Posts tagged ‘residential school’

Restoring Anishinaabe Culture takes Faith

There was a time, in the relatively-near past, when Anishinaabe people knew exactly who they were.  This was unquestionable.

As early as the early-1900s, we had our language.  We had our systems of governance.  We had our own Spirituality.  We had our own way of life – from how we were born to how we died.

We had so much that was inherently Anishinaabe…

How we raised our children.
How we healed our illnesses.
What we learned and how we were taught.
How we earned our living.
What we harvested and what we ate.
How we lived our lives. How we Loved.  How we laughed.
How we treated our Elders.
How we sang, created art… how we entertained and socialized with one another…

The sum of all these things is culture.

“Native Culture” isn’t just a band office program.  It isn’t just our annual pow-wow.  It isn’t an evening language class or even the summer pow-wow trail.  It is the sum of all those things that make us uniquely Anishinaabe, including our traditional teachings, our way of life, how we talk to each other and how we pray to the Creator.  Culture is our collective identity and how we see ourselves.

And, it’s sad to say, much of it has been lost to history.

But the loss of culture was not our fault.  We have no reason to be ashamed.  There is good reason why we lost our way.

It is a well-documented fact that Christianity was forced upon the Anishinaabe and many other First Nations across North America.  Early missionaries, including that of the jesuit mission in Garden Village (later the Holy Spirit Mission) were established with the sole purpose of converting the heathen, soulless Indians into good Christians worthy of heaven.  Later, the establishment of residential schools, like those in Spanish, Chapleau and Sault Ste. Marie, tore apart our families and community with the forcible removement and systemic abuse of our children.  All in the name of assimilation, intolerance and the Lord Jesus Christ.

But this was done so subtly, so systematically, and so successfully, that our people have come to accept that they were Christian and that very little was done to our people as a whole.  I’ve heard some survivors say they were grateful for their education at residential school and thankful that their Christian faith guided them through those tough times away from their families.

As a result, we have a whole lot of mixed-up Christians singing pow-wow and hand-drum songs, dancing their hearts out, taking Native language classes and marching for Treaty Rights.

I’m not writing this to discourage those like-minded individuals, who are working to raise their families as Anishinaabe.  There are many people out there that have shed their colonial outer garments for an AIM t-shirt.  They know the challenges of living a life in search of something more.  Trying our hardest to give our children what was kept from us.

We try our hardest, but we don’t think Anishinaabe anymore.  In reality, very few Anishinaabe people can actually speak Anishinaabemowin.  Those that speak Anishinaabemowin, can think in their language…  but mainly about Jesus and their shame of being Indian.  Original Sin is something far more profound when you have dark skin.

We need to turn the corner on re-establishing our nationhood and re-defining our inherent, indigenous culture as Anishinaabe people.

I have said many times, we need to gradually assimilate into our own culture.  This is something my friend Brian Loukes calls “acculturation”.

This begins through education. We must have the courage to transform our entire education system into a truly Anishinaabe institution.

We need to restore our language.  This can only be done through language immersion programs in Anishinaabemowin – the official language of our people.  Our children need to be able to think in Anishinaabemowin once again.  This doesn’t mean we turn our backs on English.  This is the 21st Century.  We do have to be proficient in both languages.

Nor do we need to sacrifice principles of good education to find our way back to Anishinaabe culture.  We still need to read and write, learn mathematics, science, geography, biology and chemistry.  We can all do this in Anishinaabemowin and being mindful of our own world view.  We do, however, need to be taught our own history, philosophy and way of life.  We need to be educated about our Treaty and inherent rights.  We need to be educated in the traditional ways of protecting the environment.

Most importantly, we need to have Faith.  We need to have Faith that we, the Anishinaabeg, are as important as any other nation on this Earth.  We must have Faith that our language and culture is just as valuable as any other.  We have Faith in our abilities to govern ourselves and teach ourselves.

We have to give up our reliance on others, including the government.  We can indeed be self-sufficient and prosperous, economically, socially and culturally.

But Faith is one of the problems.  With the dominance and influence of Christianity in our communities, we won’t be addressing Faith anytime soon.

You see, the Anishinaabe people have our own Faith and spiritual way of life.  For all intents and purposes, we have our own religion.  Our entire society, including our language and culture, are deeply rooted in Spirituality.  These are the original teachings and way of life of our ancestors, Gte Anishinaabeg.  We have a society expressly dedicated to living and protecting this way of life called the Midewiwin.  This beautiful society keeps many of the most profound teachings of the Anishinaabe, including our Creation Story, the philosophy of Mno-Bimaadiziwin and the Seven Grandfather Teachings.  These teachings are only the tip of a very immense iceburg that is the full expanse of Anishinaabe belief, custom, Spirituality and culture.  Much of it remains totally unknown to 99 per cent of Anishinaabe people.

Many Christians, Anishinaabe or not, are not willing to trust in their own inherent belief systems.  The teachings of the Church are so ingrained in our society, so well instituted in our families and communities – it may never be shed in favour of traditional Anishinaabe spirituality.

Assimilation and Christianity has been so subtle, so systematic, and so successful that we no longer see that there is anything wrong.  We can go about our lives, sending our kids to school.  We do our best to learn about “Native Culture”, taking Ojibwe language classes and drumming and dancing on the weekend.  Come Sunday, after confession, we can settle down to our nice family dinner with the confidence that we will go to heaven.  Confident that St. Peter, will meet us at the Pearly Gates and welcome us with open arms.

I wonder what pow-wow weekend is like in Heaven and if Jesus is the Emcee?

Violence and Trauma in First Nations

I’ve been watching with great interest the story unfolding in Ottawa, where Constable Eric Czapnik, a father of four, was the first Ottawa Police officer to have been killed in the line of duty since 1983. His alleged assailant, Kevin Gregson is a First Nations man and a suspended RCMP officer. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

On the surface, this seems to be violent, senseless killing – apparently with a robbery motive. But there are still many questions to be answered like: who would try to rob a cop? Or why would you commit robbery in front of a cop in a police cruiser? None of this makes sense.

The likely defence here is insanity given that Gregson blamed a past criminal incident on pre-operative brain cysts. He allegedly pulled a knife and threatened a Mormon church official in Regina in 2006 and was given a conditional discharge. He hasn’t been on the job with the RCMP since.

Any crime that takes the life of another needs to be punished severely. Especially if such an action take the life of a police officer. If Gregson is guilty, so be it – native or non-native.

But what intrigues me is that Gregson is Anishinaabe. According to media reports, he describes himself as an “urban native”, meaning he is a First Nations person that lives and grow up in the city.

There is no question that being a First Nations person, the odds have been stacked against him all his life.

Trauma is a significant factor in the evolution of violence. No matter where we grew up, the reserve or the city, First Nations people are far more likely to have experienced some form of childhood trauma. Be it emotional, physical or sexual abuse, family violence, racism or the effects of poverty.

Poverty is endemic in First Nations. In Canada, one in four aboriginal children live in poverty. So many of our little ones are living in third-world conditions without adequate housing or healthy food. Children are going to school hungry. Poverty isn’t just isolated to reserves, either. The statistics are similar for aboriginal people living in urban centres.

Just imagine if one in four non-native children in Ottawa or Toronto were found to be living in poverty. I’m sure a state of emergency would be called and resources would be immediately mobilized to alleviate such a crisis.

The multi-generational effects of residential schools must not be underestimated. There are thousands of brown people with status cards, wondering why they are different. Wondering why they are confused, depressed and sick. People with no culture, no values or no hope. That was all beaten out of our parents and grandparents, yardstick by yardstick.

Many residential school survivors and their families have no identity beyond their church and what they learned in school. With no identity and without acceptance, they are banished to the margins of society. Although this generation might be more accepting – with access to more social programs and numerous political, legal and rights-based victories – the damage from the past generations has been done. Parents don’t know how to be parents. Families don’t know how to Love.

First Nations people are introduced to violence at an early age – in the home. Violence against aboriginal women continues to be a significant social issue that must be dealt with in a serious manner. First Nations youth living in cities are even more susceptible, as aboriginal street gangs are more prevalent and much more violent.

Sadly, violence is a way of life for many First Nations people. Even my relatively quiet, urbanized native community has had its share of violent confrontations and tragic endings. It has affected me and many other people on my reserve.

Addictions is another incredible factor. Alcoholism began as an early epidemic in our communities. No one knew how to handle the fire-water. It became a means to an end –to wash away the troubles of Indian life. Today, in much the same way, the youth in First Nations are dealing with their lack of identity, poverty and troubles through prescription drug abuse.

For far too many youth, suicide is the ultimate way out. We’re seeing that more in more in remote, northern communities. This is truly the saddest commentary. I can’t imagine how bad life must be for a twelve year-old Cree boy to hang himself at the recreation centre swing-set. To not have the Love he needs… to not have hope. To know that he hasn’t been the first and he won’t be the last.

This isn’t a defence of Mr. Gregson, but a reality check. There is no excuse for violence. But I think there is a significant cause and effect relationship between trauma and violence. It seems to be an unending cycle for First Nations. Violence and trauma begets violence and trauma. At some point this cycle must end.

In First Nations, something has to be done about it to protect our future generations.
Right now, there is too much emphasis on rights. Healing, wellness and reconciliation need to be the key goals for this generation and the next. If we fail at these objectives, there will be no hope for nation building and economic sustainability.

European Cannibalism Proof of True Savagery

Evidence of early-European savagery may have been a pre-historic sign of things to come.

Archaeologists from the University of Bordeaux have unearthed evidence that may point to ritualistic human mutilation of unborn babies, infants and adults including proof of cannibalism by Euro-Caucasian people.

The archaeologists told the BBC that they had found evidence that human bones were deliberately cut and broken – a tell-tale indication of cannibalism.

“We see patterns on the bones of animals indicating that they have been spit-roasted,” said a lead archaeologist with the project. “We have seen some of these same patterns on the human bones.”

This is likely the largest site of mass cannibalism ever found in human history. Up to 500 human remains unearthed near the village of Herxheim in southwest Germany may have been cannibalised.

Contrary to conventional history, Europeans actually have an extensive history of grim, foreboding violence. This evidence may point to the earliest known example of European atrocities and savagery.

Such proof of brutal Eurocentric violence may explain a pre-supposition to violent tendencies. This would later take the form of barbarism, colonialist violence, historic episodes of genocide and forms of violence used in the family and against those most vulnerable parts of society.

Other pervasive examples include the Crusades, the Inquisition, imperialism, genocide and the Holocaust. The greatest hostilities known to mankind include the American Civil War, the World Wars, the development of modern warfare, biological and chemical warfare and nuclear weapons. Indigenous specific examples of European violence includes the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of First Nations children, widespread physical and sexual abuse in residential schools and the assimilation of Aboriginal people. All of these were first perpetrated by European societies.

But such brutal, Eurocentric violence may also explain the roots of such wide-spread concepts as sexual abuse, corporal punishment, gender inequality, violence against women and the elderly. These were all concepts introduced by Europeans and mostly foreign to First Nations people.

Such Eurocentric savagery, although certainly wrong and abnormal, may have been seen as acceptable at the time, just like violence forced upon European adversaries had been seen as acceptable throughout the course of history.

It is well known that Europeans who first arrived to North America called First Nations people “savages”. Early explorers reported unfounded myths of ritualistic human sacrifices and cannibalism.

But this was in stark contrast to archaeological and anthropological evidence. The realities point to early aboriginal people as generous, humble and spiritual people.

However, such negative myths have perpetuated into the present-day, and ironically, is a prime example of lateral violence. Many people continue to believe such unfounded stories of North American aboriginal people today. This perpetuates stereotypes of First Nations people as savages.

Given the savagery of early Europe, the history books may need to be re-written.

Europeans also brought forward the concept of “evil” as well as the embodiment of evil: Satan and a place called “hell”. These were strictly Christian themes. Satan and hell were not aboriginal concepts, and were not a part of our communities until brought in my Europeans.

The Herxheim site is the greatest evidence ever unearthed pointing to a European-based, “hell on Earth”.