I remember the very first time that I heard that word, and questioned what it meant, was watching the movie “Robin Hood Prince of Thieves”. There’s a scene when Friar Tuck is forced to pull his wagon of beer by the horses to the hideout, and he remarks, “Lord thank you for teaching me humility”. I was only a child at the time of the movie, and I didn’t really understand what humility meant, but judging by the movie, it took it as meaning “feeling comfortable in an embarrassing moment.”
As I’ve gotten older, and have had a few people tell me, “Humility is the opposite of ego.” By that measure, if ego is “I”, than humility must mean “You” or anyone other than “I”. To put it plainly I heard one “holier than thou aren’t” Uncle tell me, “It really boils down to being in service others than being in service of yourself.”
But there are so many different interpretations of ego, and humility in the English language, and thus the colonially programmed mind, and it is easy to co-opt one for the other.
Allow me to illustrate an example by way of my participation at Oshkimaadziig. What initially began as a protest camp, then eventually as a trail blazing venture toward decolonization, I allowed myself to be succumbed to the ego of serving myself, rather than serving the people. There are many such examples, and one such example could be how I thought that my voice and opinion were more important than others. I had become so involved with my own interpretation of my importance, that I had become, cynical, shrewd, and hyper-critical of others, and so forth. I put down those in the Idle No More movement, and cast them of as pacifists, and dished out criticisms toward the Indigenous academics and thought of them as “reformists” and colonial wannabes. In my mind, the way things should be going, was that people had to be doing things, the way that we were doing things, by “roughing it out in the bush” on our path to decolonization. I had literally convinced myself, that by sacrificing myself, the way that I was, that I was in fact “serving the people”. How wrong I was.
Back then there was only one sister who stepped up to the plate and set me straight. She kindly pointed out all of the things that I had been doing, and how far from the trail, I had allowed myself to become. I had literally become a shadow of my former self. I had a near nervous break down, and had to pull myself out and away from the camp. In a twist of irony, I had to stop “serving the people” and had to “serve myself” in the form of Traditional Counselling and Healing. I had to rekindle the spiritual essence that had propelled me to take action with Oshkimaadziig in the first place.
In the process, I had to get a better grip with my innerstanding of “humility” or face “humiliation” from the ancestors. So I opted to go with re-learning humility. I committed to all the instructions that I was given by the Grandmothers and Grandfathers I seen. I had to put others before I put myself, in my prayers, thoughts and actions. I committed to this whole heartedly, and before me, my world started to change. It was very subtle, (and is very subtle at times) but little by little I noticed that my entire spectrum of prayer and thoughts had changed. I challenged myself to see the good in people first. Or at least look for the good in people, before I started to critique peoples actions, thoughts and behaviours.
On my journey of re-learning humility, I had to first learn what ego truly was, and I not only saw it myself, but I started recognizing it in others. I would sometimes go to lodges, or circles, and could see and sense, that what was going on, was not for the people, but mostly for the conductor or facilitator. My experience in being called out for my egotism, had allowed me to see more clearly the ego in others actions. Which then serves a reminder on how not to be.
I remember learning of this guy Amilcar Cabral and how he led this revolution in Afrika. Anyway, one of the things he said, “…in order to truly fulfill the role in the national liberation struggle, the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie must be capable of committing suicide as a class in order to be reborn as revolutionary workers…” What this meant to me, was that those who feel entitlement (petty bourgeoisie), have to lower their standards, to become “more like the people” (revolutionary workers).
I have been called many things. I’ve been called a “Young Elder” or an “Elder in the making”. I’ve been called a “Warrior”, a “visionary” and a whole host of other names synonymous with “great”. And I think some of this inflated my already self existing and self sustaining ego. In my journey, I had to re-learn what it meant to take the proverbial “class suicide” and become just a regular Joe. Could I be comfortable, without being known for my frontline actions with Oshkimaadziig? Could I be comfortable with myself if my path never was to lead me to becoming a medicine man, a holy man, an elder, or a warrior?
The answer was yes. It was only 3 years ago, that I was a hopeless, reckless drunk and addict, and back then, I never wanting anything, and could care less about being any of those things. On my spiritual journey, what I have also learned about humility is that you must be comfortable with what the ancestors are asking of you. If you are being asked to be “Joe the wood chopper guy”, but secretly you want to be “Joe the medicine man guy” you have to learn to accept the humility of what is being asked of you, for the benefit of others.
For me personally, I’ve been asked to be “Giibwanisi the fart smudge guy”.
If you know me, you know that I have a great sense of humour, and I make up all these crazy stories, about farting, and smelling farts, and all kinds of other things. But it truly is my own humility teaching to my self. When you get right down to it, farting can be a very emBARE-ASSing thing, but when you normalize it, to the hilarious thing that it is….it gets easier. The other thing that my humility taught me to do, was to lower myself, to be the brunt of the jokes, to be the “town fool” or whatever, this way I could learn to be in em-BARE-ASSing moments, and not feel the need to be so ashamed, hurt, or humiliated when someone bad mouths me or what not. It also helps me learn to be comfortable with being the lowest on the totem pole, and to be okay with that.
As my good ole unkie Johnny taught me, “humility is really about being in service of others.” and ” the ability to do the next right thing, especially when no one else is watching”