What’s Under a Fight to Do Right?

Sometimes I’m asked why do I bother to work for Indigenous causes, or any cause really, when it seems the odds against achievement are so damned overwhelming or insurmountable? Someone asked, “Why are you bothering to waste precious time”? It’s a question I’m not sure I can fully answer because how do you describe a longing intensely emanating from your very core? How do you describe desire that overwhelms your own overawed senses and fatigue to work to make something right?

Why do we push on even when it feels like we’re only speaking into a complete void of apathy & disinterest or even in the face of real, ruthless retaliation? I suppose sometimes it does seem futile and somewhat Don Quixote-ish. I know it certainly feels like that from time to time. Maybe it’s more simple than we can know. In some way in our lives, something was triggered by an act of inequity, a brutality, and/or a fear.

I’m not sure when the force was set in me to eventually strive to become an agent for action. Maybe it took a culmination of events to instill a sense that attaining justice was about more than writing letters to the Editor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just that real change usually requires that step and a dozen more to make a dent in an issue.

What kind of events does it take to wake a burgeoning fire for equity? My experiences started early within family abuses based in the consequences of inter-generational traumas inflicted by colonialism. They were enforced in incidents like the group of men who – for a laugh – sicced a dog on 7 yr. old me to, “get that little redskin” and who enjoyed the moment their dog gripped onto my ankle; or the neighbor screaming, “get out of here, you dirty little Indian” as she chased me down the street when I was 10; or being cheated out of the fruits of my labor as an adult &/or having false accusations leveled at me.

I suffered through much of that pain on my own, until I could learn how and where to turn for help. I didn’t get help all the time, but when I did, it was searingly potent & it was that, I believe, that triggered the move from thinking I could be a difference to working on it.

How could I possibly stay silent in the face of inequities to which I can speak, when the people who I hold in the highest esteem today, are those who stood with me and for me, when I couldn’t? How could I possibly dishonor their teachings, their strengths of conviction, & their compassion? How could I possibly ignore the work they took on to show me how important it is to take a stand for what’s right, so I could stand for myself? How could I keep all that conviction I learned and earned for only myself?

These lessons didn’t come easily, there was a lot of hard work with many, many doubts, and certainly, I don’t win at everything. But my heroes showed me what strength of character is and in its most defining word, their power. They helped bring me to my own esteem and value. Although I’m not professionally trained in many aspects of what I do, my passion & willingness to learn is the biggest driver of change – for the good, preferably. So it is for all of us.

One of my efforts entails seeking real sovereign recognition and benefits for Indigenous communities. For that to happen, Canada has to step back and re-create its foundation in the honor it already earnestly claims. Technically, legally, there is no Canada without this relationship. The time is now for Canadians to put their money where their heart is and state with us, as the truest powers that be, that the partnership with Indigenous peoples precedes the enrichment of only some people and/or corporate interests. The inherent rights of the Indigenous greatly bolster the effort to serve the whole.

One crucial aspect my heroes provided was taking the mystery out of those intimidating forces called – “the Government”, or “the Principal”, or “corporate executives”. They’re no one other than our own neighbors who may have had a few more lucky breaks. Outside of those suffering from psycho/sociopathy, they have the same issues, fears, needs and flaws as the rest of us. And just like the rest of us, they sometimes need to be shown when their work could be better or is just plain destructive.

There’s only one group of people capable of that. That would be me – and you. Anything we can lend to this cause or any other to do life better is valuable, & I guarantee, so is everything we get back for that. It all begins and ends within ourselves; where there is decency, lies the fire.

RL

I Looked For You

 

 

I wondered and waited for you…

I wondered who would show up, I wondered who would stand.

I wondered if my words or calls for help would bring you to us. I worried my anguished voice would just fall flat.

I looked for you; I searched through the faces to see if there was someone, that one unexpected person to stand with me because they see and despise the injustices too.

I looked for someone to say, I heard you.

I looked for you to hold my hand while I cried about our babies being shot or strangled, then tossed away like litter.

I willed you to come to my side while we spoke about the broken promises and horrors that are inflicted on all my relations because we refuse to die off for the convenience of Canadian business moguls.

I silently begged you to show up for every possible reason I could think of, but mostly… mostly because you wanted to stand for and do, what’s right.

I waited for you to come to me to say you are part of our community and we are part of yours.

I watched for you to speak up and say, this isn’t my Canada. We will change a country that would treat anyone this way because we cannot, we will not, call a country that treats people like this, good enough.

I watched and waited and wondered about you.

…I looked for you…

RL

We Didn’t Become Who We Were Supposed To Be

There’s a call-out right now from the Province of Alberta to Indigenous people who were apprehended by Child Family Services (CFS) during the “60’s Scoop” specified as: “a period of time when an unknown number of Indigenous children were taken from their parents and communities by child intervention services and placed with mostly non-Indigenous families.” The time period is the 1950’s to the early 1990s, but let’s be clear, this counts to even today.

I answered the call and submitted replies to four questions on the online form for those unable to attend six meetings set in Alberta from January 1 to March 1, 2018.

They want to hear, (anonymously if preferred) how you & yours were impacted by your removal; what a meaningful [official] apology looks like; how you feel about apologies; and what you hope will come out of an [official] apology.

Who knows what differences will come from this; there’s been so little change in decades of official government reports on the consequences of colonialism. We’ve yet to see appreciable differences in Child Family Services across Canada, nor in any other Indigenous issue of equity.

I know the opportunity to get on record may not change much, but I fervently hope those of us who get to hear each other’s stories will feel enough understanding to fill a bit of that hole in our hearts. I hope that our combined voices will keep rising until no one can conveniently ignore us again.

I’m sharing part of my replies to Alberta and the Canadian Government as a part of those hopes.  I don’t expect my answers will be much different from others, but this is the point. Our stories began and end in the same ways…

My family lost everything in connection to our relatives. We lost who we were supposed to be. We lost any Cree or Michif language we had, we lost contact with all our relations, we lost our sense of selves & in some cases, permanently.

Because we were six kids in my family, we lost contact with each other when we were split into different homes. In the long run, we irretrievably lost our relationships to each other.

In one round of apprehension, five of us were put together in one home, but it was to be a brief arrangement. One day I was told I would be moving within days and over a 24 hour period, I was made to choose which single sister I could take with me. All four of them stared at me and begged me to choose them. I tell people it was then I knew what it felt like to feel your soul crack. I was twelve yrs old.

Abuses were common in some of those homes. It ranged from the psychological, i.e.  being told our mother was a drunken Indian whore or some variation to physical hitting. We were also warned, without explanation, that it was likely we’d never see our own mother again.

There was not a single time in all those years that anyone thought to ask us how we were feeling. There was no one who would explain what was happening or why. We were picked up and forced into the back of a car and simply driven away with the explanation that it was time to go away for a while. Not even the good homes, where the people were decent and lovely, thought to ask.  No one, it seems was aware of the need, never mind the how, to rout and heal the damages of apprehension & abuses already ingrained.

I ran away from my last foster home when I was 14 yrs. I ran to my mother who was even less prepared for me than before. She’d been broken down to survival level so many times by then, she’d retreated into full-blown alcoholism.

Her life as a single mother escaping from abuse with her babies had been turned into a hell of oppressive orders and judgement by and from the government ostensibly ‘helping’ her. They had a lot of orders for how she was to conduct herself, but not how to protect herself.  She was to blame if her abusive ex-husband found her.  She was to blame if the kitchen sink had dishes in it when a social worker dropped by and claimed neglect. She was to blame for not holding it all together while enduring such enormous psychological threat every minute of her life.  Any infraction would cost her the custody of her children and then did.

My mother managed to turn her life around with a strength of herculean effort and success and decades later she still doesn’t have the family relationships she dreams of, craves and aches for. She doesn’t seem to fully understand that her family brokenness is beyond even her own apologies to fix.

Meaningful apologies? We’ve seen apology after apology for the barbaric practices toward the Indigenous for years, but there is at most a small shuffle in government procedures, mainly re-naming current processes.

Meaningful is the government instituting the recommendations made by Indigenous people. It means replacing “foster care” with more in-home family restoration/counselling services.  Fund those programs directly within communities to restore in-home family & relationship skills, cultural understandings and history. Restore what is being stolen for 150 yrs so far. We see the billions spent on the CFS industry across Canada. We know how much can be replaced back into our communities – where it has always belonged.

I hope all the families who’ve been so torn apart and hurt, so damaged – will find a place to earn some peace.  I hope the reparations of a genuine apology and its processes will provide all the means necessary to get to that place of peace. I hope that we all get something that allows us to pass on good health: mentally, emotionally, and physically to our families for now and all the coming generations.

I hope Canada will finally learn of its every dirty detail of governance hidden under the red and white sleeves of pride and keep teaching about all the wrongs of it.

Never do these things again to Indigenous families, or any families.

That is what a meaningful apology looks like.

RL

Sixties Scoop apology engagement. For survivors of the Sixties Scoop to inform a meaningful apology from the government.  Be forewarned, once you submit your thoughts, you will not be able to enter the site again for any amendments.
ps://www.alberta.ca/sixties-scoop-apology-engagement.aspx  – online submissions
RE: Alberta 60s Scoop class action lawsuit, by Koskie Minsky LLP | Barristers & Solicitors or others. This lawsuit applies only to Status FirstNations  & Inuit .
Non-Status First Nations &  Metis can offer their story for the apology

Clean Houses & Terror

Last week I had the honour (& brief stomach churning fear) of hosting IndigenousXca on Twitter. As the forum notes: it’s a rotating Twitter account presented by a different Indigenous Host each week. Their hosts have included actors, activists, authors, academics, politicians, teachers, doctors, students, and one Pipisiw – me.

This forum was started in Australia in 2012 and in Canada in 2014 as a platform for Indigenous people to share their knowledge, opinions and experiences with a wide audience which is now a following of several thousand.

As I was getting my feet wet with a few opening tweets, one of the administrators posted a point about clean houses. What about ‘em?  Well, let me share my tweets on how a clean house affected my family. No hyperbole, no “other mitigating circumstances”. …

I saw @apihtawikosisan (Chelsea Vowel) post about fears for Indigenous people around a clean house. What that means, as she pointed out, is a clean enough house. As in clean enough to not have your kids taken away. Her post tightened my belly…

It took me back to those moments when I was a child & the air all around us got thick & tight, while my mother would fly around the house with sweat falling off her face from a mix of the physical labour of madly cleaning & terror.

Even as little kids, my sisters & I would instinctively jump to help because we knew this kind of cleaning meant a social worker was coming. We didn’t even know what the consequences of not having “a clean house” really meant, but we knew what it felt like. Breathing was hard.

The government had a power over my mother that terrified her, until it broke her & then we learned “or else” meant we were going to be taken away.

My mother had already lived enough in terror, my father was a broken man & he alone put her through enough by then. She got away from him and what she needed was help – not constant judgement, especially for pittances that kept her on another tight leash.

I remember she was often told she was not to drink. She was not to have any contact with my dad, no men at all, they said, & she needed to keep a clean house. Or else.

Today, I wonder what might have been had any of us been offered a place for our fears then. If my mom had been offered support for coping and maybe even a pat on the back for having got her 6 babies away from an abusive situation by herself.

Maybe supportive, restorative measures weren’t well understood back then, but they are now. All this money poured into employment for provinces in the guise of social work. All the training for foster parents and adoption processes…

All the money given to municipalities in support of those foster parents & restoring municipalities, like the re-opening of schools in New Brunswick because the loads of Indigenous foster kids revived their town to that degree.

copy missing family

Why isn’t this money used for family restorative healing in our communities instead? I feel I answered my own question with my question, because Canada uses the Indigenous not only for land & resources, but constant make-work industries that still terrify mothers (& fathers) to this day.

I hadn’t thought about these particular experiences for years and my visceral reaction to reading Chelsea’s words was very unexpected. What’s still infuriating is that these Indigenous truths are still happening to many families even as I type these words. The stories are noted on Twitter, social media and news media daily.

Yes, it’s all real, and most Canadians remain blissfully unaware of such threats. They can’t even begin to fathom that the dishes sitting in their sink and the dirt on their floor could be enough cause to lose their babies, and in some cases, for good.

Most can’t grasp the depth of Indian Act-induced poverty, and the effects of life under constant judgement and duress and the numerous consequences; the falls into addictions, the escalating abuses in homes, the needs for mental healthcare and on and on and on.

A messy house still terrifies my 75 yr. old aunt. She became OCD about it to this day. My 75 yr. old mom has learned to relax about it – a little, finally.  Me?  Years of counseling to work out those terrors and I’m now a certified horrible housekeeper – and I don’t give a damn. Of course, my child is now 16; we are reasonably safe.

RL

MMIW/G… Tears of Sorrow, Frustration & Sometimes Hope

The ongoing frustrations regarding the $53 million MMIW/G national inquiry often result in the  impulse to throw up our hands in defeat. We won’t though, not ever, because we will never forget our lost; all literally coursing in our DNA. That’s the source of the strength that lifts our hands even higher for justice and equities. We also from time to time, get a glimpse that the painful work has opened another sliver of recognition that says, maybe this mountain has moved another millimeter. It doesn’t matter, where these slivers come from, this is enough to offer another breath of hope too.

The Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women/Girls (#MMIW/G) inquiry has been a dismal effort from the start. From the incredible decision to omit any police involvement, therefore no questioning of culpability already demonstrated by their history of ignoring or dismissing the concerns of family of the missing or murdered, to ignoring the several reports of direct police misconduct toward Indigenous women. Then onto the bad news of the inexplicable lack of coordination for how the inquiry would run to nearly non-existent communication with the families of the MMIW/G.

There are too many Indigenous families touched by this issue; mine included.  We have lost a cousin, 19 yr old Roberta Ferguson, missing for 28 years now without a hint of what happened to her. My mother has also inexplicably lost two good friends, also never found.

The work to get to this point has taken over 20 years. Twenty years of women bravely standing, shouting, and marching to every government service door possible to be heard. They, we, all deserve better than this. So, we raise our voices in media and in front of commissioners and to the inquiry heads, hoping that now is the time, we will matter. That now is the time we will matter enough to have systems genuinely and permanently altered to stop at least most of the behaviors and policies that leave us adrift, and for some of us, lost forever.

People ask, what can we do? Well, there are so many issues that need help, but at the least, for every issue, we can sign those petitions, we can write/email/tweet a simple note to PMs, MPs, legislators, and even the National Inquiry directly to say, we care about this and we want to see the work done. Donate to groups like Families of Sisters in Spirit, to assist in the battle for legal and media representation.

Don’t be shy, have a crack at the racist comments in every news story about the MMIW or Indigenous in general. Speak back, not to them necessarily, but to the publishers and editors who cater to whomever speaks loudest in their comments. Arm other readers with solid knowledge. Or find another way to demonstrate solidarity that helps all our hearts feel a little less isolated and unheard.

Like this group who did just that recently. A dance company called, Generation Dance Studio in Ft. MacMurray, AB. They brought their message to the public in a very moving way. They created a dance tribute to the MMIW/G. It’s very touching to see their effort to show they see us and they care.

I invite you to watch their performance added to their Facebook page linked here. Within these discouraging days, these hearts sought out ours, and it added to all the difference for another day…  Given the same ol’ recent events of the inquiry, we could use every lift we can get.

Hiy hiy,

RL

https://www.facebook.com/generationdance/videos/760718694087565/

For those unaware, a red dress represents a missing or murdered Indigenous woman.

 

Error re: Half-Breed to Metis – My Return from a Savage Wilderness

 

Thanks so much for coming by for this story, but the revision of Half-Breed to Metis was published in error on April 1st.  It is scheduled for publication on April 18th.

Please come back then to read it, and in the meantime I hope you’ll enjoy my effort at short fiction that was published today called, “The Mirror”.

Warmest regards,

RL

Our Home and Native Braves

Andrea Hotomanie, Principal, Glenda Speight, Constable Erin McAvoy

Andrea Hotomanie, Principal, Glenda Speight, Constable Erin McAvoy

 As Remembrance Day approaches, I am reminded of how profoundly I was moved by the Remembrance Day assembly at my son’s school last year. I found it particularly poignant for two reasons.

What I found initially striking was that the ceremony was presided over by all women, something I’d never seen before.  This brigade of impressive feminine force were school Principal, Glenda Speight, RCMP Constable Erin McAvoy in Red Serge, and Andrea Hotomanie, the district Aboriginal Support Worker.

Andrea Hotomanie was the second reason of note.  She stood up in recognition of the Indigenous peoples who serve and have served in the Canadian military. She wore a magnificent button blanket, borne of the Northwest Coastal tribes, around her shoulders. It was the first time I had seen this kind of Indigenous inclusion at any school remembrance assembly and it brought me to tears.

It moved me so deeply because it was the first time I felt my grandfather and uncles included in these remembrances in a way that they hadn’t before.  It brought them, Cree warriors from northern Alberta, faded from history for so many decades, up to the front too.  I felt they were being honored for the first time as servicemen and not as guests held only in my mind, while all the other heroes were noted up on the screens and in the speeches. Between Andrea’s presence and my son nearby, this acknowledgement brought it all fully home to my heart.

All those many years ago, there was never any doubt that at least three of my uncles would join the military from the time that, as young boys, they stared admiringly at the one photo of my grandfather in his uniform until they were all signed up and fitted into their own.

photo compilation by Robyn LawsonAlong with pride of their homeland and reverence for the uniform, there was another underlying and stirring reason to join up. Uncle Philip finally expressed it after I asked him why he always declared that his favorite job was being in the Canadian forces.  He said, “Respect”.  While he wore that Canadian uniform, it was the first time in his life that he was treated with honest to God respect, and it didn’t matter where he was in the world.  It was his greatest time of honor and pride.  I can’t say so for my grandfather or the other uncles, but I suspect they felt much the same.

Their presence at the Remembrance Day assembly that day was palpable to me, and I have no doubt that they were all there in full uniform.

There is a lot of history about Indigenous participation in the military and the details are available more than ever.  I would encourage anyone to look up that history sometime for some very interesting and enlightening reading.

For now, I would just like to say thank you to my family for their courage.  We will always be proud.  We will always remember.

In remembrance of:

Military family

John Gray-WW1, Frank Gray-WW2, Phil Gray-Korea, Larry Gray-CDN post Quebec

RL

readers digest logoOur Home and Native Braves was published October 30, 2013 on the Reader’s Digest community website: http://www.readersdigest.ca/our-canada/community-blog/our-home-and-native-braves

Recommended link for Native military history:
A Commemorative History of Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military:
http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/pub/boo-bro/abo-aut/index-eng.asp