closing doors & opening windows

For four and a half years I had the pleasure to work at a local Indigenous women’s centre here in Ottawa as a cultural programmer. Over the years I put my energy in service of Indigenous women and children who came through the doors. The mandate is to serve Indigenous women and their families who are escaping domestic abuse, healing from intergenerational trauma, survivors of residential school, and who want a place to feel safe in an urban world. I learned so much about myself, my path, and my passion. The work itself was rewarding and it helped me to clarify where I really want to go with my love for language and my passion for writing. It challenged my worldview, ideologies, and beliefs. It was really life changing.

Every other week I facilitated a women’s drum circle. The women who participated were generous with their teachings, stories, and love for the drum. What I learned in this circle was the power of the drum, songs, and community. There’s something very special about being in a circle, singing, and connecting to songs and their teachings. In this circle, I found my voice and grew into being a great facilitator.

The current history of the drum is not very inclusive nor being in a circle. What I learned is that some of the things we think as traditional ways is actually colonial and patriarchal ways. My understanding now is that the drum is for everyone and so is the circle. Also the drum is in all cultures around the world and part of people’s cultural identity. Everyone is welcome to hold a drum, sing, and to sit in a circle however they feel comfortable. I also recognize that we’re not perfect people. Our people are on a healing path from traumatic and colonial abuse that is current today. It will take a long time for us to find the true ways. We also need to critically look at the traditions we hold and see what doesn’t work for us anymore so that we can move forward to being true Anishnaabeg.

Another thing I learned is that there’s plenty of lateral violence in our communities. I didn’t even know what that was when I experienced it first hand and was also doing it myself. It’s a vicious cycle and it runs rampant. This damage came into our homes from the Residential School experience. From the homes it went into the community and caused so much hurt and shame that people carry it like some kind comfort tool.

It’s this form of violence that contributes to family and community breakdown. It comes down to healing one’s self, letting go, forgiveness, and learning to really love yourself. This is a great obstacle for our people because of the fall out of Residential School. Yet, it’s possible. And it’s important for our healing. Love is the greatest gift of all as I heard from a local Algonquin woman.

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We really need to follow the ways of our ancestors. My understanding is that our ancestors were action centered people. If something needed to be done they did it. They didn’t wait around for anyone else to do it or some outside force to do it for them. They took action. It’s the action of love, being true to self, and being present that will make a change. Right now many of our people are stuck or maybe it’s fear to be free from this trauma and violence because it’s become part of who we are and part of our collective identity. It will take courage to love our self, our people, and our future generations.

One of the hardest and amazing things I learned about is that the mind is a powerful entity. When we experience various forms of abuse our minds will do extraordinary things to protect us. When we are ready the mind will release these memories and experiences.

I grew up in a violent home until I was about 4 years old. I have memories that shake me to the core. I was never sure of these images but they were all true. Once I acknowledged these memories and talked with my siblings more memories surfaced and these ones were the hardest to accept. I always thought how lucky I was not to be sexually abused like so many of my relations and friends. It’s been quite the revelation this past year to actually see the images that my mind held for me and waited till I was ready to proceed. While I was working with other survivors & thrivers things would trigger me and pull at me and I didn’t know why. I recognized their pain and suffering deep down where it resided in me. It was something I carried my whole life and struggled with that whole time.

The mind is a hero, a saviour, a liberator, and a healer. It keeps us safe and secure. When we are insecure, filled with shame and fear, it becomes weak. When our mind is weak we experience all kinds of torment. We have low self esteem, we self sabotage, we suffer with depression, we are suicidal. I’ve experienced all of this but I could never really pinpoint why I was doing this to myself. And now I know why. My mind liberated and saved me. My mind is healing me. My mind is a hero. Now that I’m aware of the abuse I suffered as a child, I can move on with my life. And it’s a splendid feeling to have. I am filled with love and compassion for myself, and that’s a celebration.

I’ve closed the door where I worked for the past four and a half years. I carry many great memories and also some difficult challenges. I made some wonderful friends that will be in my life for as long as the shadows cast across the earth. The women, youth, and children who came into the program, I honour them, their struggles, and their stories. We laughed lots in those rooms and halls. We learned new beading skills, we learned the language together, we sang together, and we healed together. One thing many of the women said to me was, thank you for making me feel welcome and comfortable here. When I heard that over and over from so many women I really felt like I was successful at the job I did.

Now, I’m opening up the windows and letting a new breeze enter my home and my life. I imagine this breeze filled with energy to keep moving forward. I imagine that breeze with many colours shimmering as I inhale it. I imagine that breeze is the same air my ancestors breathed and exhaled while offering their gratitude for a new day and new opportunities for growth. My window is open and as I look out all I see is beauty. And that window reflects my own beauty that I share with the world.

Love yourself wherever you are at in life. Life is wonderful and full of opportunity. Each moment is an opportunity to spread some kindness, love, compassion – and you start that with yourself and pass it around.

Keep writing. Keep creating. Keep being true. Keep taking positive action.

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8 thoughts on “closing doors & opening windows

  1. Hi Vera – I found you through Michael. I am not indigenous, of European descent but I have read numerous novels written by Indigenous authors that have helped me begin to understand your cultural pain. As I was reading your post, I was thinking about your reference to the lingering pain damage from Residential School and thinking that maybe so many of us grew up in our own “residential schools” that, like your home, were abusive and had a lasting impact on us. I don’t mean to diminish the impact of Residential School on erasing the core of native culture and identity – but to think about our shared experiences that were in some ways very different, but in other ways had the same impact that allows us to hear and understand each other. Just prior to sitting down to pick up my computer, I was thinking about a post I need to write about some lessons I learned in my early environments. I just may frame it around some of your thoughts and of course provide a link back. Thanks for being on the same page today.

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    • miigwech Pat for connecting. It’s my understanding that most humans around the world have colonial trauma. It really is a human collective trauma. It’s good to explore through writing. When you do, please link it back here so I can read. Miigwech!

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  2. Domestic abuse is one area where we need to reverse our thinking and civil laws. All children must be taught against it throughout school. Misogyny is one major cause of feelings that arouse violence. Dependency is one major reason it goes unresolved. Usually It is the abuser who is doing something harmful. It is not usually the women and children. Then we have to take the burden off the victims, and remove only the abuser from the home. Children should have the security and stability of staying in the home, staying in school with their friends, and having their dinners, baths, and laundry needs tended to. They should not be further traumatized by removal from the family home. The abuser should be removed from the home, charged, go to mandatory counselling, and stay in a type of halfway or group home similar to a shelter, with no contact until counselling is completed satisfactorily. Then he should have visiting privileges only until proof of behaviour change. After that, he should have to post a peace bond, and police should be warned he is still on probation and to watch that home for further problems. Police should have to come when called, enter the home when called, collect evidence when called, and to remove only the perpetrator when called. Copies of all proceedings should be given to the wife. Laying charges should be up to the authorities, and not the burden of the wife who is afraid, threatened, or biased. If he does not obey the warnings of his counselling, then jail time might be appropriate as for any other assault. The women and children should have financial support while staying in the home. It would probably be cheaper for the government than building new shelters and moving victims around, cheaper to tend to just the perpetrator instead of the whole family, and cheaper than future costs of tending to traumatized children as they grow up. We need to change our thinking about family responsibility and money power. Being a breadwinner does not bestow the right to assault or the right to stay in the home if assaulting. Take his money-power away, and you’ve won half the battle for everyone.

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    • Yes, there’s lots of steps to take to keep women and children safe. I also have to acknowledge the impact that patriarchy and colonialism has had on all men and boys worldwide. There’s are a few men out there writing, researching, and talking about the negative effects of masculinity, machoism, patriarchy, and colonialism. It’s the work that needs to done and talked about so that future generations will look back and see how far humanity has come. I believe people worldwide need to heal from the lasting effects of colonialism and patriarchy. There are so many great programs for men, young men, and boys to learn how to respectful and honour women, young women, and girls. Those programs are making a difference. And there are so many men now who take a stand against any form of violence towards women. It’s really good work that happening. And like any change, it takes time. Miigwech Ruth for taking the time to send some strong feedback and ideas.

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  3. Pingback: Reblog: | Journeys

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