Fire Stones for our Souls. ''The place'', the Ecosystems, the Territories, the Biosphere, and the Cosmos

Fire stones for our souls.

“The place”, the ecosystem, the territories, the biosphere, and the cosmos.

By Suzanne Major, Ph. D.

Anthropology or Early Childhood Education


Last summer, as a retirement project, I went to work for an organization serving the First Nations of the province of Quebec on the East coast of Canada. My most important task was ̶ and still is ̶ to collect information offered by representatives of the Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Eskimo-Aleut Nations to understand their conception of early childhood education. With this information on hand, and with hours spent reading books and articles written by educators, philosophers, anthropologists, and artists, I was able to propose a curriculum model for early childhood education in daycare settings. It is getting positive reviews as it is going through a long process of validation from nation to nation. The curriculum model’s general objective is to inspire and guide personalized educational programs for day-care services. It has the ambition of promoting life education through families, communities, culture, and language, and promoting education to the territories and the environment through “the place”, the ecosystem, the territories, the biosphere, and the cosmos. The curriculum model includes an educational program inspired by the High Scope approach to which the communities were introduced by the provincial government. This program is endorsed by some but leaves most unengaged.

The concept of “the place” (le lieu) as the essential starting point of concentric circles in early childhood education and development and the concept about the expression of “the breath” (le souffle) in language linking humans to the ecosystems, the biosphere, the cosmos and the sacred proved to be difficult for me to understand. My new colleagues and friends being from an oral tradition contribute more affective and metaphoric explanations than intellectual ones, but different authors stood in to mediate my understanding. In theses strange times shaken by the pandemic, First Nations offer a timeless lead into an alternate way of life where education to the environment is a pristine impulse for many and for some, a persistent echo from the past. With the help of Gregory Cajete’s “living stones”[1], which are principles of a holistic way of life, we follow the winding trail that goes from the place to the ecosystem, the territories, the biosphere, and the cosmos.

Mathieu Mestokosho was an Innu hunter and a friend of Serge Bouchard[2], an anthropologist and prolific author who recorded, years ago, this man’s hunting stories. Now, Mathieu Mestokosho, his family and community lived a traditional Innu life in the nineteen fifties. They would travel at the end of summer, leaving the north shores of the Atlantic Ocean on the waterways of the great rivers that would take them inland to the evergreen forests where the caribou lived. There they would spend the winter hunting, going from lake to lake with their toboggans, collecting food, grease, and furs. When spring came, they took to their canoes again and paddled back to the sea to meet with family and friends and to trade. And so, life would go on as their tents would be taken down and pitched again along a chaplet of islets, valleys, and mountains. Mathieu Mestokosho talked about a fire stone in his hunting tales. This stone was very special as it could radiate heat if a fire was built and kindled upon it. The stone would be put in the center of the tent and smaller stones would be set against it, keeping all family members warm and comfortable through the cold Canadian nights. Mestokosho’s fire stones were to the bodies what Cajete’s “living stones” are to the souls of human beings. Gregory Cajete is a scholar, a Native American educator from New Mexico, a professor and author fascinated by education and curricula. He proposes some thirty-seven stones to help us understand the place of humans in the universe and to bring peace to our minds and souls. Let us consider here, four of those stones.

First, the “foundational process of teaching and learning”[3] is the center stone in a cosmos, a biosphere, the ecosystems and “the place” where one comes from. It irradiates a pulse as all, and everything is locked in a cycle of life-death-life [4] that creates generations upon generations. Teaching, learning, and transforming is the foundational process of nature that keeps things going. Transforming and changing feeds a universal movement from which nothing and no one can withdraw. It is sacred because it allows life to take place.

The second stone proposed by the author is about complexity in the sense that “integration and interconnectedness are universal traits of its contexts and processes”.[5] Let me break this down! Everything is interconnected and intertwined. The body, the mind and the soul of a human are rooted in the “the place” where it comes from. The “place” is rooted in the environment and the ecosystem in which it is located. The biosphere is rooted in the cosmos. Nature is a process rooted in a context called reality. Humans cannot withdraw from the universal movement of life-death-life, and cannot uproot themselves from the place, the environment, the ecosystem, and the biosphere to which they belong. One little virus can spread to all humans, one drop of poison can seep into everything as one bad thought can corrupt the mind, the heart, and the soul. Clean air, clean water and wholesome thoughts and gestures are of the essence.

The third and fourth stones proposed by Cajete are as follows. The “elements, activities, and knowledge bases of teaching and learning radiate in concentric rings of process and relationships”[6] and the “processes adhere to the principle of mutual reciprocity between humans and other things”.[7] Now stick with me here! When humans encounter other humans, or animals, or plants or things, a relational space or ring is created. Within this space or intersubjectivity, learning, teaching, and transforming takes place for everyone and for everything. The universal movement of life-death-life is operating in this space. The interconnectedness allows the subtle transformations that occur within the relational space or ring to spread to all and everything. One little snowflake can break a branch when it is the one too many. Remember Batison’s proverb about one flutter of the wings of a butterfly that can create a hurricane. Imagine now the impact of what humans are doing! It takes reflection and meditation to become aware of what happens in intersubjectivities, or relational spaces or rings. This knowledge brings respect and trust in nature as well as peace of mind, heart, and soul even in these troubled times of the pandemic. Without this precious indigenous knowledge shared by all indigenous cultures on earth there can only be confusion, stress, distress, and death…

Serge Bouchard wrote that his friend Mathieu Mestokosho, in his later years, would sometimes talk to himself remembering and repeating his hunting stories. In his living memory, he carried all this knowledge about the cycle of life-death-life, about learning, teaching, and transforming, interconnectedness, and the subtle and cumulative qualities of the process of life. He knew his place on earth and knew how to conduct himself appropriately. He was aware of the knowledge he received from past generations. He accepted the responsibility of passing it on to future ones but, in his lifetime, modern society caused a lot of disruption in the culture of his people; “The Laughing People” as Serge Bouchard recognized and saluted them! Mathieu Mestokosho can still be heard. He and many others have left behind fire stones for our souls. All we must do is collect them and let their warmth irradiate.


SM/sm April 2020, blog 6


[1] Cajete, G. (1994: 28-31). Look to the mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous education, Kivaki, 244 pages.

[2] Bouchard, S. (2004). Récits de Mathieu Mestokosho. Chasseur Innu, Boréal, 200 pages.

[3] Cajete, G. (1994: 28). Look to the mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous education, Kivaki, 244 pages.

[4] Morin, E. (1999). L’intelligence de la complexité, L’Harmattan, 332 pages.

[5] Cajete (1994 :28).

[6]  Idem

[7]  Idem