How many times have you heard, “I don’t care”, or, “Doesn’t matter to me”, when some one is faced with a question?
Where have all of our opinions gone? Have they made shallow homes in our throats, refusing to be dislodged without some painful extraction?
I’ve seen the same old storyline played out a thousand times, boy or girl has the opportunity to speak on an important decision that may affect their family, their school, their community, or all three. Boy or girl shrugs their shoulders, rolls their eyes and moves on to the next thing. The rules and decisions get made and it’s not smooth sailing for the person. Now sh*t gets real, it has boy or girls’ attention and they feel upset, angry, and powerless.
Boy or girl is interchangeable with, “man or woman”. I’ve stayed silent on matters that were important before. Sometimes my self silenced mouth was due to being overly shy, scared, and a lot of the time it was because I couldn’t be bothered to stop what I was doing or discomfort myself enough to dig deep.
If we ease into the world of questions and power like we would a bastardly cold lake on the verge of summers day, we can adjust little by little.
Who are the ones with visible or invisible power in your community?
Visible power would be power that is held by a title like a Chief, Council member, Mayor, Social Worker, Teacher, etc.
Invisible power is…well you have seen Harry Potter haven’t you? Unfortunately the Hogwarts Express does not make stops in your community so invisible power is actually talking about INFLUENCE. Who has a strong voice and can sway decisions or make things happen?
While we are on the subject of invisible power ask yourself what your power level is? If you feel that you don’t have any influence or control over whats happening in your life, then it’s time to ask why and start shifting. It’s time to be the boss! In a non-dictatorship or oppressive manor of course.
Every Indigenous person here on Turtle Island has this certain power right off the bat, it’s a beautiful thing called, “Inherent Right”.An Inherent Right is a right that you were born with that no one can take away from you. We as Indigenous People have an inherent right to the land and to be able to use it like those who came before us. You were born with that and that boosts your level of power automatically. Chew that piece up and digest it.
I am bringing you into my classroom where some but not all of my learning takes place.
I had just cut a white peice of paper into four equal squares and the teacher asks me to write four of the things or people that I like on each square.
I scribble out, “Family” on one of them and quickly write “Culture” on another.
The next two take some action in the cranial area as I can’t just place anything down on the paper. Sure I “like” pepperoni pizza and good music but I can live without it. I want to put things on the paper that I cannot function without.
I blue ink “Travel” and “Poetry” on the next two.
“Hold the four squares infront of you like cards,” she instructs the classroom of 10.
I hold them up and am reminded of the time my friend taught me how to play poker with teddy bears as the other players. I have my straight face on.
“Now I want you to pick one card and I am going to come by and take it,” the teacher informs us and I watch some of my classmates eyes bulge.
Sorry “Travel”, you have treated me well but you’re the luxury out of the three neccessities. I give her my sacrificial card and watch Brazil, New Zealand, and Fiiji float away from me and get lost in the pile.
“I am going to come around and take a card. You have no choice in which card I choose,” she says sternly walking in the front of the class.
I hear her footsteps approaching and am focusing on my cards, anticipating a loss. She snatches “Culture” out of my hand. I squirm in my seat.
She asks the class to pay attention to what’s going on for us and asks us to voice what we feel.
I tell her I’m upset. Who the heck is she to know what I can and cannot live without? She has no right to make decisions for me. She nods and smiles. Another classmate is near tears over losing their heritage and history.
I have “Family” and “Poetry” left in my hand. I don’t want to choose. Of course family is important to me and is what my life revolves around. However, poetry is one of the only things that is mine and helps me make sense of the world. I don’t want to choose. To my relief she doesn’t give us a choice and walks by pulling cards from reluctant hands. She floats away with my “Poetry”.
I say, ” I am actually glad you took a card and I didn’t have to choose myself.”
“Interesting,” she says with that therapeutic look on her face, “we’ll come back to that.”
I watch her pick up a chalkboard brush and she circles the room instructing each of us to touch it. We don’t ask why, we just do it.
“That chalkboard brush was infected with smallpox. Now most of the people you know will become sick and probably die.”
I’m angry now. I feel a strong sense of deception and want nothing to do with this lady and her games.
“What just happened here is what happened to your parents, your grandparents, your people. Everything they held dear to them was taken from them and they had to raise a family off of that one card left they had holding.”
“Travel” – Indigenous people were previously confined to reserves and could not leave the reserve without a pass from the Indian agent. Many were displaced and located on territory that was unfamiliar to them or that was unfavourable.
“Culture” – Indigenous people were previously banned from doing their ceremonial practices and gatherings. When they took travel and took their culture and “Indians” were still being “Indians” they took the children. Our children are our greatest resources. The picture below is of a residential school and outside of the fences are the tipis of the families whose children are in that school. This wasn’t a day school where the kids could just come home each day.
“Poetry” – It is an artistic form. This matches culture with song and dances that were outlawed.
I had “Family” and I reflect on my own upbringing. We did not have a lot, did not get raised with language nor songs but we were brought up with placing a high value on family.
My father who was raised by his Kohkum in extreme poverty and those he was raised with one card. His mother went to residential school and she was raising his brothers and sisters with that one card. My father raised us with one card only. He tells me how he had to force himself to read us bed time stories because he knew it was the right thing to do. No one ever read him stories.
My mother was raised by her Dane Zaa mother and caucasian Father with her sisters. My grandmother who is fluent in her language, did not pass the tongue down to her daughters.There was a presence of family but an absence of culture and tradition.
Each family had struggled with addiction, loss of identity, and pain.
My dad told me he finally came to terms with being the only child raised apart from his nuclear family when someone told him, “Your mother raised you the best she knew how”.
He struggled with this but realizing that his mother did go into residential school and was a young mother with several children and an absent alcoholic husband, helped him accept it.
I have all of these memories pumping through me and I feel unnerved and angry.
“What happens is that I make these choices for you and as I, the oppressor, do this and continue to disempower you……. then one day you just let me make the choices. Just like Helen said,” the teacher says reflecting on my moment of “relief”.
We all have power and the ability to make choices but somewhere someone decided they knew best for us and this was not the truth. Some of us accepted that we had forever lost this power and left decisions to others.
We are here for the truth and the truth is we, ourselves, need to make the decisions to reclaim our power and do it.
In what ways can you reclaim your power today?
PS here is a link to a website that has information on Aboriginal Rights as well as important past oppressive policies. Check er out!