Seven Fires

Jennifer Wemigwans

2002, 65:22 minutes, colour, english


The story of the Seven Fires was told to a live audience by Sally Gaikezheyongai. The way in which the story is told serves many purposes. It invites the listener’s attentiveness, stimulates the imagination, causes one to reflect upon realities and issues, and massages one’s understanding of self by challenging perceptions and reworking memories. In this manner, Seven Fires, offers a truly unique experience to the viewer by inviting them to participate in the timeless tradition of Aboriginal oral storytelling. The primary advantages of recording this "tradition" on video is that it makes the story more "portable" and "accessible" to a larger audience; and thereby able to travel to places the storyteller cannot.

Woven together in the story of the
Seven Fires are the hopes and voices of many aboriginal teachers and community members, some of the spiritual and cultural teachings being revived by First Nations peoples, and pieces of collective history that influence present circumstances. The story uses metaphor, analogy, and archetype as mirrors to capture and reflect many concepts for the purpose of touching the minds, hearts, and spirits of a diverse audience. Symbols are used as tools to help the viewer remember the ideas being shared and to help them make their own links and connections between the past and present, the private and impersonal, the personal and political.

The original version of this story is in the form of a prophecy that was revealed a long time ago. And is one of many stories that have been kept alive and passed on by the Anishnawbeg. (According to Ojibway linguist and ethnologist Basil Johnston, the word "Anishnawbeg" translates as "good beings." It is what the Ojibway call themselves in their language.) Sally heard the story three times as told by Jim Dumont, respected and renown elder. She then listened to how other people shared these teachings. And then later thought about what they all shared. She wanted to share this insight so she learned how to tell the story using her own words, which is the root of all Aboriginal oral storytelling and the very embodiment of how storytelling can be part of a transformative learning process.

The story, like all good stories, began with questions. For Sally these questions were: What should I tell my friends about where we came from or who we are? Are we Indians? How should I explain things? There must be something good I could say about being an aboriginal person in Canada? How were we different from other people? For Sally finding the answers helped her to form her story and gave her a way to share a painful history without feeling ashamed.

As a result Sally’s story,
Seven Fires, gives an historical perspective on the evolving relationship between aboriginal people and non-aboriginal or Canadian society. The teachings, she presents, challenge the ideology of colonialism and the illusions of progress being perpetuated at great cost to the circle of life. Her story serves to clarify the importance and meaning of self-determination and the role of aboriginal cultural and spiritual revival as the most effective means of achieving that end. It is an enthralling story from start to finish where every viewer with an open mind and open heart learns something.

Finally the story is meant to be a story of hope, healing, and reconciliation. Much damage has been done to the hearts, minds, spirits, and bodies of people since colonization. And as Sally has remarked, "As a species, while we have come a long way, we still have farther to go." This is the story of
Seven Fires.

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