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We are all survivors

When I was a child, there was nothing as lovely as waking up at my grandparents cottage. Imagine a little log cabin, with a little dock nestled on the water’s edge between two clear lakes.

The beds were always warm and clean. More often than not I woke up to the call of loons out on the bay. There is nothing more gentle and calming than that.

When I was a child, there was nothing as lovely as waking up at my grandparents cottage. Imagine a little log cabin, with a little dock nestled on the water’s edge between two clear lakes.

The beds were always warm and clean. More often than not I woke up to the call of loons out on the bay. There is nothing more gentle and calming than that.

Shortly afterwards, the smell of fresh brewed coffee and bacon frying would call me out of bed. In the distance I could hear the giggles of my mom and gramma gossiping in the kitchen. Even as a kid I knew waking up like that, I was blessed.

Mornings around here are not so romantic.

More often than not I am thrust awake by the digital call of my iPhone.

My bed is wrinkled and lumpy. I lay there for fifteen minutes dreaming of the day that someone else will get up first to make the coffee, followed by another five minutes of regret for feeling sorry for myself. In the distance I can hear my husband and kids peacefully snoring away. More often than not, this is followed by the school bus honking its horn, which they have missed… again.

I get up, take a deep breath and get ready to face the day.

At times like these, the cottage is a world away. What a stark difference.

When I am struggling to get through life I start daydreaming I am at the end of that little dock, dipping my feet into the still waters of the bay. Of course, it’s at this point I am actually dipping my foot in the mustard I’ve spilled on the floor while making the kid’s lunches. Another day, another deep breath and I still haven’t had my coffee.

It seems that no matter how hard I try I am just not putting the best foot forward. My life could literally be the embodiment of the expression, ‘you can take the girl off the rez but you can’t take the rez out of the girl’. However I am determined to forge ahead anyways, embracing that rez girl identity and putting myself out there, with the best mocassin forward.

Sometimes I get caught up in comparisons. On cold and rainy days the cottage smells like cedar, raspberries and woodsmoke.

Rainy days here on the rez just smell like squished frogs and wet pavement. Right next to the cottage there is a huge cliff, studded with faces in the rock. The only cliffs around my house are peaking on the side of Mount St. Laundry, which is in my basement studded with Kleenex and Lego.

But just now I decided I’m done with feeling ashamed of my truth. Breast cancer tried to take me down, but it didn’t win.

Now I see that I am more than a rez girl; I am a survivor. When I remember this, my dirty laundry, my mustard toe and getting the kids to school on time become a cause for celebration! This is my chance to live life and determine who I am, and who my descendants could become.

Likewise, an assimilationist agenda tried to wipe out our indigenous identity in Canada. Under the Indian Act we are labelled, numbered and tallied like inventory.

But we are so much more than statistics about poverty, unemployment and substance abuse. Collectively, we are survivors and the descendants of survivors.

Now is our time to take the best that is within each one of us to determine who the descendants of the seventh generation will become.

Yet still, sometimes getting through the day is hard. But when you are down to your last five bucks and the gas light is on, take a moment to pat yourself on the back just for getting through another day. Once you’ve survived, it is a matter of waking up, making the coffee yourself and saying with a smile, “I am blessed.”

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Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow is Onondaga under the wing of the Beaver Clan of Six Nations. Nahnda has been a journalist with the Two Row Times since it's founding in 2013. She is a self-proclaimed "rez girl" who brings to the Two Row Times years of experience as a Haudenosaunee cultural interpreter, traditional dancer and beadwork aficionado. Nahnda is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

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1 Comment

  • Cheryl Lynn
    November 7, 2013, 3:23 pm

    good words … thank you … i remember those things as a child also … :)

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