I’ll tell you a story: Elder lesson as told by Elder Francis Whiskeyjack


Excerpts taken from an interview with Daniel Barker-Tremblay of Windspeaker Radio

My ceremonial name is Fine Day…I am Cree from Saddle Lake First Nations where I was born in 1948. First of all, I like to acknowledge, I give thanks for my life that was given to us from our Creator.

Sometime after I left residential school when I was about 16, 17 years old, and through some incidences in my life experience, as a helper I followed Joe P. Cardinal, my mentor, Elder.

If it wasn’t for ceremony, which I picked up after April 22, 1978, (after) an unfortunate incident, a car accident, I was really at rock bottom in my life. It had to do with alcohol. I was ready to give up on life at that time... I was in such rock bottom that I was ready to end my life.

 And I followed this man. I searched for help. And that’s when I decided to walk this Native spiritual path that I’m on today and have been most of my life up to the present.

Joe said, the greatest gifts that we are ever given as Native people, as human beings, is the gift of love from the Creator, the great spirit, and also kindness and forgiveness… You have to practice that kindness in many ways, in the circles that you walk, in the many people that you help out. For me, it’s a way of commitment. Always speak with kindness.

I’m not always like that in the past. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. But the older I get, I learn. There’s never an end to learning.

Joe also said, the other gift that we were given was self-discipline. And to conduct ourselves, even when people are not so good to us, to rise above that. Because it takes more of a man to walk away from a negative situation, rather than to fall into it…

My grandmother, who delivered me, she was a midwife in 1948 in the month of June, she gave me that name Morning Star, so I have a baby name that I lived with.

But one day, Joe called me to the sweatlodge, and I thought ‘Oh, he’s going to have a sweatlodge ceremony.’ I thought at that time he expected me to be preparing the lodge like I usually did as a helper. When I started gathering the wood to build a fire for the rocks, he said, ‘No, not you. The other guys are going to do that, the other helpers.’ So I thought, ‘uh oh, I’m in trouble.’

He kept me in the dark. He told me, ‘Just relax. Sit around here. We’re going to be going into the sweatlodge.’ When the sweat was going to begin, after heating the rocks and everything, he told me to sit beside him… He told me that the reason why he called me (was) the sweat was for me. That was to grant me a name in ceremony… Fine Day.

I used to wonder, ‘why did he give me that name?’ It was my wife that researched that name There was a chief by the name of Fine Day that was a war chief. He was a leader for his people. Apparently, he was patient, kind and understanding. He was a great leader and really cared for the people. So, I think that’s where I got that name from.

But, on further thought, I dwelled on the name and thought, ‘gee, you know, we are Star People. And when my grandmother named me Morning Star, I thought that has to do with the cosmos, or the universe. And then Fine Day has to do with the day.

So, I really came to the conclusion, after a lot of thought, that every day of my life that I live here upon this earth I might make a difference to somebody else. And I always try to be positive with that kindness, like a fine day, to make this day more pleasant for someone else that is not appreciating the day like we do. And we have those days.

When we get ceremonial names, that is usually the practice, to honour those names as best we can. And that’s kept me strong I think in my mindset. I speak only for myself and I’m very proud of that name.

Joe P, at one time, had told me when I was at a time of tragedy, he had told me that ‘if you are weak in this life, you will never survive. But if you are strong, you will survive.’ And that teaching always resonated with me because it had to do with the spirit, the body, the life path, the mind, a healthy mentality, the emotion. And to acknowledge all those… in the happy times of my life, and those memories that I retained in a good way, but also in the balance of that, the sad times in our grieving cycle.

Elder Francis Whiskeyjack, Fine Day, Morning Star, has shared a tool to help us find that balance. You may have already found it in our Buffalo Spirit pages, but if not, here’s a link to the Medicine Wheel teaching. https://windspeaker.com/teachings/the-medicine-wheel

(Editor’s Note: Joe P. Cardinal was a long-time Elder/spiritual advisor and board member of the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta, publisher of Windspeaker. He is greatly missed.)