I am asking you to join me.
I remember my great grandmother, Anadaki, being very traditional, her long hair was always braided, she only wore long dresses which she hand made and she was always working. I remember my grandmother, Mabel, always moving, always working from when she woke up until she retired to her room after dinner. She made all her meals from scratch (which is how I learned to cook and bake bannock) by always watching and learning. I would hide from her camp at Indian days because I knew that I would be put to work too. Of course, I always got hungry so I would return and be stuck at the camp for a few hours helping out. My grandfather was always busy reading, watching news and with visitors who came to see him. He would sit there, with his pipe in one hand, his tobacco in the other hand, listen and give people advice. My grandmother would tell me about the traditional ways. She always talked about traditional male and female roles. Men would be outside plowing the land, tending to crops, taking care of the livestock. Women would make sure the children were taken care of, food was ready at mealtimes, always a hot meal to make it easier for the men to return outside to their work. Women tended the home, the laundry (we always had to hang the clothes outside on the clothesline) and did the dreaded dishes. There was always a Blackfoot prayer said by an elder before mealtimes when the whole family gathered.
Growing up, I never heard my parents, my grandparents, my great grandmother throw around words like Indian Act, colonialism, racism, residential school.
What I heard instead was “Work hard, study hard” “ Stay in school” “Help your family” “Remember your traditions” “Take care of the old people”
“Give thanks to the Creator”.
My family was very active in native politics, always had been. My grandfather and then his children after that, were heavily involved in the Indian Association of Alberta. We went to church regularly at St. Marys and we knew that they all had attended boarding school there. After the TRC wrapped up, I wish I had asked them about abuse at residential school. However, I know that they would not have talked about it. I remember asking my late mom about school. However I remember her telling me about learning about discipline, about sewing, cooking, studying. Maybe she knew it was better to focus on the positive things.
My mom (who raised me ) talked about my late father, my real Dad. She would describe how he had to leave the reserve for work. She would say that since he was the only Native at his job, he always had to work twice as hard and stay late. He always had to do the jobs that no one else would want. He worked hard and unfortunately he drank hard on some weekends to cope. He worked with asbestos, was in tremendous pain and died of cancer in his thirties. He left behind his wife and 6 children.
My birth mom (she did not raise the 6 of us) talks about the abuse these days, since the TRC completed their report. However, there is so much pain there. Still is. Visit some of my family on the reserve and you will better understand the cycle of poverty, the cycle of abuse, addictions. When I call her on the reserve, where she has always lived, she will tell me about the funeral she attended or the one she is now planning or talk about the poor health of some of my relatives. She just planned the funeral for my sister in law who passed away in her thirties in May 2016. My mother has outlived her younger brothers and sisters, all gone too soon and too early.
I am very proud of what I have accomplished. I have worked hard, I have studied hard. I have my own beautiful family that I am so happy with.
I know the importance of nutrition (thanks to my degree in cell biology). I know the importance of healthy brain development (thanks to my courses in neurology). I make sure that my children always have access to healthy food, water, preventative medical care. They are sent outside to play every day, to run, enjoy the sunshine, get fresh air. I don’t smoke, I hardly ever drink, I educate them about the harmful effects of drugs. I have taught them how to respect themselves and their bodies (thanks to my minor in university in Anatomy). I have stressed the importance of motion to remaining healthy (can’t forget my chiropractic education).
My children are taught to respect their elders. Their father made sure they understand ceremony, the importance of smudging, the importance of honouring our ancestors who are watching over us. They participate in pow wows. They understand protocol around drums, songs, prayers.
Our family has always participated and helped our community.
What scares me is the rhetoric, the divisiveness of words. Them versus us. I always thought Nation to Nation building was building bridges, celebrating our similarities. Humanity.
What it seems like at times is that the labels will never leave.
That it’s okay to build walls. It’s okay to ban people because they are different. Its okay to call people names that hurt them, harm them. Its okay to continue blaming.
I am involved in politics. However, I believe in Democracy. I believe in voting. I believe in majority decides the outcome. I refuse to believe that I don’t matter. I refuse to believe that my vote, my voice doesn’t matter.
I watch what I say. Tito says that I always walk the middle road. I prefer to think that I will not hurt people with my words and actions.
I believe in humanity. I believe that we are all human beings and we all deserve clean water, healthy food, fresh air, education, housing. I will always fight and stand up for Human rights. I will always try to see other people’s perspectives. I don’t always agree with them but I will try to understand.
I don’t think the world needs more shaming and blaming. I don’t think it’s the conservatives fault that poverty exists. I don’t think that it’s the governments job to get rid of poverty and homelessness. I think it’s Everyone’s responsibility. If you see a family struggling, offer to help. Offer to bring them to the food bank. You know how hard it is to bring home food on the bus? If you see a mom having a tough time, offer to buy her diapers, formula, something that she could use. Donate to the Women’s centre. Help out at the local church.
If you have extra fruits and vegetables, offer to share with your neighbours. My good friend Tracy Ray called me up one time and asked if I wanted her Good Food box because she would not be home and would be unable to pick it up. My family jumped at the chance to have extra fruits and vegetables. Pay it forward was all she asked for in return.
I have family and friends that couch surf. My home is always open to provide a safe haven for them. My landlord doesn’t like the extra people but we have to find a balance, something that works for all of us. I can’t just sit here in my home and blame others for society problems.
I join committees, I volunteer, I step forward to lead when asked, I join boards, I sit on panels. I will do whatever is necessary to help solve society issues.
I am asking you to join me. I am asking you to volunteer, to work hard, study hard. I am asking you to live a clean life so that our children learn right from wrong, they learn by watching us.
I certainly don’t have all the answers but I have made sure that I have people whom I respect and admire and whom I can call for advice and encouragement. I hope that I am the person that My parents, my grandparents and my great grand parents would be proud of.
Pam is the Indigenous Strategist at Vibrant Communities Calgary