Indigenous Wisdom: Learning to Hunt Windigo in the Summer

September 30, 2022

If I could do one simple thing today that would help me to be a happier and healthier person, would I choose it? What if that one thing not only made me happier and healthier but made the world a better place, would I believe it possible? It is possible. That one thing is gratitude.

Today, September 30 is Canada’s National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, commemorating the tragic and painful legacy of Canada’s Residential schools, in which indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families in an attempt to assimilate them into colonial society. On the whole Canadians are appalled by the knowledge of what happened. We eagerly fly our orange flags and wear orange shirts, “every child matters.” That is a good beginning.

The next step is not as difficult as it might seem; as we open our hearts, we are encouraged to open our ears and minds. We can listen to indigenous people today, and try to envision a different way of relating to one another and to the earth. We can embrace the Indigenous spirituality of gratitude so as to learn to live together as community.  

Windigo, the Ogre-demon of Anishinaabe peoples is beyond greedy – he is desperate and dangerous. In her book “Braiding Sweetgrass,” Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Citizen of Potawatomi Nation writes of Windigo stories emerging from times when Winter hunger drove people to desperation. “The ever-present fear of winter famine is embodied in the icy hunger and gaping maw of Windigo… Sharing was essential to survival and, greed made any individual a danger to the whole.”

A hero, Nanabozho, was needed to defeat Windigo. Nanabozho is the original man, “the personification of life forces and the great teacher of how to be human.” Since the Windigo is most powerful in the Hungry time of winter, in his wisdom “Nanabozho chose to hunt Windigo in the summer.”

Nurturing gratitude is like hunting Windigo in the summer. We live in a market economy that flourishes by creating needs and demands, and a sense of scarcity. The practice of gratitude helps us to see and appreciate the abundance and goodness of the earth.

During the Pandemic we saw/see examples of Windigo mentality and actions. When people felt there was a shortage, they creating one by hoarding toilet paper, flour, baby formula, children’s Tylenol and so on. Kimmerer writes: “Born of our fears and our failings, Windigo is the name for that within us which cares more for its own survival than for anything else.”

“The practice of gratitude,” writes Kimmerer, “celebrates cultures where wealth is understood to be having enough to share and riches are counted in mutually beneficial relationships. Besides it makes us happy.”

Gratitude Prompt: Greet with reverence and gratitude whatever and whoever I encounter today.