The Painful Legacy of Indian Residential Schools #HonourTheApology #INM

The Painful Legacy of Indian Residential Schools

I am amazed the Toronto #HonourTheApology event came together over night. That we had about 50 people turn up for it, especially since it was so last minute! I kept hoping a Toronto event would manifest. I kept checking the listings… but by Wednesday when none had appeared… I put out numerous requests to organizers, orgs and friends try to secure an elder… as I figured if no one else will, I will.

But I didn’t hear back any confirmation and it wasn’t till late afternoon Wednesday, July 24 when I decided very reluctantly that it was more important that we had a Toronto event than to not have one at all. So in spite of my terror and not being able to sleep at all that night, I made up my sign at 4 a.m., printed off the petitions, loaded up my tobacco, smudge, eagle feathers and drum and headed off to the event on Thursday alone… not knowing for sure whether anyone would be there… or whether or not I would need to lead the event…

I was glad to see people there but disappointed to realize no elder was present to officiate over our ceremony and opening prayer… and it struck me then that the two coyotes I saw the night before were indeed playing their trickster medicine on me…. as spirit normally does… getting me to agree to do things and then finding myself in the thick of it, feeling well out of my depth – LOL! I saw the CBC there with their cameras and felt glad to think our event would be covered and getting the word out to Canadians and the world and hoping it would help educate people on the harsh reality of Indian residential schools and what the government said in their apology, yet have never honoured…

For those that don’t know, the government is in a roundabout way, breaking the law (sound familiar – can you say omnibus bill and Constitution?) in not handing over the court ordered documents and are in effect, stonewalling the process. The Library and Archives Canada has estimated it could cost about $40 million and take 10 years to retrieve and digitize the relevant documents to release them to the TRC; nine long years after the TRC report (that the government mandated) would be complete! This is unacceptable!

As Wab Kinew said, ‘there can be no reconciliation without the truth.’ The government cannot leave this circle open, with the TRC report incomplete, leaving my people to continue to carry this awful burden that was never theirs to begin with. We’ve carried the burden long enough! My people have suffered more having to fill in many forms that went into very intimate and excruciating details of their abuse, to recount it all in the TRC process, to receive some minute monetary compensation.

The TRC process has been a re-traumatizing experience for many First Nations. So after all they’ve gone through, living the trauma firsthand, reliving it to assist in the process and now the government refuses to help finish the process? This is a real slap in the face!

Nothing can ever compensate for what was done to my people! It broke my heart to read of an elder who took his own life the day of the TRC inquiry where he would be required to speak. Enough already! Let the suffering end! Honour the Truth so we can honour our history and heal! Release the documents!

I was challenged on a number of levels to lead the Toronto event. I am an intergenerational survivor who lived through horrific abuse at the hands of my parent that went to Indian residential school. I openly shared this at the event and into the camera in an interview with CBC after, something I would normally only disclose to my very close friends – but that’s what happens when spirit takes me over and I hold my eagle feather – the truth comes out. So I can’t put into words the ensuing fall out I felt all day the next day and still feel, at the fear of that being aired on TV.

I gave over to spirit and said what I did because it is important that the truth is spoken and that I try and give a voice to the voiceless… as I know there must be many others that lived through what I did that are also terrified to speak up…. and there were survivors in my childhood that didn’t make it. But telling my story to anyone; let alone on national television is enormously triggering for me. My life was threatened many times if I ever told. So this was a huge risk for me to take. But it felt way too important not to tell.

I admit, getting home late after an exhausting day and searching online to find the newscast, I felt enormous relief to not see my interview with disclosure online and I was thrilled to see our Toronto event was aired on CBC the National, and awareness has been raised to our plight and the mission of the day in honouring the Indian residential school survivors and demanding the documents release, was accomplished. : )

But for all I know, my abuse disclosure was aired on the 6 o’clock news. It is very hard for me not to know. I also am sad to see the National took down our video after only one day – I wrote to them to ask why, but haven’t heard back. It all felt worth it when I saw it on the news… so it is sad to me, to see it so soon removed.

I was moved hearing the stories shared at the event and in coming home and finally being able to see what feedback was on twitter. I was deeply moved and still am, and deeply honoured to hear that our event touched people. I can’t say enough what this means to me… I am emotional writing this.

Another huge challenge for me in leading this event was that I walk between two worlds; I don’t feel I belong in the white man’s world, nor do I feel I belong in the First Nations world. Even though my dad grew up on the rez, spoke fluent Cree as a child and had 8 siblings, I never got to meet a single member of the First Nations side of the family and he could only teach me one word of Cree when I asked. I imagine how many cousins and other relations I have somewhere out there…

There was a lot of shame. I know my dad was deeply damaged by what he lived through in Indian residential school and I can’t tell you how many times I felt his rage and his hatred directed on my tiny innocent body as a child; and what that did to me… on so many levels… and how I’ve worked on recovering from that for over a decade. My experience was and is a part of the painful legacy of Indian residential school.

I always felt he was acting out his abuse on me; and as more and more comes out about what was done in Indian residential school, I now know it came from there, because the types of abuse match exactly – This is too much to be coincidence. I have a deep, sinking feeling that as more documents are released and more comes out, I will find a direct link into my abuse and the Indian residential school abuse; I feel this in my bones – Another reason why it feels so important for the documents to be released.

The legacy stops here, with me, as I will not continue to abuse or act out, which is the most common pattern and painful cycle I see all around me. I work hard every day to ensure that I never go down the path of destruction my father did.

Any way, back to not belonging in either world – It’s not that I don’t want to belong or that I haven’t tried… but that’s a story for another day…

At one time, I did have a wonderfully amazing First Nations elder/healer in my life. She was so gentle and humble. She worked with me and gifted me with so much healing; words fail to convey how much gratitude I feel for our time together. She would often have visions of me working and drumming with the Grandmothers… or of eagle coming in to help heal me, or me swimming with the whales, etc… She had such a HUGE impact on my life. She gifted me with my beautiful spirit name and being in our sessions together, I felt truly safe… and like I’d come home for the first time in my life.

So it really was a devastating blow when she died two years ago. Sadly, we were only to share one short year together. I feel a hollow place in my life where she used to be and I miss her dearly. I connect with her in spirit now but it is not the same. She was and is the most important woman that ever was in my life. I haven’t been able to bring myself to fully seek out another – I have tried a couple times and had some negative experiences which again, I can share another day.

So it may be presumptuous of me, but while I imagine other organizers from the day’s events are back with their families and First Nations communities by now… feeling all that love and support… knowing and hearing from each other how they did a great job… celebrating and planning out their next move. I am here, alone… and wondering and worrying if I broke any protocol. You see I wasn’t raised First Nations or taught the traditions – almost all I’ve learned, and almost all I do; I’ve learned from Creator/Nature. Spirit told me when I prayed long and hard the night before the event, when I asked if I could do this, that I may not know traditional First Nations protocol but that I know the protocol of the heart; and the protocol of the spirit… and thus I knew I could do it, if I prayed and surrendered.

So I did the best I could do, coming from a deep place of reverence and humbled to find myself in this leadership role when I really don’t feel at all comfortable being in that place. I have seen and experienced a lot of bad leaders in my life; ones that abuse their power and thus when I keep hearing over and over that I am a leader, I shrug it off. I know I have work to do on transforming this negative belief about leaders and leadership… and when one friend told me I lead by who I am and how I live my life, that felt more doable for me rather than the limiting concept of leading that my mind goes to.

I meant to share as a heads up at the event, that I was not raised traditional and that I don’t know protocol and that I will do my best… but of course, when spirit takes me over like it did, logic can suddenly *poof* out the window… and it’s not until later when I am back to being my limited human self that the worries arise over what I did in those moments. When I check in with spirit in prayer today (the next day) I am told all is good but sometimes I am so human and need to hear it in this level… thus I was greatly concerned and distressed I may have offended a First Nations relation or broken protocol and it‘s kept me up at night.

I am not a public figure and I normally hate having my photo taken or being on camera… and so for me, having the cameras running almost the entire event, one hour and 15 minutes, was stressful and exhausting. But I managed to let spirit take over and not notice them as much and since I pray as I always do; to be a hollow bone for Creator and surrender, I did as I was guided to do and I hoped and prayed that I did not break any protocol or offend anyone; especially my First Nations brothers and sisters who lived through the Indian residential school who I deeply respect and want and need to deeply honour.

I was pleased/relieved to see some wonderful feedback on social media the next day about our event and felt so thankful to hear it… but I admit, going to an event alone and not really knowing anyone there and leading it as I did and then coming home late from a long day and being alone with it (other than some little bit online)… and having another sleepless night worrying and again the next day, being alone with it… and not hearing back from any of the organizers I have reached out to… and being unfollowed (by a long-time follower working on this event in another part of the country), has been difficult for me.

I know that likely they must all be very busy and that‘s probably a very good sign, because it means we are getting the word out more, making bigger plans, doing more interviews, etc… and this post is not meant as criticism or blame – It’s me needing to share the truth of my experience because I imagine it would not be fathomable to many who have family and community… how painful it is to not have… and to lead on one’s own, to do most of your work for First Nations alone… and to not hear back or know if things are ok.

I get it is my own wound that I need to continue to heal that leaves me feeling I don’t belong in either world… and part of it is the reality that I am alone and I don’t have a family or a First Nations community to turn to for support in these things. So you see, sometimes it can be very painful to walk between two worlds… and this is part of the legacy of Indian residential schools that continues today for some survivors. So much was done to break up our families. I haven’t heard many talk about it, but I know many others must suffer the same… and thus I am also trying to give voice to those who feel, for whatever reason, they have no voice in this.

At the event, I was guided by spirit to pray for ALL people that were negatively impacted by the Indian residential school system. I prayed for the direct survivors that endured those horrible institutions, those of us that are offspring of those survivors and like me (and what I guess are many that lived out very similar abuse that is being brought forward recently in the news and that the public is outraged over, like Dr. Ian Mosby‘s important work: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/histoire_sociale_social_history/v046/46.91.mosby.html ).

I prayed for the children that didn’t make it; from Indian residential school and from my childhood, I prayed for the sixties scoop children that were taken from their families and put in foster care and all that were and still are in foster care and those that were adopted. I even prayed for non-aboriginal people that lived through the Indian residential system as likely there were a number of them that were disgusted by what was being done and for whatever reason, didn’t feel able to speak up or get out of it.

In Creator’s eyes, we are all equal, and thus I pray for ALL people. On my own I often pray for my abusers and for the murderers, rapists, etc… in our world that so often are a scapegoat for most of the problems, when in fact they are the direct result of our society and the unhealthy world we have created. It is easy to pray for those we love, but it is hard to pray for those that hurt or harm us. I know that abusers have likely been through some pretty bad experiences themselves and never got help and are acting out as a way to tell and a way to cope. I know this is what the case was for my dad. It doesn’t excuse it. Nothing excuses violence except maybe self defence… but my point is we all need prayer. So if you ever want a prayer, please don’t hesitate to ask me.

All this said, I do have 100% faith in Creator; in spirit and in my guides… and on a spiritual level I have no doubt that I did what needed to be done to ensure the event happened and that I came from a pure and respectful and honouring place of deep love for my First Nations people, and for all people and for what we are trying to accomplish. It might seem strange to have such contrasts in oneself… but I am very clear on my human self and its limitations and my spirit self being limitless. Thank God I can access my spirit self which sees a bigger picture and is always at peace… for in that I can find some balance!

I am happy to write an update I did hear back from an organizer that had no access on the rez and had lovely supportive words for me and after asking someone from the event that I don’t know but that is First Nations, they confirmed for me that I broke no protocol and said amazing words like the ancestors are proud. So this really helped me finally get that all went well… so I have huge gratitude for this feedback and connection.

I am also very thankful to the people at the event that helped me out because I couldn’t do it alone. Amazing how complete strangers can come and work together to accomplish a shared goal – I loved to see this. One survivor shared a traditional song and another person shared a traditional thanksgiving prayer. Some went around with the petition, some smudged people and others got water from a nearby FN org. I wanted and needed the event to be inclusive and it was. So my feelings of aloneness are mine and I own them fully and are in no way meant to dismiss the support and connection that was there, because without it, there’s no way I could have done the event. Thank you too to all those that tweeted the event and the organizers that did so too and put it up on their pages, etc.

It’s day three since the event and not surprisingly, I am in big time fall out mode from what I disclosed – I am not sleeping and have painful memories flooding over me, and not just visual, I can feel them in my body. This is what happens when I disclose on any level… but to do so publicly I pay the price later. Like when I read my poetry, but much more so in leading this event and speaking up and out to a group of people and on TV. It’s not just for disclosing abuse; it’s backlash for stepping into my power. I was trained early on that I was never to do that.

It’s okay. One day at a time. I feel strongly, better out than in. I’m all for the truth. The more I remember and process through, the more I regain me; the real me, the powerful me, the me that has a reason to be on the planet – it strengthens my relationship with Creator and helps me to step into the gifts that I brought into this earth walk to share, and I know it’s all worth it to accomplish what we did on Thursday.

To those that tell us to just get over it – would you say this if it was your daughter, mother, son or father that these horrors happened to? Body memories and flashbacks flood a survivor and we don’t have a choice about it and it’s not in the past, it is happening RIGHT NOW! So if this is your attitude, perhaps it is you that should just get over it.

I feel very strongly about the government needing to step up to the plate and follow through on what they promised, for them to release ALL documents to the TRC. My people have the right to that information, to the truth finally coming out. All Canadians have a right to know because they feel it too. Many non First Nations feel sick and outraged too by what was done and they also want and need the truth. Let us face up to the truth of Canada so we can all fully heal.

We each have a responsibility in this, to hold the government accountable, and ensure they follow through on their promises. Speak out! Tell your truth! Write your government and tell them to release the documents!

This was long, so to any that actually read it through – thank you for hearing and witnessing my truth. A lot of the pain and what I suffer through is the isolation in not feeling able to speak about it and so although I know I will have further fall out from writing it, I know it will be worth it in the long run… and I feel in some way that my asking the government for the truth is supported by spirit in my speaking the truth so I will be protected… and what we put out, we get back… so I am hopeful it will help lend energy behind our requests to the government to tell the truth and Honour The Apology!

©2013 Clear Wind Blows Over the Moon
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