Skip to content

COLUMN: Beware Google! Look within for answers, insight

Decision making is a process, stresses local elder, who advises young people to take their time despite the pressures of today's fast-paced world
jeff monague april 2020
Jeff Monague, a local elder, has some advice for today's young people.

I recall my first ever council meeting. I was not yet 28 when I was elected as Chief Councillor of my community. I was fresh out of the military where I had been stationed in Europe for six years during the Cold War.

I was the youngest person at the table filled with my elders, and I was welcomed with much teasing and jokes at my expense for being so young. It was a good thing that I was aware of the Indigenous code – “If they don’t like you, they will not ever tease you.” I was in a good place.

The council meetings would start in the evening and go on late into the night. Despite my experience as a non-commissioned officer in the military, where I held a leadership role and rank, had leadership courses and was tried, tested and true; in this setting I was learning to walk again.

I was used to a fast-paced operations-oriented environment where time was always of the essence. This was still in my blood. I hadn’t yet learned to gear down. The elder councillors would rib me about it, and a few would take me aside and counsel me about it during breaks in our proceedings.

When faced with an issue, the smoky boardroom table where I now sat in a decision-making capacity, would go silent as the men and women of the council would ponder the problem at hand. All would go silent as they went inside themselves searching for an answer within their memory bank of ancestral knowledge.

They sipped on tea and coffee, smoked cigarettes, and stared into the abyss. Now and then, one of them would nod their head in agreement with their inner dialogue. Some would exhale loudly as if tired of all the thinking they were having to do.

For someone coming back from living in the larger society, the pace seemed a snail’s crawl. I was impatient and often interjected a possible solution to the problem. My suggestion would invoke raised eyebrows from my elders. But no verbal reaction to any of my suggestions. It was like waiting for the Onodrim, the Ents, an old race of trees from the Lord of the Rings story by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The elder councillors took their time in their decision making because, as one of them told me, “Our people would want us to get this right.” And so, they would smoke, nod their heads, ponder some more, until someone would finally say, “Ahaw!” (Ah-how!) which means OK, and then they would each give their input before coming to a decision that the majority at the table agreed to.

They were making decisions in the way that their ancestors did. Without haste. I learned a lot from that time. It grounded me.

And because of them I take my time before making decisions. Sometimes I take days. In the fast-paced world of the larger society sometimes that was too much, and we would get phone calls from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada prodding us on, often threatening us with funding sanctions if we didn’t decide right away. My elders would say, “We have waited 500 years for things that they promised us. They can wait a few days for this!”

Today, I am the elder. I have taken to mentoring several young people. My advice is the same. Take your time. The answers do not come from Google, an app, or even a pill. The answers are deep within us. Deep within our ancestral memory banks passed on through our genetic makeup and lifetimes lived.

That is the secret that young people need to know.

Jeff Monague is a former Chief of the Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island, former Treaty Research Director with the Anishnabek (Union of Ontario Indians), and veteran of the Canadian Forces. Monague, who taught the Ojibwe language with the Simcoe County District School Board and Georgian College, is currently the Superintendent of Springwater Provincial Park. His column appears every other Monday.