I am an urban Indian, some of the time, well at least half of the time. I am a major participant in Oshkimaadziig camp, but in order to pay my bills, and seek out the teachers that I need, I have to travel through urban centres.
I’ve lived in and out of Toronto half of my life. I’ve lived on the skids, I’ve lived in shelters, on friends couches, and roomed with friends and family. I spend a lot of my time wandering the streets, mostly alone, with my headphones on, listening to music and thinking.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about our people. Native people that is. I’ve been thinking about my own personal struggle, and as tragic as it has been, it pales in comparison to what our ancestors had to go through. Our ancestors suffered full out massacres, disease, starvation, the “Trail of tears”, and of course the Residential Schools.
But wait, some of our people who went to residential schools are very much alive today. They are our neighbours, they are our cousins, uncles, aunties, grandparents etc. Some of them, if not all of them, have had unimaginable things done to them. Rape, violence, abuse, humiliation, things so terrible I am troubled to even go to those dark places. But they did, and they are still alive.
Some of these people are violent, angry people, who in turn, have done some very disturbing things to other generations. They too may have raped, tortured, and abused their own families and loved ones. (I too, am a victim of sexual assault). But why on earth would they do such things? Because it was what they were taught, by those raping priests and nuns.
I saw a quote from Jay Mason commenting on a picture of young native gangsters. He said “But they are still our kids”. After I saw that comment, it opened up my eyes to what I was blind to before. I criticize everyone for their faults without knowing their story first.
I was walking by the Elders Centre and I remember an encounter that I had last year with a couple of people in there. The people that I talked to had been through the residential school system and they seemed perfectly functional, and then I heard them talk. What I heard was so vile, and hateful, that I just wanted out of there. I was too stunned to sit there, and listen.
So as I was walking by there again, this time thinking about what our Uncle Jay Mason had said about “them still being our people”, it got me thinking about our loss, of entire generation(s). And we continue to lose these generations, because we are too unforgiving. We only see the trauma that some of these survivors may have inflicted upon us.
But are these truly our teachings? No. In the past, there would have been some sort of intervention, healing, reconciliation, recovery and forgiveness. But not today, we point fingers and we accost them. We say mean things to them like calling them “apples”. We oppress them, and what is fundamentally worse, we kick them to the curb and forget about them.
If we are truly serious about healing, then we have to begin to heal ourselves. At least enough to allow the space for forgiveness. This may take a long time, and there are many, many ceremonies, teachings and prayers that can help us along the way.
The Oshkimaadziig people, mentioned in the 7th Fire Prophecy of the Anishinabek, talks about tracing our steps back to the Elders. To learn the teachings of our old ways, to “ensure the survival of humanity in the 8th fire”. Our Residential School Survivors may not be Elders, in the manner of which we envision them. But they are our people, and they are a reminder of an “old way” that should never be forgotten. If we are truly to survive, then we must learn from this, heal from this and be forgivers of this, or history will repeat itself, and we will have to learn this the hard way again.
We can’t move forward without forgiving the past.