An elder shared a story with me years ago and I was about 14 yrs old at the time.
The elder shared this knowledge with me. “Long ago before we signed treaty, our Chiefs were the poorest of the people, each person was fed first, the Chief’s family ate last he made sure everyone ate first, the women & their children who lost their partner from war were always looked after, and were part of the camp circle, the women, children and elders were in the middle of the camp circle, the young bucks slept on the outskirts of the circle.
“No one went without. If a man did a bad thing depending on how bad it was he was killed or shamed or shunned. If shunned he had to leave the camp asap. We had our own laws, we had our own way of life.
“Now today the chief and his family and relations take everything first. Same with the Councillors they take whatever the chief leaves behind for their families and relations. Than the rest of the people get whatever’s left over. This is what the Indian Act and colonial capitalism has done to my people.”
Being a 10 year survivor of the Indian Residential School system, it was difficult for me to comprehend First Nation politics, to understand why we were so dysfunctional, angry and why so many of us abused alcohol, drugs and whatever which eased the pain and shame left behind from the atrocious abuses in the residential schools. I was lost and confused as to my own identity.
But now years later I have seen and have been told by many others what the Chiefs and Councillors are doing. We as band members are being systemically abused by our own leadership. Like we are not already going through enough suffering. I earned some understanding of what the elder was trying to teach me.
This was a huge motivator in my life which compelled me to engage in higher learning and exerting the effort and enduring even the academic racism to secure all that education successfully only to hit a high and thick wall of racism reinforced by negative stereotypes which still confront me daily. But I am working on trying to change public attitude one person at a time, one day at a time.
My recipe is simple; “Educate, do not berate, raise my message and not my voice” and slowly but surely I am seeing success however small.
Ojibway Gerald McIvor wrote me this sage email yesterday:
In response to your comment of my voice packing a bigger wallop, all I can say to that is I lock onto an issue and will not let go until there is movement and answers….chiefs and governments hate me but I wear that as a badge of honour. I do however have a very good relationship with alot of national and high profile media people who very frequently contact me asking me for my opinion or for contact information. I usually prefer working in the shadows but I do not hesitate to make noise when required.
I sent this to Indigenous Youth to motivate them on indigenous rights: Ozaway Pinesse is my traditional Ojibway name and I use this name on facebook;
Be the Termite, not the Woodpecker.
Woodpeckers hammer away noisily at the colonial structures on the outside where everyone can see them and pick them off one at a time! The termite does its work quietly invisible, in the shadows, steadily with clear results..The efforts of the termite are not seen until the very foundation on which they stand crumbles and the entire structure comes tumbling do…wn! I urge the Indigenous youth to become the termite and do what must be done for the greater good. Concentrate on the cause, not the applause. I have seen many of the Indian Act actors bumping into each other and stumbling to beat others to the microphone and camera so they can repeat the political rhetoric I have been hearing for over 30 years. They then pat each other on the back when they get minute funding increments or longer term contribution funding agreements from the colonial state. they will feed each others egos and call each other great leaders while all they achieved is an extended period of dependency. I strongly urge our youth to concentrate on the cause and do not get distracted. Let the current Indian Act actors have the applause, you stay with the cause. Applause dies, our cause must never die. We must ensure our nations, cultures and traditions survive for as long as the sun shines, the grasses grow and the waters flow.
~ Ozaway Pinesse.
Yesterday, I received this powerful letter from Kenneth Young, a lawyer and a residential school survivor. The letter is filled with grace and simple truths.
Joan, it is a sad when people of influence who have done wrong fail to accept responsibility for the harm their wrongful actions have caused.
John Furlong must know in his mind that he did a lot of harm to young people he was entrusted to provide guidance. He will face further scrutiny in the coming months as the class action on day schools is worked on as to how it will be settled. If it will result in an agreement like the Indian Residential School Settlement with an adjudication process, I am sure the students he now stands accused of abusing will most certainly be claimants in which he will be most surely a person of interest.
My advice to Mr. Furlong is he reach out and call for a healing circle in which he will face his accusers and deal with the hurt and harm he has caused them, now to himself and those people who are most close to him.
If he chooses this path I believe his journey back to respectability will be one where he will be received by most people with open arms. It will be a journey, when taken with the right steps and attitude, that will bring true healing and reconciliation for himself and those he has harmed. Through this acceptance of what he did to those young innocent people was wrong John Furlong, I am confident, will learn the magnificence of the patience and kindness of First Nations people.
In saying this, I as a survivor of 10 years of Indian Residential School life, have been able to forgive the church and state for this very dark chapter in my life. It was not easy but the church and state reached out and this has helped me to carry on with my healing journey which will, I have now accepted will be a lifelong inner process. Mr. Furlong can do no less if wants to reinvigorate his life.