Last year on September 30, I met a client at a restaurant. I thought about wearing orange, but then I was afraid about making a political statement in a business context. He showed up in an orange sweater, and I felt stupid.
This year, here is a picture of my only orange piece of clothing that I just hung up outside of our house. Many things happened in the past twelve months.
I tend to be interested in off-beat topics. When something is a mainstream topic or cause, I feel less inclined to follow it. But sometimes life makes you sit up and pay attention. When a new wave of media coverage laps at your door regularly over a period of time, you may start to think: Perhaps I should read up on this a little. And so I did.
A ‘top ten books by native authors’ website suggested to me ‘Five Little Indians’ by Michelle Good, ‘Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing my People (and Yours)’ by Harold R. Johnson and ‘NDN Coping Mechanisms’ by Billy-Ray Belcourt. I also listened to a CBC podcast documentary series called ‘Kuper Island’, about a residential school located near Vancouver Island.
Here are some insights into what I have read and learned, and how it has challenged some of my previous assumptions:
This all happened fairly recently
One of the sentiments that non-Native people like myself harbour is: This is all long ago, why don’t ‘they’ get over it and move on? It is actually not. Not long ago. Some people in their fifties, like myself, had to attend residential school and suffered the consequences. Younger people have mothers, fathers, grandparents who were forced to go, and came back scarred.
What is ‘intergenerational trauma’?
I was already familiar with the idea that if you grow up with physical, sexual or verbal abuse, you are more likely to become an abuser yourself when you are an adult. I think this is well documented in research about child abuse. It was Michelle Good’s book ‘Five Little Indians’ that helped me understand how spending your formative years in the ‘care’ (or rather ‘not care’) of cruel, cold, vindictive individuals (i.e. abusers at a residential school) can make it hard for you to become a loving parent and a good husband/wife. You may have needed to burry your softer feelings so deeply that it could be very difficult to access them later.
The Native Voice vs. Native Voices
I recently came across an Instagram post that said, and I paraphrase: Native = At one with nature, peaceful, good and spiritual; Not Native = Cold-hearted, rational, militant, capitalist nature destroyers. I thought: Who is this person or organization who claims to be the ‘Native Voice’? If some organization claimed to be the ‘German Voice’ (I am German), I would find it highly questionable, if not ridiculous. Of course, there are many different opinions, and not just one way of thinking and being.
I think the diversity of native voices is under-represented in Canada. Very seldom do I come across reports of discussions within the Native community and differing points of view. Perhaps this is because the ‘Native Voice’ has just started to be given a space in mainstream media. Maybe down the road, when the ‘general public’ has become more accustomed to hearing about the impact that this or that decision has on a native community, will we be hearing more nuanced positions.
I think it would help to hear more nuanced positions and discussions within Native communities. More non-Native Canadians would become open to engaging with topics pertaining to indigenous well-being.
I am still at ‘truth’. Just hearing and learning about what happened is something that not all non-Native Canadians have done. Our kids had a unit on residential schools in primary school, yes. But have we – you – really engaged with the topic? Do we – you – non-Natives really know anything about how Native people live on and off reserve?
I am impressed by indigenous people who have chosen a healing journey. Acknowledging past abuse and breaking from it to foster kind and caring elements in ourselves and bringing them into the world is difficult and takes courage. But it can be done. As Harold R. Johnson says in his book: “We can live any story that we want. We can live a drama – many people do – or we can live a romance, or a tragedy, or a comedy, or a mystery, or a fantasy, or a fable, or a fairytale. We can decide which story we want to be in and tell it to ourselves. The only limit on our ability to choose our own story is the story into which we are born. We have all been raised within a particular story. When we recognize it as story, it loses its power. This is especially true of victim stories. All of what we refer to as ‘society’ is the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves.”
For us non-Natives it would probably be good to at least read the 94 Calls-to-Action that the Truth and Reconciliation commission established about ten years ago (many of which have yet to be implemented). Take a look at the link below and think about how you want to live your own life:
Happy September 30!