Thursday, June 24, 2010

Taking stock of Indian Politicians in Manitoba.

Manitoba's Aboriginal population is active politically. We have our share of Indians in main stream politics and a number of politic organizations engaged in the larger community.

Ron Evans is the Grand-Chief, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. He is elected by the Chiefs of Manitoba (64). I am not sure how much of the sixty-four votes he needs to be elected. He represents the Chiefs of the 64 Bands in Manitoba, and by default is seen to represent the People of those Bands.

David Chartrand is the elected President of Manitoba Metis Federation. Chartrand has just been re-elected as leader of the Metis. Approximately three thousand eight hundred MMF members voted for him. His opponent received less than eight hundred votes. Chartrand can speak Saulteaux (Ojibway-Anishinabemowin).

The Honourable Eric Robinson is a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the Province Manitoba, and Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs and Deputy Premier of Manitoba. Robinson represents the electoral area of Rupertsland. There are approximately sixteen thousand people in the voting area. A little less than ninety percent of those people are Aboriginal. Robinson has been elected as MLA since 1993.
He has enjoyed a loyal following from the people of Rupertsland, having received the largest percentage majority of votes in the province.

There are many Indians and groups dipping their feet in the political pool in Manitoba. For a larger picture of the many many players in the Manitoba the Turtle Island Native Network has a listing of groups.

There are a number of Aboriginal people that are currently players in the political arena: George Hicks, MLA and Speaker of the House Manitoba. Frank Whitehead, MLA The Pas. Morris Swan-Shannacappo GrandChief Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO). David Harper, GrandChief Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO). Regional Chief Bill Traverse for Assembly of First Nations (AFN). This is a small list of the people that are swimming in the political lake in Manitoba. I won't bother to list other's as they are minnows considering the size of the Lake.

Of the politicians for Aboriginal people Eric Robinson swings the biggest stick. He is clearly elected by the people. Represents more people and is in a position that directly affects Aboriginal people. Some would argue that he is provincial politics and it does not have the same measure as an Aboriginal (Native) organization. Those people are dead wrong and stupidly naive. Provincial politics sticks it's arm down the throat of Indian life, even if we don't want it. All we have to do is look at section 92 of the Canadian Constitution. In any case Provincial legislation is in our backyards and in our homes; even on the Reserve. We, as Indians have always said that our relationship is with the Crown.
By way of attrition our Rights have been taken over by Provincial legislation and policy. That is the major reason that Robinson holds so much power. His government holds Indians at their mercy.

Robinson is in a conundrum; he is a representative of the Provincial government and he is a Treaty Indian. He must represent the larger population and the follow the road-map of the government (his government) and their political ideology. He also has links to the Aboriginal community due to his heritage. His constituency is largely Aboriginal and those are the people that elect him into his position. The Aboriginal population's interests do not (mostly) jive with the provincial government. Robinson is accountable to his constituency and is accountable to his political party. The party is bigger than the individual. He has to deal with listening to his electorate, which is the north and Aboriginal, plus he has to listen to what the government (his political party) wishes to accomplish. In addition he is an Indian so his loyalty, integrity is always in crisis. The government aims to stay in power. In order to stay in power, their policies must please the masses. The masses are mindful of the government coin purse. Government can not bend to the wills of the Aboriginal lobby. Robinson has to look at himself in the mirror everyday and ask himself which master he is going to serve that day; heritage, constituency (which is Aboriginal), or the political party he is a member of. A very hard position to be in. One of the reasons I say a politician is a contortionist, he must be pliable.

Ron Evans wishes to have what Eric Robinson has, legitimacy, power and influence. His master is the 64 Chiefs of Manitoba. He is elected by approximately 35 people. He has no real power or influence. Although he conducts himself as though he has power, in reality he is a glorified manager. It is probably frustrating for Evans as he was once Chief of his own community. In that position he could deal out favours at his pleasure, deal out punishment by with holding services and resources of the community. In his current position he must bend at the pleasure of the Chiefs. This must be upsetting being mastered by his once peers. I still see he is trying to conduct business as he did in his community. I understand that he can keep quite a tally on people that do not agree with his decisions. In any case the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is an organization with potential. If they can become a legitimate representation of the Aboriginal people. As it is right now, AMC is an ineffective lobby group grappling with identity issues. Leadership that has no idea on the role of a visionary.

David Chartrand is the leader of the Manitoba Metis. He is the best at promotion. He promotes the MMF so much that the organization is now synonymous with his face. He makes regular appearance on radio shows, is in the news with soundbites with any issue that is related (and in many cases not related) to Aboriginal issues. He has an easier job that any of the other leaders. He only has to please a few key members of the Metis population. He is the manager of a lot of resources and uses that power as a sword (envision King Arthur wielding Excalibur). He is the king of the Metis and he rules in that manner.

There are many players but I think they all want to be king or queen. There are some very effective lobbyist working for Indians today. The problem with all the groups is that they are dependent on the larger governments for their survival; cash. How can our minds be independent when we have to serve that master? Each of the leaders want to be part of something that is grandiose, so they label themselves with titles that reflect this desire (the grandest grand). Sadly many of the grandiose organizations and leaders suffer from impotence. That impotence is due partially to systemic, structural shortcomings and also due to intellectual disability.

The problem with our players over here is that they are reactionary rather than proactive. They lack direction or initiative. The only time you see any type of action (with the exception of Chartrand who loves the media and promotes himself with abandon)is if an issue is in the news. Without any issue glaring them in the face they are sitting in the office or going out for photo-ops. No strategy or real identity for these organizations.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Indigenous Festival

Suz and I went to see the opening of the WSO Indigenous Festival. We enjoyed the concert very much. The music director Alexander Mickelthwate (the conductor) and Festival Manager Vince Fontaine welcomed the mixed audience. I saw a lot of the old white people. You got to admire these people; they are the people that actively support the Arts. The crowd was mixed with youth, Aboriginal, visible ethnic groups and happy people.

Tonight's performance was entitled Ritual. George Gao played Capriccio #3 and Mongolian Fantasy. He used a traditional stringed instrument. I am not sure what it is called but you may heard some of the sounds on a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is called a Erhu. The music is sweet and haunting. He played soft at the start and then he exploded into a frenzy. The WSO just complimented the wild sound of the Erhu. A very good experience. Makes you want to go out and purchase a copy of the movie soundtrack Hero. I really like those little yellow women. It's that old fantasy of Asian Women. If you ever see the movie Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood, you will see that cliche made fun of by Ahney Her. In the movie Hero there is a great fight scene with Jet Li, and all the while the Erhu is being played. It is awesome. George Gao takes it to another level. He brings up the tempo and varies the sound that you get pumped.

The second portion of the show had performance of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring". Manitoba Aboriginal School of Dance joined the performance and interpreted the music piece.
All I can say it was crazy. Beautiful dance, complex sound and wild images come to mind. For me I the image I kept coming up with was the fight scene between Spock and Captain Kirk. The music and the tempo sort of resembles this television fight scene.

I don't believe I have had the opportunity to hear the WSO before tonight. I would go and see them perform again. It was such a good experience. We were lucky to go, my brother Donald gave us the tickets.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A day in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada.

We went out and spent the day going around the city. We started with a trip to the Assiniboine Park. It was off to the Leo Mol Sculpture garden which is in the park. We enjoyed the park and the many sculptures. I took a lot of pictures of the "nudes". There were busts of Pope John Paul and many other interesting bronze works. The park is adjacent to the Winnipeg Zoo, we didn't bother with the zoo, we are keeping that for a day with the grandkids. We went off to downtown Winnipeg and the Forks. We saw that they were setting up for the Aboriginal Day Festival at the Forks. Chantal Kreviazuk and a host of other Aboriginal artists were performing on the open stage in Winnipeg. Once we checked out the little pow-wow that was happening there, we went to the Exchange District. The exchange district has a number of heritage buildings and some new business ventures. There is a book store there in an old moldy building. Stacks and stacks of books. With an old hippy that runs the store. A used music store where you can still get vinyl LP's. A very trendy hat store. You can sit with the new age, social conscious youth at their self-run coffee shop. A number of small art gallery's, like the Urban Shaman gallery. We went in to Keep-sake to look at their art. The exchange district used to be a hot spot for working girls at night. They have moved long time ago. The cinematheque movie house is good for independent shows. There is also an outdoor stage all in a few couple city block area. No shortage of Indians, youth, social conscious exploring the venues.

Our baby is gone on a trip so we have to entertain ourselves and walking the district is a good deal.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Reconciliation Indian Residential School Experience

One of the interviewers asked me a question at the Truth & Reconciliation Commission for Indian Residential School event in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada. He asked me what reconciliation meant to me.
That was an interesting question as reconcile is difficult to define or can be defined to fit different circumstances. I always assumed it meant acceptance. So immediately that is what I thought, that Indians should accept what had happened. If we accept it only follows that we should forgive.

That is quite an interesting notion to forgive. I wonder though, why is reconciliation a way one drive? The whole TRC is aimed at the Indian. The opening of old wounds, the closing of wounds, the putting a bandage on and ripping it off. What of the other parties involved? It is not only the Indians that were affected but so was the general public, but more so the Church and the government (officials and agents of the government). They too have to reconcile what I think is not reconcilable. For true reconciliation that acknowledgment must be sincere and actions must convey that feeling. Not photo opportunities and empty words. The Indians must see that the people involved are true. The general public has been affected as they have been sold on the goods that government has said about Indians. The education system, the governance system, the religious system and the bureaucracy has all tried to undermine the Indian (their whole way of life). The public only knows what it has been sold. Some of the public has become enlightened and is aware of the real situation around the world and here at home. They are a minority.

The public only sees the money aspect of things. The costs. The Indian getting money again. You know that the government is a very smart animal. They are not in power for nothing. It takes thinking and real thinking to get away with stuff. Let me tell you about the Indian Residential School settlement process. The government made a deal with Indians to settle the court battles that started up because of the Residential school abuses. There were some horror recounts coming out of the school experience. There were a lot of them, recounting horror. Long story short. Indians were allowed to claim without a trial process, go in front of an adjudicator, recount their experience and based on a set of criteria of abuse, get a cash settlement. Cash Settlements on average were in the thousands. The adjudication process was to ease the pain of a big trial. Sounds like a heck of a deal, those damn Indians getting money again. Let's not forget the Devil is in the details. Much of the money allocated went to the lawyers. In one case this law firm from Saskatchewan invoiced for fifty million dollars. It's not like the movies where the client gets rich off their misery. The idea that the Indians did not have to go through re-living the experience in a court room is not exactly true as well. The process is still a formal setting where you are questioned about your accounts of events. The whole adjudication process is set on a criteria of sexual abuse. How many times you got raped in the bum or in the vagina. That's the thing. Never mind that the whole Residential school era has killed (or rather tried to kill) the soul of the Indian. Making the Indian feel worthless, to hate themselves, to leave everything Indian at the door of the school and never be able to go back again. Generations of Indians are now living with that killing era. Yet they will never be heard or get a chance to say that it was wrong. It was wrong to try and kill the Indian. They didn't succeed.  There is damage to the Indian Spirit, that is true, but there is a whole lot of resolve in that Spirit as well. Indians are not going anywhere. Some of us have gotten lost, but we are finding our way back, no thanks to the Church or the government. So the whole "easier process" of adjudication is a sham. It's puts the experience in narrow parameters. The government is not interested in how the school affected the Indian, they know how it did, after all they were the architects. They just want to limit their exposure of wrong doings. So it has become only about the genitals of Priests, Indians and Nuns.

The government is really smart (I said that already). With this action they achieve a number of things: 1) they get rid of the financial burden of law suits; 2) they look like good people in the international community, 3) the Indians look like welfare handouts, 4) the general public has more reason to hate the Indian (again), 5) the government can inject needed cash into a depressed economy (give an Indian a dollar and he spends that dollar; aspects of the poverty syndrome, while the small business owner, and the neighbouring town reap the benefits of cash from the Indian community), and 6) the reconciliation process puts the onus on the Indian to move forward and forget all the bad stuff. A very good process and good deal.

I know I sound like a complainer and I am. I don't like it when I see wrong, so I say something. The thing is the reconciliation process is flawed. It's about resigning yourself to a fate that is dictated to you. There is no act of reconciling from the other side. The Church still has the mandate to recruit and convert the Indian. The government will still not live up to the Treaties. The government and the public will still see the Indian as a burden on society. That is the reconciling part. The Indian must accept and be resigned to the same conditions as before. People will say "what the fuck more do you want?"

Good question. Let's start with an attempt to recognize the Treaty. That is an easy place to start. But wait, not for Canada. They want to rape the country without any consequence. The general public buys into their notion that the resources belong to Canada, Wrong.

I met a woman the other day and she said it best for Canada: "all I hear in the paper is the residential school this and the residential school that, when is it going to stop? It must be generations ago? They can't still be suffering from the school?"  Congratulations Canada, plan implemented perfectly. Indians are seen in the way Canada intended. It's not about reconciliation at all, it is about escape, and pretense.

Day 2 Indians Residential School TRC

My Auntie Terreance came out to the Forks to visit with my Dad. Terreance is the only living sister the Old Man has left. They both decided to go and give a video statement to the TRC-Truth & Reconciliation Commission for Indian Residential School Survivors. The general public does not realize the abuse that went on in those institutions.

My Auntie is like my Dad her name is not really Terreance it is Agnes. No one knows her as Agnes. I didn't know that until today at the TRC statement. My Dad's real name is not Henry either, it's Andrew. He was given his name Henry by his God Father's girls. Their brother Henry passed away the year my dad was born. So they adopted him as their brother. Henryrence is sort of like "little Henry".

The two them went into the statement room together. Their stories would be different as they didn't see each other in the school with the girls not allowed to see the boys. So my Dad didn't see his sisters. I couldn't listen too much to my Dad's statement. He has always been a private person so he would speak in generalities. If I stayed there he may not have been willing to speak about the school too much.
The Residential School era has left a big footprint on the Aboriginal population. It is akin to stepping on the Tundra. If you go back 10 years from now and look at the Tundra that foot print would still be there. Today we speak about the foot print people are leaving on the Earth. Thread softly not to damage the Earth. The same situation could be said about Indians. Canada (and the U.S.) have not thread lightly on the Indian. There is a lot of damage that has been done because of all that stomping. Some people will say get over it and go on with life. That is fine, but you have to remember there is a foot print on the Indian social fabric, never mind a foot print, a stomp print. After all something has to give if a whole government and a large religious organization tried with zeal to wipe you out. That is what they attempted. To get rid of the Indian. If not physically than with the killing of their Spirit. Look at all the places that had residential schools in Canada. People were ripped from their homes and sent to these schools.

Every Indian should give a statement. The school has affected more than an individual it has affected the psyche of a whole nation, including white people. You have to remember the negative views that have been aimed at Indians have also hit the ears, eyes and mind of the white person. So they too are affected by the message that Indians are no good and should be eliminated.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Indian Residential School TRC day two Winnipeg

There was a concert at the Winnipeg Forks last night with Buffy St. Marie and Blue Rodeo performing. I didn't go due to my daughter's eight grade graduation.

Today my older brother Poncho brought my Dad (he will be 80 this December) into the city. We went to the Forks for the morning. We went to meet with some government workers on hand to deal with the ADR and compensation issues. My Dad has not heard since he has been the system. He is waiting for his claim to be settled. I gave a big lecture to the workers about the compensation process, the claim process and the settlement agreement. It brothers me that my Mom went through the school and with no story being recorded.
We are going back after 5p.m. today for my Dad to give a statement for the TRC. My auntie Tereance is going to be there to give a statement as well.
My Dad is spending the afternoon at the convention centre. My brother Donald is with him. My niece is graduating her grade 12 upgrading. Once the afternoon graduation is complete I will meet my Dad back at the Forks for his statement.
On my way back to my Wife's house, I came across a group of Indians riding horse back in the city of Winnipeg. They must be on their way to the Forks for the TRC event. It is a big event in Winnipeg and Canada for Indians. Some people are hopeful for the event while some are critical.

The Inn at the Forks is a beautiful hotel. Many of the rooms are booked by the Survivors and the TRC for the event. In the hotel Lobby I ran into Mr. Lawrence (Happy) Smith from Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. Happy is an 84 year old Residential School Survivor. He went to Fort Alexander Residential School in our Reserve. His mom was a Guimond from our Reserve and his Dad is a Smith from Wisconsin. His Dad was a college educated Indian in the United States. Happy is one of those guys that worked hard and still continues to commercial fish. He was a logger. He used to cut four cords of wood a day by bucksaw. ("A full cord is a large amount of wood. It measures 4 feet high by 4 feet wide by eight feet long (4' x 4' x 8') and has a volume of 128 cubic feet".)
There are numerous tents set up for the TRC event. In the Sharing Circle Commission Tent is a Bent-Box. It is a piece of artwork that is indigenous to the West Coast. The piece was commissioned by the Commissioners for the TRCommission of Indian Residential School Survivors (I think). There are other tents that have different purpose, some are art work tents, history tents, registration, Sharing and other things.

The event seems to have attracted lot of people from all over. It is a buzz of activity at the forks. Lot of Indians. I met some people last night at the hotel where my daughter's graduation was. This Indians were from a Reserve outside of the City of Victoria in British Columbia. Victor and his family were telling us about his experience in school. He is in his sixties and he can't speak his language. He was telling us how his Mom and Dad refused to speak their language to them so the kids wouldn't suffer in the school like they did. Very effective use of the Church by the government to try and get rid of the Indian. Now our kids are living with that legacy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Truth & Reconcilliation Commission Residential School

Today was the first day of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission on the Indian Residential School Experience held in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada. June 16 - 19, 2010.

I only had the chance to go for the morning events. There were a lot of people, media, survivors, audience and Indians from all over. The Fire was lit at five in the morning. Sadly for reasons beyond my control I was not able to make the morning ceremony. I was there at eight in the morning, not too bad I think.

A lot of big people for the opening greetings. The Minister of Indians Affairs was on hand. I saw Mathew CoonCome in the crowd. He is an ex-Grand Chief for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). AFN is the national body that lobbies for the grassroot Indian's rights (at least I think that is their role, but who knows).

My cousin Joe Daniels came by and visited with me, my brother Don and Chief Terry Nelson of Roseau River First Nation. Joe is a Councilor in our Reserve. He is also a Traditionalist.

Chief Nelson was very nice to visit with, he paid for our breakfast at the Pancake House, 44 bucks! Lot of money for eggs and pancakes.

Ran into a lot of people in the short time I was there; Little Ernie Daniels, my cousin. He was singing for the pipe ceremony. Charlie Nelson brought out his pipe for the morning ceremony. Charlie is a big Midewiwin man. Well respected in the Traditional world. Same with Elder Tobasonakwut Kinew (Peter) and his son Wab Kinew. Wab Kinew is an exceptional fellow. Very Traditional, very humble, and well liked among the general public. He is a Hand Drum singer, and he is also an artist/rapper. He is currently employed as a reporter with the Canadian Broadcasting Company, CBC television.

The group Blue Rodeo is set to entertain at the event this evening. They took part in the morning ceremony and smoked the pipe with the people in the circle. Not everyone was in the circle, just the big wigs and some Chiefs. Our Chief was there with his Headdress on. One of the Traditional Teachers was sitting and visiting with me for a while and wondered if most Chiefs know the significance of the Headdress, the Eagle Bonnet. I just shrugged. I guess it has to be earned. I think if your are selected by the people, than you might have earned it, but what do I know.

I saw my cousin Earnest Daniels and his wife Charlotte at the ceremony. They are always at ceremonies. They follow that way of life pretty religiously (religiously, get it).

An Elder George Matthew Courchene was on hand as well. He is a Teacher of Traditions. He has become like a lot of old men, either grouchy or affable. He has chosen to be crabby. LOL :D He was sitting with Father Paradi, the priest that was in Sagkeeng First Nation Catholic Church, for a while. Father was good friends with Ron Swampy in the Reserve. Boyish (as he was known as) was a Sundance holder and he has passed away.

There are a number of tents set up for the people to take part in the event. It is hoped that people will share their experiences from the school as part of a public record. Lot of people are still hesitant to share. While some people say the TRC has no teeth. Their stories will not mean much as there is no remedy for them. Others say the compensation packages for the suffering is not sufficient.

At the end of the day, it is about sharing, but what happens next.
I like the opportunity it is providing. I guess I will get my brother Poncho to bring Dad out to the event.
The very least that can happen is that we get to visit with people. Maybe see a few big shots. Eat some food. If we're lucky have a few laughs. Laughing is always good.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Measurement of Indianess: wannabe to FBI

Little Hawk is Troy Westwood an ex-football player in the Canadian Football Leagues Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Troy was in a music band called Eagle and Hawk that my cousin Vince Fontaine had formed. Troy is one of those that has an "Indian soul". The person that has found Indianness to be a calling and has been accepted (to some degree) into the world of the Indian. This is an interesting phenomenon. People becoming another culture and heritage other than their own. This practice is not new or without some controversy. There are numerous cultures that have been infiltrated with the wannabe. Indian's have Archie Stansfeld Belaney,aka Grey Owl the infamous Indian environmentalist. Not to mention the famous crying Indian Espera DeCorti, Iron Eyes Cody. These guys were different types of wannabees, they were pretending to be Indian to further their career or escape their life. With Troy I don't see that. I see a guy that is doing fine without having to pretend to be Indian. He acknowledges that he is white but likes Indian heritage. So he does what he can to hang around Indians. I kind of get a kick out of wannabees, but I realize that there is something askew to that phenomenon.

I remember that Indians pretended to be something else as well. Many pretended to be French, Italian, or whatever they thought they could pass for. Anything except being Indian. Society for Indians (and other minority groups) could be harsh. People tried to escape the stigma of being who they were. There really is a societal privilege to being white, but that's another story. It is kind of ironic that people want to be Indian while many Indians tried to be anything other than who they were.

I once thought that people want to be Indian (Black, Japanese, and others) because they did not have any heritage of their own. They like the "text-book" image of what those groups are associated with; the noble savage, the Samurai, the strength and coolness. Not sure if that is the reason they become Indian.

Indian people have become more Indian than Ira Hayes. Indians are all FBI's, Full Blood Indian. Indians are seen by other Indians as tainted if they are not FBI. Even if you are not FBI but have the brown look, they will claim to be FBI and the mixed bloods are less than them. You are "nose bleed", red bone, apple, white, and wannabe. The whole identity picture is really abstract. In a way it is a good thing, we no longer are hiding that we are Indian. Actually it is a great thing that we have never lost that pride in our heritage. It was really hard for our old people to continue with their identity. Society, specifically government, tried hard to eradicate the Indian.

It's (now) cool to be Indian.

One thing I am not a fan of is the belittling of others to feel superior. That is what some of us do. The Reserve Indian will act superior to that urban Indian. Saying they are more Indian because of the link to the community. Other Indians will put down the fair skinned Indian because they don't have the features with being FBI.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Take a break from being an "A-hole"

Well been going around visiting with my friend. He has to do a lot of running around for his boy. Holy smokes his boy is a krabby patty. My friend came in from the Reserve to help him out. He couldn't get the things done that one day, so he went back to the Reserve and came back a day later. The first time he needed to come in I drove to the Reserve in the morning and drove him back in the afternoon. The next time he came in he still couldn't finish his running around for his boy, so Him and his wife stayed over at the house. It was a real good visit. Those people are fun and funny to visit with. So the Thursday was filled with running around. My friend finally was able to get all the running around done for his boy.

My friend's boy was really crabby. Some people are just like that. Don't know if it means anything. If you are inconsiderate does it make you a bad person or just a jerk? Who knows? We all have bad days, but for this guy it was more than a few bad days. I understand that his predicatment was not his fault but he should have been a little happier that his dad was doing a lot for him.

I know it is the job of the Dad to look after your boy and I was glad to help my friend with his running around. We need more Indian guys to be good dads.
I think his son is actually an okay guy. He is one of those guys that has a lot of hard things to go through in his life. He has been through a lot of adversity. I guess he tries to guard himself by the tough guy routine.

I have seen lot of kids back home giving their dads the routine. Heck I was like that to my dad as a young guy. I regret that very much.
We need to keep battling to be kind to people. For some people being kind or being nice is just who they are. My friend is that type of guy. Oh of course like anyone he can be angry, be crabby, be unfriendly, but it's his true nature to be just a good person. He has made lots of poor choices in life. I guess we all have. We have to start making choices that don't end up hurting us.

As Dad's we need to take a break from being the "Ass-hole". I know that's one of the biggest things I want to quit as being a dad. The constant nagging, the lectures, the questions, the looks I give the kids. Now that is the a-hole routine.

Maybe I think of someone as a crab, I should look at myself first.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Suicide Survivors Gathering Recap

Narrative on the Aboriginal Gathering of Suicide Survivors, Winnipeg, Mb April 21 & 22, 2010
The Gathering for Survivors of Suicide has come and gone. So what can we say that we learned and what have we accomplished?

For those of you that do not know, a two-day Gathering was held in Winnipeg for People that had lost family by way of taking their own life. The Gathering was a collective action that came out of need. A group of people got together to plan and organize the Gathering. They went out and sought help from the Aboriginal and larger community. There are a lot of reasons for holding an event such as the Gathering for Survivors. All the reasons lead up to the opportunity for some small hope at healing, perhaps peace. Survivors needed to have a safe place to talk, a place to share their pain and look for ways to ease that burden. We had some very high hopes of a Gathering. We envisioned some great messages, some Healing, some answers to our questions. It was to be a Gathering to that we could come away with feeling empowered; Empowered with our grief and the ability to continue living productively.

Let’s begin by what we hoped would happen during the Gathering. We had hoped for a number of things to transpire. We wanted a place for those that have not the opportunity to express their feelings about their loved taking their life. We wanted people to know who these loved ones are. We wanted to introduce them to the Gathering.

The second thing we wanted was to introduce Ceremony into the Gathering; from the prayer of the opening event to holding specific Ceremonies for the Grieving and the Gone. Third we wanted to introduce the Gathering to main stream support groups; who they are and how they function. Lastly we wanted someone to take on the Challenge of starting a group for Survivors, an Aboriginal group. We had hoped they would take on the task of organizing and hosting another event next year.

The Gathering had an ambitious agenda; with the amount of Speakers and topics scheduled into the two days. The Gathering was well attended with both Survivors and supporters. The first day we had the opportunity to introduce our Loved Ones that have gone on. We also broke into smaller groups for people to share their Loved Ones stories and their experiences. Elder Tabasonakwut Smoked Pipe for the Loved Ones and shared Teachings with the people.

The Wiping Away The Tears Ceremony was conducted with a number of Survivors taking part in the ritual. Elder Tobasonakwut gave the Ceremony to people in attendance. The Ceremony had the Spiritual and a symbolic component for the participants. The Ceremony is not for the end of grieving but for accepting other elements into your life along with the grief. The opportunity to pick up the Pipe, to attend the Pow-wow, to join in celebrations, not to forget or deny your Loved One and your grief but the chance to take on new elements in your life.

The Gathering had a number of compassionate, sincere, committed, wise, intelligent and knowledgeable speakers. It was a great mix of people sharing their views, insight from different vantage points. All the Speakers have a link to the issue of Suicide. Each message was heartfelt, fitting and inspiring. We cannot thank the people enough for their kind words.

We introduced the Feast and Giveaway Ceremony to the People. The Feast and Giveaway would not have been possible without the generous support from you people. The Feast is a Ceremony that each member can continue for their families and Loved Ones. The Giveaway has always been an important part of Aboriginal Tradition. We were happy that such good thoughts and prayers were received for our families from the People with the Giveaway. Our Loved Ones had Feast with us and Gifts were given in their honour. Spirit Dishes were made for our Loved Ones. Our prayers were offered in Tobacco and made into a Tobacco Tie. The Tie is being carried by Ron P. McDonald. Ron will be taking the Tie to a Sundance held this summer. It will be attached to the Tree of Life.

What did we learn from the Gathering and did we accomplish anything? We were pleased with the Gathering. We had some good feelings, some healing words, and the opportunity to speak and listen about our Loved Ones. We did learn that we could always have more time to share. We could have had more time spent on introducing our Loved Ones and we could have had more time to spend on the Sharing Circles. Those two areas we know we could have spent more time and provide more opportunity for Survivors. We might have allocated more time for sharing and cut down on some of the topics that were covered in the Gathering.

One of the things that we know from our experiences attending Ceremonies is that time tables are suggestions. Prayer and Ceremony protocol is something that we cannot rush. We were very fortunate that the invited Speakers were very gracious and aware of Ceremony protocol. The introduction of Ceremony to the Grieving process (specifically Anishinabe Teachings) guided the Gathering. The Ceremony component of the Gathering made the event special. It became more than a Gathering, a conference or a meeting. It became the Healing aspect of the Gathering. We were very fortunate that a strong showing of Traditional Healers, Teachers, and Helpers attended the Gathering. It is one thing that we were pleased with that although we had an agenda and used it as a guide, the event was organic in nature and the flow of sharing was smooth.

The participation by the established volunteer groups, and institutions was of great benefit to the Gathering. We witnessed how individuals can make a difference in the community. How individuals sharing common experiences can help each other like the: Compassionate Friends, Suicide Prevention Education Awareness Knowledge/Speak, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Turtle Lodge, Two-Spirited People of Manitoba, Big Bear Gathering, Thunderbird House. The presentations from volunteer groups were well received and needed. These people have shown us that we can take these concepts and use them in the community or come to them for support.

With the Closing of the Gathering we did not have the opportunity to do a Recap of the two days. Although we did try to provide timely recaps of the events through the day, we never did go over our goals for the Gathering. We did not have anyone take up the Gathering for next year. We also could have discussed the question “where to from here?” We failed in that respect to have a meaningful discussion on how we can continue with a Circle of care for Survivors. We had hoped that people would leave with tools to continue in their individual healing journey. We know our Teachers shared tools with the Survivors and supporters that can be used at the community level. We had hoped it would be articulated by people that they would continue in their own way, at their own community or continue to link with the people at the Gathering. That is the regret we now share, that we could have had a tighter closing of the Gathering.

Regardless of our shortfalls, we believe that the Gathering has been meaningful. We learned some things about the Topic of Survivors and Suicide. It is not a topic that people want to speak about. We know that there are those that chose to ignore the subject, either as a way to deal with it or not deal with it. We know that there are people that want to support such events and there are those will ignore efforts to work together. We know that many people can provide moral support. We also know that we cannot put on an event such as this one without the support of kind and generous people. We also know that you have to be willing to be ignored when the subject matter is hard to deal with. We also know that there is a difference between walking and talking. We also know that many many people are hurting. We also know that many many people are willing to listen, to assist, to carry and to walk beside us. We know for sure that more support is needed at the community. We also know that there are people out there that share your pain. There are people out there that will help, listen and that will walk with you.

The Event could not have taken place without the support of so many people and we send our heartfelt thanks to all those involved.

A partial list of those to Thank include: Peter Kinew, Kathy Kinew, Wab Kinew, Chick-a-dee, Marcel Guibouce, Sally & Ron P. McDonald, Susan Courchene, Donald Courchene, Annette Dugas, Bob Dugas, Leslie Dugas, Lauren Dugas, Judge Murray Sinclair, Dave Courchene Jr., Janice Greene, Freeman Simard, Chrissy Guathier, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, West Regions Child Family, Eugene Blackbird, Sagkeeng First Nation, Donavon Fontaine, New Directions, Chris Cassels, Troy Fontaine, Pine Pharmacy-Keith Clark, Daves Furniture of Powerview, Kit Perrick, Manitoba Hydro, FNIHB Health Promotions, Jenifer Wood, Arlene Patzer, Bernice Fontaine, Hedie L. Epp, Mike Peirre, Kelly James, Jessica Burton, Betty Laschuk, Marcheta Tanner, Sheryl St. Germaine, Provincial Health Minister Theresa Oswald. Albert McLeod, Lisa Hill, Chris Beach, Shirley Weenusk, Renata Meconse, Monique Lambert, Mary Werba, Germaine Cameron, Ernest Daniels Sr., Ernest Daniels Jr., Roger Greene, April & Naomi Kakepetum, Jean Courchene, Prisilla and Billie at Mb PHA Caucus, Percy Tuesday and his wife, Big Bear Gathering, Gerald Farthing., Indian Metis Friendship Centre, Alvin & Brenda Morrisseau, Earl Morrisseau, Shirley Simard, Steve Courchene, Chloe Courchene, Jess Courchene, Ed Thompson. There are a lot of people that took part, with words of encouragement, donations, taking part and attending the Gathering. We know we have missed acknowledging you here but remember we do appreciate your involvement.

We sincerely apologize for not being able to thank everyone that took part and helped out. We know there were a lot of you that supported us.

We know someone will grab the Gathering and hold it next year. Please let us know when you decide to take on the event, where you will host it and when it will be held.

Meegwetch, G’waabaamin Minaawaa.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Keeping the Sweatlodge healthy

In this photo there are non-native naked men and women together around a Lodge?

If you Google Sweat Lodge on the internet you will be able to come across a multitude of images and descriptions of what a Sweat Lodge is or should be. I am posting a few on this blog just in case someone out there has not seen or heard about a Sweat Lodge.

It seems that anyone can build a Lodge or conduct a Sweat Lodge Ceremony. I guess that's okay. Everyone has a right to do what they wish. Even that fellow in Arizona that charged people big money for going into a Lodge had the desire and wish to do so. He built a Lodge that held something like 65 people. Wow, now that is some Lodge. It's too bad that people died during that Sweat Lodge gathering. I won't call it a Ceremony as I think it was something else but not a Ceremony. People paid over nine thousand dollars to take part in that camp, but that was their choice. I am not against making money, Heck no. Money is okay to have. Spend it if you have it; stimulate the economy. I think the Sweat Lodge in this case and in a lot of cases loses its health, its meaning, its purpose and its Spirit.

Even Sweat Lodges back home might be losing their purpose.

I remember my first Sweat Lodge in 1981 in Roseau Rapids Manitoba.  It was a Teaching Lodge; a Madoodiswan for first timers. It was run by an Elder, Deceased Herman Atkinson. well respected in the Midewiwin Teachings. We heard the story and Teachings; the Little Boy who was given that Lodge to bring to the People in their time of need; for healing.

The Lodge was simple.  A round structure made of willows covered by canvas tarp. The ground turned to mud with all of our Sweat. There was cedar on the ground in the Lodge. We heard the old songs; we heard the language being spoken. We were told of the roles that each Door way had. We held that Little Boy (Drum Gwiiwizens) and spoke/prayed. It was overwhelmingly Spiritual. You could not help but feel the good energy.

Now we don't sit on the ground, we put down our blankets; our rugs so we don't get muddy. We furnish our Lodges with rug so the people can sit or lay down in comfort.
That is a good thing. If your comfortable, you will come out more to the Lodges. If you come out more, you will pray more. You will Learn more and hear more of the Teachings and the songs.
I think that is good, BUT that comfort may not be all (notice I use an Americanism here, by adding "all that") that good for us. We don't think about that rug beneath our bums. It has picked up, soaked up all or our energy; our sickness; and our Sweat. Where does it go?
No where it stays there. And when we go back again, it is there for us to sit on, to breath in. We take back all that energy, that pain, that was suppose to be taken out of our bodies, our Spirits, our Hearts.
Maybe there is even Mold in that rug.
We call those new Sweat Lodges, Cadillac Sweats because of the comfort. We even build our Sweat Lodges in side of buildings so we don't get cold in the winter.
I know innovation is a good thing. Having Lodges in the Winter inside of a shelter is a good way not to get sick and die. So I like that.

I think we can still have comfort in our Lodges, but we must also remember to think of the cleansing part of the Lodge.

Maybe we could use in-door out-door carpet, the type that breaths and doesn't mold?
Or those rubber mats that have holes in them, like those fatigue mats used in businesses for people that need to stand for long periods of time? So the Sweat from our bodies can flow back into the Earth.

There is also the competition that now comes with going to a SweatLodge. People are wanting it to be hot. So hot that you burn from the steam. So hot that your skin peals. So hot that you faint. So hot that you can brag that you made it. What the heck?  Common talk about a Sweat Lodge these days is hot it is/was. I guess people are going into the Lodge to sweat. Forget about the Prayer or the Meaning or the Creator. Let's just sweat and get hot. Man that is kind of crazy. If we want that forget the prayer of the pretense of Life in the Sweat. Why not use iron instead of rocks? That would be easier. The iron, like that of a railroad track, could be used over and over again. After all what is the point of using rocks, its not like they are Spirits or anything, are they? I don't even hear people addressing the Rocks as they come into the Lodge anymore. "Just put them there".  If we want to keep the Lodge healthy we should at least know what the Lodge is for. In order to know that, someone must Teach about the Lodge. And not just the generalization of what it represents. 

:D If wasn't for innovation, dreams and interpretation we would not have the Jingle Dress. We are adaptive and that is a good thing. As long as we keep the essence of who we are. Keeping the Lodge is one way of doing that. We can be comfortable but let's keep the Health of the Lodge or in other words the good life...Mino Bimaadiziwin.

Knowledge Keeper and Knowledge Giver

There are many beautiful things in the world. Of those beautiful things are youth. How beautiful everything and everyone is when they are yo...