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Introduction to Grassroots columnist Rebecca Chartrand

Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2020

I am thankful that I was asked to write the column. It allows me to put a spotlight on some amazing Indigenous women who are sharing in the responsibility to guide our nations back to a place of well-being for our children sake and for generations yet to come. Not that you need a column to do that, but nonetheless this column demonstrates that Grassroots and others are making a commitment to shine a light on us. It is our job to keep each other safe, to uplift each other in our efforts to thrive once again within our homelands. For me personally, this is an opportunity to slow things down, reflect, connect and speak out on issues that we feel strongly about, by reflecting on what to write about that will share our hopes, dreams, ideas and aspirations. We must also speak about that which challenges us that can make it difficult to lead. There are so many stories to tell, so many women to honour.

I was encouraged to write a bit of myself, so you get a sense of who I am. Well here it is. My bloodline carries the story of this geography and this empowers me. I am an Anishinaabe, Inninew, Metis. My grandfather on my Dads’ side was part French and my grandfather on my mothers’ side was part Scottish. These are the lands where two rivers meet, where First Nation travelled the Red and Assiniboine River for thousands of generations before welcoming newcomers who would eventually intermarry and settle into these territories. I live here at the heart of Turtle Island, the centre of Canada, in the province of Manito-Abii (Manitoba), meaning where the spirit lives in Anishinaabemowin, otherwise known as the Ojibwe language, and in Winnipeg- meaning muddy waters, thanks to the clay beds beneath the river.

My DNA test from stated I am 86% Native American with a bloodline that comes from both North and South America, and the remaining bloodlines from France and Scotland. Let’s get this straight though, I am not into blood quantum I was just curious, and it confirmed what I knew about my history-no surprises. It was only later in life that I acknowledged my European ancestry likely because of the trauma we experienced since the arrival of Europeans. This history has caused me great pain and I admit I have had to work through my own bias as a result. Rather than seeing my Indigenous and European roots at odds I’ve arrived at a place where I look to take the best of these colliding worlds.

To contextualize, when Howard Adams wrote a book in 1997 which captured current tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, he stated we are “A Tortured People”, and wrote about The Politics of Colonization. What was perceived as militant action in the late 90’s was really a response to the ongoing attacks against indigenous peoples and their rights. Fighting for survival has been a common experience amongst us, the fight for land, for equal opportunity, for our children, for basic human rights. If the fight to keep our waters clean, our sacred ground protected or our children with us, then I too am militant-acting against the status quo by creating change in the places I have lived and worked.

At my core is the desire to grow stronger healthier families, communities and Nations. My lived experience along with the knowledge of our collective story has caused me great pain. On the outside, I want you to see a solid Indigenous woman, independent and thriving despite all of life’s challenges. Historically, our needs and rights within this country have been of little concern to the general public. I think Canadians are waking up, and not so detached from the suffering we’ve experienced, but many are still learning about our nation’s genocidal origins. For us, this lived reality translates into mental health issues, family breakdown and dysfunction. It’s important that we recognize that the injustice and crises are not a thing of the past. We are not out of the storm yet as we continue to recover and rebuild. But, we are growing in strength, in numbers and our voice and presence is being felt in all sectors of this country. We must be consistent in our efforts to equip ourselves with the tools that will continue to help us individually and collectively restore dignity and wellness amongst us. This starts by sharing our truth and telling our stories.

As a child I saw firsthand the brutality of the RCMP towards Indigenous men, the stealing of our children by CFS and the violence against our women. It is for these reasons that one in three Indigenous peoples will deal with mental health issues within their lifetime. I myself have experienced bouts of depression. At the age of 19, I went through a major depression. It was brought on by learning about the injustice of our history which helped me make sense of the grief and rage that we’ve been carrying amongst us. It was also my participation in ceremony which helped me connect with, nurture and learn from that spiritual part of our being. This is heart work that helped me work through my own traumas. We grow up thinking strength is in holding it all in only to find out later that those dams and repression of emotions will eventually collapse. Many of us run away from these emotions and find ourselves turning to addictions or other dysfunctions. We must stop hurting ourselves and each other and to do so we must come to terms with the brutalities we’ve endured in order to stop the violence against us or even amongst us.

I recognize that my strength and sense of purpose has come from this adversity, always striving to be grounded, balanced and sometimes wishing for something simpler, but the ongoing sense of responsibility moves me to act. The fact is, as mothers, daughters and sisters we can not rest until our children are ok, till our women are ok, till our families and communities are in better places of well-being. We can not rest because as Indigenous women we are still preyed upon, exploited and violated in every way imaginable. These are our homelands where our children must thrive, here on the lands from which we originate. By my own measure, things are getting better in terms of the alienation, meaning people seem to notice us, and are nicer to us but we are still over represented in all social issues.

For these reasons, we must continue to speak openly, with vulnerability about our lived experiences. We must also celebrate each other; I see this happening more and more on social media and I feel empowered by other women speaking out. I too am moving closer to letting my guard down to share a more vulnerable side. This is the space I want to live in right now and illuminate, to help create spaces that nurture who we are as women and as Indigenous peoples.

I remember delivering a workshop to English teachers called Integrating Aboriginal Literatures into Curriculum. One of the teachers approached me one day and said, “don’t you people have happy stories to tell, everything I read is such a sad story, its depressing.” I went away and thought on this for a while. I later came back and addressed the group stating Aboriginal literatures have only emerged within the last few decades. When Margaret Atwood was looking to create an anthology that would include Indigenous authors in the early 70’s she couldn’t find any. There was little back then written about us by us. That has changed. The stories we write about reflect our truth, if you do not read stories that make you laugh it is because this is our truth and where we are at. Instead of looking to be entertained, focus on understanding the resilience and perseverance of our people as illustrated by each character in each story. Those stories are us, and we have not just survived a string of atrocities, we are learning to thrive. Today we are learning to bring joy and laughter back into our homes. Whether it’s in relearning culture and language, sharing a meal together around the table, learning to do something different with the kids, the family, with your biological or adopted sisters, we are strengthening. Take a moment to shine a light on that.

I truly am grateful that my voice, my vision and sense of purpose comes from those who have come before me and that I have women in my life that are there for me, to support and encourage me. My roots are strong, my faith is strong, and my sense of self is very strong. I know who I am because of the men and women who have come before me. I say thank you to all the women who have persevered. My faith in our strength and ability to heal our Nations is as strong as the mountains. We have to remember who we are. I was told by Elder Garry Robson that the word Anishinaabe means the first man lowered from the stars. Essentially our origin stories tell us we come from the stars. If this is true, let’s learn to shine once again for each other. Stand in your light. #Shine.

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