I have three brothers and all three of them are currently incarcerated. My brothers have all been in and out of jail since they were twelve years old, for petty charges as youth, to serious charges as adults. For as long as I can remember, my brothers have been actively involved in the criminal justice system. Either this was the result of bad parenting, or it was the result of something more systemic. Lately there has been growing awareness surrounding the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. One of the things that Canadians fail to recognize is that boys and men in our community are also frequently at a high risk of being killed.
Earlier this year, I had a chance to participate in the Sundance for the first time and I ended up camping beside many youth who were in care. The weekend was a chance to discuss these youth’s experiences. Many of the kids said the same thing to me: a lot of them felt like there was a disconnect with their families, and a disconnect from culture. How do you place kids from poverty into upper class neighbourhoods and expect them to succeed? This stems from lateral violence and the fact that many of our youth are often killed by other youth. It seems like society, and often our own people, have become desensitized to the fact that nobody pays attention when the young indigenous people in our country are killed or go missing. It almost seems normal that we talk about youth killing each other on reserves and that we see youth killing each other in urban environments too.
Many of the victims in this province are suffering from the inter-generational effects of residential schools, and even longer histories of colonialism. I often wonder what it would be like had we grown up with just a little bit of financial security. I do not know what it is like to grow up with privilege, and I do not know what it is like to grow up with a healthy family. Sometimes I think that some of my family members went through a more traumatic experiences cause they weren’t able to fully recover from their childhoods.
How do we raise healthy families if we don’t know how?
Growing up there weren’t too many positive indigenous role models in the community, and to this day there are not enough. We must identify as many role models as possible within our community. Our people don’t need “role models.” They need “real models.” If we can find those in our community that have been through the same type of experiences and successes, it makes trying to break out of negative cycles much more feasible. Based on my own experience, I know what it’s like to give up hope. People always told me when I was going through school that I had potential. There are many kids in the North end who have potential. How do we tap into that potential and nurture it? I am a firm believer that each and every one of us has a gift. It has taken me thirty years to be able to figure out what my gift is. It has also taken me this long to figure out that I am able to help others.
One of the things that is really lacking is the identity issue. We would have many more successful people in our community if we raised them to be proud of themselves. I went to schools in the North End that taught anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) in elementary. I also went to, and finished all four years of secondary school at Children Of The Earth High School. This school was very important in making me comfortable with being indigenous, as well as instilling a sense of pride in who I am.
I often ask people: “What does Indigenous/Native pride mean to you?” To me, it means knowing your history, knowing the resilience of your people, and knowing the beauty of your culture/traditions. If people possessed these three characteristics, they would be able to walk with their heads held high. When I look around the community and I think about what is causing a lot of the problems, one main issue is poverty. The second issue that people struggle with is being trapped within an urban environment. If we can reclaim our identity, our confidence and pride will go a long way towards reconciling the relationship that Canada has with its indigenous peoples.