It was the Planting Moon, Gitige Giizis, and the seeds of reconciliation were being planted in the minds and hearts of many. It was as if a giant was nearing its death but like all death comes rebirth. It’s the grieving and the healing that needs to be embraced to get to that place of rebirth. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was in Ottawa last May 2015, which was closing after one of the most difficult challenges in our current history.
The media was buzzing and the hashtags were flying. Every radio, television, and social media site was engrossed with the Closing Events of the TRC. It wasn’t an easy time. If you had eyes and ears that were working then you were getting information, stories, and historical accounts from all seven directions. If you had no support system or never dealt with any of the fallout after residential school then you were going to be left in a not-so-good way. If you are from First Nations, Inuit, or Metis (FNMI) descent then you have been effected at every level of your being even if you don’t even know what those effects are or maybe you’re one of us who was always wondering why is everything so messed up around me?
The media did a tremendous job of covering what those effects were and how they still have a huge impact in all families and communities. It was overwhelming. It triggered buried and forgotten memories. One day you’re thinking clearly, then next you don’t know what day it is or if it’s time for bed. And if you haven’t dealt with any of the fallout in a good way like seeking out professional and/or cultural help, and instead coped with self-medicating, alcohol, drug and pill addictions then you pretty much went straight for that fix to take away all those memories and bury them all over again. The ones we love the most manage the best that they can or think they can.
Both of my parents, my aunties, my uncles, and some of my older cousins went to these notorious residential schools. I’ve met numerous people who’ve become friends, and extended family who went to residential school. And I don’t think any one of my FNMI friends, colleagues, or acquaintances haven’t been effected. It’s unfathomable. Yet, we are resilient, we are still here, and we are still moving forward. There is hope.
How do we take care of ourselves?
I went one day to the TRC hearing when Winston Wuttunee was going to perform some music and comedy. Music, writing, performing, and comedy has been the heart of this healing process of many residential school survivors, which has been developed, shared, and passed on as a beautiful legacy. I will admit going to the closing I was feeling panicked and scared of what I was going to experience. I felt heavy and my heart was aching so much that there were times I wanted to get off the bus and turn around to get back home. I had to force myself to go, listen, witness, process, and find the tools I needed to help myself, my family, and my mother who was experiencing residual trauma. I went into the hall filled with empty tables and I found one at the edge where I wouldn’t be in the way. Breakfast was ending and the hall was filling up quickly. I sat there by myself and these women from Northern Ontario came to sit with me. They were smiling and hugging each other.
We sat in this circle, together. We introduced ourselves. I told them how I was feeling and they said,
My girl, you need to let this heaviness go, let the hurt go, you don’t need to carry this burden with you anymore. It’s not yours to carry.
These were women who went to residential school and had first hand experience, and they were telling me, it’s going to be okay, we’re still here, and it’s time to let go. My heart burst wide open at how these women were so strong, resilient, brave, and had compassion for each other, and even for me whom they’ve never met before. I felt so humbled to sit there with them for the morning of entertainment.
Winston Wuttunee was scheduled to talk about music, storytelling, and comedy as a way for healing. He opened up with a drum song and an invitation to use the colouring pages and crayons that were on the table. See I was looking at them for a while and wasn’t sure what it was for. If I was a kid I probably would have grabbed it and started scribbling right away but I’m an adult now and programmed to wait for permission. So my new friends and I all took a page and started colouring. Mr. Wuttunee started talking about how he felt the need to share the stage with other survivors who didn’t have a chance to share who they were and their experience. He asked for the colouring pages and crayons to be at each table to help everyone process and focus on something else while they heard more stories. There was also something else that was happening at these events and I can’t remember if it was specific to this last one but nonetheless, it was inspirational. After each survivor came up to the stage to share and when they were done he asked them to stay and wait. He then asked each one of us to say, “Thank you. I’m sorry. I love you.” To be in that room filled with hundreds of survivors, and to hear the chorus of this was moving especially to the survivor who just finished sharing their story. It’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard and how we can use that when we are supporting a survivor by listening or anyone for that matter who is going through a difficult time. “Thank you. I’m sorry. I love you.” Remember sometimes listening is the best gift you can give.
Since that last planting moon, I’ve heard how there are many resources for what colouring can do for adults and healing, processing, and meditating. It’s all the rage. The page I coloured that day was a photocopy of a dancer and the lines weren’t bold enough so it gave me the opportunity to create new images and break away from the lines. It also gave me a moment to reflect and not get triggered by what I was hearing. This form of art therapy works. One that I also enjoy is beading.
It brings my attention into focus and it becomes meditative. It allows my brain to function on another level. I tap into my creativity and I can relax. Much like writing and photography does, it gives me a tool that is tangible and that I can use till my heart is fulfilled.
I’ve been wanting to write about my experiences for a while now but didn’t have the energy to do it. Like I said, it’s difficult. We are on this journey together. It’s not easy. Not everyone in our homes, our families, or in our communities are ready for this journey because the hurt they carry is so deep they don’t even know what to do with it. Trauma can take root and go deep similar to a plantar wart. But it needs more than a visit to a doctor to extract the roots. The pain will always be there. If you’re reading this please know that you’re not alone. Do what you can to take care of you so you can care for your loved ones with compassion. Find a professional counsellor to help you get on the path of healing. You are worth it. And who knows, you might inspire someone else to get on the healing journey.
I believe our children and future generations deserve the best of this life that we can provide and we can help create a better world. One of the best things we can do is to live by example. We have the answers. We are resilient and we have a kick ass sense of humour – never forget that! We can get through these dark times, we just need the inner strength, willpower, compassion, and the power of a good mind to keep moving forward and in a good way.
And, crayons and colouring pages won’t hurt either.
Last Gitige Giizis, the seeds of reconciliation were planted and it needs our good intentions to grow, spread roots, germinate so that we can harvest together and feast the rebirth of our nations.