Monday, November 30, 2020




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. 


Thursday, November 26, 2020




A little over two years ago, in 2018, I suffered a stroke. I was at Elizabeth Bruyère Rehabilitation Hospital in Ottawa for a few months for rehabilitation. I acknowledge the amazing team of doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists who contributed to my quick recovery.

A few weeks into my recovery, a nurse came to my room with the wheelchair. I was really excited to be able to roam around the stroke unit independently.  One day, she came to my room and said, “I have good news and bad news, which do you want first?”  

Being the eternal optimist, I said “the good news, please.” She started: “the physiotherapist says I need to return your wheelchair.”

“What!” I said, “no, I want to keep it.”  And she added “there are others who need it more, and the good news is you don't need it anymore.” 

I reluctantly said goodbye to my wheelchair, at the same time I was pleased to be moving on in my rehab, I went from my wheelchair, to a walker, and then finally to walking with a cane. It took a number of weeks before I was walking without any aids.  And it felt great when I could!

Unfortunately, during the winter of 2019 I twisted my knee slipping on ice and pulled my meniscus. I had to use a walker again. It was a setback for sure because a ligament takes quite a while to heal. It was then I realized I needed to make friends with my walker.  I found this minor change in my mindset really helpful.  I changed my attitude to it and begun calling it my “assistant.” After all an assistant is there to help, right?  This one helped me feel secure.  It carried my purse, and with the aid of a handicapped pass it allowed me premium parking spaces at stores.  Eventually I was able to not rely on it, first in my home, and slowly when I was out in public.  

Not only is winter coming, and not to get all Game of Thrones on you with a global pandemic continuing, we could be heading for some uncertain dark months ahead with rising caseloads and increasing restrictions on our lifestyle.  In the coming months we may well experience significant doses of sadness, anxiety, and depression.

Well I am thinking ahead, and I will for safety reasons be turning to my old friend when I go out again, as my safety net. What will you adapt as your safety net?

My journey since 2018 has been to shift my perspective and to see things from a more positive viewpoint. I believe it has helped me recover faster, and I might add there is certainly no shame in accepting help. I view my “assistant” as a privilege.

Science shows us that establishing and maintaining routines can be a form of antidepressant, and perhaps introducing to your routine meditation, if you haven't already, it will help you navigate through the coming months.  As a long time meditator, I can attest to these benefits of improved mental health, more energy, better sleep and steady mood.  Not to mention happiness. 

 2020 has been like a wet blanket. I will emphasize, your perspective makes all the difference in your world on how you will navigate the upcoming months. Stay safe be well.  And don’t be afraid to call on your assistants!  Whatever – or whoever - they may be…


Monday, November 9, 2020



28 years ago I met a man I had a crush on in person at a law conference in Ottawa.

My crush on him started a couple years prior to us actually meeting each other.  I read a couple of speeches he wrote for the then Attorney General of Ontario, Roy McMurtry. in addition, I also read a number of legal opinions he had written on treaty and aboriginal rights.  To clarify, I had a crush on his brain, his intellect. Who is this man?  He made complex legal arguments understandable.  This said to me that he knew his area of specialty, and he also had a clear and uncluttered mind. As it turned out we knew a number of people in common. 

That lucky day in Ottawa, we spent the whole afternoon getting to know each other  after his presentation. Later that evening we had dinner at Sitar,  an Indian restaurant with lawyers we both knew, my current boss and a lawyer I worked with before I moved to Ottawa.  By the end of the dinner I knew this was the man I wanted to marry.  He was intellectually stimulating and we also had chemistry.  And although he said he would call he didn't.  And we didn't see each other until that fall at a business meeting in Toronto we had. 

To be sure, our 28 years of marriage had its challenges, but nothing we couldn't overcome.  Not long after our marriage Alan drafted the beginnings of a novel. It described eerily perfectly the view of our future house from the river shore, before we even thought of selling my condominium in Ottawa and moving to the country.  Recently, after minor changes to his manuscript, I convinced him to go back and complete his novel.  I am so excited to see it finally completed and in print.  

The reason I believe we can choose the person we fall in love with is because I had a clear vision of who I wanted to spend my life with, someone who is not run by his ego or his profession. Who is intelligent, authentic and has integrity.  Alan is all of this and more.  In fact, while we were dating I said something to the effect that he was a nice man.  He didn't want to be known as "nice."  I think he wanted to be described as a wild man! 

I am grateful to have met and married such a beautiful wild man who knows me like no one else in the world.  He is my best friend.  Happy anniversary darling. I am so blessed you said yes when I proposed, and when you were ready I said yes when you proposed.  

November 11,1992


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Indigenous Heritage Month 2020

November is Indigenous heritage month it is an opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge important cultural contributions made by Indigenous peoples to the world. The picture above is of my dad, who was a traditional trapper, and an older brother. 

         Water needs flow to stay fresh, humans need to  adapt to challenges to create a life that is                             meaningful and purposeful.  Indigenous peoples are survivors, they have adapted, and continue to teach us by their example.  

In the summer 2020 during a global pandemic four professional Indigenous women  came up with a plan and met to discuss a vision  I am one of them.  What followed was an electric conversation, filled with inspiration and insight.  We had noble aspirations to combat addictions in Indigenous communities across Canada.  Our idea is to  develop curriculum based on intergenerational trauma as a source of addictions.  

  I admit the subject of addictions is  broad and complex and cannot simply be reduced to  effects of trauma. This point cannot be ignored or understated.  However, coupled with looking at the effects of the impact of colonization on Indigenous Peoples is a pathway to uncovered a possible link of intergenerational trauma and addictions.  There is Overwhelming trauma in our history. 

It goes without saying that the impact of the global pandemic created a perfect storm for addictions to take hold in Indigenous communities,  due to  months long lockdown, loss of income and security. People suffered and continue to suffer and is placing a  burden  on their mental health.  These stresses are exactly what drives people to  turn to substance abuse.

Since the onset of the pandemic suicides, and abuse incidents have increased in communities.  communities are  under insurmountable grief.  The four women decided to do something to mitigate the damages done by the pandemic and step into an huge undertaking.    The fruits of their conversation resulted in the creation of  7th Generation Indigenous foundation and training, also known as GIFT.  it is no mistake that the foundation acronym is GIFT it was by design.  the foundation is a gift to the communities. 

 Careful consideration was given to people who were invited to sit on the foundation.  An ideal director would have the following qualities, leadership and knowledge in the area of addictions, integrity, a strong desire and commitment to be part of the solution.  In turn, the foundation   aligns with their inner purpose for  meaningful service to  their communities.  Essentially to be involved with a movement greater than themselves, a noble cause. 

 The foundation's work will transform individual lives and communities by creating healthy relationships. 

 We are extremely pleased that we have attracted  Scholarly and established Indigenous people to sit on the foundation.  Day one they showed up engaged and ready for the challenge ahead. 

 Through the efforts of the foundation we are creating a vision of healthy  communities. We are creating a new reality,   Our plan includes uplifting all Indigenous peoples to be the very best version of themselves.  

November is Indigenous heritage month I salute all Indigenous peoples across turtle Island who show up every day for their communities, giving their  time, energy, and dedication   for a  healthier year-round environment  for all Indigenous communities.  A special acknowledgment for the women who shared a vision with me and have joined me on this journey side-by-side on the foundation.   Our work is a reflection of what is in our spirit.  

In just a couple short months we were able to act on this vision from spirit of our ancestors.  Their strength has led us to include Harm reduction as a  model in reducing substance  abuse.  This is not just a theoretical idea.  Countries such as  Denmark, Germany, and even Canada have establish regulated medically  supervised, safe injection sites.  These facilities operate by avoiding stigma and shame on those who use the facilities.  When a safe humane program is available it increases the probability of them seeking treatment to combat addictions on their own. It has demonstrated this as a  successful approach, perhaps most significantly they build their confidence and ability for them to tap into their inner source for healing.  

 A question I will leave you with, what would a future look like for Indigenous Peoples if there were professionals or organizations that not only provided a safe environment but also focussed on  offering resources on  mental and physical health?     This foundation is a start towards  fulfilling that vision.  If anything you read here aligns with  your spirit, and you would like to help with a donation, all gifts will receive a tax receipt.  


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