I know it doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it, there will always be people who will ridicule you. They’ll talk about you, jeer, dismiss, and even attempt to undermine you. A good number of times, one will endure that from their own family. I’ve encountered all of that and I suppose I could always be a target for that mentality at any time and in any place. That’s just the really shitty side of life. That side comes from people who have yet to really dig deep into their own issues. What I’ve learned about that is, I’m not obligated to stay in that place with them – no matter who they are.
Despite a lifetime of being told it was a fruitless endeavor, there was good reason why I headed back 20 years ago to the community of my childhood. The fact that the community happened to be Indigenous was both inconsequential and utterly life saving.
I’d spent years looking for ways to understand why there was such a messed-up history that wrecked my nuclear family. Yes, it’s wonderful that much of the generation after mine has made great strides in the efforts of home ownership and good jobs, but behind all of that is that big black hole that still trails us. None of that is resolved by a good job, a nice home, an education, nor in running across or from the country. I did all of that first.
That black hole was borne in place of my familial history when I was taught my community, my relatives, my grandmothers and grandfathers were the cause of our life’s woes. Much like they are still said to be the bane of Canada and ‘its purse strings’. Because of that, I was meant to deny my own heritage and I followed through with it, like many in my immediate family still do.
I did my best to be a good Canadian woman who strives to be a success. Except, when your foundation is based in a self-loathing that no one, including myself, seemed to understand, all that hard work can go up in smoke as quickly as it takes to get into a really bad relationship or receive a phone call that informs you are seriously ill. Those were my turning points.
I’d spent years trying to figure out the basis of that self-loathing. Counseling helped me deal with emotional ups and downs and during the moments when it would intensify to unbearable, but in too many instances, it only served to confuse me further. Applying standard accredited counseling services to an Indigenous inter-generational trauma survivor was woefully inadequate and sometimes even more harmful.
An example was a group therapy effort where I was advised the point of my issues was a deep internal desire to be in a sexual relationship with the woman who had driven me to the ‘retreat’. Another was asking me to not only re-create a scene of sexual abuse, but to do it in front of an entire group. I left any support services for quite a while after the work of that eye-crossing frustration. Therapy created in absence of truth, the truth – still mostly unknown to all even today, is just more marginalization of Indigenous peoples.
When those old moments of inexplicable fears arose again, I turned to other methods of coping. Art projects, writing, loads of volunteering or Al-Anon – which was great support, but incomplete. Then I went back to the idea that a super, new job title was the answer after all. Three additional years of corporate abuse dispelled that notion for good.
As it turned out, underneath it all, I did know what I feared most– being seen for who I really was. That was one of the concepts they’d told me about years before, but the thing is, that was wrong too. Because as it is for most, it really all boiled down to being seen for all that had happened to me – and my mother, and her mother – for generations, and for what I’d done in all the processes to cope with that.
So, despite all that running, in the end, I edged my way back to that place I feared most – that black hole. To the source of all the pain and rage and searing sadness. To that place that is my Indigeneity. To that place where apparently, any value as a realized human is only partial for us, according to school, neighbors, Canadian politics, and the punitive digs by a few of my own chosen relationships.
I was never going to know about me until I saw the real me, the whole me, desperately in need of being heard by anyone who could truly know the very real and distinct intricacies of the Indigenous journey in Canada – and that sure as hell wasn’t on the couch of a Freudian-oriented psychiatrist.
It could only be found back among my own, with my own relations where they knew what I was saying with only a third of the words. Where they knew what I was feeling without having to provide every denigrating detail, and far more importantly, they knew everything behind the whys. They carried the key and it was what I needed to finally fill in that hole of debilitation.
I wrote this because despite reams of paper trails to show what this journey entailed and why I am where I am today, I am still in the line of fire for derision. Despite the triumph of being armed with the understanding of my own culture and its incredible value, I am now ridiculed for standing up for it, even from some family.
Canada has claimed dominion over many of us, and I understand the ease of giving in, but I carry centuries worth of family knowledge. That history matters. I understand exactly why the events that occurred happened. I understand them on multiple levels and that’s what killed the shame that was never mine to carry in the first place. I stand up for my mother and my grandmothers because I am them and I was always meant to embrace that.
This is a country that still must answer for my family and so many others who are still swept away in the daily mixed messages of what it means to be Indigenous within it. It’s a horrible shame those messages remain; it’s devastating to know they’re still being internalized at all.