Saturday, October 31, 2009

Those halloween nights bring good times.

A great evening for the kids. My daughter is 13 so she didn't dress up, but she took out her niece and her little brother (brother by choice adoption - you know when you claim someone as your family member) around the neighbourhood. The street is full of parents standing at the beginning of driveways as their kids make their way to the door-ways yelling "trick or treat". I even heard Halloween apples. I know people no longer give apples. It's all store package sweets.

As a kid I remember my Mom buying the big box of apples, the McIntosh box. No candies just apples. We never thought about anything else. Some people would bake treats, like cookies or make popcorn and put them in paper sacks. I still saw some popcorn when my big kids were going out Halloweening. I don't know if anyone would let their kids eat anything that was not store packaged these days. And that is pretty sad. People would put effort in making treats for kids. It's the crazies and mean people that have changed the way we think. We can't afford to trust the treats of kindly strangers. You might have a pin stuck in the apple or a razor blade in one of the treats. It's drilled into the heads of parents and kids, that no one should eat the treats until Mommy or Daddy has looked through the loot.

I remember in the Reserve going to Aunties and Uncles houses. We would make sure to go to our relatives places. It was like we had an obligation to go there. It was a good feeling. I remember some of the relatives had some good loot. We used to think that White people were rich and some of us would go into the town and go Halloweening. We would get a sucker or a one of those black cat candies at the White homes. They would make us sing and stuff. We had to take off our masks. Some of the kids that had Dads that worked at the mill, they went to school in the town. The kids who went to the town school would tell the other kids in the Reserve that the White people had two bowls of candy, one for the Indians and one for the town's kids. I don't ever remember any of the White kids coming into the Reserve to trick or treat.

It was just the way it was between the town and the Reserve. The more time goes on the more things stay the same. The memories are still sweet. Going out with your family and friends. Lots of people walking around. Some being driven home to home. Even big people went out. Sometimes some sneaky bugger would put a potato in your pillow case. Lots of apples. If you got a bag of chips or something like that it was a major treat. My cousin Bepkins and his wife Girly always gave good stuff. He was working in the mill and made a good living I guess. They weren't cheap. The air was crisp and the night was bright. I don't hardly remember too many cold nights when your were a kid. Funny.

Story about the night: I saw the craziest thing. This couple of parents were walking around the neighbourhood with their little kid. The kid was about 3 and was dressed up. The strange thing was how the woman was dressed up. I age them at about 30 (from the man's looks). The woman was dressed up as a Rastafarian. Maybe she was Bob Marley. Anyway her face was done up black. Like shoe polish black. She had on a red green yellow hat, with the dreadlocks hanging out. She also wore a gown of sorts. I was kind of blown away when I saw her, but stupid me, I didn't say anything. I just walked by and mused to myself about it. I told my wife what I saw and she put her hand to her mouth and exclaimed "no way, your kidding?" "What the hell". In any case I missed my opportunity to say something, and I should have.

Friday, October 30, 2009

When the days go by so fast.

One of my oldest friends,Earl. He was in residential school when I first got to know him and his brother. He was shipped off to another boarding school and then I didn't see him too much until his was older.

This was a club I started a number of years ago. It was to be a recreation sports club, but somehow that changed. It could have been something.

I kind of miss those days. My kids were younger and I was younger. I was young and a bit stupid. I had ideas and I could do stuff. Now I am older, still have ideas but no drive. I wonder if my will to go on is what is killing the drive? Who knows? A lot has changed since August 2005. People have gotten older, kids are grown, have grandchildren. Time goes by fast. Days seem to become years. I would give away all my tomorrows for a single yesterday. That is a line from a song but I wonder how true that is. We have the unknown that we should be looking forward to. It is what we can make of it. I know that song from Bruce Springsteen Glory Days, really addresses the days gone by.

Well it's no use to day dream about those days that have gone by so fast that we are now old. :-0 Ah..but isn't that something. Living in the past. I wish, I wish...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Activists show film on Mercury poisoning in Native communities

Last night my friend had a showing of his documentary. It is about Mercury poisoning and the effects it has on the communities of Whitedog Reserve and Grassy Narrows Reserve in Ontario Canada. Tadashi was invited to the week long Indigenous Solidarity week at the University of Winnipeg. A number of people were in the hall for the showing, it was a good turnout. Tadashi and his wife Sherri and their daughter Kia asked and answered questions after the showing. The documentary paints a sad picture of what poisons have done to both the environment and to people. The good thing that I saw was a picture of a people that are not giving up. Not giving up on their way of life. For the people of the Reserve the situation is critical. It is also simple, stop damaging the environment. The effects of clear cutting, watershed contamination was reviewed. The effect of a changing lifestyle and a clear difference in how people think of what the land is all about. I was pleased to see that people still have that connection to the land. To them it is part of who they are. It is part of the equation of what defines them. On a sad note, there were not too many Indian people in the audience. There were your typical young Indian women and men. The young warriors if you will. A few old dogs as well. I wouldn't have gone if Tadashi hadn't invited me. I guess I would fall into that category of Indians that are apathetic. I wish not to be like that. It is so overwhelming the amount of things that you think about and wish are addressed. It gets so much, and you have so much drama in our own lives that we can't be bothered to help our brothers and sisters. The audience was filled with activists, older liberal minded people, environmentalists and academics. I guess it's easy to let other people take up the battle cry for a cause. After the show we went for tea. I asked Tadashi "what's next?" He had hoped that his film could be a tool used by the communities to take up the cause of the mercury poisoning in their communities. I told him Indians and their agencies are mostly reactive. It's hard to be proactive and take up the cause unless something lights a fire. The film showed that the mercury poisoning affects are slow and build up over the years. They are dying slowly so they have no fire. A team of Doctors from Japan came to the two Indian Reserves in 1975 and again in 2004. They did tests at the time and did tests again on the recent trip. The tests demonstrated increased affects of Mercury poisoning. The team from Japan had also been the team that took part in the Mecury poisoning cases in Minamata Japan. The disease Minamata was termed from that town and the incident of poisoning. I do hope that the people of Grassy and Wabsimoong (Whitedog) can take some ownership of the documentary and use it to educate people and to awaken local and national leadership of the issue. Side note: the US geological society released a report that most fish that were tested in the US had higher than accepted levels of mercury in their systems.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reacting to triggers; good and bad.

The Bike my boy used to ride when we were at the farm. The little bike has seen better days and now sits unused. It has been many years since one of the kids took a ride on that bike. We are lucky because we have some video of those days.

Tonight I am just sitting around listening to Stevie Wonder on youtube. Music is one of those triggers that we get hit with everyday. Driving in your car, an old song comes on that reminds you of that summer crush on the new girl in the Reserve. She's good looking girl from another Reserve. She doesn't go out with you, but goes out with your cousin. The song takes you back to that time and the emotions that came with it at the time. It makes you smile.

One of the questions that a psychiatrist asked me was if I ever get triggers and think about my Boy. I never gave it much thought at the time. I think everyone has some type of trigger that takes them back to different stages in their life. I know the smell of gasoline from a ski-doo or power-saw make think of my Dad. It makes me think of him at a certain time in my life. Not my dad as I was older, but when I was a little kid. I guess that is when the wood stove would have been used more in the house. When I would see a hammer it would make me think of my Dad, again when I was a small little kid. I guess when I was a little kid that is when my Dad was the greatest. It's strange how smells, sounds, things take us to different places in our lives.

Music is a powerful trigger. Different songs take you to different places and to see different people. Growing up, my Dad was a big country fan. He (and by default me) used to listen to Hank Williams Sr., George Jones, Charlie Pride and the like. Today I am a big fan of those singers. I also like music that my older siblings listened to, like Savoy Brown, Johnny Winter, Pink Floyd, Rory Gallagher, ACDC, Temptations, Janis Joplin, Stones, Van Morrison and the list goes on. The thing about these singers is that each takes me to different places. And the places change even if the song doesn't. Cat Stevens used to remind me of my youth and in high school, but now it takes me back to a time when my Mom was around. Van Morrison takes me back to my days when my Boy was around.

I think the reaction to triggers changes with the station in your life. It's fun and sometimes sad but we can travel back to a place we were when a trigger is hitting us.

Hope your triggers are good ones.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The conflict between Indian medicine and modern thought

Picture of Ernest a Traditional Man and my cousin.

Do you believe in medicine? That is a question that a lot of people ask each other in the Reserve. I guess with all the changes that took place over the last hundred years or so, there has been a split between people that believe in old medicine and people that no longer believe. It's funny that we have changed that way. I know it is a conflict that happens in our homes as well. Different siblings or cousins come to believe different ways. I know my Parents were believers in Indian medicine. My Dad had his kidneys cured by his Auntie. She had medicine. There are a few people in the Reserve that try to have medicine but most times it's weak. That is what happens when there is a disconnect between generations. It's just the effect due to loss of knowledge. When people were converts to Christianity, they left the old ways and no longer practiced medicine. A number of people were both Christians and believers of Indian medicine. It's real funny because most of the Christian Indians believed that Indian medicine was "bad medicine".

I wonder where that Idea came from, that Indian medicine was bad medicine. It is still a popular belief to this day. Some other people from different Reserves have said that "there is so much Bad Medicine in Fort Alex that the sky glows over the Reserve".

Indian Medicine is recovering. Recovering from an onslaught of attack; government, medical establishment and the Christian sect. People are acknowledging the benefits of Indigenous Knowledge. Not only is this significant in Canada, but throughout the world.

With modern education, the spread of logic thought, the notion of Creationism, the Evolution theory, there are so many schools of thought for a person to adjust to. With absolute faith, I imagine there are those that have no conflict with their beliefs what-so-ever. This is a good thing, but can also be a bad thing. All you have to look at is the Tea Party of the U.S. and the fundamentalists of Islam. Anyone can take a belief too far.

Can you imagine being told over and over that your way of life was bad? That you were praying to the Devil? That what you did was against God? That your people were bad? Messages over time have been both overt and subtle. With images of the noble Savage vanishing from the world. The job was to 'kill the Indian'. These government-run institutions were established to “civilize” the savage Indians. In 1920, Duncan Campbell Scott, the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, had a mission to fix the “Indian problem” through assimilation. He clearly stated his mission: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed.” According to Scott and government policy, it was their mission to “kill the Indian in the child” and turn them into respectable Canadian citizens."

My parents and my siblings went to the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School. That is were we were thought to do our Easter Duties. If you didn't do your Easter Duties, you would be buried behind a toilet (out house). That is funny now that I think of it. But when you are a kid and the fear of the wrath from the Nuns and the Priests, you 'know' they are telling you the truth, so you get pretty scared. I guess fear is a strong motivator. But when the threats are no longer there, you tend to lose that fear. So you don't hang on those beliefs now that the fear is gone.

I guess I still had fear for a long time about the Devil. Once you learn something it's pretty hard to unlearn it. I no longer have the fear of the Devil in me anymore. I tend to fear my own self.

We have to let our kids stress us out.

Edward Jessica Jackson and Amelia, my kids.

Life is good when your kids are happy. It seems weird to think about our own childhood. How we never thought about what our actions did to our parents. I remember the things I would do and never ever thought of what my parents felt. I got beat up bad a number of times. The beatings resulted in the tell tale signs of having gotten into trouble. The black eyes, the cuts, the swollen face, the sprains were flags of concern for my Mom.
I think about my own kids and what their antics did to me and Suz. It was some of the more stressful nights we have been through. Worrying about kids is exhausting.
As kids we don't think of anything further than our own actions. We don't realize the hurt, the worry, the pain that we can bring to our parents by our actions.

If we could only pass on the knowledge to our children. We could save them the same worry we went through. But that's the process of growing up, we have to let kids be kids.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When the kids come home, it's okay.

The kids are coming to stay at the house for a little while. The boy has two jobs but just can't keep a good track on the bills. So going to catch up and go back to his own place after December. At least that's the plan. In the meantime I get my fix of the Granddaughter and the Grandson. I call him boy and the grandaughter calls him boy as well.

Our home has two bedrooms and a bedroom in the basement. That is good. When I was a kid, my Mom and Dad had a two bedroom house with 9 kids. It's normal in the Reserve to have lots of kids in the home. Grandparents either help with the raising of the kids or raise the kids. I imagine in poorer (or ethnic) communities there are similiar circumstances, with huge families.

I like the idea of family. I see there is more of a break down of the family unit in Indian communities these days. Much of that breakdown is due to the lifestyle we live. Some of it is due to the baggage we carry. There is hope though. Becoming aware of the changes happening in the community (in the larger community as well) is one step in addressing the breakdown.

In the short term I am happy the kids are here, but I hope they can get a hold of their financial obligations soon.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Take those drugs and lose those smiles.

One of my nieces is doing 'crack'. It really makes me upset. My son had an addiction and it was part of what took his life. Not sure what to think about my niece. She is a good person doing an awful thing. I wonder if there is anything we can really do. I see shows on tv called Intervention and another tv show called The Cleaner that deal with drug abuse intervention. I wonder if intervention really works? It sure looks like it could work.

I now think back to my own youth and the things that I did. I am not proud and quite ashamed of my actions. I was not a bad person, but I did some things that would make anyone think the opposite. I did some awful things. Some things I did while I was under the influence of some drug or booze, while a number of bad things I did stone cold sober. I was never one to think of consequence. I know my mistakes are mine. Maybe I can blame others, my childhood or society for my mistakes. I know that would be a lie. My Mom was a great person. She was the best human being I have ever met. It would be an insult to her and all she was to try and blame anything other than myself for my mistakes.

I still hear grown ups talk about the old days (Remember when you did this, and remember when we did that). It's sad actually. We think that the stupid stuff we did under the influence has good memories for us. Granted some of the stuff is funny. In the end there is no use to it. Flipping a car because we were drinking and grabbing at the steering wheel. Dog piling a couple of poor guys because there were four of us. Wrecking some poor guys car that was parked in the wrong place. It makes me sad and ashamed. And these are tame things we did. In the back of our mind there are bad things that haunt our memories. That is why we lose our smiles. Why we know that the bad we inflicted is going to come back and grab a hold of us. It sounds crazy that it should happen that way. That is what balance is all about. Some suffer and some benefit.

I really wonder if we can hate things. Can we hate drugs? I know it is just a thing. But almost all things have some kind of life in it. If Crack has life, it is a dark hideous life. Consuming all that it comes in contact with. Sounds dramatic and crazy to talk about a drug like that. It's only a drug, it can't harm you if you don't take it. But it does harm you even if you are not taking it. The people who take it become it's agent. Stealing from you. Beating you. Lying to you. Disappointing you. Leaving you. Crack extends it's tentacles way beyond that pipe.

Please don't take that drug it takes your smile from you. And much much more.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Be the change you want to be - is futile

Change is all around us, it is inevitable. We can accept it or we can go on fighting change. I can remember when the government changed the measurement system in Canada. There were a lot of people that fought against the metric system. There were arguments about the costs of the change. The confusion the change would cause. The change went ahead and the world didn't end. The big three car dealers have been forced to change and the end of the world didn't happen. The banking industry needs to change before the world comes to an end. Health care in the United States needs to change but you would think it would bring the end of the world if it is changed. The climate is changing and that may bring the end of the world. The change of the climate is still up to debate and if in fact it is changing. That's the thing about change, we don't know whether to embrace it, try to affect it or ignore change. I mean, holy smokes, can you imagine trying to affect climate change? The thought about having any type of direct affect on the climate is staggering. We are mere ants in a concrete city. Picking at the crumbs of the big bad world. It is the bigger beings that may be able to affect some type of change. What that change is I don't know. But you know what is funny, it doesn't matter if we know what we do might not have an affect and we maybe ants, but we are a determined bunch. We will do what we can even if it may not directly or indirectly affect change. In my Reserve there is so much social strife, political dysfunction and a host of other community problems that we don't know where to start when it comes to affecting change. Some change just happens. 

Our Reserve is on both sides of the Winnipeg River. Some very beautiful land and a history of using the water ways. Now no one is on the River anymore. The water is a dirty filthy remnant of what it used to be. That is not the reason people are not using the water anymore. It is a lifestyle change. We don't swim there, we don't fish there, we don't get our food from the water anymore. It is the same change with using the bush. We don't use the bush anymore. No more wild berry picking, no longer trapping and no longer getting our food from the bush. It's a change but one that has been slow and not really a conscious change. It just happened. Lots of change like no music, no community visiting, no helping each other as a community. Only time we seem to come together and try to help each other is when there is a death. Even at that time people are changing the way we interact and help each other. I still try to affect change in our Reserve. I write letters to the Chief and Council with ideas. Proposals for them to consider in administration. Some policy ideas as to what they can do that may affect the cultural change in our community. I know it's futile, but I still do it anyway. Just as the naturist believes they can lessen their footprint on the Earth. I hope that in spite of being insignificant in a big world, we can still make an effort towards change. The change we want to be.

Monday, October 5, 2009

You can't be a Prophet in your home town

Living in the Reserve (or any small town for that matter) you may be familiar with almost everyone in the community. It is this familiarity that clouds our vision. We no longer can see the individual as more than the average person. We see them as the everyday individual. We miss the greatness, the wonder, the gifts, the wisdom, the knowledge that they may possess. The mystery of the unknown person is not there. We tend to look at the unknown as that which is greater than what we have to come to know. Not realizing that greatness could be in the room with us.

A Traditional Teacher, Ken (some are called Elders) once said that the "hardest thing is to pick up a Pipe in front of your family". It is because of what the Pipe represents. The symbolism of being a Pipe Carrier is of wonder, Spiritualism, having a connection to the Creator. We expect our Pipe Carriers to be more than the everyday person. The Pipe Carrier is to have qualities that exceed the average individual. But what happens when you grew up with this Pipe Carrier? You know him/her very well and have seen his/her flaws, weaknesses, mistakes, misgivings and shortcomings. Can this person have that sense of awe, sense of wonder, sense of knowledge that you expect a Pipe Carrier should have? I guess it would be the same scenario as growing up with a friend, sibling who is now a Priest, a Doctor or a Leader. Can we see the wonder, the greatness in the people we know?

I believe that greatness is all around us. We overlook it because we tend to see them as everyday. We don't realize that the everyday person from our community could be the great leader, the Spiritual leader, the Healer for the next community. If we see them as a being just like us, then we lose that wonder. If I were a good writer or a good story teller, my community wouldn't see it. It would be the outsider looking at me that would say I was a fine story teller (not saying I am because I see what Native Writers have accomplished and I am just a babbler at this point).

We run to the noted, the famous, the well known or even the unknown before we give the time to the regular folk. Turns out the well known may not be as credible as your Granny or your own Granpa or your cousin.

I read about Joshua Bell, perhaps the greatest violin player in the world. He played the violin in a public place, just like an ordinary busker. He played a $3million dollar violin. In about an hour he made thirty two dollars. No one really paid attention to him. He was dressed like the everyday person. He looked like the everyday person in an everyday setting.

This guy, Bell can command $1000 per minute. People will pay big money to see him play. What happened in the plaza that he played? He played one of the most difficult pieces of music that can be played. He gave it his best. Yet, people didn't see it. Why?

It's the old saying, you can't be a prophet in your home town. We need to look past the ordinary. We need to open our eyes (and ears) and see the possibilities that lay in front of us. That our everyday people can be wondrous and great.

Can it be the familiarity with our own? The saying "familiarity breeds contempt" is another idiom that we know well.

There is Teaching we all may know of the Seven Grandfathers and the message they kept telling the Little Boy who sought answers for his community. The Grandfathers kept telling him to Go Home. That the answers were at home.

That is the same with us Indigenous people, our answers are with us.

Cherokee Fiddle, cause Good Whiskey Never Let Him Lose His Place

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