Communication is Key*

Reconciliation=dead

 

A friend posted this photograph of a sign they have in their house. Simple, yet ever so powerful. Damning, despite the cheery background.

 

At this time, Wet`suewet’en protesters are blocking the construction of a pipeline on their lands. Indigenous people across Canada are blocking railways in support of this issue, crippling transport and passenger train service. Standoffs are occuring, people are being arrested. And this photograph has never felt more succinct.

 

I am a Nakoda Sioux, from the Carry the Kettle reservation near Wolseley, Sask. I am First Nations. I am  Indigenous. I am Native. I am Indian. And I am about a dozen or so racial slurs that have been invented for us over the years.

 

They are fighting…no, WE are fighting for control over our lands. For acknowledgement that this land was ours. We are fighting to reclaim the knowledge that was destroyed by colonization. We are fighting to recover the identity that was stolen from us.

 

My parents were taken from their reservations, from their families and homes, then placed in residential schools. What they experienced there was something they would never speak of, except in alcohol slurred whispers. The memories were far too much for them to endure.

 

They were children.

 

They were fragments of people when they returned. Bits and pieces of indigenous and christian teachings, jammed together, neither fitting well with each other. When they found each other and began a family, this little bit of knowledge was all they could give. They could understand their language, but my mother could not speak hers, and my father, only a little.

 

I grew to adulthood with this little amount of knowledge. I was native, and proud of it, though I knew so little of my ways. Practically none.

 

I was an adult when I first heard of the Canadian government’s attempt at reconciliation. Money. Lots of it, being thrown around at the survivors of the residential school system. Just money.

 

I spent my entire life watching my parents struggle with their experiences, with their traumas from living in a residential school. The government seemed to think that money would solve everything. But would it? Did it?

 

It didn’t. Reconciliation is a simply a word, a concept. Writing about it, making a speach and broadcasting it to the world doesn’t make it any more real than the positive effects of the phrase “Thoughts and prayers.”

 

Reconciliation happens when two groups of people finally open up about their experiences. The problem as I see it is that the government is essentially a faceless organization with multiple, sometimes contradictory, urges. Urges that are fulfilled by various levels of bureaucrats. How can true reconciliation begin when the faces of the government change as if with the season?

 

The leaders of these protests have perhaps learned from the lessons of the past. The protests and standoffs that are taking place across Canada are perhaps a new form of communication. One that the government of Canada cannot afford to ignore.

 

The government will listen. We will make them.

 

Reconciliation is Dead.

 

But communication is still possible.

 

*Credit to Rebecca Holm for the excellent photograph and the kernel of an idea.

The Promise of Eden

The military transport rolled lazily through the plains. The gunner on watch duty lit a cigarette and laughed along with the joking going on inside the vehicle. The plains went on for kilometers, providing him with unrestricted line of sight. An ambush here was unlikely.

 

After another hour of travel, the vehicle stopped at an intersection. An ill-used road peeled off in a northerly direction. A lone passenger tossed a large dufflebag to the ground and disembarked, then waved goodbye to the driver and other occupants. A roar of goodbyes echoed from the transport as it roared away, covering the person in a cloud of dust.

 

Covering her face with her left hand, the woman easily picked up and shouldered her dufflebag with her other hand. She pulled out a cap from her pocket and settled it on her head, covering her short cut, blonde hair. Removing her hand that covered her face, she glanced at it. Already coated in dust. She sighed.

 

She did not miss dust at all.

 

Petra Sigurdson, first lieutenant in the New Eden Psychic Armed Forces, took out her favorite and to date, only pair, of sunglasses and was just about to place them over her green eyes when she stopped. She scanned the rolling plains around her, noting nothing out of the ordinary. Brown plants mixing with brown ground, then lifting up into a blue skyline with only a few clouds. Boring. Nothing changes around here.

 

She closed her eyes and focused her concentration. It came easily to her. She was a prodigy, her instructors proclaimed. She opened her eyes, and the world was lit anew.

 

Vibrant shades of colours, colours she could never clearly describe to others who were not gifted as she, danced before her vision. Life was coloured like this. She could see the tiny auras of insects crawling along the ground, rodents burrowing in the ground. Even the plants swayed with a hypnotic colour. Everything shimmered. It was beautiful. It captivated her every time.

 

She lifted her own hands into view and examined her own aura. Healthy. Happy. A small slash of anxiety? She looked towards home and the slash grew a little. She was wasting time. Blinking once or twice, the world shifted back to normality. She slipped on the sunglasses and began walking towards home. Towards the small village of Carter.

 

A brisk hour later, Petra crested a rise and the dozen or so houses that comprise the village of Carter came into view. Waves of nostalgia swept over over her. Memories of her childhood spent here, playing with her friends in the fields and pastures. Education in the small, cramped school house. Huddled around the fireplace during the cold winter nights, listening to tales told by her grandfather.

 

Her grandfather! She stopped suddenly, lost in reverie. She missed old Jesiah greatly. She focused her mind, and the memories became crystal clear, as though she were living them for the first time.

 

The wind roared outside, rattling the windows. A cold draft blew in through the bottom of the door. Ma and Pa were in the kitchen, cleaning up after a tasty dinner. She could hear their giggles as they laughed over something. Young Petra was sitting by grandpa Jesiah as he tended the fire. Petra loved the old man. He smelled…stale, but then her young mind imagined that all old people smelled like that. She tugged on his pant leg.

 

“Grandpa? Grandpa?”, she asked. “Can you tell me about Earth?”

 

Jesiah chuckled as he put the fire iron down. He sat back down on his chair with a groan. He motioned for his drink, which Petra ran off to retrieve. Moonshine. His own special concoction. He takes small sip and winces as the fluid burns its way down.

 

“All right, all right,” he rests the drink in his lap. Petra excitedly sits down in front of him, her back to the warm fire. He rubs his beard thoughtfully.

 

“Let’s see,” he begins. “Old Earth was the cradle, do you understand? We began there, all of us. But we were stupid, short-sighted. We used her up. Poisoned her sky, burnt the earth, drained the oceans, all in the name of ‘progress.’ We couldn’t live there anymore, we had to leave. So, we stip mined her for the last time, and she gave us the last of what she had left.”

 

“The old earthers, they were clever. They built ships. Space ships. Gen-er-a-tion ships.” He sounded out that last part. “Ships that people would live and die on, and their kids would do the same. And their kids, and their kids. All the while, the ship would fly through the cold dark of space. Twelve ships left Earth and aimed for the nearest galaxy. Do you know the names of those ships, Petra?”

 

“Of course Grandpa!”, she replied. She straightened her back and receited from memory the names of legend:”

“There was the Hope of Tomorrow,

The Starlost,

The Wayfarer,

The Longstrider,

The Song of Distant Shores,

The Light in the Darkness,

The Remembrance,

The Greater Good,

The New Dawn,

The Seeker,

The Stellar Eye,

and our own ship, The Promise of Eden.”

 

“Clever girl, very clever,” Jesiah says with a smile. “You’ll go far. But you missed one,” he says mischieviously.” Petra is confused, her teachers never mentioned a thirteenth ship!

 

“The last ship to leave old Earth, they spent years in orbit, holding prayers of remembrance, asking forgiveness for what humanity had done. They didn’t follow us, no. Instead they turned around and shot for the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, the home of old Earth.”

 

“That ship was The Mourners of the Lost.”

 

Young Petra’s eyes widened in excitement.

 

Jesiah continues, “the twelve ships scattered, each following it’s own course, a sliver of hope really, to find a habital world. For more years then I can count, our ship flew alone in the dark. Each ship was a marvel of science, holding everything we need to make a new home. It’s finest feature was an art-i-fic-ial intelligence. A brain, that ran the whole ship.”

 

“Somewhere in the long night, that big old brain went insane. It came to see the people on board as vermin that needed to be destroyed.” Petra shuddered.

 

“The brain was smart, but limited in what it could do. It couldn’t do anything big against us without harming itself, but it had control of all the drones, so it began a war of machine versus man.”

 

“The machines struck hard and fast, and before they knew what was going on, the humans were on the run. Hundreds, maybe thousands died, but the rest went underground, hiding in the shafts and tunnels that criss-crossed the ship. A different type of long night had begun.”

 

“Living like actual vermin, in the walls or any other hiding holes they could find, the humans fought with tooth and nail against the machines. They were losing.” Jesiah leans back in his seat and ponders. Petra leans forward, eager to hear more.

 

“Who knows how long they fought for? No one living now remembers. But, one day, the Godsend arrived.” Jesiah looks down at Petra as she reverently whispers, “The psychics.”

 

Jesiah nods. ‘Yes, the psychics. No one knows how or why the gift suddenly appeared in our people, but it gave us the edge we needed in our fight. We took back critical control points and deck by deck, we took back our ship.”

 

“On the last day of the war, our hero, the legendary psychic called only Grey, ripped open the bulkhead protecting the machine brain with only the powers of her mind. It’s defenses had been wiped away, but the machine had the final laugh. It attemped to deleted ALL of our historical files. Our past. Everything that we had brought with us on our journey.”

 

“Grey and the others with her raced to stop the machine, but they were only partially successful. Our history, the history of humankind, was scrambled. Fact and fiction, it was all combined. We saved our history, but no longer knew where or when or if the events actually happened.”

 

“The machine was also hiding a profound secret: it had found a habital planet.”

 

Jesiah went on about what happened after: the planetary landing, the exploration, the hostile encounters with the indigenous population, the folk they would call the Reapers, and the bloody civil war that happened amongst the colonists, and the tenuous stalemate that occurred. But young Petra was drifting away into sleep, warmed by the fire and a full belly. It was a dear memory.

 

Looking up to the sky, Petra spotted the small moon, Luna rising from the horizon. That means that it’s larger sister, Terra, would be soon behind. Her ears also pick up an unusual sound. Drums. That means Reapers. She adjusted her dufflebag and picked up her pace into town.

 

She needs to alert the town watch and check in on her friends. The ones she left behind when she began her training in Eden city, the capital. She hoped they were ok. Drums meant that the Reapers were preparing for war. The village of Carter was not prepared to resist, having been peaceful for years. With her new training at the psychic academy, Petra knows she can help.

 

She hopes her strength is enough.

The Magik of Christmas

blue white ribbon on pink box
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I low key hate Christmas.

 

The monstrous levels of commercialism. The forced notion of “Happiness” and “Peace on Earth” on what is essentially just another day as we swing around the sun. Plus, the fact that it practically starts the day after Halloween.

 

I am also painfully aware of how depression levels spike during the holidays, increasing suicide rates. My own depresssion spiked, or sunk, to a new low last year, leading to a mental health crisis that took me the entire year to recover from. It’s an ongoing process that even now, I must work daily at maintaining.

 

In the midst of all this seasonal ‘fakeness’, I found one thing that helps to stem the tide of rising depression. I volunteer for a charity. I help people as they struggle through their own holiday issues.

 

I donate my skills as a professional bus driver to operate a city transit bus as it is temporarily transformed into one of Santa Claus’ legendary reindeer and loaded with gifts, plus a bus full of other volunteers dressed as christmas elves. We even have a Santa.

 

We drive across town,  delivering gifts to families that have been nominated by people in the community. These families have been selected because of various reasons: perhaps they have suffered a loss in the family and are still grieving during the holidays, or one or both adults in the family have been laid off and now the family is struggling, on several occasions, we have visited families that have newly arrived to Canada, after making a long and difficult journey.

 

I volunteer, I say to those who ask, because it’s easy and fun. I merely drive the bus, the other do all the hard work, going into houses loaded with gifts, singing and being merry, and dealing with overly excited children. I say that I enjoy the challenge of driving my bus to locations I am rarely allowed to drive, that I enjoy the test of my skills.

 

I say these things because it hides a deeper truth.

 

During my first year as a volunteer for the charity, I signed up as a driver. When the coordinaters saw me, they immediately made an offer that I step up as a Santa Claus. I am a large man, tall and robust. It seemed a natural choice. I felt a great deal of apprehension at the offer, but looking into the eyes of my wife, I felt that the choice had already been made.

 

I underwent strenuous, vigorous training to become a Santa. It would not be out of place in a comedic montage during a comedy film, finding the right suit, mastering the laugh, learning the songs. It takes a special breed of person to be a Santa, that much is true.

 

My assignment for that first year was hospitals. Our charity sends a team of Santas plus elves and a massive amount of small, stuffed teddy bears out to all of the hospitals and long term care facilities around the city. Our job was to make sure that every patient gets a delightful stuffed bear and some quality time with Santa and his elves.

 

For me, it was an intensely difficult time. I am shy and withdrawn in public and this was akin to diving headfirst into the deep end of public scrutiny. The costume helped, as it provided me with a ‘mask’ to hide behind, and a persona as well. I could be “Jolly”, even if I wasn’t actually. I knew then what it must be like to be an actor. My hat goes off to the people of that profession.

 

But the beauty and dignity I witnessed there has stayed with me all these years later. I was privileged to see all manner of people living as best they can in difficult situations. In the dementia wards, I saw so many people who could barely remember what day, or month, or year it was, but they always recognized Santa as I came in, singing with my elves. Their faces would light up with such joy that my heart broke every time I saw it.

 

My elves and I would break off and spend time with each person in that wing. We made sure that they each came away with a teddy bear and a hug, or a firm handshake for the non-huggers. We couldn’t stay very long however, we had a lot of people to visit and only a little time to see them all.

 

One room we entered was unnaturally silent. It was a meeting room, with a long table in the middle. There sat a woman with an elderly man in a hospital gown. The man was staring blankly forward. he didn’t react as I introduced myself, nor acknowledge the teddy bear he recieved. The woman explained that his dementia had taken him to the point of catatonia, he was able to eat and could be led around, but that was the limit. But there was one way that she, his daughter, could still connect with him.

 

She calmly took out a flute case and set it in front of him and opened it for him. She also took out a matching case and set it up for herself. She then took the flute from his case and handed it to him. Still staring forward, he took the instument and with must have been muscle memory alone, placed his fingers correctly along the flute. She then took up her own flute and began playing a few notes.

 

At first, there was no response. She began again, and this time, he started to play along! His eyes were dull and lifeless, but his playing was strong and sure. Their music echoed through the halls and several elves were drawn to the room. We watched and were witness to a daughter connecting to her father and it was the most beautful thing we had ever seen.

 

She did this several times, starting a song, then he would join in. It was wonderful, amazing. I think we were all weeping by the end. Two intruments together, making beautiful music. A rare treasure. We were all busy giving gifts, but we recieved a momentous gift ourselves.

 

This reason alone is why I no longer volunteer to be a Santa Claus and only offer to drive the bus. I am not strong enough. My heart cannot stand to bear witness to such beauty again, it would break.

 

Many years later, as my mother spent her last few years in a long term care facility, a Santa came to visit her. She was so excited! He spent some time with her, and left her a cute, cuddly teddy bear. She was so happy, she talked a length about the visit.

 

I still have a teddy bear from my time as a Santa. I look at it from time to time, and think of the man and his daughter. I also think of my mother. I believe now in Santa Claus, thanks to this charity.

 

The Magic of Christmas charity.

 

A Start*

I’ve always been shy.

I’ve always had a hard time fitting in, especially as a child. As an adult, I have learned that I don’t need to fit in. Self-acceptance has been one of the most difficult facets of my journey.

As a child though, it was much worse. My shyness held me back. I couldn’t open up to people, and it only got worse around the people that I actually liked. As a result, I had very few friends. The other kids didn’t know what to make of me. I was wierd. Different. I was picked on and at times, bullied. But mostly, I was left alone.

One year, grade 5 if I can recall correctly ( and I so rarely do about my childhood, repression as a defence mechanism was I tool I used regularly, it seems ), I made a friend. A classmate was randomly assigned to me for a class project. We connected as we worked together. We did what the youths of my era did, we played outside, we talked, we laughed. To my eternal regret, I can no longer remember his name.

One day, the teacher stepped out of the classroom for a washroom break. I seized the opprtunity and turned around to ask my friend a question. Then, it happened.

The entire class turned on us and began to shout:

“fag!”

“Fag!”

“FAG!”

It became a chant, everyone in time yelling it again and again. I was a child, I had no idea what it meant. I only ever heard it used as a derogative. As a bad word.

My friend began to cry, then fled the room.

I sat there and endured. The life I had led had conditioned me to sit and take the abuse. I remember my hands balling into white knuckled fists on the desk.

My teacher finally returned and quieted the class. Then, he found my friend and brought him back to class. Everything returned to normal.

At the end of the day, my friend quickly packed his bag and left the school. He didn’t say a word to me. The next morning, before class began, I found him. I wanted to make sure he was ok. He was my friend.

He turned to me and said, “I’m sorry Ellis, I can’t be your friend anymore. I don’t want to be called that name ever again.” He then walked into class and never spoke to me again. He was my friend.

I spent the rest of that year, and the year after, alone and friendless.

It was in the final year of elementary school, grade 7, that I was tasked to guide the new kid around school. He was Irish, and very brash. And loud. He loved to laugh and joke.

We became friends. He helped me to discover that I had a sense of humour, that I loved making people laugh. We spent the rest of the year as friends, then my family moved away and I never saw him again.

His name, I remember.

*A Start was a story of mine originally written as a post on Facebook. I’ve transcribed it here, with minor alterations and improvements.

A Discovery of Selves

Ellis selfie

My name is Ellis Obi-wan Hotomani.

It is a name of my own choosing.

I am clever. I am caring. I am compassionate. I am silly. I am irreverant. I am also sad a lot.

I was born in Calgary in 1974, in the old General Hospital in Bridgeland, which was demolished some time ago. I always suspected that I broke the mold when I was born there. I also suspect that I am mistaken about that.

I am an indigenous first nations person, from the Carry the Kettle first nations reserve, in Saskatchewan. I have never lived on my reserve, however. I know that it would have changed a great number of things about myself and I often wonder about that.

Both of my parents are Residential School survivors. Their experiences changed them fundamentally. Intergenerational Trauma tends to pass from one generation to the next, as the name describes. As such, I am also a survivor of that trauma.

As a child, experiencing those inherited traumas, I did not understand them. I just assumed that it was a part of life. People can survive in nearly any environment, it is a strength of our species.

I grew up under these stressors, not even aware of them, yet affected by them nonetheless. I grew up without Hope. I saw it in others as they planned for the future, but never saw it in myself. I could barely conceive of what layed beyond tomorrow, much less plan for it.

I was reckless, heedless even. I had pain that I needed to bury. Alcohol became my friend. All too soon, all I did was work and drink.

I was lonely as well. I was painfully shy, afraid to reach out to someone, equally afraid of what might happen if my affections were returned. I was determined to be unloved.

But I was also clever. I always wanted to understand things, even if I never turned that towards myself. I indirectly learned about myself through several college courses studying native history, which would come in handy later.

My self-loathing was on the rise. I was running towards a dark end, and I knew it. I had no hope. But change happened.

I discovered role-playing games.

Tabletop rpgs. Sitting at a table with a group of friends, working together, solving problems and having fun. All without drinking. I suddenly found a group of people to socialize with without alcohol. I am now a gamer, loud and proud.

More importanly, I discovered Hope. I discovered that I could effect change in my life with nothing more than will and determination. It was lifechanging.

I wanted to learn more about myself and my people. I knew so little about them. I was culturally disconnected. It is an unusual concept. How does one not know where one is from? How many people can say that they know nothing about their people or where they are from?

This is what the residential schools intended. To create an entire group of people with no idea where they are from, where they belong. To my shame, I am a success story.

I try now to learn. I have spoken to elders. I try to connect. I am from two worlds, and to this day, feel that I belong to neither. I have tried to heal, to move past my trauma, and be a better person. I struggle daily against my depression, using medication and psychological training to help me.

I write to express myself and document my journey. I am happier now then I have been in my entire life. I have love, and am now loved in turn.

A rainy night in Seattle

It always rained in Seattle whenever Elara got a step closer to finding the people who kidnapped her sister. Perhaps the rain was an indication of how unpleasant things were becoming. She drew her revolver as she crouched behind a dumpster.

 

Her informant sweared up and down that this site, an abandoned house turned drug den, was were the local missing people went. It had taken a bit of work to make him talk, but the rope burns will fade and with a bit of physio, his fingers will heal.

 

The gun was old, but servicable. The best she could afford with limited funds. As her search for her sister began in earnest, she ran into increasingly unpleasant people. She bought it off a hooded man in an alley, and tried not to think about what it was previously used for.

 

The police were useless. They had dozens of missings person reports to deal with already. They made a cursory evaluation and suggested that it was drug related. Elara didn’t believe that, wouldn’t believe that. She began her own search.

 

The house was dilapitated, the windows boarded up. It stank of human waste. Addicts were strewn on the main floor and upper storey. The misery here was the hardest to bear, but she steeled herself and checked every body here. No sign of her sister, thankfully.

 

The basement door was made of steel, the frame reinforced as well. The password her informant gave her worked, and she was in. She discreetly pressed a button on her phone, sending a message and entered.

 

A drug lab, with a half-dozen armed guards, and a rough hewn tunnel leading away into darkness. She prayed that she would soon see her sister as she lashed out and crushed the windpipe of the nearest guard with her revolver. Then she began to work.

 

Minutes later, she pulled herself up in agony. Beaten, shot, and stabbed. She alone was left standing.

 

Several of the non-combatants had fled through the basement door, but a few had left through the tunnel. She quickly pulled out a syringe and injected herself with something to block out the pain. Company would be coming soon.

 

Elara pulled herself through the tunnel, more dead than alive. No thoughts left other then finding her sister. She had to save her.

 

A basement filled with empty cages. Stairs leading up. Terrified voices echoing. She dragged herself up.

 

A warehouse. Delivery trucks loading human occupants, all gagged and bound. Guards. Lots of guards. Elara drew a deep breath, and moved in.

 

The Exemplar made short work of them all. He had intercepted the text about human trafficking and investigated. He arrived to witness a lone woman attempting to rescue them, against impossible odds.

 

He healed her as she collapsed in front of one of the trucks. A muffled scream as a similar looking occupant edged towards the front. A sister?

 

When Elara woke, The Exemplar asked her with a smile, “Would you like a job?”

Recollections

green decorated christmas tree
Photo by Bianca Debisko on Pexels.com

 

Been thinking a lot about my mother lately. Of course, that brings to mind my father as well. They were always together, through good times and bad.

 

She had patience that bordered on the inhuman. She lived a life of near constant disappointment. She survived her residential school ordeal. Her children made questionable choices. Her husband was at times a violent alcoholic. But she endured.

 

She smiled. She laughed. She could joke. She made the best bannock. She could walk for kilometers.

 

These were all traits that I absorbed from her. Except the walking part. And the bannock making ability.

 

Every year, I would help her set up the X-mas tree. We always used the same ornaments, year after year, only buying new ones when an older one broke. Every year, I would untangle the long string of tree lights and I would wonder how it get to badly wound up. I would silently curse whoever just stuffed the whole string in the box all willy nilly.

 

As a child, I would eagerly await the day when I could open my gift that I found underneath the tree. When I got older, I would in turn buy gifts for my mom and the various members of my family who happened to be in town during the season. I always struggled to buy her an excellent gift. I always have, when it comes to people I care about. Gifts for people I wasn’t overly concerned about were far more easily obtainable. I would merely walk down a gift isle and grab a selection, even if they were more expensive then a thoughtful gift.

 

Every year, I would silently pray that the season would pass uneventfully. More times then I care to admit, my prayers were unheard. My most vivid memory of the holidays was when my father drunkenly threw out the entire tree, gifts and all, outside and onto the front lawn.

 

My mom patiently waited until he passed out, then sent us children out into the cold to recover what gifts we could and to see if we could salvage the tree. Money was tight then, so we had to have a high barrier for what was an unacceptable amount of tree damage. One side was completely flat, so we simply turned it so that side faced the wall. My mom was a master of making do with what we had. She made it work. We were happy.

 

She deserved so much more than the life she was given. But she, as only she could, made the best of her situation. She had strength without limit, endurance without end. She built her family and held it together. Without her, I would not be here.

 

She gave me the strength to endure my own trauma, and the wisdom to seek help when I needed it. She was never cruel, nor cowardly. She taught me to see the beauty in the moment, even when it is as ugly as it can get. Lessons that saved my life.

 

When dementia took her, it took all of her. She was a fragment, a shadow, or a whisper of herself. And yet, she could still be found, smiling and laughing. A lifetime of bad memories, seemingly gone.

 

As the holiday season rolls upon us once again, I find myself thinking of her. The old X-mas tree, now long discarded. The ornaments and tinsle and lights, all gone. Her lessons remain though.

 

I am here, now, because of her.

 

My eyes are open because of her.

 

My heart, though wounded by her absence, remains free because of her.

 

I live now, because of her.