Humour and Hubris

Monday August 24th

Allan Reeve

A cold northwest wind has dropped the temperature below 10C. Rain pelts the windows at Meg’s Hilly Lake home. No morning swim for me today. We’re packing up and heading out for the 1500K drive home.

The CPT team has said its goodbyes and shared individual commitments to remain allies of our new friends here.

I take with me a quote from one of our morning readings (that I’ve lost the reference for). It goes something like “Jesus made three promises to his followers: that they would know bottomless joy, that they would possess an unshakeable fearlessness, and that they would be always in trouble.”

Bottomless joy? One strong lasting impression I take away from my visit is the humour of our hosts. While their stories stir rage in me, they keep a twinkle in their eyes. They are quick to joke and tease while I get lost in an earnest search for answers. Their humour is like the water that crashes against the rock cliffs of white man’s hubris. (Hubris (/ˈhjuːbrɪs/, also hybris, from ancient Greek ὕβρις) means extreme pride or self-confidence. When it offends the gods of ancient Greece, it is usually punished. )

The arrogance of my culture astounds me. We have been so sure that we stand on the rock of ages. Yet water and wind over time turn rock into sand. What makes our hosts laugh when their tears run steady?

What makes these warriors into fearless defenders of mother nature? In a CBC interview internationally renowned cutting-edge architect Douglas Cardinal comments on the power of fear’s inhibition. His heritage gave him what he needed to put fear behind him. “Once you sit with the elders and experience the Vision Fast – you experience a death of ego – and so you learn to fear nothing.”

And as for the trouble Jesus promised? Trouble is what the Trickster uses to teach us when we’ve strayed from humility into hubris. Humour is what tickles confidence into questions. Joy is the evidence of a wealth that money can’t buy.

As I wonder at how Indigenous people across Canada have survived colonialism, and I think of the Canadian winter approaching, what strikes me is just how tough you need to be to live off this land. If these people could survive through the winters here – adapt and even thrive – is it surprising they have been resilient enough to survive the plagues of colonialism.

“We’re still here.” declares Judy DaSilva, Larry Morrissette, and others in a mantra I’ve heard repeated now many times.

It also strikes me that just as indigenous people taught the first Europeans how to survive in nature’s harsh elements – they have lessons to teach us still. As global warming threatens to wipe out our modern societies, we’ll need new skills. If anyone can adapt and survive through radical climate changes – it won’t be those of us who don’t know how to live without electricity and gasoline. Traditional, appropriate technologies of the first peoples developed over millennia offer hope.

For the last two centuries we’ve been working hard to educate and civilize indigenous peoples. Colonial efforts across the globe have pursued this same pattern. Changing the people of the land into good corporate citizens. Training them to respond to bells, whistles, and the clocks of progress. Turning them into consumers dependent upon the cash-economy. Uprooting them from their place in the eco-system to be part of a transient society in pursuit of “the American dream”.

Is it these first peoples who need to change?

My Grassy Narrows friend, Mary-Ann laughs when I ask her about the effects of the closure of the Abitibi Pulp Mill in Kenora. Fifteen hundred jobs were lost. “It didn’t affect us at all – hardly any of us were even employed.”

While we get scared every time the stock market dips. While politicians compete to be the one to ensure middle class comforts by feathering the ever-bigger and better nests of the super rich. While we worry about pensions and property values. None of this even touches the poor – the majority of people on this planet. When you have nothing to lose – why vote for leaders blind and deaf to the interests of what actually sustains you?

What sustains you when you are not a part of the global economic order? Clean water, clean air, and the soil that holds the bones of your ancestors. A communal wisdom rooted in co-existence with the elements. The people who have listened to the earth speak, and have shaped their survival out of respect for its laws – know more about sustainability than any PHD with a library full of books. (books made with paper from clear-cut forests.)

“Built on Paper” declares northern town’s roadside signage. They invite tourists to stay and enjoy the natural beauty, spread some of that southern cash around. Tourism employs more people and contributes more to Canada’s economy than the oil industry, or mining, or forestry. Yet the economics that puts disposable income into the gas tanks of tourists threatens to ruin what they’re here to experience.

In the first six months of a North American baby’s life, they will consume more packaged goods than most people on the planet will buy in a lifetime.


Is it indigenous people who need to change, to be fixed, to be educated?

Recent Comments


  1. Ellen

    Very blessed by all of this. Mother Ellen

  2. Brenda Peddigrew

    Allan, you have years of integration of the experience ahead…taking it into your heart and into your body…let it unfold in your Peterborough life.

    • teachus2

      I hear you. I appreciate very much the insights you have gained and explained. Thanks for that. But, I also see the snowball rolling down the hill gaining in momentum and size created out of innocence and ignorance and fueled on by greed and intolerance which will either crash into a wall, or melt from lack of inertia. How do you educate ‘kids’ to not roll snowballs when it is exciting (and profitable) ?

      • bedfordhouse551

        Right! No easy task Don. It’ll take all of our ingenuity and creativity to make another way doable. Making it fun too? How about survival? Isn’t that fun?

    • bedfordhouse551

      Yes, the problems are generational and so are the solutions. Thanks for walking with me Brenda.

  3. Catherine Underhill

    Allan, your question on change and education I suspect reflects all of creation…..let us be still and learn from one another.
    Your reflection leaves me with an image of hope as the foundation of bedford house, a journey of joy taught and caught at a grassroots level.


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