Where the Pavement Ends
1 journaler for this copy...
Anyway, while I was there I picked up the latest copy of the Grassroots News and chanced upon a review of this book. I read it and filed it away in my head with the thought that I wouldn't mind reading this book.
Later that day I happened to be in Chapters. I'd actually bought two books the last time I was there a day or so ago and had chastised myself then that I had no business buying them with a mount TBR as high as I have. So this day I had no intention of buying anything more. I poked around a bit but then went to sit in one of the comfy chairs to wait for my friend to find his purchases which was the reason we were there in the first place.
No sooner did I get comfortable than this book thrust itself into my line of vision and said, "Buy me". So I did.
Let me start by saying while Marie Wadden uses the word "Aboriginals" to refer to Native people, and while I understand she is referring collectively to Indians, Inuit and Metis, I don't care for that word. So, on the authority of my homeless Native friend, Donald (who, when I asked what his real full name was, jokingly said his name was Donald and York because that's often the corner on which he stands with his hat out), I will use the term "Native" or "Indian" because that's what he said he preferred. I mean no disrespect to anyone in the use of these terms.
I bring to my reading of this book, as we all do, my own background and experience. I am now a middle class, middle-aged white woman. I spent my childhood in the Kenora/Lake of the Woods District and so had Indian children in my classroom and considered them friends. At least one of those friends, Terry, lived on "the reserve". I know because sometimes, instead of taking the school bus home by himself, Terry and I would walk to his house on the reserve to play. It was a long walk, first down the highway and then down a long gravel road. His house was pretty ramshackle, made of ship-lap and tar-paper, and my house was nicer, but we didn't care because we played outside. Mostly I thought Terry had it pretty good.
Sometimes when I misbehaved, my parents would threaten to "drop [me] off at the Indian Reservation". I didn't really think that would be so bad.
I was also aware of the Residential school in town and although my mother assured me that I wouldn't want to go there, I was envious of the children that did go there. I thought their school was nicer than mine. They had better swings.
I wondered why Terry didn't go to the residential school. My mother said it was for Indian kids that lived far away, so they lived at the school and didn't get to live with their families. I thought that would be nice if your parents or brothers and sisters were being mean or bratty, but my mother said that you couldn't go home even if you wanted to.
When I was five, my dad built us a new house. He cut down trees and floated the logs in a big boom to the sawmill where they were turned into lumber. We had to go to the sawmill in my dad's truck to pick the lumber up. Sometimes it wasn't ready when it was supposed to be and we would have to wait or come back the next day. My dad said that's because the sawmill operated on Indian time. Mr. Peterson, the sawmill owner hired only Indians to work for him. Sometimes, they showed up; sometimes they didn't and sometimes they showed up late but when they did they always put in a good day's work and worked until the job was done. My dad said Mr. Peterson was a good man, because not many people hired Indians. My Dad said he wanted to give Peterson's his business, he didn't mind waiting and besides, Peterson's made the best lumber. The sawmill was on the same gravel road as the Indian reservation, so they could walk to work.
Our camp was also on that gravel road. Once my mom and dad and us kids walked to the Indian reservation to pick berries. My Dad said we had to keep quiet so the Indians didn't know we were there. I kept very quiet. I didn't want to get scalped.
I noticed when we picked berries that there was lots of partridge at the Indian Reservation. Lots. When my dad and I went hunting and didn't get any partridge, I told him we should go to the Indian Reservation but my Dad said, no, that wouldn't be fair, the animals on the reservation belonged to the Indians. I guessed the berries probably did too.
One of my pretend grandpas lived next door to our camp. He was a guard at the jail. I used to visit him with my real grandpa. The grandpas would drink whiskey all afternoon and talk about what went on at the jail. My pretend grandpa said that all the prisoners were Indians and the only reason they were in jail was because of the booze. He said sometimes, especially in the winter, they would pick up drunk Indians and take them to jail just so they would be warm and have three squares a day. My pretend grandpa would bring prisoners home with him to spend the night after they got out of jail and would give them some clothes and some food before he took them home to the reserve. I wondered why he didn't just drive them home to start with and then they could get their own food and clothes from their own house. The grandpas said they didn't have any stuff at home. I thought it was not nice that the other Indians would take their stuff.
Lots and lots of times I would see Indian men and ladies sleeping on the steps of the IGA, or the hotel or at the bus depot or in the park. They were "sleeping it off". Sometimes they were bleeding, or had black eyes or puffy faces. I was supposed to leave them alone and ignore them. But once Terry and I saw his auntie sleeping it off at the IGA. I thought Terry should say hello to his auntie, but he got mad and didn't want to.
I thought my Dad liked the Indians but one day when we came to our property on the river someone had written "Get off our land" and some bad words on the rocks in white paint. My dad got mad and he crossed off the words with red paint and wrote instead "Bloody Indians!" My mother got upset and insisted he cover that up. He did - with paint that was close to the colour of the rocks, but you could tell it was paint.
All of this was almost fifty years ago.
~~~to be continued
I remember reading Heather Robertson's *Reservations are for Indians* and feeling horribly sad and guilty because I believed ... No, I knew, that every word was true. At about that time I learned that my playmate Terry had died. I never did learn how he died and actually learned about it several years after the fact but I was convinced that he must have died because he was an Indian.
I clearly remember being vocally supportive of the occupation of Anicinabe Park in Kenora.
I knew that I wanted to help but did not know how and, in fact, understood that my "help" was not wanted by Native people anyway. Or so they told me.
At that time in my life, I partied with the best of them shall we say, native and non-native alike. I probably spent as much time drinking and or drunk than I did sober. Who would I be to say that natives shouldn't drink? Oh we had lots of discussions into the wee drunken hours about the answer to the natives' predicament. They got arrested and I didn't because they were brown skinned and poor. They were poor because they got a bum deal on where their reservations got stuck. The tax payer gave them plenty of money, enough I figured to ensure that none of them would be poor if managed right. It was just mismanaged by Indian Affairs and/or their own bands. I figured all we had to do was fix the money/poverty issue and return to them any land to which by treaty they were entitled.
I was sympathetic but ignorant.
And that was thirty years ago.
I think I knew, even as a child, that children would suffer attending school away from their families. I don't think I realized though as I grew up, even as I heard the evidence of physical and sexual abuse and as I began to comprehend that there would be a loss of language, culture and identity, that the effects would be so profound and dangerously irreversible. It was not until I began to see for myself the thousands of children removed from their parents' care because their parents were unable to parent, parents and children alike affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; children so obviously needing to be loved and protected and nurtured and parents being unable to do so because they never learned how; thousands of human lives, several generations of them, marked by neglect, poverty, boredom, violence, abuse, addictions, suicide, brain damage, shame and despair, that I began to realize the enormity of the situation.
I am fortunate to have within my acquaintance several middle class middle-aged First Nation women who happened to be in my neck of the woods a couple of years ago to attend the Residential School settlement hearings. As I work near the courthouse, they dropped in to see me during breaks in the proceedings and perhaps prompted by the stories they had heard and related themselves shared some of their stories with me - stories about themselves and their families that I had not heard from them before and that I would never have guessed, stories that left our faces wet with tears. Yet we embraced and smiled, all of us somehow relieved and reassured at the telling and the hearing of those stories.
And so what about the book?
Both Robertson and Wadden are critical of the politics and bureaucracy hampering economic survival and psychological recovery and healing on the reserve. Wadden however reports of healing at the grassroots level and suggests that we now have an opportunity we cannot afford to miss to stimulate and support the healing process for our native people. She believes that native social healing must be made a government priority. I was encouraged to be presented with a, interestingly, 12-step plan. I was also encouraged to see as part of that plan, what non-native people can do to help.
I was, as a result of Wadden's book, inspired to research both the Alkali Lake and Hollow Water treatment "success stories" and to find out what native people thought about the apology offered by PM Harper in June (Wadden's book pre-dates the apology but she felt that it would be important that native people felt the apology was sincere. My impressions so far are that most did think it was made sincerely.) My follow up with the grassroots treatment strategies is less encouraging. One of the things that Wadden did not report was the bitterness of some members of the Alkali Lake community over the issue of money - some people being paid for public appearances and getting credit for something that the whole community "owned". Given that Wadden recommends a reorganization of how funding should be allocated from top down to a more grassroots level (conceivably eliminating in the process high salaried positions at Indian & Northern Affairs and Health Canada for example) that process must be handled with considerable foresight. The Chelseas addressed this and other concerns in a number of ways but I learned that bitterness still exists in the community many years later.
The other thing that, while not surprising (even if you stop drinking, you still have no job), is disconcerting (and Wadden does speak of this) is the fact that while a whole generation of people at Alkali Lake worked very hard and achieved considerable success in overcoming their addiction, that success has not carried over into the next generation. However, my reservations (no pun intended) pale in comparison to my preparedness to embrace the plan.
Here is the twelve-step action plan as set out by the author (I leave it to anyone who reads this to search out the book for Wadden's explanation and expansion of it):
1. Create a national agency dedicated to comprehensive Aboriginal community economic development.
2. Create a broad-based citizens' coalition to support the aspirations of Aboriginal Canadians.
3. Fund national Aboriginal organizations to launch a process of consultation in communities across the country, with the assistance of addiction experts, that will lead to a firm policy regarding alcohol consumption, favouring either total abstinence or harm reduction.
(As an aside, I found the debate between total abstinence and social/controlled drinking in the book particularly interesting and was surprised to learn that a greater percentage of native Canadians totally abstained than non-native Canadians. I had a talk with my homeless friend Donald recently. I am one of those people who regularly drop a loonie or two in the outstretched hats of street people (all the while debating with myself as to the advisability of doing that). Donald knows that if I have the money to spare, I am a soft touch, but whether or not a loonie drops he will usually favour me with a few moments of small talk on the steps of the church at his corner. On this particular day Donald was lamenting that his clothes were dirty and he wished he could find somewhere to do laundry. On impulse, I gave Donald $10 saying he could do his laundry or spend it any way he liked. He shared that he had a bad feeling that he was going to get beat up that night. When I asked him why he did not stay on his reserve (he's told me from time to time of his visits there), he said he couldn't stay there because there was "too much violence, drugs and drinking." I asked him what he thought about total abstinence versus controlled social drinking. Donald thought that total abstinence would be best. I also asked him what his dreams had been or were, what he would do if he wasn't drinking. He said that all he would wish was be able to take care of his street friends. When I asked him if he had any children, he shared that he had one son but that his son had died when he was two months old. Our eyes welled up and he said that the priest at the church was helping him deal with his loss. He said that his parents had both passed too; they were both drinkers and his father had beaten him. He shared that at least he had never harmed his son. The next time I saw Donald he had on a smart new shirt. When I commented that he was looking pretty dapper, he laughed and said that a friend had given him $10 and he thought he'd splurge. We both laughed.)
4. Develop a national strategy for the prevention and treatment of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
5. Provide national Aboriginal organizations with the funding to create a public education program warning Aboriginal Youth of the dangers of binge drinking.
6. Honour the commitment made in the Kelowna Accord to end the housing shortage in Aboriginal communities within ten years.
7. Expand services to treat and prevent childhood sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities.
8. Provide more opportunities for Aboriginal youth to be mentored and provide more intercultural education for non-Aboriginal teachers and service providers.
9. Create a coordinated national strategy to reduce the sky-rocketing rate of Aboriginal youth suicide.
10. Increase media coverage of Aboriginal issues.
11. Make the mental health and addiction needs of Aboriginal people an immediate national priority by improving the delivery of health care.
12. Establish a national exchange program between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth.
I was impressed to learn that the publishers (Douglas & McIntyre) had sent complimentary copies of the book to Aboriginal affairs bureaus across the country. I wonder if they'll be read. I hope so.
Like all of my books, I will release this one to a new reader. I'm thinking about where it will do the most good.
In the meantime, this is my second book read for *The 2nd Canadian book Challenge, Eh*
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
I left this book at the Balancing Spirit Rock near the wooden walkway bridge.
I released it in celebration of Aboriginal Day today and as part of the Canada Day release challenge running from June 20 to July 1st in celebration of Canadian books and authors.
I hope the finder enjoys this thought provoking book.