Last week my 7 year old brought a note home from school. It went something along the lines of ‘Your daughter has missed far too much school. She’s also late too much. We need to talk.’
This is not the kind of note that makes a parent feel good in any direction. As a mother, getting called into the principals office just feels like your parenting is being graded and you’re receiving a failing grade. Here I thought I was done with all of that when I graduated.
I did graduate. I swear. But I will admit it took a lot longer than it should have. In fact I was able to go on to college. I graduated on the Dean’s List. Then I even moved onto university.
But that is where things went awry.
During the land reclamation at Douglas Creek Estates I was a student at Laurier. From the beginning of the assertion of our land rights I was active in the standoff spending my days and nights at “the site” with my family. Some of my favourite memories are hanging out in O-town with Jesse and those other Oneidas listening to them tell stories and smoking endless cigarettes.
It was so cold there. That winter there wasn’t a ton of snow but the wind blowing across farmers fields that scatter the southern end of the province from Lake Erie to Caledonia were sharp.
Despite the frigid winds, night after night, a steady flow of people would show up and sit around the fire listening to one another’s stories and peacefully resisting.
This was my world for 2006. During the day I would be at school. In the evenings I would be at “the site”. But day after day that world was splitting in two. As the reclamation got more media attention the conversations during school would inevitably turn to the latest updates.
I witnessed some extremely racist conversations that year. In the beginning I put in effort to be a bridge and peacemaker, but after months of being the lone defender surrounded by people who thought we were being “too sensitive” and that we just needed to “get over it” I lost my fight.
I began to feel like an alien in my own territory. Eventually I just stopped going to school. The pressure of being surrounded by people who didn’t care was violently contrasted by my evenings sitting around the fire with people who cared so much that they were willing to make personal sacrifices just to participate in active resistance — it overwhelmed me. So I left school in my second year. I don’t regret that choice at all.
Whenever I share stories with my non-native friends about the reclamation in Caledonia they usually want to know why I went. ‘Why were you so worked up to actually step out of your life into the cold and go stand so hard against a couple of dudes just trying to build some houses?’
That is the million dollar question for those who have not experienced life as an indigenous person in Canada. What is up with those Indians? What’s wrong with them?
It’s the complexity of being indigenous in Canada: technically I am a “free” oppressed person. I walk around conscious of historic and ongoing injustice everyday. That conscious knowledge makes it hard for me to keep step with all the ‘normal’ things that most Canadians take for granted. Small things like going out to dinner at a restaurant sometimes make me feel insane because I know that somewhere up north there is a scone just like me struggling to pull together enough change from the couch cushions to buy a can of Klik and a loaf of bread to feed their family for the night.
The struggle, as they say, is real.
Case in point: my daughter missing so much school. Perhaps on the outside it may look like I am a lazy mother who doesn’t care much for the academic success of her children. But from my vantage point I feel like I am doing a damn good job.
My mother-in-law was in residential school from the age of 6 until she was 18. Both of her parents died while she was away at school. So for myself, every moment I can spend with my children is precious. And I want every minute of their childhood to be filled with love and togetherness and the freedom to just be kids.
If they are sick I keep them home and take care of them. If they were up all night and didn’t sleep because of a nightmare I will keep them home a little late so they can get the sleep they need. Because they are my fruit and I am their protector.
Am I spoiling them? Perhaps. But I am responsible to protect the integrity of their spirits until they are old enough to enter the harsh realities of the world. And because of my ancestors suffering, gentle parenting with my kids feels just as much like a war of peaceful resistance as making a stand in Caledonia did – minus the camo.