Feather In Our Hand

I do what I can to help where I can, but the truth is that often, if not most of the time, I really don’t feel seen or heard. I feel as effective as a tiny chirp at the back of the cacophony that earns maybe a slight eyebrow raise from some bored listener on Facebook.

I resist the urge to screech louder. We’re supposed to be cautious about over-sharing or zealotry… Even so, I know at times I push that envelope – so bewildered that so few seem to understand or see what I see, even though what I end up screeching about is very much about their world too – equity and equality, corrupt industry and leadership, preserving clean waters… This is OUR world, damn it.

Realistically, of course I know I’m not really an island and I’m definitely not alone in my concerns nor alone on the front lines of a march or rally. Still, while people outside of those rallies, on social media et al, may seem not to notice, I think some, at least do. But what can really be said in response? How many times will people say, yes, I agree, before moving on?

So where do I or anyone else who desire to influence or create change for the better go from there? I suppose it’s at this point that some of us quit and maybe go look for whatever peace is available in our daily survival struggles. Or maybe we push even harder, hoping more serious agitation will move greater numbers. Or maybe like me, regardless of how despondent, quitting is impossible, (trust me, Cree blood is hot!). So, we continue to push for some semblance of balance in all options.

Having said all that, once in a while something happens out of the blue, maybe even something really quite sweet or even astonishing. Like an old friend and Juno Award winner writes a song and he says your efforts inspired him and all you can think is… holay!

What a beautiful event, this unexpected gift from a friend’s heart. He told me I could sing and record it; it’s mine to do with as I wish. Maybe I will sing and record it. Maybe I’ll just sing it with him some day – and I’d love that, but for now, I’d really love to share it with all the other dreamers who dare to strive. We can’t possibly know all who actually see or hear us, but someone is there and maybe, no matter how many, they’re all we’re meant to connect with. Maybe that really is enough…

A Feather In Our Hand, by Lawrence S. Martin

Kininiskimotin, my friend.

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

Remember That Thing Called, ‘The Canadian Way’? Yeah, Not So Much

When it comes to the past, the quotation, “History is written by the victors” is supposed to be the bottom-line. But the truth is, history is more often true only until it’s uncovered. Unfortunately, often such revelations induce intense reactions. Especially toward people who now have a magnified voice to speak about their place in that history. We’ve seen plenty of this recently with Indigenous perspectives brought to light far more widely in Canada.

When I was a little girl, I remember how proud I’d feel when tested on Canadian history. I’d swell with pride the most at knowing who our heroes were.

Robyn, who was our first Prime Minister? “John A. MacDonald, ma’am”!

And what did he do for Canada? “He built the railroad, ma’am and he built our great nation”.  Good girl. Oh yes, a proud little brown girl in braids staunchly saluting the man and country.

Then my world shifted, with a decidedly brutish thud. I’d be well into adulthood when I learned who J.A. MacDonald the man, really was and what this first Prime Minister of Canada did to my grandparents for 6 generations and counting.

John A. MacDonald – venerated on Canadian money, statues and plaques across the country was a depraved, racist drunk who did his level Prime Ministerial best to wipe out my grandparents, my heritage, my culture, my status of equal standing even within the Indigenous community, and my God-given inheritance rights of our lands and resources.

That’s some ‘uncovered history’ and I suppose I went through stages of grief following – full disbelief at the absolute betrayal – by MacDonald, my teachers, the entire country’s standings. Although, I have yet to truly get past that anger stage. Not because I haven’t yet processed the often requested, “taking into account the mentalities of those days”, but because most of his policies are still being enforced to this day, by the more than willing.

The number of inequities and prejudices still leveled at the Indigenous in Canada are documented daily – news stories, opinion pieces, every social media platform, and via self-appointed trustees of the Canadian taxpayer, (who completely ignore that the Indigenous majority pay taxes – & that irony).

So, Indigenous history aside for the moment, it’s not very surprising to see what happens when more truth-hammers come down onto mythic Canadians of account. I understand that sense of shock, even for the side that hasn’t suffered the injustices their heroes perpetrated.

Canada maple leaf flowers

What is surprising, given the monumental (no pun intended) work to promote it is, the lack of that famous ‘Canadian fairness/niceness’. Because not only is there justified, understandable shock, the amount of immediate outright denial and shutdown is stunningly disappointing.

Too often, every excuse to pardon the atrocities and buff the edges of inhumanity are trotted out. Regardless of credible citation provided, every rationalization possible is provoked. Case closed. Nothing to see here, folks.  Oh and, “We’re not racists”!

Although, also often ignored are the denials especially loudly voiced if the research is supplied or written by an Indigenous person. That right there is proof of merely ‘biased opinion’. Only the ‘white science/history’ need speak to history, thank you very much.

When I received that J.A. MacDonald reality check, the ground shifted and my world changed forever. I learned that not only what I’d been taught was a lie – especially the parts that said my ancestors and I were from an empty, useless abyss, but I was to see how much the world around me was still promoting that abysmal record of inaccuracy.

It’s scary as hell and ugly. It’s frustrating and infuriating, but like most pasts of bad behavior – it can be changed for the better. However, it can’t be changed, cured or healed, nor grow into something genuinely good for all, until it is really seen.

It’s time to own up to the fact that Canadian atrocities are real, no matter how poorly that reflects on Canadians. The reflection can’t be clean until we get clear. We can’t hide our heads in the sand and allow professional or neighbourhood deflectors to speak for us anymore.

We can’t be called decent until we behave with decency. We can’t let fears of losing face for not being good people over-ride actually acting in decency. When we know better, we do better. Well, right now we know enough. Take responsibility for the price of the benefits still received from that history.

Opportunities present daily, requiring little effort. It’s as simple as reading the Truth and Reconciliation Report and its 94 calls to action. Act on the ones you can.

Addressing history isn’t about changing it. Homages to Canadian atrocities belong in museums from where we can learn. Let’s place pride in seeing, cleaning and dressing the wounds. Place pride in those who build honourably and for those who overcome atrocities. In honesty; why shouldn’t that be the ‘Canadian way’? Honestly.

RL