On Christmas Eve morn I woke to hear that one of our traditional knowledge keepers and one of my teachers, Danny Paul, had departed for the spirit world.
You may find this difficult to understand but I wasn’t sad for him, I celebrated his journey to the spirit world by offering tobacco and lighting the medicine he gifted me. I spoke to him like he was sitting across from me because that’s what Danny taught me to do.
Danny Paul, contributed by Tanya MacVicar
The loss of a loved one is always heartbreaking, especially during the holidays. Our Mi’kmaq community has lost so many people this month. Instead of gathering around Christmas trees, we are gathering at wakes, funerals, and solitays to say nmultes.
I’ve always loved that our language doesn’t have a word for goodbye, we say nmultes, which means see you again. I think the Creator intentionally made sure we didn’t have that word; it’s so final. We L’nu know we will always see each other again someday, somewhere soon.
Losing our elders is like losing a library, their stories die with them if they haven’t been recorded or captured in some way. It’s why I like to spend my time with the old ones and listen.
I truly believe that the loss of a traditional elder is one of the greatest losses for a L’nu Nation. Our Traditional Elders carry beautiful magic with them. They have been strong and courageous, learning about and carrying those teachings about the old ways back to their people.
They are the ones who reintroduced and now teach us about our beloved customs, practices and traditions that were once used by our people prior to the ‘big canoes’ washing up on our shores.
I say they are strong and courageous because most of our people think that Catholicism was our way; it wasn’t and going against that belief and practice can be difficult, as it sometimes was for Danny.
Danny was courageous and honest. He would share his teachings during harvest times by gathering medicine, setting up teepees and having long conversations at his table. Take em’ or leave em’, it wasn’t up to him to insist that you followed the teachings. He was merely a vessel to show you how we used to do things, learning himself through medicine men; elders; pipe carriers; friends and strangers’ teachings.
After a nonstop haul from Boston to Unama’ki last August, I messaged Danny as soon as my eyes popped open the next morning. I needed someone I trusted to explain something that had taken place the night before. I couldn’t ask just anyone, most wouldn’t understand the ask, so I reached out to my friend and knowledge keeper. We ended up spending the next four- or five-hours drinking tea and laughing, as I listened and learned.
Danny helped me understand the message I had received. “Trust the journey Tanya,” he said, “you are exactly where you are supposed to be.” He pointed out some astute observations and laughed at me when I finally realized what had happened and why the night before.
If you’ve been to visit Danny and Karen, you know that his table is surrounded by windows and smells like L’nu medicine and tobacco. That room is a witness to many conversations and the table and walls hold tears, personal secrets and laughter. The jokes told there would make your sides sore.
Danny was funny. He made you laugh; he made you feel comfortable; he made you feel loved and above all he made you feel welcome. Danny and Karen’s door has always been open. Many times he would miss appointments or be late for them because he took the time to listen. He didn’t rush you and would always have tea ready for the conversations.
Danny Paul is on the left, contributed by Tanya MacVicar
Danny taught me about forgiveness, love and compassion. He taught me how to be a better friend, to be impeccable with my word, to be strong and to never stop helping our Nation no matter how tired I became.
I remember going to him and crying, telling him how sad, disappointed, and angry I was that our archaeology, our ancestors, weren’t being protected the way they should be.
He gently reminded me that not everyone was ready to fight the way I wanted to fight. He reminded me about how he had been persecuted when he brought many of the traditional ways back to Membertou. He reminded me that I had to accept others for who they were and that eventually others would help to protect the areas that we both loved so much. “They don’t see it, Tanya,” he would say, “but they will, so be patient with them.” What they would see eventually, he thought, were our old ways.
Danny helped to remind me that our ‘old ways,’ which are about the land, mother earth, is how we can make the world a better place. Danny taught me to respect myself, to see others and accept them for what they could manage. He taught me that sobriety is an amazing gift, and that spirit is able to come through when you were sober, and that you can see and appreciate the world with a different set of eyes. He also taught me that you can only love others when we truly love ourselves and that takes work.
His experiences became stories and those stories in turn became teachings. His successes were blessings and his failures were lessons. Danny’s love for the land, medicines, animals, birds, insects, humans and his knowledge in ceremony, traditional ways and language, was a beautiful gift from our Creator and Danny gave those teachings back to his people. What a beautiful gift he shared with us.
I am not sad for Danny because I know that he is on his spirit journey. I celebrate that journey with and for him. I will mourn his physical absence for the youth he was helping and for those who were getting sober with his help. I will also mourn his absence for the young ones who will never have the opportunity to hunt, fish or learn how to set up a teepee with him.
I helped him to set up some teepees one year in the pouring rain at Miniku and had so much fun. We shared so many laughs and almost got smoked by a teepee pole, but Danny said ‘almost’ didn’t count.
I mourn for our L’nu Nation, because I don’t know if we’ve fully realized what we have lost. But I am comforted by the considerable number of pipe carriers, firekeepers, grandmothers, friends, and family from across Turtle Island who have already arrived to bring Danny home through ceremony.
I celebrate and honour my friend. I thank him, and I’ll miss him. But mostly I will be eternally grateful for the teachings he left all of us. Those who were lucky enough to have learned from him will and are stepping up in his absence. That makes me happy.
I smile watching the young men and women tend the sacred fire. His legacy will live on through them and that’s the best way to honour him, to teach others what he taught us.
My heart, support, prayers and love, go out to Danny’s wife Karen, his children, siblings, grandchildren, family and friends, meskeyi.
Wela’lin Danny, nmultes nitap aq Kesalul.