Rights vs Responsibilities: Observations on Contemporary society


I wrote a paper during my undergrad discussing the idea of Rights versus Responsibilities.

The importance of this distinction is paramount to discussing movement forward in a good way, with respect, good faith and communication. As Anishinawbekwe, I am seeing the world in the way of our ancestors. Teachings have been handed down and are being uncovered and remembered that talk about how our communities functioned…in the BEFORE time.

We have teachings in our culture that demonstrate a tendency toward PREVENTION as a core focus of continuance as a society. We observe our surroundings, respect all life, everything has spirit, no one spirit is MORE IMPORTANT than another. We are interdependent. As such teachings of utmost respect…tobacco to offer to the space asking for guidance and support for our gatherings. Teachings that tell us to leave a pristine place exactly as we found it. To take ONLY what we need and give thanks. Gratitude.

Maintain strong, healthy bodies to prevent sickness and disease. Be mindful of what we do TODAY because what we do TODAY affects our children and grandchildren.

What I have observed growing up in a society that never gave me the choice of whether I want to be Canadian or Anishinawbekwe. Never gave me the option to be both. I observe that as a modern imperialist-capitalist tainted nation state,  we have been allotted rights in order to govern how our participation in society will be determined. Rights that govern our actions, our movements and our choices. These types of nation-states stem from hierarchies, individuals are used to being governed over. To being told what to do, how to do it and when to do it…from a source outside of their own being. The idea of hierarchy is that those who are beneath the top most levels are POWERLESS versus EMPOWERED. Empowerment…something we find in stories and teachings from our Elders.

I have heard teachings that we are all here for a specific purpose. When we have finished what we are to do here in this world, we go back home…our bodies are given back to the Earth and we complete our journey. Along the way, our communities observe us as infants and children allowing for the fullest extent of our being to reveal itself…and empower us to explore that way of being, directing all energies to a good life, using kindness, respect, wisdom, generosity and humility.

Some stories teach us that we are all responsible for our own actions, thoughts, and choices…trusting that we will find guidance along the way…by our leaders, our Elders, our parents, our teachers…all of whom are vital to the health and well being of the community…in their own ways of being.

What seems to have happened is we have been directed AWAY from personal responsibility…responsibilities for our own thoughts, actions, choices and DECISIONS; responsibilities to treat one another as we would our closest family members, responsibilities to treat the Earth as we would our own Mother, responsibilities period.

It seems contemporary society would direct our actions with limited power which has been bestowed rights by an anonymous power…someone else who makes the big decisions FOR us. These rights seen as a privilege…as if, when/if we misbehave the privilege will be WITHDRAWN…and we will be without RIGHTS. We are told we have done BAD, we are BAD, we are NOT FIT to include in society. If we BEHAVE and learn our RIGHTS we are GOOD. If we acknowledge the POWER over us. We are GOOD. Fit to enter into SOCIETY…to belong. We are GOOD if we go to school, attend UNIVERSITY and EARN a RIGHT to be heard…someone we can CHOOSE by voting them in power…or we can CHOOSE not to participate. Regardless…we are governed OVER.

What if, my opinions mattered no matter who I was and where I went to school? What if, my opinions mattered no matter where my family was from, what race, gender, age I was…what would that look like? What if leaders were not untouchable? Unreachable? What if leaders did NOT make the decisions, only acted as spokesperson for the greater society? What would that look like?

What if.

Some say we live in the past. We say we live in the past, present and future all at the same time. I acknowledge that we have the tendency to look through rose coloured glasses at our often mourned past. Things that were TAKEN from us. Where have they gone? They are here…with us. We exist in the past, we are in the present…and future. They are still here. Language, culture, traditions. They are here because we are. As long as the Earth continues to be, so will we.

Since we live in the future as well as the present. We can ask our future children what we did to ensure they continue. I think it’s time to see the best way forward…prevention of further trauma.

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