Reviving Ojibwe spiritual traditions, one pet at a time

CASS LAKE, MN (AP) – Animal neglect used to be a problem at the Leach Lake Preserve in northern Minnesota, with basic services like spaying out of reach for many due to poverty and remoteness, groups of stray dogs sometimes bringing traffic to a stop on the road. main express.

Today, electrolytes are rare. Children help the elderly rescue the animals, pet food and supplies are routinely distributed in the community, and the main town’s premier veterinary clinic, Cass Lake, is a final statement away from the cornerstone.

This is all thanks to an organized push over many years by many members of the community to improve animal welfare that is deeply rooted in cultural and spiritual values ​​regarding the Ojibwe people’s relationship with all living things.

“It helps the animals, but it also lifts the people,” said Rick Haaland, who is leading the effort among his Ojibwe colleagues as a community outreach manager with the Litch Lake Tribal Police. Our pets walk with us.

Animals are central to Ojibwe beliefs and sacred origin stories.

According to one of them, which according to tradition may be told only once in the north of the country, the Creator asked the native man and his wolf to travel the earth together, and on their journey they became close as brothers. Their mission completed, the Creator told them to go separate paths, though they would be “to be feared, respected, and misunderstood” by the people who join them later on Earth.

The story suggests that the dogs are relatives of the wolf, they must have been brothers to the original inhabitants of the day, honoring them albeit separate.

So things like promoting pet care and providing much-needed veterinary services to the reserve nestled between woods and lakes reinforce the Creator’s intentions for harmony between humans and animals — a value that some say has faded over the years.

“Traditionally we are told to be grateful to the animals. Cats and dogs choose to be with us and comfort us. But when we were assimilated, and entered into extreme poverty, our stories were not told,” said Elaine Fleming, who started saving the animals 10 years ago after setting up a ceremony for them with prayer and singing. and drums, “People have forgotten that we need to take care of them.”

Now, “we’re taking our culture back,” added Fleming, a Leech Lake senior from Ojibwe and a teacher at Leech Lake Tribal College.

Roughly 40% of Leech Lake’s residents live in poverty, which makes it difficult to tolerate routine spaying and neutering, not to mention emergency care that can run into hundreds of dollars per surgery.

This means that all too often, affected animals die or are abandoned, as is the case for kittens and puppies that no one can afford.

Things began to turn about a decade ago, when Leech Lake Legacy, a nonprofit based in Twin Cities, began accepting surrendered animals—more than 9,000 so far—for adoption elsewhere and bringing a regular mobile clinic on board for low-cost vet services.

The pandemic has faced a setback as care, especially spaying and neutering, was closed for several months in 2020, according to Leech Lake Legacy founder Jenny Fetzer, and now it’s hard to get back on track.

“I can’t imagine when we’ll be able to catch up,” she said, adding that more than 400 animals are on her waiting list and may not be fixed for a year.

But the game-changing permanent veterinary clinic in Lake Haaland, which Haaland hopes to start building before the deep winter freeze and could open its doors in the spring, will be supported by national animal welfare organizations as well as local fundraising. A vet who lives on the reserve will not only take care of routine spays, but treat emergencies as well — it currently costs $500 just to get a doctor to come to Cass Lake after hours, according to Haaland.

He envisions media shows playing in the waiting room, building on awareness programs the community is already doing on best practices like leash and dog grooming to keep pets out of harm.

“I don’t think people don’t care,” said Haaland, who owns three dogs and a cat. “It is education. This is our way out of this.”

Meanwhile, Haaland has been rescuing abandoned pets and driving injured animals to remote vets, putting in about 27,000 miles in just one year in a new truck he got thanks to a grant from the Humane Society’s Pet for Life program. With a value of $115,000 this year, the grant also allowed him to work in animal care full time.

The communities they serve from Louisiana to Alaska face the same challenge: The structural inequalities that perpetuate poverty make animal welfare more elusive, said Rachel Thompson, national director of Pet for Life.

At the end of a day he spent rescuing a kitten, two kittens and two 10-week-old golden-haired puppies, Haaland pulled pictures onto his phone of a bull stuck with hundreds of porcupine feathers that required months of surgeries and treatment. Donated by a veterinary college. Fights with porcupines can kill dogs that are not properly housed, leashed and trained.

The yard where Haaland found the pit bull had rubbish all over the place, so Haaland offered the owners to help clean up before returning the dog. When he arrived early in the morning with the other members of the tribes, the family had already done most of the work.

“They wanted to do better,” he said. “We are a proud people, and we have a chance to overcome the trauma of the past.”

“Animals have souls, just like us,” said Eric Redix, a scholar of Ojibwe history and member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe, and neglecting them is an affront to the spiritual imperative to treat all living things well. It is a symptom of broader social distress in the poor indigenous lands.

He added that reviving animal welfare such as that at Leach also points to the revitalization of the Ojibwe community – “to get us back to where we should be.”


The Associated Press’s religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation US. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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