Tuesday, March 23, 2021

"The Debt to Someone Who Saved Your Life Can Never Be Repaid in Full"

 I have saved a life maybe even two or three. Two were little kids who were drowning. Yes, I was a hero. Jumped into the river when a young boy was drowning. I jumped into a pool in Regina Travel Lodge when a little kid went to deep and couldn't swim. I went in clothes and all.  The other person I saved was a cop who was drunk and trying to arrest my friend. My friend would have killed him or would have been killed by the cop. I may have also almost taken a life or two in my time (but it doesn't count, as I think I was in the right).  And I know my life was saved as well. 

The suicide of my son in 2005 did a real number on me. I was a wreck, just like in the movies. He was my boy and he was one of the loves of my life. So it was devastating. I tried to keep working. I was an instructor in a small university in British Columbia. Every single day prior to entering the building I would cry my eyes out, scream at the god I thought I believed in. Even in a few of the classes I would break down uncontrollably. I wonder what was going on in the students mind. They were witnessing someone crash in front of their eyes. My work was suffering as I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't complete lessons, I couldn't grade work properly. It was a shame for the students. I had no will to live, let alone do daily tasks required of me to fulfill the job. I am not really capturing what went on in my head and how it affected me. Getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, washing was awful. As I think back about how I went into a mental decline, it is what I witnessed with my Boy. The addiction took his life slowly, painfully and ugly. He declined and I witnessed it. 

 It came as no shock to me as I found out my friend and boss was looking for ways to fire me. He was a control freak and was strict about all things, like dress code, and time.  This was fine but I started to be late to the office.  Lot of the other instructors resented his style of management for a post-secondary institution. It never really bothered me as I knew my friend to be control freak on all things. He once even made a comment to me about how I talk. I tend not to pronounce the "t h" sound of words like tree and three. So I just mostly went with the flow and ignored him. I almost made it to the end of the semester without losing it completely. The end came when I went into work with the single thought of stabbing my friend and boss. I went to yell at him and was ready to attack him. He talked me through the crisis and I left work and moved back to Manitoba. I think for him he couldn't relate and didn't know how to approach my breaking down. He is a nice guy, generous and thoughtful but he is also a cyborg, not emotional connecting. My boss and my friend didn't save my life. 

It was a number of people who have saved my life. My friend, a colleague at work was also my landlord. I was staying at his home when I went back to Vancouver after my Son killed himself. My Son was a beautiful boy but he struggled with addiction. In the end he couldn't beat the beast of addiction. For him he left his pain at the end of a rope while sitting in the closet at this mother's apartment. I am no stranger to suicidal thoughts. I am one of those who pulled the trigger. I was 17 years old when I took down a .22 rifle, loaded it, put it to my chest and pulled the trigger - click. I opened the chamber looked at the bullet and could see the dimple on the rim of the case. .22's are rim fire. I was going to re-load but the bedroom door opened and my Mom was there. "What are you doing?" She took the gun and put it back on the rack and told me to go to bed. So while I was struggling with the deed my son had done, I took to sitting in the closet at night. I was working up to hanging myself as well. I kept a string, a small black rope with me in the bedroom. One night I knew this is it. I can't throw myself in front of a car, I have no gun, and when I was a the apartment of my friend the idea of jumping was dismissed. This was it. My friend for some reason came to the room and it was late. I sat up and got out of the closet to see what he wanted. He just wanted to talk with me. So we talked. I am not sure how long or even what we talked about. I just know right there he had saved my life. He didn't know or maybe he did, I don't know. I hold him in my thoughts. He is a smart guy, a Romanian who was a refugee and has some conservative views (which I tolerate). He did save my life. 

My wife saved my life. Long ago she doesn't know it. Just with her kindness, her caring, her compassion and her patience. I was a no good guy. And when we went through the death of our Boy, she never gave up on my selfishness. I went through a long long period of regret, of anger, of remorse, of giving up. I know 100 percent I would be dead if not for her caring. Life meant nothing to me. Despite all the great things in my life, I didn't appreciate it. All I did was drown myself in pity, in anger, in grief. She walked me through my roughest periods of despair. Wouldn't give up on me. She continuously listened, continuously reminded of the kids, the grandkids, the family, the friends we have. I still struggle with thoughts of ending my life. Medication helps me I know. But it is her constant strength which helps me. This is a debt I can never repay. She is the one who knows my darkness. She is the one who doesn't let it overtake me completely. I hope you have someone who can be there with you, carry you if they must and be your friend. 

Someone who saves your live.  

Monday, March 1, 2021

Those Real Indians

 My Dad would have been 91 this year. He was an Indian, well actually he was Anishinaabe, a citizen of Sagkeeng First Nation. My Dad came from a big family, with a lot of brothers and sisters. Their Dad, my Mishoom was a bushman and the brothers all worked in the bush as well. My Mishoom died when I was eight years old in 1968, but I remember him well. To me, everyone in the Reserve was an Indian. My Mom also had the big Indian family.  The only non-Indians were the store owners, the teachers, the priests and the nuns. So my world was pretty small when I think back. 

Not everyone saw the world as I did back then, Indians and non-Indians, there was no in-between. Even the bullying at the Residential School that I got for being a white looking Indian didn't change my view. I never thought I was anything but an Indian. It wasn't until I heard my Dad and my Uncle talk about "those Real Indians" when they were picking Wild Rice, that I thought about the notion of different Indians. The Indians my Dad and Uncle were talking about was those Indians from Ontario who still practiced Traditions. At night when they were camping, some Indians would sign on the Drum. These Indians came from Reserves in Western Ontario; Grassy Narrows (Asubpeeschoseewagong) , Waabasemong, Big Grassy and others. So my Dad and other's like him, held those Indians in high regard when it came to being Indian. Although my Dad was a fluent Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) speaker, he felt he didn't speak it as pure. Dad, Mom and lot of the community members were put in the Residential School in our Reserve. The School was run by French Catholics. The other non-residential school (very small one) was run by the English Anglicans, and most of the Indians who went there were not mixed heritage. The schools were designed to "get rid of the Indian." The pressure to stop being Indian was relentless. With the constant pressure there was some fallout. One thing I never did hear from any of my relatives is that they were not Indian. All of them knew they were Indian, regardless of the beatings they took from the system - society. So when Dad and Uncle spoke of those Real Indians they weren't saying they were not real Indians, but they were acknowledging the strength, the resilience of their people despite the attacks and suffering they went through. 

In our Reserve the crush of Christianity almost wiped out the Drum from the people. There was a quick move to accept the ways of the Church (beaten into you at school, and other governmental pressures). So there was a change in how the community viewed things. Even in our community people would talk about Indians who stole Treaty. There were some Indians, descendants of the Chief who signed treaty, who felt some Indians didn't belong. The people who didn't belong were people like my Mishoom, who's grandmother was Wissakodewikwe half-breedWoman, later known as the Metis people. So some of the Indians in our Reserve didn't take kindly to the mixed Indians. The story goes like this:" the Indians who signed Treaty didn't want their grandchildren, the ones with mixed blood, to be left out of Treaty. So they had them registered at the signing of Treaty (Treaty One 1871) as well. These Indians were not be leaders in the community and leave the decisions to the Indians with no mixed blood." Things don't always go as they should. The Treaty brought along with it, the Indian Act, the Indian Agent and the elections of Chiefs, which the Indians called Ogema-con. That added little part, the con in Omega denotes a pretence. Like in the Wendigo and Wendigo-cons; not the real Wendigo.  Same with Gwoskay-can; the person who acts crazy but is not mentally ill. So with Ogemg-con, we know them as Indian Act Chiefs. 

Funny thing about the country, the system (White folk almost exclusively) didn't want the Indian to be  Indian, but they didn't want a half-way Indian as well. It was like they didn't want any kind of Indian at all. Crazy eh? Thing is, Indians didn't think of themselves really as half-way Indians.  Either you are Indian or you are not. Our Ancestors didn't want to throw away their Grandchildren, so they were Indian regardless if they had the Drum or not. Even though Indians are in awe of those who did not lose their Tradition, they still know they themselves are Indian. They know this because there is an "us" and there are a "them," White people. They know they have a long history and a long connection to their ancestors. So we see each other as Indian, the Real Indians

"Those Teachings that we are given reflect the identity of the Spirit that is in each and everyone of us. You carry all those Teachings inside of you. As long as you have an ounce of blood of Anishinaabe, you have the genetic memory to know those Teachings. The holy spot of our people is the knowledge the Ceremony, the language, the relationship that we have with the land, that is the holy spot of our people. What an awesome gift that the Creator gave us as Anishinaabe people." Dave Courchene Jr. 

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

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