Thursday, April 29, 2021

A Conversation Stick


 

A Conversation Stick

 

My walking stick arrived and It is pretty cool. I never imagined I would get excited about something like this. Using a mobility aid is not something that I eagerly embrace, and I believe a lot of people resist using it for the same reasons that I reluctantly started using one.  

 

I have been using one for a couple of years after a stroke to prevent falls and give me some assistance when I am out and about. 

 

It's interesting to me that I was unwilling to use a cane, mostly because I thought it made me look vulnerable and old. And it shouldn't really, because in Indigenous cultures elders are revered. In current times, though, even Indigenous people are not living up to how our ancestors treated their elders. But I also didn't like answering questions about what happened to me and why I had to use an aid.  And if I am completely honest, perhaps I just didn’t want to be judged as weak.

 

When I thought more about it, though, I wondered why underneath I felt shame for requiring a cane. Where does that come from? Why did I feel shame?  It really doesn't make sense. After all we don't have those same feelings if we wear glasses do, we? I should just be grateful that I am able to have mobility, albeit slowly. 

 

Then, my daughter sent me a link to Neo-Walk, a company that designs and sells pretty cool looking walking sticks. They call it DNA. Which stands for “Do Not Ask.”  The updated design using vibrant colours and clear acrylic material are a huge step up from the traditional canes. Neo-Walk also makes customized walking stick. This interests me, and I'm going to put my mind and creativity to think of a design I would like them to make me.  I definitely like the feel of it.  It is sturdy and feels safe. What more could I ask for? Once I create my design, my conversations will not be focused or why, and I needed to use a walking stick, but on the cool design. Taking this perspective is empowering.

 

As with any challenges we faced, resilience happens out of the necessity of being creative and having a perspective that empowers. Living in a global pandemic has proven this over and over again as our freedom became restricted and we had to pivot the way we do business. Perhaps I will design a walking stick similar to the staff wielded by Gandalf from Lord of the Rings: something conveying resilience, greatness and perhaps even magic.   

 

Walking softly on Mother Earth, carrying a big stick.  When you see me walking approach me and don’t ask me about any disability. Ask me about my magic because this is what resilience looks like when you are a proud owner of a Neo-Walk walking stick!

PS My stick is also better than bacon!



Monday, April 12, 2021

I AM DENE; THEREFORE, I SPEAK DENESULINE

 





 Six generations of   incredible Dene women,  all fluent Desuline speakers My great grandma,Sophia grandma, Christine Adam my mom,  Therese Deranger big sister Dora Flett , her daughter, Donna Deranger, and her baby, Sandra  photo taken in the 1970's. Three generations of Dene speakers left in my family, by 2021



I was raised in a small northern community in Alberta, Canada, in the Hamlet of Fort Chipewyan among Cree, Dene, M├ętis and non-natives (settlers). Why did I put settlers in italics?  I don't like to use the term settlers because I view it as derogatory and dehumanizes a collective group.  After all, none of us are personally responsible for the actions of our ancestors. Moreover, in the age of reconciliation there is no need to shame. Reconciliation will only work if both parties know their actions have consequences, particularly in current times because we know better. To perpetuate the term settler does not bring us closer to reconciliation, but in fact continues to divide us.  

My parents and my grandparents spoke Denesuline fluently. Neither my parents nor my grandparents attended residential schools. We were poor but we spoke our language. As I get older, I am beginning to appreciate truly the richness of my Dene language and culture. It was the younger children like me who in my family attended residential school. You may be aware these schools were created by the government of Canada to kill the Indian within the child, and by and large it worked. It started first by preventing us from speaking our language and then creating a feeling of inferiority surrounding being Indigenous.  The culture of residential school perpetuated the feeling of never being good enough or measuring up to the non-Indigenous population.

I am a product of residential school at the same time I have the resilience of my ancestors flowing in my blood.  Residential schools created the conditions for Indigenous peoples to become ashamed of speaking their mother tongue. I had no choice into which family I would be born, just like those of European ancestry, which is why I feel strongly not to perpetuate calling them settlers. Why would I want to shame them?  

I have always held pride in the ability to understand Denesuline.

Really? To be completely honest with myself there must have been something holding me back from being able to speak Denesuline fluently. However, I will not blame residential school for not speaking my language today. It is ridiculous that I didn't master my language. After all I was raised hearing the language being spoken all around me. I should be fluent. But I am not.  And there is no pride in that.

 To say I am proud of being Dene comes with responsibility. That responsibility and honour is to keep our language alive.  And it is not too late.  A good friend, an advocate for keeping the Blackfoot language alive, Dr. Betty Bastien, once said to me all you need are two Indigenous speakers to keep a language alive.  Thankfully, we have more than that.  And after speaking to an author who wrote 90 books this weekend who said he writes books not about because he knows about something but rather to learn about a subject, he writes to learn more. It made perfect sense to me.  When I blog I am often trying to process something I'm going through.  He says we should question. Well, I am on a quest to learn why I am not fluent in my native tongue, and to change that fact.

 I am taking a stand to ensure that in the next generation, those under 60 years of age will become fluent in Denesuline.  Beginning with myself. The journey will begin with asking the question: “Why am I not a fluent speaker already?”   

When I moved to Ottawa my mother was still alive, and she kept the language alive for me. But recently I realized that I didn't know any Dene speakers in Ottawa, and I was losing my fluency. I wasn’t even hearing it any more. I knew I needed to do something fast before it was too late. This realization ignited a sense of urgency in me.

To that end I have made arrangements for a group of Denesuline speakers to meet monthly, beginning next month, to visit and speak our language. And since it is a pandemic and we are all over Canada, this will take place over the phone.  I think that the inquiry as to why I am not a fluent speaker will be something I will be discovering on my own and perhaps among this group, who have surely all faced challenges in maintaining their fluency. I want it to be like a group of friends just visiting, like in the old days.  But we will only be speaking Denesuline, even myself.

At the end of the day, I ought to discover pride for my mother tongue. And more importantly, to help revitalize a language that is far too close to extinction. Then I can honestly say with satisfaction” “I am Dene; therefore, I speak Denesuline,” because I will be assuming my responsibility for keeping Denesuline language alive in honour of my mother, and ancestors. This is what me being proud of being Denesuline looks like.

Walking my talk finally, by not fooling myself.

 


 



Sunday, March 14, 2021

It's Always You

 

DARLING

 

 

 

It is you

It’s always been you

being little

took your voice

 you needed to discover for yourself

the choice was yours

the way you wound up being limited, small unimportant is no accident

with an open mind


With Brothers Roger across from me, Rossi next to him and Chris next to me at Holy Angels

as delicate as a flower

you realized your story

took all your power and

 imprisoned you by giving meaning in that moment

darling you know,

and you know you know.

It was always you

you held tight to be right

until last night.



My classmates -I am in the back, second from the left.

 Larger, more powerful

uncovering you had the key

 freedom was yours when you let go of being right

you’re larger than life open to unlimited possibilities

whole and complete.

And this darling this is you too.    

A Hero

A Hero 

I am taking a leadership course with Unstoppable Communications; it is the second time I have enrolled in this course, completing it last summer in August, 2020. 

One of the first exercises we did was to discover what word defined leadership. As I pondered the exercise, I discovered that the word I would use to define a leader is being a hero. In particular, someone who undertakes action that no one else would take and at a great cost to themselves. 

A few days ago, I became aware that a good friend, Dr. John O’Connor, has been honoured. He received the first ever award from Ryerson University for being a whistleblower. John received this award for drawing attention to unusual incidence of bile cancer in Fort Chipewyan, in Northern Alberta. This is my home community. He linked Cholangiocarcinoma (bile cancer) to pollution resulted from the oilsands industry. 

His actions came at great cost to him both personally and professionally, if you have been paying attention to any of the conversations around the oilsands you will know that the backlash was swift and severe. His actions resulted in complaints from his professional colleagues that led the Alberta Medical Association to suspend his license to practice medicine. 

As an Indigenous woman from the community of Fort Chipewyan I view Dr. O’Connor's actions as courageous. 

He put his reputation at risk to raise awareness of the damage being done not only to the environment but also to the very people who live on the land. His actions are not only brave but also demonstrate his integrity. In a news article I read he is reported to have said he was only doing his job as a physician. His fight took years before he received validation on his concern regarding incidence of bile cancer, but by then the damage to his personal reputation was marred. 

Dr. John O'Connor and his wife Char
When he took a stand for my community’s health and well-being, he inspired my Chief Allan Adam to take up a political fight against industry and the damage caused by the pollution. Having someone in the medical profession with credibility created the collaboration he needed, and the Chief was able to use the studies on the pollution to move his agenda forward, with a campaign against industry’s destruction that and raised funding for the community to take his fight through the courts. 

Chief Allan Adam of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and  his father Alex
Without Dr. O’Connor’s actions I believe no one would have made the link between Cholangiocarcinoma and the oil industry in northern Alberta.


Only Dr. O’Connor could have made this link. First, he had prior awareness of this rare disease from a case in his own family. As a result, he was able to recognize it and also to realize how unusual it was when he first saw it in the community. Second, when he noticed the occurrence was higher in the community of 1500 souls it was his good character and sense of duty that led him to sound the alarm in spite of the negative consequences to his reputation.
 

Who else would take this kind of risk for an isolated Indigenous community? I echo his call for an independent research study of Cholangiocarcinoma in the community of Fort Chipewyan and surrounding communities in the region of the oil industry. I am extremely honored to call him a friend. 

He is an extraordinary leader, a hero. 


PS I sent a draft of this post to Dr. O’Connor and he replied: “The connection between pollution and cancers in the community hasn’t been formally made-despite the numbers, the documented toxin exposure and the U of M 2014 report-that’s where the health study comes in. Science hand in hand with Traditional Knowledge would complete the picture. Otherwise this is perfect!” 


Thank you, John!

Sunday, February 7, 2021

FAMILY COGNITIVE DISSONANCE, Is it a product of technology?

 




Family, Can't Live with them, Can't live Without them  

  

 We are Good People 


First,  my family is normal and probably no more dysfunctional than the average family.  But it is extremely large and spread over much of Canada, Hawaii, and Australia.  That said, many members of the family can be triggered quickly. And I know it is unfair that I set them up occasionally with a provocative comment or text. Most of the family uses Facebook to keep in touch. Technology is not a good substitute for face-to-face  conversation. 

I don't understand why we behave as we sometimes do that causes emotional upset.   Most  of the time we can laugh and enjoy being together.  However,lately, largely due to the global pandemic, in person contact is rare and that is just part of the problem.  more and more we have become reliant on keeping in touch electronically.     We have photos and memories.    I enjoy posting photos of family get-togethers, it brings back fond memories.   And this is how this particular upset started.   


I have a picture with the nephew we are both smiling. He has blocked and removed me on Facebook.  Occasionally I will take out the photo and look at his  smiling face arms around me.  I vividly remember the moment the photo was taken.  And  it makes me smile knowing we were once close.   I don't cringe when I see photos of him.    I know he  gossips about me to family members and I don't care.  I don't know if he wants to erased me from his life,  and his past. These are his issues to work out on his own. 

In this blog I have intentionally posted pictures of good times.  I want to create lasting memories of the closeness we feel as family the ease we weave in and out of our relationship, regardless of time and distance.  At the same time, some members of the family will not like some photos I post.  It is important to remember that all they are is a facsimile of a person or event.  And they hold no power other than what you give them.  More importantly, not seeing any photos of you with the person you now want to distance from does not erase the history you had with that person.  It does not mean you never had happiness around that person it does not undo the relationship, or tie with that person. 
 

Context


Most Of the family know I manage the private family group page on Facebook.  This morning as I was posting and updating the family page something occurred to make me reconsider why I maintain that page.  By and large I am cognizant of our differences and make every attempt not to create waves and upset contrary to what I said earlier.  When it comes to family I don't go out of my way to upset them.  Today, I made a choice to include some family photos, not the one  I was asked to remove from Facebook. 


When I updated the family group page with the photo of a father, his wife, and adult son.  The parents are estranged.  No sooner had photograph been posted I received a message asking that it be removed, no explanation just "please remove."    I was shocked to be asked that.  The request didn't come from any of the people in the picture.  I responded why? "Because neither of them associate with him" this meant that the wife and son do not associate with the estranged husband/ father or want to be associated with him." It's a very personal family matter".      I removed the photograph. 

Honestly all I was aware of his they were separated and as in most separations there are accusations.  I don't know the details.  Was it so horrific that they now want to erase any evidence that they knew each other or are family?  I removed the photograph from the group as requested, and it is not posted here.   
However doing so made me angry because I started to wonder when did we become so intolerant that a single photo can creates conflict.  And then I thought of other family members who are estranged and then questioned whether I shouldn't be posting pictures of them either.  Where will it end?  

My first instinct was to remove the entire Facebook group and close it down.  But on further consideration I decided to leave it and let the members to decide if it should be removed.  Another option is that I leave the group and allow someone else to manage it.  As I thought about the relationship among the members it occurred to me that many have distanced himself themselves from, each other going as far as removing and blocking each other in social media, essentially ghosting each other I don't want to  be put into a position of having to consider each photo I post and whether or not it will create conflict and upset, particularly if I don't know the whole story of every relationship in the family. 

Why I Created A Family Page


The question I asked myself today is why I created the family page in the first instance? It was with good intentions because at the time, a few years ago I was creating a database of our family tree after my Mom was admitted to long-term care upon breaking her hip.  She was then 87 years old.  I kept it going after raising the question of whether it should stay or if I should remove it after Mom passed at age 96.  Many family members expressly wanted it to stay.  It seemed a safe place for family to catch up on family news. I rotate the pictures of family in the group occasionally.  It was a way of helping a diverse family stay in touch throughout the years and to remember past times when we were all closer.

Early Years



My parents,  uncles and aunts

  
Growing up as the youngest girl with 10 brothers and five sisters what I valued most in my family is our humour and that no one took themselves seriously.  It is this seamless relationship between all of us that I miss. If we don't see each other for months we can pick up where we left off easily as though it  happened just days earlier without any awkwardness.   For the most part, we are accepting of each other and willing to help where possible. 

As I got older our relationships became more complicated.  divisions occurred for political reasons. instead of talking it through I was ostracized.  I was raised with the expectation that we respect our elders. I never witnessed any of us younger ones challenging or being disrespectful to an elder of the family or in the community.  Moreover we would not ever resort to swearing or calling names to our parents or anyone else for that matter.   I know my aunts and uncles were not saints.  No one is above making mistakes.  including and especially me. 

Furthermore, I don't recall anyone being so angry as to not speak with another member in the household, certainly not ghosting anyone.  Granted it wouldn't have happened then because you would see each other every day and be forced to work things out.  It is hard to ignore someone when you are a large family in a small house!

The behaviours we are now witnessing were adopted many years later when we all took to social media such as Facebook.   The nature of social media makes it easier not to work out disagreements face-to-face.  If you don't see each other face-to-face you don't have to take responsibility for freezing them out  and it is easier to remove and block. I know, I have been tempted myself sometimes but I nearly always resisted the urge to remove and block family. 

 The Cognitive Dissonance


What I am experiencing at the moment is noticing more and more nieces, nephews and cousins disrespecting aunts and uncles when individually they are good people and by and large they treat each other respectfully.  So why disrespect family? 

We are all learning during the pandemic there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction when we are dealing with emotional matters.  It is too easy to block a person, or respond with a few keystrokes in a moment of anger. It is harder to back away from a nasty comment when it is in black and white and they don't have the ability to hug or share a meal together and talk things out. 

Outsider



I left the family early and made a life for myself in Edmonton, attending University there and then working for a federal Commission in Ottawa, I got married and stayed in Ottawa.  When I moved to Ottawa I thought it was going to be for two or three years.  I have now been in Ottawa for 28 years.  

I don't believe my childhood created any identifiable trauma within the family.  However, I admit those of us who attended Residential School have trauma and we carried that trauma when we got older and passed it on to our children.  That is referred to as intergenerational trauma. This is  photograph of the residential school and church where trauma began for some of my family.   Not posting the picture in this particular blog will not change what happened.  But it might help us face what happen and acknowledging what happened can give us strength and purpose.   It is a matter of perspective.  It is part of our collective past and can explain how we behave in our present.  

 

 
As I unpacked my family relationship, I begin to consider that I might indeed be an outsider now.  Because it is an explanation of the disrespect I felt.  It is easier to throw assaults on someone you considered outside your group, similar to the cliques in high school.  The popular kids would view other kids as not meeting their expectation to be allowed in their group. 

When you create division, it is easier to see the others as "them and us" where even the word "family" holds less power.  That said most of the family I feel respect and accept me.  But there are some who hold the view that I am judgmental, and that is okay.  

I can be open to the possibility that I may sometimes be judgmental, to be seen as  on a high horse, dispensing disapproval, even.  It is a possibility that some hold that truth.   The one distinction that sets me apart from most of the family is that I have never been addicted to drugs or alcohol. I never saw the sense of what people call "partying".  That doesn't mean I looked down on those who have problems with addiction, or that I didn't understand their struggle. I made other choices.  As a further unpacked my relationship with my family I considered that perhaps my online presence created some of the disconnect.  

My Online Presence


I believe that my online presence is authentic. I don't intentionally post a false betrayal of my life and I certainly don't post with the intention to brag about my life or make others feel as their lives are lacking.  I will not apologize for having made the right choices in my life and creating a life that is drama free.  I accentuate the positive aspects of my life.  I could post about my medical challenges.  I could bemoan the fact that I live in a remote place and I have not been able to drive a car for years after losing my license because of medical reasons and I now have to depend on others to take me to appointments.  But that is not why I blog  or why I post on social media.   In particular, blogging is how I process what happens in my life.  What I post on Facebook are memories and insights I enjoy sharing.  

Most of my online post are of the beautiful view of the Ottawa River from my living room.  It is something I value.  I hold nature and the environment in a high importance because of the beauty and happiness it brings me. I assure you it is not to brag but rather to share and hope that it brings you happiness as well.  It is a spectacular view and even more extraordinary in person seeing it with the naked eye.  I feel some members of the family may see that and perhaps think of me as one of the fortunate ones.  Indeed, I am extremely grateful in particular for the view I see every day and generally for my life which affords me a drama free existence.   I like that I am always looking at the positive aspects of my life. 

As a longtime meditator I know that I have created an inner awareness peace and discipline. I am able to reflect and respond and not overreact to perceived slights perhaps being aware and in control of my emotions might appear to be a threat and others may receive it as I feel superior to them. But I am confident in who I am, being raised in a large family I wound up being compassionate.  And it is just one of the many facets of who I choose to be.

Conclusion


I am absolutely a complex human being, as most of us are. I can be ironic and at the same time I am genuine and  authentic.  Earlier this week I decided to limit which family members I accept into my life, not because I'm better than anyone but just because I want to limit conflict. 

Family dynamics can be a minefield and we have to tread carefully if we don't want to be blown up. I'm extremely grateful for my upbringing coming from a large family and I have developed tools to navigate conflicts and they serve me well.  we are born into our family for the most part.  Remembering that we all  make mistakes will help us have more compassion and acceptance.  

My Perspective


As an avid reader, recently I have read a number of books written by Holocaust survivors and children of murdered Jewish families.   What struck me was their immense capacity to forgive the atrocities done to them.   It is mind-boggling because of the contrasts between that forgiveness and inflated petty accusations from family members.  

One of the first Holocaust related books I read is Man's Search For Meaning is a 1946 book by Viktor Frankl, chronicling his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and describing his psychotherapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about, and then immersively imagining that outcome.  Another is The Gift by Edith Eger.  Both her parents were killed on the day they arrived at the concentration camp.  She  reveals our capacity to transcend even the greatest of horrors and to use that suffering to the benefit of others and in doing that she finds freedom.  What I got from these books is that bad things will happen, indeed horrific and terrible things will happen. It is how you react to the events that matters.  Your perspective that will save you.  What Frankl says is that no matter what happens to you, you always have a choice and the the ability to change your perspective, to give it meaning and purpose and use that to give you strength to endure.  After my medical crisis it was those words that helped me regain my strength.





My big sister, Mary and me when she visited a few years ago



Ottawa River with a portion cleared for skating  02/2021



The view from my window

 My late mom and my son, Andrew, her last grandchild. 



An older brother, Fred and older sister, Annie Mercredi 



My late uncle and aunt, a cousin,  Norma Jean,  and my nephew Dean



Me, my son, Mom, my daughter and granddaughter

 

Family group of the Males with Mom 



Family group at mom's 93rd Birthday Females 






 


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