Morning coffee thought: Stolen Children, Forgotten Elders, Residential School Survivors
I am an urban Indian, some of the time, well at least half of the time. I am a major participant in Oshkimaadziig camp, but in order to pay my bills, and seek out the teachers that I need, I have to travel through urban centres.
I’ve lived in and out of Toronto half of my life. I’ve lived on the skids, I’ve lived in shelters, on friends couches, and roomed with friends and family. I spend a lot of my time wandering the streets, mostly alone, with my headphones on, listening to music and thinking.
Lately I’ve been thinking about our people. Native people that is. I’ve been thinking about my own personal struggle, and as tragic as it has been, it pales in comparison to what our ancestors had to go through. Our ancestors suffered full out massacres, disease, starvation, the “Trail of tears”, and of course the Residential Schools.
But wait, some of our people who went to residential schools are very much alive today. They are our neighbors, they are our cuzzins, uncles, aunties, grandparents etc. Some of them if not all of them have had unimaginable things done to them. Rape, violence, abuse, humiliation, things so fracken terrible, it troubles me to even go into to those dark places. But they did, and they are still alive.
Some of these people are violent, angry people who in turn, have done some very disturbing things to other generations. They too may have raped, tortured, and abused their own families and loved ones. (I too am a victim of sexual assault). But why on earth would they have done such a thing? BECAUSE it was what they were taught, by those raping priests and nuns.
I saw a quote from Jay Mason commented on a picture of young native gangsters that was floating around, and he said “But they are still our kids”. After I saw that comment, it opened up my eyes to what I was blind to before. I criticize everyone for their faults without knowing their story first. (I’m listening to the Elders and am working at correcting this way).
I was walking by the Elders Center (By NCCT) and I remember an encounter that I had last year with a couple of people in there. The people that I talked to, had been through the residential school system, and they seemed perfectly functional, and then I heard them talk. What I heard was so vile, and hateful, that I just wanted out of there. I was too naive to sit there, and listen.
So as I was walking by there again, this time thinking about what our Uncle Jay Mason had said about “them still being our people”, it got me thinking about the loss, of an entire generation(s). And we continue to lose this generation, because we are too unforgiving. We only see the trauma that some of these survivors may have inflicted upon us.
But is that truly our teachings? No. In the past, there would have been some intervention of sorts, healing, reconciliation, recovery and forgiveness. But not today, we point fingers, and we accost them, and say mean things to them, like calling them “apples”. We oppress them, and whats fundamentally worse, we kick them to the curb and forget about them.
If we are truly adamant about healing, then we have to begin to heal ourselves, enough to allow the space for forgiveness. This may take a long time, and there are many many ceremonies, teachings and prayers that can help us along this way.
We can’t move forward, without forgiving the past.
I heard this teaching from a man named Raphael up in Grassy Narrows last year. He said “The Elders are lonely, you have forgotten them. Bring them out from where they are and make them important again.” Granted, many of these Residential school survivors aren’t Elders in the way we think of Elders. But they are still “our people” and they are still children of Creator. They serve as a very very important teaching, of what never, ever to do to people, any people. And furthermore, they serve another teaching, that no matter what horrific things are done to you, you can survive! Because that is who we are, we are survivors!
We must now be forgivers.
The Oshkimaadziig people, mentioned in the 7th Fire Prophecy of the Anishinabek, talks about tracing our steps back to the Elders. To learn the teachings of our old ways, to “ensure the survival of humanity in the 8th fire”. Our Residential School Survivors may not be Elders, in the manner of which we envision them. But they are our people, and they are a reminder of an “old way” that should never be forgotten. If we are truly to survive, then we must learn from this, heal from this and be forgivers of this, or history will repeat itself, and we will have to learn this the hard way again.
Healing is journey. It is a battle ground. It is hard, it is a struggle, and it is a hard work. And it can never be done on our own. Imagine what our survivors must feel like, as we cast them aside. If we are ever to survive the 7th fire, we must learn from our mistakes, and actually live our Grandfather Teachings.
I am just a young one. Still green between my ears in many regards, but these are some of the things I learned on my path. And I have had to learn the hard way.
(Many of you/us are still deeply traumatized by the things that have been inflicted upon us. And many of you/us will not see the full value of what I have said. That is okay, it takes time. Let me share one brief anecdote, I was in a horrible drinking altercation. Someone died, and I was involved. I spent time in jail. I hated myself, I tried killing myself several times but to no avail. I was made to suffer, and learn. It wasn’t until another person who was related to the person who died, forgave me. It was only then, that I was able to start my recovery, and truly begin my healing path. My own experience serves as a reminder, that forgiveness carries equal weight when trying to heal.)