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 






 


Monday, December 28, 2020

2021, LET'S DO THIS

 



Some of the themes I will continue to write about in the new year are happiness, mindfulness, movement, gratitude, reflections on climate change, health and childhood trauma. I will also continue to learn  new information daily.  I am excited  to see the possibilities in the new year.  I wonder what upgrades the Tesla will develop.  And what adventures are planned for the space industry.   like everyone on the planet I am looking forward to a COVID vaccine, and people being able to hug each other once again. 

I made some resolutions at the end of 2019. They were pretty much the same as in previous years.   I said I would read 90 books,  but  what actually happened is I spent more time  listening to podcasts and only read about 60 books. I am not going to make resolutions this year  because I am going to continue doing what I've always been doing keeping  an open mind  and learning. 

Inasmuch as we are anticipating that 2021 will be different, we should be prepared for much of the same. And we also should be asking questions like: “How can we thrive in more of the same environment? What can we do differently to ensure we are grateful, happy, and thriving? More importantly, how can we maintain our humanity?”

I am encouraged by teenager Swedish climate activists Greta Thunberg. In her plea on March 15, 2019 she said: “Our house is on fire, I want you to panic.” That simple statement drove 1.6 million young people onto the streets for better climate protection and by extension the survival of 7 billion humans on this planet.

At the end of 2019 I had no idea or even a desire to create a federal charitable foundation, or to produce and host a podcast. But both things happened. These are the two things I am most proud of achieving during a global pandemic. The federal charitable foundation is a continuation of the work that I did as chair of Nechi Institute Center of Indigenous Learning. When I resigned from the Board of Governors in August, I felt my work was incomplete. My desire to help Indigenous people understand and recover from substance abuse was still strong. I couldn't just walk away without having something in that space.

I founded Seventh Generation Indigenous Foundation and Training. (G.I.F.T.) and to help promote the foundation I am producing and hosting the Empathetic Witness podcast. It is inviting people to a conversation to unpack and to begin the process of decolonization on areas that impact Indigenous peoples’ life. I produced three episodes in 2020, one inviting you to a conversation on decolonizing addictions, and another on decolonizing Indigenous adoptions.

I ended the year with a powerful and contentious conversation about decolonizing Indigenous Storytelling with Dr. Betty Bastien Professor of Social Work at the University of Calgary, Alberta. Questions discussed were:

· Does the media like CBC hold some responsibility in perpetuating and promoting self-identifying as Indigenous? In the example of Michelle Latimer we can assume she got a CBC job producing a documentary series – at least in part -- because she claimed to have an Indigenous identity.

· The language we use, and its contexts are important. Are there specific terms that we should be avoiding, and what terms should we use instead?

· When our stories are told from a perspective that is not our own, what harm is it creating?

· If it is an Indigenous person telling these stories on Indigenous themes is a native person that has never lived in the community and who has been raised in a city and never lived a"

typical” indigenous experience in an indigenous community, do they have a right to tell the story? I can think of my granddaughters who live in Hawaii, who have not been raised around my brothers and sisters, who have limited understanding of the challenges we faced, can they at some point in their life if they wanted to write a book, do research, produce documentaries on Indigenous themes and will their work be accepted Some of the themes I will continue in the new year are happiness, mindfulness, movement, gratitude, reflections on climate change, health and childhood trauma.  Once the final podcast has been edited I will post it here.  

I am encouraged by teenager Swedish climate activists Greta Thunberg. In her plea on March 15, 2019 she said: “Our house is on fire, I want you to panic.” That simple statement drove 1.6 million young people onto the streets for better climate protection and by extension the survival of 7 billion humans on this planet.

I ended the year with a powerful and contentious conversation about decolonizing Indigenous Storytelling with Dr. Betty Bastien Professor of Social Work at the University of Calgary, Alberta.   in particular  we discussed the Michelle Latimer   controversy  Questions discussed were:

· Does the media like CBC hold some responsibility in perpetuating and promoting self-identifying as Indigenous? In the example of Michelle Latimer we can assume she got a CBC job producing a documentary series – at least in part -- because she claimed to have an Indigenous identity.

· The language we use, and its contexts are important. Are there specific terms that we should be avoiding, and what terms should we use instead?

· When our stories are told from a perspective that is not our own, what harm is it creating?

· If it is an Indigenous person telling these stories on Indigenous themes is a native person that has never lived in the community and who has been raised in a city and never lived a"

typical” indigenous experience in an indigenous community, do they have a right to tell the story? I can think of my granddaughters who live in Hawaii, who have not been raised around my brothers and sisters, who have limited understanding of the challenges we faced, can they at some point in their life if they wanted to write a book, do research, produce documentaries on Indigenous themes and will their work be accepted as authentic? And who has the legitimate right to tell our stories?

· What can we do now to preserve our stories in the most authentic way?

My intention for 2021 is to promote, support and encourage family members to realize their dreams in 2021. My nephew Gitz Crazyboy has been very busy. He published a children's book, and accepted a number of interviews to promote his book, 'Secret of the Stars' from as far away as  Australia. 

2020I am not sad to see you go.  Thank you for teaching me lessons of patients, acceptance and to dig deep to find gratitude in adversity.    it has made me stronger and more determined to be of service to others.  

Saturday, December 19, 2020

DECEMBER 2020 A BRAVE NEW WORLD AWAITS



 

   Reflection on the Year 2020

No one could have predicted what an epic shift 2020 would deliver   I will not focus on the negative aspects of the year.  Enough of that I say.  I will be focusing on our internal power source. It goes without saying that I am not alone in wanting this year to be over! But at the same time, I am a realist.  At the stroke of midnight on 2021 COVID 19 will still be wreaking havoc.  It will not mysteriously disappear, and we can't pretend otherwise.   That said, it has been my longtime belief that how we deal with adversity builds character. 

I am going to write about how I was able to keep my sanity and gratitude in spite of the loss of seven  immediate family members in this past year alone.  It is all about perspective. 

As we go into the New Year will you behave as you did in 2020?  Are there lessons you have learned? Will you be a better version of yourself?  To answer these questions it is helpful if you reflect back on the year as I am doing now.  Look at what you overcame and how you came out at the end of the year more determined, with more strength and with a clear perspective.  Focus on what you have achieved, not what you have lost. 

When was the moment you first realize that "the new normal" would be a description for something that was anything but normal?  Stupid words sprinkled our everyday life, diminishing our freedom.  Words like "new normal," " pivot," "uncertainty" and "social distancing." WTF! 

Like most of us,  it was in March, and COVID was tightening its grip on the world.  Public places began shutting down. We were asked to socially distance to protect those we love. We adapted to the restrictions, albeit with some resistance.  But on the whole we complied. Eventually, weeks turned into months. Now we are approaching the one year mark.  We had no idea how long it would last.  However, I did know nevertheless that a pandemic was going to change the lives of millions of people globally, and unfortunately some did not make it.  

Let me tell you a story  

I survived a pandemic when I was a  toddler,  In the early 1960s I was personally struck by a different global pandemic, polio.  Although a polio vaccine was developed in 1955, before I was born, I got infected, I suspect because I lived in a northern Indigenous community and I had not yet been vaccinated.  I have little memory of that period  of my life.  Fortunately for me I  recovered.  Like many polio survivors it made me resilient and gave me an indomitable spirit and maybe a little stubbornness, which probably stands me in good stead. :)

From all historical accounts it seems that the  human population is reacting exactly as it did in previous pandemics.  As with COVID, polio was caused by a virus. Panic was all-consuming and because it struck children, and as a result all swimming pools, playgrounds, and schools were closed. Hygiene became important, it was  widely believe that the virus was spread through feces because of unclean hands.  Fear and panic swept across the country's like wildfire.  The World Health Organization rapidly worked to develop a vaccine. It was like today's COVID-19.   Humans are a complicated lot and in previous pandemics we behaved out of fear and panic. 

Speaking of which, much of the same reaction is taking place today.  An avalanche of fear and panic has taken over.  In the earlier pandemic there was a resistance to wearing masks too. And then too, usually well-behaved folks began a frenzied buying spree.  This past year, for some reason toilet paper disappeared off the shelves. This was anything but normal.  The next nine months was like living in a movie  and we were the stars in our own drama. 

As far as I can tell there is no hero to save the day.  Only a malicious character who told unbelievable tales and created division, fear and hatred among everybody including families. The deadliest thing he did was to question the science to address the virus. This will go down in history as the deadliest pandemic to face man.  And the worst possible person was there to mishandle the pandemic.

The American election of 2020 created a much-needed diversion for a short time. it was short-lived diversion, and the countries around the world prepared for more shutdowns and restrictions.  

I did what I usually do I made up my mind to get through this. I had to watch my reaction to what was happening. And to be a cause in my own life. In other words to take action for my own happiness  and sanity.  What helped me is taking  Being a Leader Leadership course at the beginning of the pandemic.  This course provided me the tools to put into action what I already knew, that it is important to do something for others that is bigger than myself. I created and produced a podcast to start a national conversation on the impact of colonization on indigenous peoples. The last podcast was on  Decolonizing Adoption. 

And I registered for courses and, as an enthusiastic reader I read a number of books on challenging historical periods. The first book I read was The Great Influenza an account of the Spanish flu in 1918, The Children of the Holocaust by Helen Epstein, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl. Frankl's main point is that when one found purpose and meaning to their life it generated happiness and a reason to live and thrive.  These books speak to the triumph over horrific and unspeakable trauma.  Hubby led me to the writing of Italian Holocaust survivor and scientist Primo Levi, what an extraordinary writer!  The common thread that helped people survive and perhaps thrive in these horrific events is their perspective. Frankl's point is when one found purpose and meaning to their life it  went a long way to create happiness and a reason to live.  These accounts speak to triumph over horrific and unspeakable trauma.  It is within all our capacity to overcome  trauma. 

I registered for a couple of courses on compassionate inquiry, how to address trauma in an understanding  and gentle manner.  It made perfect sense to me to start there because as I understood it we were all experiencing collective trauma.   This brings me to our mental health.  How is your mental health?

Having a greater grasp on emotional understanding correlates to increased happiness and satisfaction, along with better management of stress, while a lack of emotional balance has been linked to poor outcomes with physical health issues. The question becomes how can we achieve emotional balance when we don't fully understand what our emotions are telling us.  To that end, I recommend reading Suzanne David's  Emotional Agility, a Wall Street Journal best-selling book.  It describes the psychological skills critical to thriving in times of complexity and change.  Her advice is to not listen to our negative internal chatter.  This can be more difficult than it appears because more often than not it is at an unconscious level. 

As a longtime meditator, I know that you cannot simply tell your mind not to think of stuff.  Our minds are naturally prone to streams of thought.  The primary goal in meditation is to notice when you have started going down a rabbit hole of thoughts and gently bring yourself back to your focus. Most times it is your breath over and over again.   An important skill in meditation I have learned is to accept and not change what is going on internally, to view it with curiosity and to notice it without judgment.  Meditation is a form of mental dexterity. 

To  navigate the pandemic I looked to my Indigenous history for lessons of the past like adaptability.  


to survive one must adapt. This was especially true to people living from the land. Adaptation leads to creativity, growth and survival.  I often reflect on how my Mom who had 16 children did it.  The resilience she must have had.   I manifested my mother's inner strength and resilience and move forward.  My mother lived in a similar tent as in this image when she was first married.  She recounted a story of when she moved into the log cabin my father built just as the first snow was falling. 



2021 may be better, or it could be more of the same.  What will help you through it is to be mindful of how you adapt to whatever may come up.  Humans are survivors.  And no matter what you go through, find gratitude for something in your life even if you don't want to in that moment.  And trust me, life is mysterious and wonderful. You are here for a purpose. Your life will be meaningful, happy even.  Be of service to others.   In DENE law we are each given a life at the time our birth. It is a sacred gift that is given to our parents and grandparents. The happiness you give to others far outweighs any negativity of this pandemic.  We cannot only survive we can absolutely survive and thrive.  Challenging times such as the pandemic can teach us so much about ourselves. It can reveal strengths we didn't know we had.When We emerge from it, we will be stronger, inoculated not only against a virus but all kinds of other  challenges too.

Finally,  my last thoughts on this.  I mistakenly said there were are heros to save the day,  but it goes


without saying it  is important to acknowledge the men and women working in the health profession, nurses doctors, frontline workers. People who in spite of the danger go to work every day so that we can be safe they are the heroes in this pandemic.  Like my lovely niece pediatric nurse,  Presley. 

I leave you with these words:  strength, happiness, gratitude, being blessed, and adaptability.  Let these be your words for 2021.  

Merry Christmas! :) 


Monday, November 30, 2020

RACE SHIFTING, IDENTIFYING AND CLAIMING TO BE INDIGENOUS FOR PERSONAL GAIN



 


 

Distinctive Dene  jacket made by my mom, Therese Deranger 

Words and contexts matter. The subject of this blog may give rise to an emotional reaction. I write it from an Indigenous world view.

Why do some non-Indigenous people seek to identify themselves as Indigenous? I understand that sometimes it could be as simple as an individual trying to fill a void within themselves and seeking acceptance, belonging, and kinship. This is a basic human desire.

Throughout history leading to today, some non-Indigenous people have self-identified as Indigenous.  This is not a new phenomenon. I do not take issue with that concept. However, I do take issue with someone who uses a recently assumed identity to access a system designed to help marginalized people.

A famous historical example is Archibald (Archie) Bellaney, better known as Gray Owl, and in more contemporary times, the controversy over author Joseph Boyden’s ever-changing claim as Indigenous was a heated topic in 2016.

The issue of identity begins as a personal matter. It satisfies a real need.  In the era of Black Lives Matter, Indigenous peoples around the globe are standing up for their rights, on constitutional matters, and have begun the process of squaring colonial policies, like residential schools, and the 60s scoop with contemporary awareness based on human rights by reframing our perspective through the lens of colonialism.  To put it bluntly, the attempted cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada is reprehensible and efforts to correct the damage is necessary.

Identifying as an Indigenous person does not automatically mean you’re entitled to rights as an Indigenous person. Finding an Indigenous ancestor in your family tree can give a person the right to claim some form of Indigenous identity.  Think of Senator Elizabeth Warren.  DNA analysis indicates that she apparently had a full-blooded Indian ancestor between 6 to 10 generations ago.  This would mean that one of between 64 and 1024 of her ancestors was Indigenous.  It is a source of some personal pride for her. But is it really meaningful?

Nevertheless the issue of identity ceases to be purely personal when something tangible is at stake, like Aboriginal or treaty rights or the right to claim an award intended for people who are have been colonized.  If you self-identify as an Indigenous person in order to have a legal right or to claim some award for Indigenous people, you must also be able self-identify as a member of a particular Indigenous community. And that community must also recognize you as its member.

Can we agree that Indigenous people are marginalized? Some are discriminated against solely based on their physical appearance. Government programs were designed to demean and break their spirit.  Today programs and scholarships meant for Indigenous peoples are created to help level the playing field for the wrong that was perpetrated on them. 

To that end, I have begun a conversation on how colonization continues to impact Indigenous people.  I recently produced a podcast on decolonizing addictions, and in particular decolonizing substance use in a conversation about the harmful effects of stigma and why Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in addiction. Decolonizing substance use is about creating a collective understanding about where an addiction comes from, making clear linkages between colonialism, trauma, substance use and then addiction. It is just one issue where many Indigenous people must overcome.  There are other areas where Indigenous people are overrepresented, like the penal system and the foster care system and these have an enormous negative impact on the lives of Indigenous peoples.  The trauma resulting from these experiences is intergenerational, and this compounds the problem and complicates finding a way out of the trauma/addiction vortex.

Perhaps the criteria for self-identifying as Indigenous ought to be more difficult.  But in an ideal world where people behaved with honour, we wouldn't have to worry about people applying in categories created for Indigenous people by those who don’t qualify. It just wouldn't happen.   

If you are self-identifying as Indigenous, I will leave it to you and your conscience to reflect carefully on your reasons for applying under an Indigenous category. In what way have you been marginalized?   The most challenging obstacle being Indigenous is our physical appearance. We cannot change the colour of our skin. If you look Caucasian, you have no idea what it feels like to be followed in the store watched in case you steal. You have no idea what it feels like to be sick, and instead of getting medical help, witnesses jump to the typecast that you must be drunk, Indigenous people have died because of this stereotype. If you haven't experienced an Indigenous life, can we agree you are privileged? And furthermore, to extend your privilege to the point where you think it is okay to accept a scholarship over a needy Indigenous person and not only show little compassion, it shows little comprehension on why Indigenous categories exist. Shame on you! The bottom line is taking what is not yours is not the Indigenous way.

As I mentioned earlier you may have found Indigenous ancestors in your genealogy, however applying for an award in an Indigenous category clearly suggest you do not understand the difficulty and struggles of Indigenous people have for hundreds of years since colonization.  

In my view there are people who are opportunists and see this as an opportunity for themselves, to gain the system. And then there are people who genuinely admire Indigenous people and see their self-identifying as Indigenous as a way to elevate and give back to Indigenous peoples in some manner. Which one are you? 

In the era of reconciliation, it is important first to be educated, secondly to reconcile the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous and not take advantage of the opportunities intended for Indigenous peoples.   The lines of “Indigenous” and “non-Indigenous” are being blurred more and more all the time.  It can’t be just about your bloodline.  It must also be about your lived experience.  To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, ask not what identifying as Indigenous can do for you, instead ask how identifying as Indigenous can improve life for your Indigenous community and Indigenous communities on the whole.  

Being Indigenous for me is to function on a foundation of respect, honour, and reciprocity in a natural law context as my ancestors have done for millennia.  

I am Dene.  I live in unceded Algonquin territory This is my mom beading. 

 

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