Algonquin Storytelling at Bellevue House National Historic Site

Published by Iris Russak

On a lovely Saturday afternoon, for once completely unscheduled, I took the opportunity to hop on over to Bellevue House and learn more about local aboriginal history through their Aboriginal Storytelling program with Tim Yearington.

Bellevue House National Historic Site in Kingston, ON

Tim Yearington is a Métis person of French-Canadian-Voyageur and Algonquin ancestry. His ancestors are from the Kitchizibi (Great River) territory which today is the Ottawa River Valley. In addition to being an Métis-Algonquin Indigenous knowledge keeper and presenter Tim is a thunderbird medicine carrier, an educator, teacher, storyteller, writer and is also a published author. From 2016 to 2018 Tim worked as an Elder/Spiritual Advisor for Correctional Services Canada in Ontario. (Source: Tim Yearington)

Bellevue House Gardens

We sat under tall trees in Bellevue House’s lovely, shady garden and listened to Tim tell us about aboriginal ways of life and concepts of thinking. He explained that the people local to the Kingston area were Mohawk (coming to the area as loyalist refugees from the Mohawk Valley), Algonquin, Metis, Huron, Ojibway and Mississauga. Aboriginal peoples did not have a concept of land ownership, they rather saw themselves as being part of the land.

Aboriginal representation: Mohawk (purple), Algonquin (white), Metis (blue) (Huron – red, not pictured), from right

Tim took time to tell us about aboriginal stories of creation, leading into the concept of the medicine wheel. In the beginning, there was nothing – out of nothing, the creator made the sun, as a lodge for him/herself (yellow). Out of sun and more nothing, rocks and earth were created and painted red – the First World. Then, out of earth, fire and a bit more of nothing, the plant world (Second World) was created, symbolized by the colour black. Adding water into the mix, the Third World came into being, symbolizing the animal world, painted white. Then finally, out of the mix, humans were created. To make up for an apparent weakness in humans and their failure to live in harmony with the other elements, the creator passed on to them vision – the ability to see, dream and think.

Tim Yearington talking about the concept of the medicine wheel

This introduces the basic elements of the medicine wheel, which can be used to represent a variety of circumstances, and applies to the concept of time as well. First of all, it represents all of humankind in all its differences – people first and foremost being human and people of the Earth but from various directions: East, West, North and South. Here are a few examples for other concepts explained by the medicine wheel:

mediicine wheel Ojibwe crpt.jpg
Examples of how the principle of the medicine wheel is applied

This concept of harmony can be applied in unlimited ways – one can see the stage of life for an individual in it (childhood, youth, adulthood, elder) but also the elements of community being children, youth, adults and elders. It is not a religion as we would think of, but simply a way of life and a way of looking at life events. It also applies to the animal world and categorizes into crawlers/yellow, walkers/red, swimmers/black, white/flyers – in keeping with the elements of fire/earth/water/air. To visualize, lines are apparent in the medicine wheel, but in the way of thinking, no lines are present – there is a fluidity between all elements. The medicine wheel can be applied as a compass to find one’s way, as an individual, as a people, or really all of humankind. If there is an imbalance between any of the elements, the centre will be thrown off and a new balance will need to be established in order to create harmony. So really, the medicine wheel is at the core of any aboriginal teachings to address imbalances and problems. The first of the elements to be balanced most often is the ‘fire’ – emotional issues. The medicine to them can be in the opposite element, water and spiritual resources.  The spirit needs to be empowered to keep the sacred fire balanced.

Tim Yearington explaining the medicine wheel

There is one more opportunity to listen to this story and others in September! As a Métis-Algonquin Knowledge Keeper, Tim Yearington (Grey Thunderbird) was at Bellevue House National Historic Site on select days throughout the 2018 season to share traditional knowledge and storytelling. Tim is helping people gain a better understanding of the Algonquin Worldview and perspective. The last date was be September 23, 2018 from 10-4 pm.

Bellevue House National Historic Site is located at 35 Centre Street in Kingston, Ontario, 2.3 km (less than 1 1/2 miles) west of Kingston City Hall on King Street West and 1/2 block north on Centre Street.

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