Up until recently I have never heard of the term inter-generational trauma. According to the University of Calgary it defines the term as the transmission of historical oppression and its negative consequences across generations. What does that mean to me as an Indigenous woman? It means the abuse that I thought was “normal” from family and partners. It means that I am marginalized, It means that I am poor, I deserve less, and that my opinions are not valued; that my worth is less than… It means that I am still oppressed.
The next question that comes to mind is why is there so much violence in Indigenous peoples’ lives? Why is this to be considered normal, in our homes, and our communities? I was just a child just like everyone else, I played, I laughed, and I cried. When the summer came and my skin became a little darker than other kids, I was told by my peers, “go have a shower you look dirty”. When we didn’t want to wear shoes in the summer time, those same peers would tease and say “you don’t have shoes because your family can not afford them”. The shame of being Indigenous I did not know until I went to school. You see, I’m mixed blood so I never really fit in anywhere. White people would call me wagon burner and Native people would call me a sellout. I was born in the Big Smoke (Toronto). I did not grow up on a reserve and I did not grow up knowing my culture. My Anishnawbe kokum, whom I love and look up to, she is no longer with us here on this Earth, but still her spirit speaks to me. She tells me go in search of your heritage bring the love and culture back to our family. Show them what it means to walk down that red road. She always had the sweetest stories, the tales that had a meaning, and teachings behind them. My Kokum would teach me how to sew, how to cook, how to crochet and how to tend a garden. All those things that keep our hands busy and our hearts clean. The only thing was, you see, society told her that Native people were not considered good people. That the only way to be civil is to lose those silly practices we call ceremonies. She also spoke Ojibwe, but did not teach even one of her children the language. My kokum sold her Indigenous rights for $50 and left the reserve I hope of a better life. My kokum was so full of knowledge. But even she was ashamed to be Anishnawbe. She told me when I was 8 years old that I was to never date an Indian man let alone marry one. All they do is get drunk and piss the bed.
Does this really happen? Why would they do that? I thought to myself.
You see, my ancestors didn’t have the same opportunities as the new settlers of Canada did.
My ancestors were called savages because we defended ourselves.
My ancestors were told they could no longer practice their traditions or perform ceremonies. They took our children away in the name of God!
Tell me, what God takes innocent children from their families?
All this for land and resources
What God forces children to learn another culture?
What God would allow for all the abuse and deaths of our precious children?
The residential schools did not make our children more civilized.
The children grew up unloved and uncared for; how can you give love if you were never nurtured or shown love yourself? How would you teach your children right from wrong? Why would you abuse your own children? What about all the addictions to drugs and alcohol, and suicides? All these things have been a legacy that has been all too familiar to me. My ancestors were not treated with respect or dignity. In fact, the purpose for these schools was to “kill the Indian”. The children were punished for speaking their language; their cultures beliefs and names were no longer used. The children became confused and unsure of themselves only to be called by a number. I hear stories from our Elders that are residential school survivors. I see the hurt in their eyes as they share the pain they once endured, that never goes away. I believe these elders share those painful memories so that we may know why there is so much dysfunction in our families. I also, believe by sharing experiences, we are all healing from the impact of colonization. I hear of this thing called “blood memory” that our ancestor’s pain is carried through our blood. The trauma is passed down from generation to generation, 7 generations to be exact my culture believes. There is a teaching that what we do affects the next 7 generations to come.
I am a part of the 7th generation since colonization start here on Turtle Island. You see my people have come a long way. The cultural genocide attempt by the white man failed! You may have damaged our hearts and souls but you did not break our spirits. For you see, my people are connected with the Great Spirit and all that he created. We have great respect for all things. The damage is severe, and there is still a lot of healing that needs to be done. As an Indigenous woman I have learned to stand tall, no matter how bad things got. I got sick and tired of always having some sort of conflict or chaos in my life. I had to make a change within myself, not only for myself but for the next 7 generations to come.
I knew somebody somewhere loved me, was accepting of all me flaws, was proud of my achievements, and was there for me when I felt hopeless. That person was me. The creator would not let me stay down; he picked me up every time. He even carried me through the days I thought I would never get through. The Creator gave me a gift, he gave us all a gift, and that gift is life. Yes, we have all suffered, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find the good out of it and learn the lesson that is being offered. From trauma comes experience, I want to feel normal. I don’t want flashbacks or night mares of the abuse my partners have done to me. I became good at blocking painful events from the past that ever so haunted me for so long. I took the challenge of healing head on. I would not allow myself to be a victim to anyone anymore; that I AM a warrior and a survivor just like my ancestors!
I took a long hard look at all that heart ache, trauma and abuse, and thought you no longer belong here inside me. There is too much love and light within me. I had to open all those old wounds and take out all the infection that kept me from healing. I evaluated everything and everyone in my life, and what was no longer beneficial to my well being I let it go and I gave to the Creator. Many days, many years, I spent walking this Earth not knowing what it is that I want out of this life. I want to be free, proud, strong, loving and compassionate; to love everything, and everyone around me. I wanted to heal from all this hurt that has been running through my blood for generations. I want to bask in the rays of Grandfather Sun. Sing to Grandmother Moon.
I dance for my people who need that healing; that unexplainable feeling that is felt as the jingles of my dress bounce off each other, that sweet melody that is heard by spirit and the Creator. I want what was taken away from my people for so long; that is our dignity, our honor and our respect.
I have found that great feeling by looking to my community for help. I have learned that by educating myself and reclaiming my identity I AM healing. When I dance at a powwow I feel all my ancestors are dancing with me in spirit. I hear the drum; the heart beat of Mother Earth, I always shed some tears because I know how much she is hurting. I hold tobacco; I hold it close to my heart the sacred medicine of prayer. As I dance I pray for her and for the ones who dwell within her that are in need. When I hear my Ojibwe language I know that my people carry great and powerful knowledge. When I see our Grandmothers and Grandfathers teaching our children of today the sacred teachings of traditions that we continue to possess after all this time; it empowers me to continue to walk in a good way. When I close my eyes to sleep I know that Grandmother moon is watching over me and my kin.
I no longer have to carry the trauma, I can break the cycle.
I can stand up for myself and say
NO! You will not oppress me,
NO! You will not judge me
NO! You will not take our children away from us anymore!
I can love you and you can love me. Love, one of the 7 Grandfather teachings; to know love is to no peace and with that in mind I will no longer fight against you. Instead, I will walk beside you and be an ally with you moving towards making this world a better place to live in. Respect, another grandfather teaching; I will respect all of creation and value it the same. We are no more or no less than each other. Although our values may be different I will respect your culture just the same. Honesty, I will make it known that I come to others with integrity. To do what I say and follow what I believe. I will show Bravery by standing on my own when I need to; to not allow fear to bestow me. Humility I will humble myself so that you may feel proud, and in knowing that all things come full circle. Wisdom is the knowledge we gain by sharing our stories. Wisdom is also to know when it is time to listen and when it is time to be heard. The last Grandfather teaching is Truth; to know thy self and what you believe in. Truth is to know that the Creator has a divine plan and to have faith in him and all creation.
If I had the chance to tell my younger self anything; I would tell her that you matter! To love and be proud of whom you are. We need to stop this vicious cycle of self sabotage. Own your experiences share your story; you could potentially help someone else who is going through something similar to what you have. Take time to learn about your culture. Pray for your loved ones and all the problems of today. Dance, Sing, Drum, and always make room for play. Be good to yourself, don’t be too critical; don’t allow yourself to become your own worst enemy.
I really started to feel a strong connection with my culture when I started going to powwows. The children,men and women all dressed up in their regalia, with all those bright colours and wonderful beaded designs. The dancing, the drumming, and the praying, just fills my heart with great appreciation for my culture. A friend once told me powwows are about coming together as one to celebrate the old, the new, and the loved ones who are passed on. Powwows are meant for all of us to give love, share, heal, and pray. We dance not only for ourselves we dance for the sick, the brothers and sisters who have not made it home that are missing or murdered, the ones who are still lost, who have not yet found peace within themselves.
If there is this label for the damage passed on through generations of people; this inter-generational trauma then there must be such a thing as intergenerational healing. We come from strong roots so if our blood carries our pain then it must carry love too. Let’s open our heart and our minds to the world today and make the changes within ourselves; for our communities and our children. Let’s build each other up, no more pulling each other down. Get rid of the lateral violence towards each other. Give love put it back in our homes, back into our communities and back into ourselves. Love is what conquers all things. Let’s kill the enemy with kindness; show what it means to forgive. Our people were good people we opened our ways to others and we surrendered in peace. Violence was something that was taught to us. It is not the way to living a good life; walking down that red road.
There are more riches in love than material gain. Love your life however humble or exciting it may be. Be proud and value that strong bloodline you come from. Live your life on your terms, don’t conform to another’s believe you will only break yourself in the end. Life is all twisted in these times, things are being loved and humans are being, stolen, bought and sold. Our sister, our daughters, our mothers, treated like pieces of garbage in the street. Treated as though our lives don’t matter, and that we are not missed by our loved ones. Our Mother earth is crying for our help, to stop selling those things that were once free, our water, our land and our air.
The truth has come to light. The Genocide that nearly wiped us all out, they can no longer hide. There will be no more skipping that chapter on Indigenous people in Canada’s history books. The lies these books told of our ancestors. The secrets they keep of the miss treatment of a whole nation. Glamorizing the culture, treated as if it were a fashion trend. What will you do to make things right? Will you love yourself? Will you teach your children how to love? Will you see the beauty of your culture? How it stood the test of time generation after generation despite being illegal. Will you incorporate the 7 Grandfather teachings onto your daily life? The “aggressive assimilation” may have silenced us for some time, but it did not take the very thing that makes us strong Anishnawbe people; it did not silence our spirits! Our cultures and languages are still in existence for you and I to learn and practice.