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Intergenerational trauma: My mom and me-Part 2

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Intergenerational trauma: My mom and me-Part 2

Hello all

How are you all doing? Well tonight I am writing part 2 of a story of intergenerational trauma and abuse. The story of the Red man. Who has agreed to share it with all of you. In the hopes, maybe, that it will bring awareness to the First Nations people. To the struggles they face, and have faced for a very long time. For example you ask? Well, the history of horrendous abuse in residential schools that deprived kids of their culture, language and identity. Which often led to adults with limited social and parenting skills, as well as difficulties passing the traditions over to their own children. The whole families and communities need help. Not just one individual, not just one child, their whole family. In order to heal the child, we need to heal the family and the community. So tonight, let’s look at part 2. If you have not read Part 1, I encourage you to do so, as I will be picking up where I left off. Just want to warn that it might not be an easy read.

 

The one night in Moccasin Flats and the chaos that followed

So I believe we left it off here as the Red man was talking about his time with his mother:

Well, one day and one night, that is how long we all lived together in our little house in Moccasins Flats. My mother went out that night and never came home. I was 5 years old and I was babysitting already. I had never been free of adults before, I had never been on my own. We woke up early in the morning and my mother was MIA. But at the time we really did not care as we got to play with all the little children in the neighborhood. I got to play with the little boy who became one of my best friends that day. 

That carefree attitude was short-lived as when two of my aunts came snooping around, we knew it was all over. The troops showed up soon afterwards. My kokum and her minions, my aunts and uncles. I heard a barrage of obscenities all directed at my mother and a firm affirmative “I told you so”. Rage in rage out, she looked like a monster breathing hatred in and out. I felt something had changed as I could feel a sense of hurt emanating from her core. She thought that I had betrayed her and she knew I knew it and everyone else knew it too. There were a lot of people in the house but my kokum was the only person talking and the only one I was looking at.

native grandmother

 

“Dirty rotten son of bitches, they are all going to rot in hell. I am calling the welfare and he will be put in foster care. He will be better off living with white people. Go find that dirty rotten whore!” There were at least 10 children under the age of 10 and at least 8 or 10 adults, aunts and uncles and a boyfriend of one of my aunts. The children huddled in the living room crying. The thought of me being sent to a foster home and the terror of my kokum’s rage made the group of us kids hold each other for protection. The image of a car advertisement flashed in my mind, as it was my only reference to what white people were and looked like. A man in a suit, a woman in a dress and two little children standing next to their parents. The thought of leaving my cousins, uncles, and especially my aunts who showed me so much love, to leave them forever would be a nightmare. “They will take you away and nobody will ever see you again. Go find that whore”. Let’s imagine being 5 years old for a moment and hearing all of this coming from the person who we trust and love. The thought of losing everything he knew. I can picture him in the corner not moving, holding his breath.

scared child

And then they found her and it got worse…

So a posse of my uncles and aunts left and seemed to be gone for only a few minutes. When they came back, they had my mother with them. She kicked, she screamed and hollered like a wild animal. “Ooooch, no, help me, don’t, help me!” She was ushered into her bedroom, arms and legs tied to the old iron bed frame. Mary was stripped naked and tied to her bed. My kokum left the bedroom and returned holding a big butcher knife. Mary must have seen the huge blade in her hand as she walked back into the bedroom. “Noooooo, nooooo!” she screamed wildly. My own body went numb, as terror left me frozen in my place among my terrified circle of children. My eyes were riveted and I could not look away from the bedroom.

frightened child

“Smack smack, noooooo, help meeeee!” Mary screamed as the blade of the knife slapped her bare skin. “In the name of the Lord, I________you” said the mad woman matter of factly (he does not remember the exact work his kkokum said in that sentence). “Get me the holy water” “Nooooo!” Mary shrieked, as if the holy water was somehow poisonous and harmful. I am going to stop right there as I think I gave you a good idea of what I witnessed at an early age. I have seen the mad man firsthand. No words can really describe such trauma. I know he is leaving some of the story, the details out. Because it would be too much to read and too much to relive. Living it once at the age of 5 was enough. But in order to heal he also has to let it out, to let the story, the words, the feelings out. And all the memories recorded in his body. See this post in which I discuss the concept of body memory.

exorcism

 

And my kokum became mom

As a little boy I felt guilty for what happened to my mother. When she was untied, we left together. And she actually took me with her when she went to live with her new man. That only lasted a few days as my step-dad hated me instantly. “I want to go home” I cried. And my kokum came to pick me up asap. When we sat alone that day in the kitchen she said “that pig only thinks with her pussy. You might as well call me mom”. And from that day and on I called my kokum mom.

I will later share a few more horrific stories of my childhood with you all. You might hate my kokum for what she did to all of us and she did do a lot. But my intention is to show you why she did what she did. To understand why. There are two sides to every coin, two sides to every story and sometimes strength can be achieved through a treasure of pain and weakness. I do want to share those stories as they are the example of how our people were taught to treat each other by the very people who were there “to save their soul”. If the stories are too much for you to stomach, I understand.

It is really important for the Red man for you readers to know that he loved his kokum. He loved her very much. But also hated what she would do at times. That dichotomy, the love-hate relationship is still present in him. It is hard to accept that someone we love so much we can also hate at times. But that is present in many Native families. Because what was the alternative? Going to foster care? Although the Red man used to pray that he would be rescued by “nice white people” as a kid, it is also something he feared so much. Is taking the kid away from his family, his community, what he knows, his culture, the best? Or is healing the community and supporting the family better?

Beaver family

Where do we go now?

I want to transform the garbage that I grew up with into a treasure. I have no choice, that is just the way I am. I was born and raised to fight and fight is all I do. Sometimes to heal, you first have to feel the hurt (yours and others’). I would hope that I can give you enough truth to do something good for all the little bastards like me. As there is a little bit of me in every little bastard I see.

I think the ultimate goal of the Red man (and mine too I would say) is to help those kids, by not only helping them individually but also helping the families. By supporting them and helping them heal. As he said before, we will heal together or we won’t heal at all.

There you have it , another piece of the story. What did you think of part 2? Comment below 🙂

All my Relations

 

 

Intergenerational trauma: My mom and me-Part 1

Intergenerational trauma: My mom and me-Part 1

Hello all!

I hope your weekend was as great as mine was! I attended a Pow wow, you can see my Facebook page for videos of it. And a surprise visitor was also in attendance and filming for a documentary he was making. Nathaniel Arcand, actor in a few Native Canadian Tv series such as Heartland and more recently, Blackstone with the beautiful recently crowned Mrs. Universe, Ashley Callingbull. You can read more about her and the tv series, which focused on life on a Canadian reserve, here. I am in love with the show as I have been binge watching it for the past 2 days and was excited to see “Victor” at the Pow wow 🙂

Nathaniel Arcand

Nathaniel Arcand

Tonight, I am writing a post once again in collaboration with the Red man. Another part of his personal story, that I think many Native people will be able to relate to. The stereotypes, the stigma, the violence, the abandonment, the fear of the foster system, the unknown of the white world. All a common thread within many Native families and stories. As I read his words, I could feel that they were written from the heart and it touched me deeply. I can feel the scared, confused and at times excited, little 5 year old boy that he was. It was difficult for him to write but it is needed for healing to happen. As the story is quite lengthy, it will be a two part article, with part 2 coming in 2 days. You will see my comments and additions in the text in italics.

Little bastards like me

Political, economic, historical, physical, you name it, the Indigenous people of the land suffered every type of violence. A cycle of violence that starts at the top of a system and ends at the bottom. I was close to the bottom of this chain of violence and eventually I was. When one does not have a father, one will create one. That’s the way Nietzsche described what I am about to discuss here. Because, yes I am a bastard on top of everything else. I do not know how great the social stigma of being a child who is born out of wedlock is today but back in the day, it was one more reason for me to feel less than all the world around me.

Wagon burner, bum, welfare bum, savage, chug and dirty rotten little bastard. That is just some of

WagonBurner

Not the Red Man or anyone related to him

the social feedback I received growing up as a kid. When you are a child you have no real defense against insults that seem to be true because these descriptions all have a certain amount of truth in my life. I saw Indians burn wagons on TV, we were definitively the chug savages. My uncle Amego and his pals were the guys who drank in the bush across the tracks. I was most definitively a little bastard who did not know who his father was and my kokum never let me forget about it.

Mary, my family and me

My kokum had 16 children (I can only imagine what that was like). Amego, the oldest son, quit the seminary and he was almost a priest. “One eye”, my kokum’s oldest daughter was also almost a nun until she had children. And my mother, Mary, was my kokum’s little angel. Being a fanatical religious person, the name Mary had an extra element of expectation. And with expectations come pressure. So when Mary came home pregnant, all hell broke loose. Because yes Mary came waddling home. I can only imagine how afraid she must have been, how ashamed. I am sure that somewhere inside of me is the memory of how miserable she was (that memory is certainly in him. We all carry the trauma of our ancestors in our body, on an unconscious level. Trauma is speechless, we feel it in our body before we can put words to it. I know it is true for me. I discuss more at length the concept of trauma, including the trauma encountered by children in residential schools and their repercussions in this section).

Mary was a “dirty rotten whore, a pig, a slut” and everything else under the sun that was reprehensible and ugly. So much so that when she came to visit, she was forced to hide her shameful existence in her bedroom. When Mary came home pregnant, my kokum’s shitty life must have seemed much worse. Mary tried to stay away from home but she put on so much weight that her ankles could not support her anymore (Mary was also a teenage mother). I was told that Mary did everything in her power to end my life before it began. I have an innate fear roller coasterof roller coasters because, apparently, Mary went on a giant roller coaster when she was 6 months pregnant. But little bastards like me are hard to kill. Shit man, I just won’t die no matter what I do! Her failure was my survival: I rode the rails to the edge of death before I was even born. The Red man has been close to death more than once but somehow survives every time. He had to fight to live before he was even born. The problem is that he does not know how to stop fighting. Not in the sense of giving up but in the sense of trusting that others are there for him and that he can trust them.

warrior

Everyone thought I was the devil’s son who would amount to less than a pile of shit. However, the moment I was born, that whole idea changed: I became my kokum’s favorite and Mary made her escape. I was told that death nearly caught up with me again at the tender age of 9 months. Untreated measles put me in a coma for 7 to 9 days. I was left by my mother at the hospital to be adopted but my kokum would have none of it. So she took me home, a fact she never let me forget. How she rescued me from the white men in foster care or “foster homes”. A fear that is in many Native children, a fear that has two sides. On one hand, the incidence of Native children in the foster system is very high and it is harder for Native women to get their children back. On the other hand, the fear of being taken away if one complains or talks about what goes on at home, as “they were not raised to be rats”. Read more about the history of trauma and the welfare system here.

grandmother

And then my mom came back

Now I do not know if having a rough ride in the womb made me a colicky baby but colicky baby I was. I cried like crazy from the moment I popped out until my coma. Can you experience trauma in the womb (yes, absolutely and he did)? I know you can. When a person considers their baby a detriment to their health and welfare, the mind will consider the baby to be a pathogen to be neutralized. My first go at hell was in a cell in my mother’s womb.

Since the moment she left me behind at the hospital, my mother had been out of my life. Until one day when her and my two younger half-brothers showed up out of nowhere. My kokum had already left my moshum and we were now living in town. I had been hearing about Mary “the filthy pig who only thought of her pussy” for years (he was not even 5 years old). As weird as it seems, I remember it all. You see I was a very precocious baby, walking and talking by 8 months of age. I can remember something from every year of my life (e.g. being held by my aunts as a mother and babycrying baby as I needed so much affection). I do not doubt that as the Red man is someone who wants to do a 1000 things at once all in the same day. He likes to explore and learn every single day. 

So when my mother and two young brothers moved to a town, just a half block away from us in Moccasins Flats (yup there really was a neighborhood called Moccasins Flats back home), I was very excited. I wanted nothing else but to go with my mother, even though I had heard nothing but terrible things about her.

My first go with my mom

I felt guilty about asking my kokum if I could live with my mother. It did not matter what my kokum said about my mom, I just felt that with her was where I truly belonged (I think he is still to this day trying to find where he belongs). I was elated when I was allowed to go and stay with my mother and little brothers. That guilty feeling was replaced with happiness as soon as I saw my little baby brother’s face for the first time. “Judas” was the baby and “Poppidy” was the one in the middle. I have an estranged relationship with both.

Well, one day and one night, that is how long we all lived together in our little house in Moccasins Flats. My mother went out that night and never came home. I was 5 years old and I was babysitting already. I had never been free of adults before, I had never been on my own. We woke up early in the morning and my mother was MIA. But at the time we really did not care as we got to play with all the little children in the neighborhood. I got to play with the little boy who became one of my best friends that day.

children playing

As one can see the Red man had to grow up fast. But at the same time, on some level he is stuck. He is stuck, sometimes, in that phase of his life. Lacking the skills to move forward. He told me this recently: “when people I love yell at me, it reassures me, because then I know they love me”. Wow that’s a powerful statement. That’s what he is used to. But there are many other healthier ways of showing to someone you love them. He is slowly learning them.

Thinks it is over? Nope. Curious as to what happens next? Stay tuned in the upcoming days for Part 2! In the meantime, comment below to let us know how you felt while reading the story, if you can relate to it.

All my Relations

 

 

 

Native American historical trauma

Native American historical trauma: the silent risk factor

Hello all!

Man was it a busy week! But I have been thinking about what I want to discuss throughout the week and I want to share part of the research I did a few years ago in graduate school. I was at the time researching the concept of historical or intergenerational trauma and traditional ways of healing and the practice of native spirituality. Not going to lie it influenced the creation of my site 🙂 Although not an easy topic to discuss, I want to share some data, research and stats with you. Not to worry it won’t be as boring as it sounds! I also want to share my professional experience with you. So let’s get started.

eagle feather

What is intergenerational or historical trauma?

The concept of historical trauma refers to trauma that has been passed down the generations. In other words, what affected our ancestors is affecting us today. How is that possible you ask? Well let’s look at some factors. Research shows (e.g. Duran et al., 2004) that, in North America at least, Aboriginal people are more subject to what is referred to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect and substance abuse within the household. Therefore, trauma present is carried forward from parents to children and so on.

Moreover, Native people are also faced with additional adult traumas or stressful experiences spiritualitysuch as poverty, unemployment, violence or witnessing violent or traumatic events. What is experienced in childhood has an effect later on. Now adults, the trauma is witnessed by their children, who now live in a traumatic household. Some of you might say or at least think of the usual stereotypes such as “dirty drunk indians” or “they beat their women”, or “they all end up in jail”. But let’s look at it for a different perspective.

The effects of colonization

So yes the stereotypes are there. But let’s ponder the following for a second shall we? The Native Americans’ present situation is in sharp contrast with their situation before the arrival of Europeans explorers in America. Whereas today they present as a population at risk, in the past, before colonization and attempts at assimilation by Europeans, they presented as mostly independent and self-governing nations with their own beliefs and philosophies in regard to cultural, educational, family or economic questions (Bombay, Matheson & Anisman, 2009).

smudging

Furthermore, with the establishment of the Indian Act (1876), the lives of Aboriginal peoples were changed drastically. Indeed, the Act not only dictated who was an Indian but also established policies controlling Aboriginal peoples by, for example, outlawing cultural practices and ceremonies as well as rendering Residential schools mandatory and enforcing a forced adoption program (Bombay, Matheson & Anisman, 2009). Moreover, Aboriginal peoples were refused the right to vote for those policies, leaving them powerless as their land, language and culture and ultimately their identity were taken away. 

Hmmmm, puts things into perspective doesn’t it? But wait! That’s not all.

Residential schools and Sixties Scoop

Not surprisingly, although the nature of historical trauma might have varied across communities and was at times unique to certain tribes (there were community effects), a common theme revolves around the colonization period and later on, around the establishment and attendance of residential schools by Aboriginal children throughout Canada and the USA. This was combined with a phenomenon known as the Sixties Scoop (both efforts at assimilation of Aboriginal children). The Sixties Scoop refers to a period during which children were taken forcibly from their families to be adopted by non-Aboriginal families, living sometimes as far as Europe.

Moreover, Residential schools (RS) and their attendance, which existed from 1863 to 1996 and

Apache students before and after Carlisle Residential school

Apache students before and after Carlisle Residential school

were mandated by the Indian Act, were forced upon Aboriginal children in an attempt to acculturate and assimilate them to not only the dominant culture (English Caucasian) but also to the catholic religion. The goal of RS was then two-fold: to separate the children from their families, culture and communities and to assimilate them to the dominant culture. In addition to the trauma of being separated from their families and culture, Residential schools were a place of neglect and abuse for many children who attended them. Any form of cultural identity was suppressed, oftentimes using physical abuse. As it has been notoriously said, the goal was to “kill the Indian in the child” or to “beat the Indian out of the child” (Indigenous Foundations, 2009). Children were taught the English language and to be ashamed of their culture (Bombay et al., 2009).

So not surprisingly….

Those conditions led to difficulty for survivors of RS to develop socialization skills and parenting skills ingrained in their culture of origin, let alone passing them along to the next generation. Therefore, one can consider that those direct effects of the abuse and trauma (psychological) on survivors of RS were passed down to subsequent generations, i.e. to have an intergenerational effect. Indeed, it has been suggested that numerous survivors of RS returned home lacking appropriate social behaviour, as well as presenting with inadequate parenting skills or behaviors modeled after the behaviors of their caregivers while in RS (Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council, 1996). Attendance at RS and abusive experiences encountered while there disrupted the transmission of cultural practices as well as weakened or damaged the parenting skills of survivors, oftentimes resulting in an unhealthy family environment. 

head dress

War Bonnet

So what are we left with?

Well we are left with individuals who are stuck. Stuck in a cycle of abuse, violence and incarceration. In Canada, in British Columbia, where I am, 25-33% of the prison population is Aboriginal, a gross over-representation of the proportion of Aboriginals in the general population (5%). In the Prairies provinces, that number is even more astronomical, up to 75% of the prison population! I mean come on! That does not tell you something? That prison is often used as a method of punishment for Native individuals who are perpetuating a cycle of historical abuse (prison itself perpetuating it). I am not saying that it excuses the individuals’ actions and that jail should never be. jail

But I have worked in jails. If they actually worked as a deterrent, the recidivism rate would not be up to 50%….Without any sort of help with all the issues mentioned above, all the risk factors and the history of abuse, how in the hell is prison going to rehabilitate someone? I am sorry but to break that cycle, to get back to one’s cultural identity, to the ancestral ways of living and healing, it takes a lot of efforts and strength. As it means that one has to let go of what one knows, which has often become comforting, even if maladaptive. It takes courage, a whole redefinition of one’s life and priorities and ways of seeing those around. It means trusting the Elders, letting go of those bringing you down, it means talking about it, sharing one’s story, pain and hurt, to listen to the one of others, it means slowing down, seeing who is there to help and who is not, going back to the traditional values of respect, humility, courage, honesty, generosity, compassion and wisdom. And that is one hell of a hard thing to do…But it can be done. And in a way, it has to be done to work through the effects of colonization.

All my Relations

 

Native American stereotypes

Native American stereotypes

Hello everyonetepee sunset

Recently, I have been reading about/on stereotypes regarding Native American people. And I find it sad, frustrating and disheartening that those stereotypes still exist. I think they stem from a lack of knowledge. A lack of knowledge of the history of the people, a history that took place right in our backyard. A history, I feel we cannot hide. Through this site, I am trying to share that history, the history of trauma but also the beauty and the healing that is taking place.

Stereotypes?

What are those stereotypes you ask? Well let’s start with the one of the “drunk indian who cannot hold his liquor”. Well maybe if alcohol, a spirit, had not been introduced on reserves by the Europeans, as a way to steal the land from the native people, the stereotype would not even exist. Alcohol was introduced and given to natives as a trade for furs, tools, land, you name it. They did not know what it was. They were at times rendered drunk during trading with European, affecting their judgment in their trades. They could then easily be influenced. Their body was not accustomed to it.

“Free” life

How about “indians get everything for free”? Well guess what, indians do NOT get everything for free. Land was stolen from them generations ago, they were forced to live on reserves due to unfair treaties, reserves they were not even free to operate and could not leave without permission. The lands they knew as home, lands where they would hunt, fish, get food, were taken, their access being restricted. They could not hunt or fish like before, they needed permission to do so on their own land. And contrary to popular belief, Native people do pay taxes. They earn money and do not get everything for free. They have paid for what they have, with the lost of their land, their rights (some places did not allow Native people to vote until the 1960’s) and their dignity.

eagle feather

Keep wanting more

What about “indians just keep asking and asking and asking, they are greedy”? Well let’s look at it this way. For more than a century, the Native people were not allowed to practice their traditions, for fear of being killed. Their songs, their music, their ceremonies, were banned, being perceived as “evil”. When in fact, they represented the total opposite of “evil”. Traditions, language and ceremonies are a way to honor one’s ancestors and the Creator, to be thankful, mindful, spiritually connected. But out of ignorance, songs and traditional languages were banished.

For more than a century, native children were taken away from their homes, their communities, tepeestripped of their cultural identity and were placed in Indian residential schools, or Indian boarding schools, operated by the church. The goal? “To take the indian out of the child” or more accurately “to beat the indian out of the child”. Children were dressed in a uniform, punished if they spoke their language or practiced their traditions. They were physically, verbally, emotionally and sexually abused. An inordinate amount of children lost their lives while attending residential schools. They returned to their communities in the summer as strangers. They could not relate to their parents anymore nor could their parents relate to them. Villages without any kids for months at a time. Can you imagine how traumatizing it must have been for families?

Substance abuse

Yes it is true that the Native American population has a higher incidence of substance abuse. Considering what I just said about alcohol as well as the history of trauma in families, is it really surprising? Children were taken away, parents robbed of the chance to be parents, children were scarred for life, families were split apart, abuse of any type was rampant and rights were restricted. Parents were then seen as being unfit and children were taken away by the government, placing them in foster families. In an event referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, Canadian Aboriginal children were literally “scooped” from their families to be placed either in residential schools, in Caucasian Canadian families or placed for adoption in the United States or Western Europe. An estimated 20 000 children were “scooped” over a period of 20 years. The goal? Cultural assimilation. The result? Intergenerational trauma. For all members of the family, the tribe, the nation. Trauma, including repeating the abuse suffered in residential school, was passed down from generation to generation with no coping skills. A higher incidence of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, a high incidence of native people in our prison system. 

It is said that what we do affect the next seven generations. But it goes both ways, i.e. positive eagleschanges can also affect the next seven generations. I think we are starting to see positive changes. By going back to the traditional ways, to the Red Road principles. By living a honest and simple life. But I get frustrated when I hear some say about native people “why don’t they just get over it”? Would you say that to a Jewish person whose family had died at Auschwitz? I did not think so.

Take the time to watch the video below addressing stereotypes about Native people. Very powerful

 

Mitakuye Oyasin