February 9, 2023

A Story of Indigenous Wisdom and the Dharma

Jeanne Corrigal has been practicing insight meditation since 1999, is a graduate of IMS’s teacher training program, Spirit Rock’s Dedicated Practitioner and Community Dharma Leader Program, and the guiding teacher for theSaskatoon Insight Meditation Communityin Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Jeanne is a member of the mixed heritage Métis Nation, one of three Indigenous communities recognized in Canada. For more information on Jeanne, clickhere.

Jeanne co-created and co-led Touching the Earth, a first-of-its-kind experiential online retreat that wove together Indigenous wisdom, its reverence for nature, and the Dharma. In this excerpt adapted from the program, Jeanne tells the story of Saskatchewan Cree Elder Jim Settee and the Indigenous wisdom that led her to the Dharma.


Buddhist practice and Indigenous wisdom share a similar invitation into an embodied way of knowing that goes beyond the cognitive. One of my sacred or heart stories demonstrates this kind of wisdom. It is a universal story of coming home in our beings, even in difficult times, through this kind of receptive, embodied knowing.

This story is about Jim Settee, the Métis elder (also Swampy Cree and English) who I have worked with for many years. It’s a story from my young adulthood that led me forward and supported me until I found this practice. When I did, it was like this practice and Indigenous ways of knowing married. This is the story I sit with every time I sit on the cushion.

Jim Settee was an elder who was beloved across Treaty Six which is where I’m from in Central Saskatchewan. He was known as a historian, storyteller, guide, and tracker. And he worked with my dad in Prince Albert National Park, which is a park in central Saskatchewan in the traditional lands of his people. They were displaced when the park was formed and one of the things that Jim did was create a home for this community called the Fish Lake Métis Settlement.

He also did his best to create healing. One of the ways he did this was to support the people in his community to work in the park. So, the wardens, fire tower people, and fire crew all around the park were from Indigenous First Nations and Métis communities. So, they really knew this area well.

Jim would take wardens under his wing, and he took my dad under his wing. My dad was a tracker. And Jim was known as the best tracker across the whole territory. Whenever anyone was lost, or if anyone needed help, they could contact Jim and he would help.

In the early days, when Jim and my dad, Andy, worked together in the park, people would get lost in the park and the park would call the Métis and First Nation trackers. In the story that I grew up on, one day a young boy was lost.

Jim was off that day, so they called my dad and dad called everybody together and they started to look for this boy. And normally they could find someone in an hour. But on this day, they looked and looked, and they could not find the lost boy. So, they had to leave him in the bush all night by himself.

The next morning, they started looking again. And they looked and looked and, again, could not find the boy. So, they had to leave him in the bush all by himself for another night.

The next morning, they started looking again for the boy and they looked and looked until about noon. At this point they were desperate because they didn’t know if the boy could survive another night in the bush.

So, they decided to get Jim. They went to his home on the Fish Lake Métis Settlement. They didn’t have phones there, so my dad and the other people had to go. And they said, “Jim, can you come?” And Jim said, “Yes.”

He came and he said to my dad, “Show me where that boy was last seen.” And dad showed him where the boy was last seen by the lake. Dad said that Jim just stood in that spot. He got really quiet and very still. And everybody around him, the whole search team, got really quiet.

Jim stood there surrounded by all the ground that had been completely trampled by the search team because they’d been there for three days already. After about two, three minutes, Jim took off walking real fast into the bush. Dad was following behind. My dad was known as a fast walker, and he said he could hardly keep up to Jim.

Jim tracked through six miles of muskeg and bush. And then dad saw him stop. And that boy was right there in front of him.

Dad said that he and the other trackers didn’t understand how he did it.

This is a story I grew up on as a child. I would think, if I were lost, Jim Settee could find me. He was big in my imagination.

Jim moved away when I was just a baby, so I never met him until I was about 25.

He was speaking in my hometown about First Nation and Métis history, and I went to hear him speak. I felt like I was about to meet somebody out of a legend. I went up to him and gave him my hand and said, “Mr. Settee, you won’t remember me, but I’m one of Andy and Dorothy’s daughters.”

He took my hand into both of his hands—I still remember how soft and warm his hand was—he leaned towards me with a little twinkle in his eye and he said, “Are you Jeanne?” And I said, “Yes, I am.” He said, “I remember you. I remember you sleeping in a basket on the porch of your parents’ cabin. And we were all working around, and you just slept and slept and slept.”

In that moment, I understood why so many people loved him. Because every time you spoke to him, he gave you a piece of yourself. He helped you come home in a way.

After that, I started to visit Jim in his home. And after a few visits, I said, “Mr. Settee, how did you find that boy?”

What he told me has many layers and it’s become a life-long teaching and guide for me.

He said, “When I look for any lost person, I put myself into the mind of the person who’s lost. And that helps me pick up their trail more easily.”

I said, “What did you do when you found that particular boy?”

“That boy was out of his mind with fear,” he said. “He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t walk. I just sat down beside him for half an hour, until he could come back inside himself, inside his body. And then we walked out of the bush together.”

This story is, for me, the story of our practice. And I find myself in all aspects of the story at different times. Sometimes, I’m the boy who’s lost—lost in reactivity in my mind. Up here, we say you get bush panic when you’re lost and you start going faster, getting tighter, more caught, and more lost.

And sometimes I’m in the searchers—the people searching and doing. They’re doing as hard as they can.

And sometimes I’m in Jim Settee. Or sometimes Jim Settee is in me. And just like mindfulness always remembers us—that sense of Jim Settee is always there too—when we turn to it, it’s always there. When I can remember that and put myself into my own mind, when I’m the lost boy, I can pick up my trail more easily.

And when I’m caught somewhere—paralyzed by fear, self-judgment, or any number of states that we all know—in those moments, I remember the story and I remember that Jim Settee just sat with that boy in kindness.

This brings in the other wing of our practice. Jim didn’t say, “Time to get up. Come on, now. Get up, we gotta go. Snap out of it.”

He sat with that boy until the boy could come back inside his own body.

Sometimes when I’m really out of my body or out of the situation, I just call in this great kindness. Can I be here, even in the midst of this numbness or restlessness or fear or anxiety? Can I bring great kindness in right here until I can come back inside? And at that moment, I’m home. We are home in that moment.

This story has been a real guide for me. And every aspect of this is embodied knowing no matter where we are in the story—lost mode, doing mode, or kindness and mindfulness mode. There is a body sense everywhere we are in the story. Even if we’re feeling numb, that’s a felt sense.

And it’s the knowing of it which helps us to simply know what’s happening. Nothing in particular needs to be happening. But if we can have this relationship of wisdom and kindness with whatever’s happening, this can lead us home.