As a Native woman I am proud to identify myself with the Native culture and spiritual ways; however, this was not always the case. My own personal world started to unravel when I was faced with negative circumstances that I could not have anticipated. I watched a loved one completely undo themselves at the age of 25 well before their life had even started.Read Raven Weal's The Home Coming
I spent a lot of time thinking about an event I wanted to write about in Aboriginal history. I wrote, re-wrote, and re-worked many ideas in my head and on paper but all my ideas just didn’t feel right. I then realized I was over thinking things, and needed to go back the basics. The most integral part of Aboriginal life is the rich culture that in history our ancestor’s entire lives revolved around before the European culture was brought over and forced upon the Aboriginal population. I wanted to touch upon some of the events that have occurred as a result of assimilation such as residential schooling and identity crisis regarding culture. However, my main focus in this fiction work is to pinpoint the connection to past Aboriginal people have by practicing traditional teachings and culture that have survived the hardships over time. In this we share the struggle of our people and acknowledge the strength in community and there are some thing s that history cannot erase. My belief is that it so important to use history as a guide for strength as a means of motivation. To have the courage to write and re-write your our history, and use the past as an under painting for a more beautiful and knowledgeable human being. Together we can conquer adversity and by knowing the past give the advantage to tackle our future head on with confidence.
Hello, my name is Elise and I want to share my journey through life with you. I can’t tell you where my future will take me, but what I can tell you is whom I am and the choices I made that shaped and changed my life indefinitely. As a Native woman I am proud to identify myself with the Native culture and spiritual ways; however, this was not always the case. My own personal world started to unravel when I was faced with negative circumstances that I could not have anticipated. I watched a loved one completely undo themselves at the age of 25 well before their life had even started. Charity: My best friend, and my sister. The agony of watching her kill herself with drugs was unbearable, which lead me to question my own faith impacting my overall view on life. I had once viewed death as an empty chasm, which all things and feelings disappeared, but through my experience I know otherwise. I can now say that there can be positivity in death and it has even strengthened my personal relationship with the Creator and my Native community. I want to share my struggle with all who are lost in hopes it will give courage for you to seek out your rich and beautiful history, and all the teachings so closely wound within it. To struggle is to conquer an enormous personal peril, and to find a newfound sense of self; a more improved upon person, more beautiful than before. The biggest struggle in my own life was an identity crisis rooted from denial of my culture, and in turn, my ancestors who preceded me.
Growing up my little family containing my grandfather, mother, sister, dog named Humphrey, and I, lived happily in our home in the country. On the weekends my mother would make fresh bannock and we would all eat together before gathering medicines, and preparing the sweat lodge for our community. Our relationships were strong, and so were our ties to our cultural heritage. I believed that nothing would break this incredible bond until things started to change, as Charity and I grew older. Slowly, as my sister and I reached our teens we became less and less interested in our cultural practices trying to conform and fit in with the other kids at school. Charity however, had a harder time fitting in than I did. She stated behaving oddly and hanging out with questionable people at school. She partied far too often and started to disappear for days at a time making the family go crazy with worry. This behaviour snowballed as she experimented with drugs and she ultimately found the crutch Meth. That was when she chose a path that lead to death, and the drugs claimed her life as it’s own. She died at age 25.
I watched my mother fall to the floor when the news was broken to her by the police officers. I watched her crumple to the floor like a paper doll and the woman I had admired so much for her strength and solidarity fell apart before my eyes. My rock that had kept me, and my little broken family together for so long was reduced down to nothing more than mere rubble. I remember the feeling that swept my heart as utter devastation and numbness settled into its core. When Charity died, a part of each of us went with her, and her death took all hope that was left in me. I was lost. It seems so cruel that a preventable fate claimed her life, and it was hard to separate whom I was really mad at: her, or the drugs. The drugs themselves seemed to claim her identity near the end, and the addict was all I knew as my sister. There were no remnants of that little girl I grew up with long ago and the things we did together, like running in the woods, and catching stray kittens in the neighbour’s barn. We used to laugh so hard we cried, but I had long forgotten what a smile looked like on her lips, as many of her teeth were missing having been claimed by the meth. The drugs stole my sister’s youth and many years of my family’s life was taken worrying, and hoping, and wishing for her to get better. I miss her now, and I wish I could have done more to stop her from slipping into oblivion.
Before Charity got into drugs our entire family practiced our traditional ways including sweat lodge every week. My grandfather, the elder in the community would involve us sacred teachings and teach us how to the live off the land as our ancestors did long ago. He had the appearance of a strong man who dealt with many hardships in his lifetime with deep lines carved into his round face, and his hands, which skillfully prepared medicines, were also callused from hard labor. Hardships he suffered indeed. The residential schools were not particularly kind to his mental and physical health, and after the horror he lived through, he coped by turning to the bottle. It wasn’t until years later when he finally hit bottom, and decided to do something about his alcoholism. I remember him telling me the story of how he was in the streets one day when he found a token on the ground with the number seven on it. A man nearby had dropped a sobriety chip and he collected it off the ground, stumbling after the man to return it. He had told me that it was in that moment it was like creator himself was trying to tell him something. That number seven printed on the token made him face that he was living his life all wrong. He had forgotten the seven sacred teachings of life given by the Creator that he had loved so dearly before residential school. It made him remember the warmth of the sweat lodge, the music of the powwows, and language that he held so close to his heart before his culture was torn from him. He had proceeded to tell me about how vital the seven sacred teachings are to Native life, and has been all throughout our history. The culture imbedded in Native life so was so rich and full of life, and love that it could not be tainted when they tried to take it away. Slowly people everywhere were coming back home to the teachings that were torn from them as children. He said it was as if their souls were waking up from a long slumber, or hibernation of sorts. His own awakening was when he came back to the seven sacred teachings, and learning how to live life all over again in a good way. He slowly started immersing himself back into the culture and became the prominent leader I remember him for. He told me that as long as we live by the seven sacred teachings we will find our culture, and the ways of our people will never leave us.
Then the unthinkable happened. When my grandfather passed away from old age shortly after Charity died, I had lost all faith. It was in the final straw of his death that cleaved my heart in two and left me broken and crumpled, that I realized how my mother felt. Hopeless, lost, and emotionally stretched beyond repair. I lost two of the most important people in my life and as a result, lost faith and was very angry with the Creator. I turned my back completely on my traditional practices that held my family together for so long. The smell of cedar, tobacco, sage, and sweet grass tore at my heart something awful, as it reminded me of my grandfather. I slowly fell inside myself, and became hard and cold with bitter emotions. I left the best part of myself behind when I turned my back on my spirituality and culture completely. I then moved out, into the city to start college where I put my history behind me to start a new person in the big modern world with material things to fill in the newly formed gaps in my life. It wasn’t long until I discovered that the cogs and wheels of this life didn’t quiet mesh with the person deep down inside that I was trying to cover up. That person would surface at one point or another no matter how hard I tried to cover her up. I felt more out of place than before, and it was only a matter of time until I started a downward spiral, lost and confused as to whom I was. This continued for years well after I had graduated from college and became an established businesswoman. I tried to fill in the gaps of my life with whatever money could buy me but my heart still ached for more. I had lost my sense of self and unhappiness grew ever stronger in my heart. It instilled it’s wrath like an angry monster deep within my being, corrupting my will to carry on, and I became deeply depressed.
Deeper and deeper my depression took me, and I realized I needed to get help. I didn’t know how to get out of the great hole I had dug for myself and couldn’t seem to find answers in any of my efforts. I took a long road trip back home to find what I had been missing in my life and I kept on in my search until finally, exasperated with my efforts gave in. It was not until that moment of complete surrender that I found the answer to what I was seeking so desperately. I remember clearly as I lay sobbing on the damp earth with dirt in my fists next to the pond where me and my sister would catch frogs in the summer time. It had seemed like a lifetime before even though the fogs still croaked and the reeds bustled in the wind just as they did then. Poking it’s head out of a nearby log a turtle strolled out in front of me pausing for a length of time before slipping into the pond. I thought about a teaching my grandfather had given to me, and my sister about the seven sacred teachings. When the world was still young and Creator was giving laws to the people on how to live life grandmother turtle was there also. It was grandmother turtles job to make sure that these laws were never forgotten, or worse, lost. In knowing the truth an individual comes to fully understand all of the sacred teachings given by the creator; but also, to have faith and abide by these teachings. I knew then that Creator was there for me, and never truly left me no matter how hard I tried to ignore or deny my cultural roots. I am the history and future of my people, which brings me to where I am now. Going back to the beginning learning the teachings that have survived the hardships of history and the sacred words of the seven teachings linking me to the past. I am back to the sweat lodge sharing my story, and my struggle.
I inhale the familiar fragrance of sage and sweet grass, as I smudge for the first time in years, letting its powerful medicine wash over me. As it fills my nostrils I could feel a sense of calm fill me. Surrounded by the people who loved me most elders, friends and close family I crawl into the sweat lodge. I feel like that small child who went into lodge for the first time so long ago. I am embraced with the familiar smell of cedar, tobacco, sage, and medicines as I enter the lodge. I thought back to my grandfather’s teachings long ago, and how he had told me of the sweat lodges symbolism of the womb. I smile as him and all his unconditional love enters my mind. I opened my heart to the warm embrace of the sweat lodge and the loved ones, which share it too. I know Charity is with us, and grandpa; I promise myself to walk through my journey in life with the seven sacred teachings always. Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility, and Truth. As the door to the lodge closes and the powerful beat of the drum begins I close my eyes and sing along with my brothers and sisters. I am home.
To each and every one of you I wish these teachings, and to find the place with those who love you most. Go home to the lodge, and your people and their teachings that always will, and always have loved you unconditionally. Let the teachings and the medicines take you to a sacred place to find once again your place not only with the people but also with creator. Let history be written, a history of triumph out of great sadness, through living the teachings of our ancestors long ago. Simultaneously change will come, and a better place full of love and richness of culture will come back to our children, and to us. There is always hope in the teachings belonging to the hearts of our people, a place which I call home…
All my relations.