Greetings to one and all (Cree: Tansi, Ojibway: Boozhoo, Iroquois: Sego, French: Bonjour)
My name is Stacey Harrison, and I am a mixed blood male, who lives on Saddle Lake Cree Nation, with his wife of 20 years, with no kids (just 5 kids with 4 feet, fur coats, bark to speak, and bedhogging love).
I have been a youth worker for the better part of 22 years. I have served in several communities, in several different roles. Some of these roles have included: Youth Addictions Worker; Youth Group Home Staff; Open Custody Staff (Youth Facility); Student Aide; Support Staff for Youth with Severe Behavioural and Emotional Issues; Front Line Afterschool Program Staff; Program Coordinator for the ONLY Boys and Girls Club on First Nations Land (Saddle Lake Boys and Girls Club – 27 years strong, and carrying on!!); and Restorative Justice Youth Circle Keeper.
My hobbies include: All forms of Crafts, including Beadwork, Leatherwork, Painting, Drawing, Drum and Rattle Making, Woodwork, Rock Carving, and Basket Weaving, as well as Photography, Prestidigitation, Workshop Facilitation and Presenting, and, of course, combing and maintaining our 5 inside dogs.
So, now that I have introduced myself, onto the topic at hand: What I think is happening to our youth.
Grief. Plain and simple. Grief. Grief is defined as: “a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, and philosophical dimensions.” (Wikipedia 2015)
Key points to pick out of the definition are: LOSS OF SOMEONE OR SOMETHING THAT HAS DIED, TO WHICH A BOND WAS FORMED.
Youth today are bombarded with so much grief that they don’t even consciously recognize half of it. They experience physical death through loss of: family members (immediate, extended, close friends), and community members. Then there are the other losses: loss of culture, loss of language, loss of pride in their family unit and culture – forms of spiritual death. On top of this: loss of education (Elder-Youth connection), loss of employment opportunities for First Nations (contributing to lower senses of self worth), loss of internal motivation (creation of a sense of entitlement, without work or reason) – all kinds of mental death. Then finally: loss of understanding, loss of innocence (too many babies having babies), systemic racism, historical & multi-generational trauma from the residential school system, loss of ambition – varied emotional deaths.
Now throw all this together, and mix in a generous portion of: addiction-related issues, abuse (all forms), and cognitive learning and behavioural issues (FASD, ADHD, etc etc etc…).
And finally cook it all up on a reserve, where they are expected to grow, live and learn. And we wonder why they have so many issues with mood-altering substances, youth crime, and gangs.
So … now what? What I have always been taught is that if you see a house on fire, use the tools you have to fight the fire. So, we have identified the house fire. Now what??
The tools at hand are our internal truths. They are there in all of us, some are just buried under a ton of crap from our own unresolved grief cycles, as well as other burdens that we have put upon it throughout our time on Mother Earth.
Let’s look at the Grief Cycle. Too many people do not understand this cycle, and if you do not understand something, you fear it.
Let us remove the fear:
Now the thing to understand about this cycle is that is it just that, a cycle. It starts, but it goes primarily in one direction. But know and understand this: you can end up going back and forth in this cycle, and end up ‘stuck’ in one spot for any length of time, before moving on to the next phase. Also understand that this cycle that I’ve presented is not the end-all; it is not a carved-in-rock solid truth. This is just a basic example that hits the high and low points of dealing with grief.
People can enter a grieving cycle, and grieve for a couple of weeks, months, years – heck, they can end up grieving for the rest of their lives. Everyone grieves at a different level and speed. No two grief events are the same.
Now, there you are grieving for the loss of someone (or something), and bang, another grief event hits. Your first cycle is interrupted, and you have to start a new cycle. Then, again, another event hits, and resets the cycle, and this continues to happen again, and again. Do you ever try to watch a movie to the end, and someone comes in and asks you to start it again, so you do, and then someone else comes along, and asks the same thing, and this goes on and on … Do you ever get to finish watching the movie with the same mindset that you originally started with? Probably not. With all the extra distractions, you get sidetracked, your emotions get jumbled up, and, watching the opening scene 5 times in a row, you get numb to it, and zone out, and by the time the new material in the movie shows up, you are numb, zoned out, and no doubt distracted (by being a great host, and getting everyone pop, and popcorn, and extra seats, etc …)
Therefore, the next time you go to watch a movie you hide from everyone, do not answer your cell, or texts, or your door. In addition, just when you are comfortable, in the zone, your child walks in, asks for something, and you rip into them. They leave confused, not knowing that it was not their request that caused you to react, it was just you wanting no distractions. So your child acts out, or internalizes the issue, and … (You see where this is headed).
See how easy that is to understand? When this cycle is related to grief, the same things can happen.
Now apply this logic to all of the types of grief that the youth and community are dealing with. And now you have an understanding of some of the tools you can use to fight the fire. Want to know more techniques on how to use these tools, and more? Stay tuned till next issue, I’ll write some more (If you like what I wrote in this issue).