Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Trust the Spirits: A Conversation with Winston Wuttunee

This is the 3rd part of a great conversation with Elder Winston Wuttunee. He discusses spirituality and the idea of chaos which we all see in the world today. He feels that all the great teaching in major religious are connected. We are all connected. “It takes a lot of bravado to say we are different.” When First Nations smoke the pipe we must trust that what is going to happen is true.

He talks about his daughter who while living in Vancouver had little access to Elders. Winston had trust that if he prayed that help would be given to his daughter. He knows that we need trust and trust will bring great understandings.

I questioned Winston about how society has been set up not respect the roles of Elders. Winston gave the example of a house he needed to paint. He also wanted to spend time with his son and so he paid his son a small amount of money for his son come and help paint the house. The son was a young man and very busy around this time with his education and young family. His son never knew it but they spent two days having teachings and spending a great time together. Many of the old people have their hearts broken when they are thrown away. Children are also so important to the world around us.

We must always remember that sometimes people will test you, you may never know who people they are, but if you have a little knowledge they will test you to determine if you are a good person.

We also discussed his recent honouring with a 2013 Indspire award in for his lifetime work in Culture, Heritage & Spirituality. The best bit is in the second half of part 3.

To Learn More (podcast and Interview)



When the Sunsets as seen with Winston Wuttunee Wpg, MB


  1. This response is in reference to the third part of a four part series featuring Winston Wuttunee, a wise elder. While the blog posting was a good summary of this conversation the real thick of things can be found in the podcast link located following Robert-Falcon Ouellette’s blog posting. I personally could relate and appreciate all that was said in this interview with Wuttunee. A few points worth making note of, first, in reference to Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, a 1969 non-fiction book by lawyer, professor and writer Vine Deloria, Jr. Custer Died for Your Sins was significant in its presentation of Native Americans as a people who were able to retain their tribal society and morality, while existing in the modern world. Here an important question is raised that while many Native Americans are performing spiritual exercises are they really, truly, and wholly believing in what they are doing. There is a strong relation to many other religions, particularly Christianity, that while many spiritual practices are preformed are people really, truly, and wholly believing.

    Second, the importance of elders was a significant point that Wuttunee stressed. All too often people, elders particularly, are seen as disposable. Yet we do not know the wisdom they hold and what we could learn from them. Wuttunee shares the story of a man that came to visit and when it came time to leave they could not find his car or footprints and it was as though the man vanished. This story, true or not, has strong ties to the Bible. Hebrews 13:2 states: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angles without knowing it.

    I guess what my response is trying to articulate is that we can learn a lot from one another. Our religions/beliefs, while being different, are not all that different. The world is actually a small place and as humans we are all very similar, yet we are the species that creates the most turmoil. Reflecting on the walk down in North End of Winnipeg on Thursday, how many of us looked at the “dirty” looking people and mentally wrote them off. Yet, we do not know who we are entertaining and the knowledge or lessons they may provide.

  2. I absolutely agreed with the statement that we are discarding or not fully recognizing the importance of our elders in society. Just from personal observations, I have found that we, as a society, are so quick to discard anyone that may be seen as a "nuisance". For instance, my grandfather lives in an assisted living home, due to his age and health condition. I had a conversation with him recently about how he feels about living in such a place, and he said that "even though [he] is surrounded by people and support staff, he has never felt more lonely in [his] entire life". I personally see the necessity of the health-care and assisted living profession, but I think we have stripped away the importance of our elders by simply dropping the burden off on someone else. My family has put a massive emphasis on our elders. I have always been taught that growing old is a rite of passage, and that our most experienced can teach us invaluable lessons. We need them to "wade through the chaos" that was referred to in the podcast.
    My family wades through this chaos through tradition and culture. I come from a French-Canadian/Métis background, and our traditions guide us through life and light the way. My grandfather, who is now 89, still tells me stories about how our traditions came to be and why they are still important. My family has always put a strong emphasis on community and socialization; we had massive parties with all of our family members and neighbours all the time. Winston Wuttunee noted that "sometimes, people will come to you, and they will test you... fall back on your teachings whenever a stranger comes and treat him properly". I was brought up in the same way, and I think that treating each other with even a modicum of respect, we can wade through all the chaos of our daily lives.
    As future teachers, I think we need to acknowledge our histories and our traditions by including our elders in society. I believe that we need to take our professionalism into the classroom, but we can't forget to bring ourselves along too. We all have a history and we all have our own traditions. We can create communities within our own little classrooms by sharing our experiences with our colleagues and students and wade through the chaos together.

  3. This article raises an intriguing point about how important and vital elders are in society.
    They are a piece of living history, they have lived through everything that we are currently living through, just in a different time. They have many stories and much wisdom to share with us. They pass on the cultural knowledge of a people to the next generation. Without elders to guide us, we are lost.
    In addition to the Aboriginal beliefs of elders, many other cultures also place high importance on elders. In tradition African societies, elders were seen as peacemakers and reconcilers. They had to past a series of life tests to be able to be honoured as an elder and have a place in their community. However, with the recent shift to western education, ideals, and government, elders have lost their place. In reaction to this shift, an article states “elders should be allowed to play a bigger role in building the society as far as peace and reconciliation are concerned” (Mutua, 2013). A law recently passed in China states that children must visit their elderly parents. This law, called the Elderly Rights Law, seeks to combat the growing problem of lonely elders in elderly homes by legislating the requirement to visit parents. While this law has been ridiculed as impossible to enforce, it stills manages to bring to light the growing issue of elderly-people abuse and neglect.
    In my own experience, I feel that I have greatly missed out on all the stories and knowledge that my grandparents had. My paternal grandparents died when I was little, so I have no memories of them, and my maternal grandparents live 3000 miles away and speak a different language. I have tried to reach out to elderly people in my congregation, but they reject my invitations, saying that they feel they have nothing to share with me, or that their ideas are outdated and irrelevant. What a sad world we live in when our wisest group of people feel that they are insignificant and irrelevant!

    Hatton, Celia 2013 New China law says children 'must visit parents'. Retrieved from
    Mutua, Anthony F. 2013 Elders as peacemakers. Retrieved from

  4. This post is in response to the podcast with Winston Wuttunee, the elder, spirit guide, and musician. He makes some interesting points that resonate deeply with me, the first being about the importance of elders. He said “the old people, their hearts are broken when they are thrown away”. All too often we disregard our elders because we think they do not understand us, are too slow, are not up to date with the latest technologies, etc. We have to keep in mind however, that these people have lived an entire life, and have seen things change over time. Elders have something that young people do not have, and that is perspective. They say that hindsight is 20/20, and I know this to be true from my own experience. It is only possible to reflect on an experience once it is over. And this is the lost value of elders. Their wisdom spans over decades and is a result of decisions made over time. They are invaluable to the next generation as they can offer insight to situations that we have not yet encountered. Often people learn things the hard way, by making mistakes and dealing with the consequences. Elders are able to help with these situations as they too, have made mistakes and learned something throughout these experiences.

    I think that if we were more connected to our grandparents and elders we would have more vision as to what a sustainable future looks like, and less blind to all the problems we are creating in the environment. We would be more giving and less greedy. More spiritual and less seeking of worldly treasures. Elders are not given the respect that they deserve. They are thrown away like everything in our society that is too old, and that is why we need them.

  5. I found it extremely fascinating how Winston Wuttunee claims that all the major religions are connected in some way, shape, or form. He makes a statement describing that the more one knows about the teachings of Jesus Christ, the more familiar someone is going to be with the teachings of Muhammad. I agree with the point he is making; it seems to me in my personal experiences that the fundamentals of major religions are connected or related. It is the small aspects of religion that cause strife, not the major points. It was impossible to locate scholarly articles that agreed with the points made by Wuttunee, but this does not make what he has said any less true.

    I really related with the story of him and his son. The part that really resonated was how the younger generations do not make the time to talk to their elders, which disables the passing on of knowledge through the generations. It is through taking time to talk to someone that knowledge is passed down through oral tradition where this type of knowledge serves as a collective memory (Manitoba Education and Youth, 2003). This document also makes a powerful statement in that “Elders are the archives of the community.” This is why it is important to take the time to speak with elders. This is how knowledge is passed on. The fact that this quote is taken from a Manitoba curriculum document demonstrates the importance of involving the knowledge of elders within lessons.

    The two major points that I was able to take away from Winston Wutunee’s interview was that all religions are connected and that younger members of society need to make time to peak with elders so that knowledge can be passed down from generation to generation.

  6. This blog is a conversation with Aboriginal elder Winston Wuttunee. Wuttunee explains that he believes that all religions are connected. This is because the similarities between religions far outweigh the differences. In a 2013 article by Vanessa Mills and Ben Collins they discovered that; “Many religions have similarities but compete against each other by encouraging followers to have exclusive beliefs in one faith. But Erica has found that her beliefs can live side by side fulfilling different roles in her life”. As Aboriginal people trust in their teachings, I trust in my family’s faith. Wuttunee says that trust is an integral part of religion because it is what defines our beliefs in our own religion. He believes; “when First Nations smoke the pipe we must trust that what is going to happen is true”. This is similar to the blessings we receive in the Roman Catholic religion from a priest. We trust that when we ask God for forgiveness and we are removed from our sins that what will happen next is true, and we will be renewed.
    I think that this blog’s emphasis on the importance of elders is very powerful. New generations are showing less respect towards their elders today. Without my grandparents I would not hold the same religious beliefs that I do today. It is because of their personal opinions and encouragement to attend church that I was exposed to religion. I will continue my family’s religious traditions because of how much respect I have for my grandparents. My religious heritage and my grandparents’ continuing involvement in our parish will definitely encourage me to carry on these traditions once I have children of my own.


  7. I really enjoyed the documentary Trust the Spirits: A Conversation with Winston Wuttunee. In this documentary, Winston Wuttunee takes a lot about spirituality. During his discussion on spirituality, Wuttunee briefly touches on the importance of the drum in Aboriginal culture (Ouellette, 2013). He also discusses that elders are vital to the preservation of many cultural traditions (e.g. how to use the drum). Thus, I decided to do some research on this powerful instrument because I want to see how the drum relates to the spiritual world. I also want to understand why the elders are essential to the preservation of the drum.
    In the documentary, Pow Wow Trail: The Drum, the elders discuss that in order to understand the significance of the drum, which is central to the Pow Wow, a person must listen to the elders to that they can discover the importance of the drum in Aboriginal culture (Torrie, 2004). (This statement was very similar to what Wuttunee was talking about in radio documentary.) Importantly, the elders express that the drum is a way for them to communicate with the spirit world (e.g. spirits of medicine) (Torrie, 2004). Thus, the drum is used as a healing tool. Therefore, I believe that it is important for Aboriginal children to properly learn how to use the drum because they will be able use the drum as an instrument that allows them to release negative and harmful spirits from the body (Kirkness, 1999; Torrie, 2004). Simultaneously, positive and healing spirits will enter their body (Kirkness, 1999; Torrie, 2004).
    Also, in Pow Wow Trail: The Drum, the elders express that the drum is vital to their spirituality as it is a way for the Aboriginal people to communicate with each other the messages and wishes of the Creator (Torrie, 2004). These messages are filled with peace, harmony, and identity (Torrie, 2004). Aboriginal people also use the drum so that they can give thanks to the Creator for giving them life (Torrie, 2004). Thus, the drum, which is round in design and is made out of animal hide, is the conduit, which binds the Aboriginal people to their Creator (Neegan, 2005; Torrie, 2004). Therefore, Aboriginal children should learn how to properly use the drum since it is an instrument that ensures the Aboriginal peoples physical, spiritual, and mental wellbeing. It also gives Aboriginal children a purpose in a life, as they are able to communicate, through drum songs, the message that the Creator gives them. Importantly, if the children do not learn about it now, they will lose this very important instrument, which brings the Aboriginal people closer to the spirit world and the Creator (Torrie, 2004).
    Furthermore, the elders reinforce that it is very important that the Aboriginal historic teachings and protocols are taught alongside the learning of the drum songs (Torrie, 2004). By doing so, children will be able to remember the important Aboriginal historic teachings throughout their life and thus, they will be able to pass them along to their children just as they received them (e.g. through drum songs) (Torrie, 2004). Thus, children need to learn how to use and preserve the drum so that future generations can benefit from the Aboriginal historic teachings and protocols, which are taught alongside the learning of drum songs.