indigenous Culture once again, and empower these ways of knowing. This was shown in the novel Porcupine and China Dolls by Martin Alexie. As the characters began to embrace the traditional ceremonies, such as the healing ceremony, the power of the collective and the traditional helped them to begin the journey of healing.  This is true for many aspects of life, one should look to the beginning to find the root.

The importance of looking East is also shown in the following song by Eekwol a Canadian female Indigenous hip hop artist:

This song displays how important it is to look East and find the Indigenous Traditional culture, “…bring back the will and the reason to fight. Protect us and we will make this right. Look to the east where the night meets the day…” (Eekwol).

The link to the blog:  Classroom “rules” and the Medicine Wheel (mmegc.wordpress.com) shows how the idea of the medicine wheel can be incorporated in many different ways, in this case, in a classroom where it symbolizes the ideal principles of a classroom.

Thus, the sights and sounds of empowerment in the Indigenous Culture take many forms. Many more then what is mentioned within this blog. The empowerment of story, of smudging,  of song, of ceremony and of the Medicine Wheel can help to heal and empower oneself, as well as the collective. These ways of knowing also have the ability to help heal and empower an entire culture, as embracing traditional ways of knowing becomes more prevalent and widespread.

Works Cited:

Classroom “rules” and the Medicine Wheel (mmegc.wordpress.com)

Eekwol: Look East http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChmYE5M-kNE (Web)

Medicine Wheel Info: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/exhibition/healing-ways/medicine-ways/medicine-wheel.html

Professor Karen: Indigenous Theater

Picture of Medicine Wheel: http://solar.psu.edu/2007/almanac_medicine_wheel.aspx?lang=en (Web)

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The Scent and Sound of Empowerment

Throughout these blogs you may notice I often say “way of knowing” instead of knowledge. This is an Indigenous term taught to me in my past courses. It relates in my mind an ability to recognize that perceiving knowledge is different for everyone, and that there are many different knowledge systems. While one may tell a story in one way, another may tell it in a very different way, but come to the same teaching, thus these relaters of a way of knowing are each unique.  The word “knowledge” also could be suggested as entailing a concrete idea of something, whereas a way of knowing could be perceived as being more open to change and perceptive to others ways of knowing.  Upon looking up the definition of “knowledge” I encountered this,

“knowledge”

ˈnɒlɪdʒ/noun

noun: knowledge; plural noun: knowledges

1.facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject”

This displays the difference between the more western idea of  concrete”knowledge” versus the Indigenous term “way of knowing”.

ImageThe smell of burning sage reaches my nostrils and delights my senses. My spirit, mind and body are refreshed as the eagle feather fans the burning sage and I take deep breaths, hoping to pull as much of the smoke as I can into my being. As it journeys from person to person towards me, I cup my hands ready to hold the smoke in my hands and move it towards my mind, my mouth… deep and long breath… journey it down to my heart, my soul and down my stomach. Feel it renew my spirit, brighten my heart and soul, and clear my mind as the smoke moves it’s way throughout my body. I feel renewed. I feel empowered. It unlocks something internal and allows me to speak, to hear, to give/receive and to love without holding onto the negativity of the prior….

The act of smudging mentioned above is often done before ceremonies to cleanse the being. Elder Harold Ashkawe member of the Bear Clan in the Scugog Island Mississauga tribe spoke at Trent University Oshawa of the importance of this, and many other Indigenous ways of knowing, and doing.  This blog will be speaking of the empowerment of the spoken word through the teachings offered by Elder Harold Ashkawe at the ceremony at Trent University Oshawa . Through the words of the Elder Harold a way of knowing was expressed which refreshed and enlightened my spirit and my mind.

The way he spoke of the importance of spreading positivity was very refreshing. In the world we seem to be constantly bombarded with negative representations of humanity through the media. We rarely hear of anything positive on the news. However I find positive things happen each and every day, they may be small but these positive aspects of one’s day to day are what need to be high lighted and passed on.

For example today I over heard someone say “That’s gay…”  and in response someone said “Do you realize what you just said? Please be mindful of your remarks, someone’s sexual orientation should not be used as an insult”.  This correction of discrimination may be a small move forward for humanity to accept people of all kinds, however this small step could have huge impact. Perhaps the next time that person goes to say that, they will re- think their statement. As well, the more people who quit using that word as an insult, the more accepted it will be. This is one example of how the message of Herold’s regarding spreading positivity can have the possibility of wide spread impacts for a better world.  It doesn’t always have to be an example such as this, things like saying hello, thank you, or your welcome, giving recognition, holding a door and smiling are some other ideas to spread positivity to make the world a better place. Please feel free to listen to  “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to hear more empowerment.

Elder Herold also stated how important it is to never laugh at someone, but instead laugh with, or even laugh internally at yourself, but always find the humor. He highlighted the way of knowing which the Indigenous culture embraces of trying to always find the humor, even in hard situations.  This is evident in Lee Maracle’s talk Connection Between Violence against the Earth and Violence Against Women when she speaks with humor of people from England at 26:35 in the following link:

The way Maracle laughs in this example shows that even when speaking and facing such a difficult topic, humor can be found.  Some people may think that humor takes away from the seriousness of a topic, however lessons can still be learned when humor is involved. The laughter does not harm the integrity of Maracle’s statement, it is still true regarding Queen Elizabeth the second, that the hardships and turmoil for the Indigenous people began with her rule.

Another teaching which I took from Herold was the idea of not saying good bye, but instead saying such things as see you again soon. From my previous courses I learned this is because we will meet again in the after life, thus there is never a good bye, just a see you again soon. This way of knowing could be very comforting to those who are grieving for a lost love one.

Another way of knowing spoken of by Herold was walking with someone in life, rather then owning them for life. For example, “my wife” or “my husband” entails ownership. However,  one does not own their partner. The imagery of walking with someone, speaks of partnership, giving and taking equally, which is a beautiful concept.

The way of knowing spoken of by Elder Herold which consists of not owning anything, instead borrowing from the creator, is really quite beautiful and keeps one humble.  If we journeyed through our lives being mindful that this is not ours, but here to sustain all of the earths beings, this could have the ability to keep one humbly respectful of things they encounter in life, such as the land, water, partners, the list goes on.

As well, the beautiful song which spoke of humbling ourselves to the creator done by the All my Relations Drum Circle has teachings in it regarding humbling oneself to the land creatures, to the sky creatures, and to the sea creatures. The lyrics of the song which stated “we must bend down low” spoke to me of how we need to respect and be mindful of the partnerships we have with beings of every kind in the world.  This Indigenous way of knowing is further expressed here, ““ [we]…are no greater or less than the plants, the animals, the birds, the fish, and the insects. We are but one part of creation. What we do to one part, we do to ourselves” (Misko-Ginew, personal communication, June 2007). I believe this quote demonstrates how we are a partnership with all the beings of the earth and this partnership was very much highlighted in the song . Partnership is a very powerful notion, as it entails trust, respect and love, and as much giving as receiving.

Thus, as demonstrated above the scent and sounds of empowerment can take many forms, and be related to many different topics.  The Indigenous way of knowing can be suggested as being for all of creation. One just has to be willing to open one’s senses and being to the sounds, and scents of empowerment which the Indigenous way of knowing relates.

Works Cited:

All My Relations Drum Circle: Creation Song

Harold Ashkawe, Elder Scugog Nation

Misko-Ginew, personal communication, June 2007  : (web) http://www.ucalgary.ca/indigenous/research/knowing_being.  University of Calgary 2013

Knowledge Definition: https://www.google.ca/?gws_rd=cr&ei=wa6aUoqXKs74oASQmoL4CA#q=definition+of+knowledge (Web)

Smudging Picture: http://www.sacredserpent.net/smudging.html

Youtube: marquisriley28: Macklemore X Ryan Lewis: Same Love: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcNOapwgw6I

 

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A Small Slice of Natures Empowerment

In the prior blog I looked at the effects of residential schools and a healing ceremony such as the drum ceremony, and the healing power of “together-ness”, thus I focused more on mental healing, which had empowering qualities for one to have the ability to begin physical healing. In this blog I will be focusing on the latter aspect of healing, more of healing in the physical sense, which have empowering qualities for the mental and spiritual being.  I will be doing this by taking a small look into the empowering aspects of nature, and natural medicine by speaking primarily of a prior course I have taken, Indigenous Environmental.

3539627875_7605cca670_o I heard the frozen earth crunch beneath my feet as I made my way to the edge of the wood. I saw the smoke swirling gently towards the clouds amongst the blue sky above the pine trees.  The scent of burning wood, and pine trees cleared my mind, my spirit, and my airway as I entered the woods. The tall, tan and red Teepee stood tall and proud in the clearing amongst the trees. The sound of muffled cheerful voices, and laughter reached my ears as I made my way to the round entrance that seemed to be cut out of the Teepee. The keeper of the fire was evidently hard at work as the smell of wood smoke reached my nostrils. It swirled all around us on its journey to the top of the Teepee. My fellow classmates and friends sat around the Teepee in a circle around the fire eager to learn what the Elder was about to share with us…..

In my third year at Trent University, I took a course in Indigenous Environmental Studies. Emphasize was placed on giving thanks to Mother nature, and giving back to nature. There are many ceremonies which involve empowerment and nature. I cannot go into great details of these ceremonies as I have been taught the written word is not usually the way of expressing such way of knowing, and I fear I will not be able to include all the details of the ceremonies.

One of the details which seems to cross ceremonies in my encounters with them, is the suggestion of giving thanks. Giving thanks for the water which we drink, the sun which warms us and enables growth, giving thanks to the earths soil which grows our food, and which we walk upon. I have been taught through my courses on Indigenous way of knowing that every aspect of the earth warrants respect, appreciation, giving and thanks.  Through giving thanks, I believe it enables one to be more aware of where things come from, and where they are going. In addition through giving thanks, it allows us to marvel at the wonder of the world, all of these natural things which sustain us are really something to wonder at. Mother Nature must always be respected, she is a continuing giving force, and at the very least, we must give her thanks.

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Nature to me is such a diverse, beautiful entity that gives us so much. It can be suggested that one need not anything which the Mother Nature does not give one naturally. This  is mentioned in many Indigenous teachings and writings such as Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road, “…the land would support us” (130, Boyden). As Professor Dan Longboat of Trent University often spoke about in class this could have great effects for both one’s health, but also the health of the world’s state of being. As such things as pollution, packaging and transporting ect from the process of constructing such things as artificial medicine to when we take the medicines we buy in stores, and are given by health care professionals, could be cut down if all the world realized this.  As Professor Longboat once stated, “”Don’t wait for sometime in the future to do the “right thing”, instead choose always to use a “Good Mind”, let “Unity” and “Peace” be our strength. Work together to create a future for the “Coming Faces”, one that they will be able to look back at us and be thankful for all the “Life” we helped to sustain for them. As the human family this must be our “Great Work”, let it also be our greatest “Victory”. “Let it be so in our minds!”  (Web).

Not only does the earth provide us with medicines which can heal us, it also provides the best kind of food for us. The natural kind, vegetables, fruit, and meats are really all that we need to sustain us. If everyone could understand this, the world could be suggested as becoming a much healthier place. It is important to note however, if one begins on the journey of natural eating and natural medicine, it is important to give back as much as you get. A few suggestions in order to do this can include planting your own garden, planting trees, reducing your pollution (ride your bike instead of drive, use less electricity, don’t litter), and never taking more then what you need. It is also important to never forget to say thank you.

I learned this lesson through the many natural medicines which nature provides to those that go and look for them. For example Dan Longboat taught me that Red Dogwood can be used for a detox tea if you cut off the bark and boil it in water. I remember him laughing as he stated “it will either come up…or go down and out…” if you drink that tea. He related that your body would know which way the detox would need to work for your body. This is a very empowering thought, that our bodies know for us when we are uncertain.

I have been taught it is great to take advantage of the natural medicines which nature provides, but also to give back, leave a small piece of tobacco at the sight of where you took the medicine, which is what Professor Donard an Indigenous studies professor also at Trent, taught me.  She related how vital it is to say thank you while taking the medicine from the earth, and while taking it to help your health.

All of the above was learned in class through traditional methods of story telling. The lessons I learned throughout these courses were not from a textbook, and were not written down. They were related orally by the professors.  This displays the great importance of stories, as Thomas King stated in his talk The Truth About Stories- A Native Narrative there is always a lesson to be learned in stories, as “…the truth about stories is that is all we are..” (King). In my previous classes the stories had the ability to empower one into a way of knowing which could better help to sustain and understand all of creation, and help the earth, instead of hinder it.  As Leslie Marmon Silko  wrote in her book Ceremony: “I will tell you something about stories . . . They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death”.

Works Cited

Boyden Joseph: Three Day Road

Thomas King: The Truth About Stories- A Native Narrative

Professor Dan Longboat quote: https://www.facebook.com/communityfoundationptbo/posts/564151233606846 (web)

Professor Dan Longboat class notes Indigenous Envirormental

Professor Donard Class notes Indigenous Studies

Silko Marmon Leslie, Ceremony

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“Indian Reside…

“Indian Residential Schools date back to the1870’s. The policy behind the government funded, church-run schools attempted to ‘kill the Indian in the child’. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, with the last one closing in 1996” Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The residential school mission statement which includes the wish to “Kill the Indian in the Child” relates the horrific genocide which the residential school system embodied. The culture’s children were forced from their homes by the government, or faced consequences from the law, into school systems where the children were unfamiliar with the European culture, and practices of such.  However, these young children were expected to conform immediately upon arriving, and abused if they did not.  Then upon school years being over they were shoved back into the world at the age of sixteen. This shows the complete dehumanization which the Indigenous people were subject to through Residential schools.  This raises the question of how one could become empowered culturally after such turmoil?

In this picture taken of a residential school, one can see the emphasize on sameness, same dress for the most part, same hair cut, even same way of sitting, and absolutely no smiles. The allure of childhood seems to not be evident in this photo.

Robert Arthur Alexie, author of the novel Porcupines and China Dolls attests to what the mission statement of “kill the Indian in the child” did for him, and others who attended residential school in his community.  Throughout this novel we see a community who struggles with alcohol addiction, which was evident in the bar scenes, and James prevalent need to get a hold of a bottle.

The allure of sex in some of the characters minds is not only evidently an expression of liberal pleasure, but also to reinforce in their minds, and others that they are a straight male, which one example of can be seen in how often preoccupied James was with sex, and how his thoughts regarding sex were often crude and entails a sense of a masculine dominance over the partner. One example can be seen in the following “…I’d like to rip your pants off n’ eat you…” (Alexie, 52).   While this example does provoke images of passionate power, the regularity which he speaks of sex in this manner can be suggested as reinforcing a masculine ideal of dominance in sex, which could help him reinforce his masculinity. It can be suggested therefore that through such distractions of sex, and alcohol  that life after residential school consisted of a life trying to forget the memories of the experience.

We see evidence of mental illness, due to the turmoil of sexual abuse, which was shown through the attempts of suicide by James, and Michael committing suicide (Alexie). One can see the affects of physical abuse, which was inflicted upon the children of residential schools, through them seemingly having trouble with such things as family, the law, employment and drinking. We also see that those who attended residential school seem to struggle with what family means:

“The long-term repercussions of being a part of the residential school experience precluded many former students from becoming the responsible and loving parents they might have been had they continued to be nurtured by their own families and communities.Through all of this combined,  it can be suggested that we see a loss of a culture, a loss of tradition and ceremony” (United Church).

Thus, through that loss of culture, there was not an identity to replace it with, which was seen through Alexie’s characters lives after residential schools consisting of mostly drinking and sex, both of which could be suggested as being distractions. These distractions are often widely accepted in Western culture, frowned upon when taken to excess, but never the less they are very prevalent in Western Culture. In Taiaiake Alfred’s talk From Rightous Warrier to Nobel Savage he stated the importance of  “’situate’ [ing] oneself in this modern colonial reality, not become of it, which the characters in Alexies book evidently struggled with due to the turmoil of their pasts, and them not connecting to their culture.  In place of the Indigenous identity, it can be suggested that we see an empty being in the characters in Alexie’s book, who seems unable to identity or attest to where they are going, cannot adopt to cultures, or where they have been due to residential school.

However, towards the end of the novel we see an amazing change occur. We start to see the beginning of healing, the beginning of empowerment through talking of these painful experiences, and traditions and ceremonies which were once stripped away, revived. Ceremonies are said to have the ability to, “Shed..pain and heal..spirit” (Jaine), and in Alexie’s novel this is certainly the journey started by speaking of the painful experience, and through traditional ceremony.

For example the drum ceremony depicted in the novel (which was done after the healing ceremony),

“Old Pierre went into his shed and returned with five drums that he’d made many years ago. He’d wanted to bring them out sooner, but didn’t know how the people would react to it. He thought about the government and the church, then looked at the reverend Andy standing with the people. Times are changing” (Alexie, 202).

It is evident that the healing ceremony had a profound affect on this community, as they reflected and acknowledged the hardships some of their members went through in residential school, and through this acknowledgment it is obvious they are united into a stronger cultural front through them embracing ceremonies which they hadn’t used for quite a time.  This shows the empowerment which can come from bad experiences, instead of seeking out personal revenge, ceremony is used to heal and nurture wounds.

I have included a video depicting what drum ceremonies can do for healing. This example is about death, however I feel that it can be related here as the Indigenous Culture experiences physical death as a result of residential school, as well as emotional and cultural harm through that experience. Please follow the link here:

As well, I have included a link which allows you to hear an example of the sound of drums and captures some of the powerfulness of such a ceremony. Please follow the link here:

Thus, in conclusion through ceremony and tradition a culture which was subject to near genocide at the hands of the government of Canada is being culturally revived back to its roots. Empowerment can be seen as taking place through the acknowledgement of the turmoil of the past. It is evident that it is essential that we must all never forget, but that we must help this empowerment process through respecting the land, the Indigenous culture as well as the traditions of the Indigenous People.

Here is a suggestion for those wanting to be a part of the healing process: Go to an Indigenous Ceremony!

Works Cited

Alexie, Robert Arthur. Porcupines and China Dolls. Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited. Toronto 2002.

Drum Ceremony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AoYY9gNv3U

Speaking of Drum ceremony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHnHJ5f3h6c

Picture of Indigenous school children: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_boarding_schools

Taiaiake Alfred- From Nobel Savage to Righteous Warrior. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZfGAqdIJmE

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=39. Manitoba.

United Church of Canada. What are the “legacy of residential schools” and  the “mission school syndrome”? http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=39. 2012

Jaine, Linda. Residential Schools: The Stolen Years. University Extension Press. Saskatchewan.1993.

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Dwelve in

The following blog delves into the importance of traditional Indigenous knowledge. Stories of personal experience, integrated with traditional teachings and Indigenous ways of knowing will be put into a blog to express and place emphasize on the empowerment and healing nature of traditional teachings and ceremonies.

Please enjoy and pass on for all to enjoy!

Melanie Ogden

Trent University

2013

 

 

-Live life by giving and spreading happiness….

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