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The Journey Begins

 

By Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith

Welcome to my new blog! I hope that this blog will grow and be as popular as my one that I previously had at blogspot.com. I decided to challenge myself with a new blog and a new look for the new year.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to see certain content up on this site. I primarily focus on First Nations issues and write about the things I love-this will include book reviews, poetry, fiction and non fiction.

I can be reached at chrissy.miskonoodinkwesmith@gmail.com. I promise if you contact me, I will respond as quickly as I can.

Chi miigwetch for starting this new journey (new blog) with me and I hope you will not only enjoy it but share it too!

 

 

 

 

 

I HEAR THEIR CRIES

By: Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith

I HEAR THEIR CRIES:

By: Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith

I hear their cries

As I try to sleep

Their words

Whispering 

In my ears

Please I want to go

Home

I think of the lost 

And what must have 

Been going through 

Their minds

As they were led away

And the government long 

Saying

No there’s been no genocide

We’ve committed no crime

But I hear their cries 

As I try to sleep

Their words

Whispering 

in my ears

Please I want to go 

Home 

Please I ask you

Think of those lost

The 215 children

Buried

Forgotten

And buried 

In unmarked

Graves

Weeks slip by

By Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith

Weeks have slipped by
Barely any words exchanged

A text here and there,
Or a quick FaceTime call
Is not the same

I miss everyone
This pandemic
Has taken away a closeness
I have always felt
With all my relations

Weeks have gone by
Barely any words exchanged

I miss the words, the hugs
And just seeing people in person

This pandemic
Has taught me

Never take things
In life
For granted

Try to bury the words
That have hurt
And reach out

And no matter
How much time passes

Always remember
Contact is necessary

We all need to reconnect
In good ways
That will only nurture us
But nurture those
Who are hurting the most

And try to hide
From it all

One way of Coping Through These Difficult Times

By: Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith

I still remember the day our world as we knew it turned upside down. We went from going wherever we wanted, socializing with friends, attending events, and going back and forth to work. Then BOOM…. the news hit-COVID 19 had hit throughout the world, and our actions were all scaled back.

COVID 19 quickly became a pandemic, where our cities literally had to shut down. Living in Toronto, where the population is according to Blog.TO around 45, 742, and the surrounding area has grown by 127,575 people, you’re used to going at a pace like no other. Scurrying everywhere, running from one place to another and and being squished like a sardine, pressed up against hundreds of others on the TTC. Yes I’ve witnessed many a people lose their temper just because you may not be walking as fast as the person behind you. Yeah, I’ve witnessed that more than I care to count on my fingers, and I’ve been guilty of that in the past too, but I’ve had to slow down because due to degenerative disc disease, I have had to walk with the assistance of a cane for most of this past year.

Yes, times are difficult. They are difficult for everyone. At first, when businesses had to close down, and we had to stay home, I kind of welcomed the change, but as time has worn on, I’ve had to learn how to readjust to what is our new ‘normal”. The new ‘normal’ being FaceTiming with friends, having contactless delivery, and most of all working from home.

I’m fortunate to be someone who is still working during this pandemic, but when we were told at work that it may only be a couple of weeks, and then it turned into over three months, I’ve had to learn to adopt a routine that I can follow at home, and self care practices in order to keep myself sane. So, one day, I saw a self care medicine wheel on the Indigenous website of TASSC, and thought, HEY! I can make my own version, put what I think I need to work on, and then hang it above my work desk, to remind myself when I get stressed to do one of the items listed on my self care medicine wheel.

I have grown to understand that when my emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health are in sync, I feel much better about myself and I don’t feel so despondent. I’ve been learning that my taking just a few minutes to myself every day, I can be in control of how I feel and how I can be present in the world.

This is what I have written for each realm in my self care medicine wheel. In the physical I have written things I can do :

  1. Get enough sleep
  2. Go for walks
  3. social distance safely
  4. stay hydrated
  5. eat healthy

In the mental realm:

  1. give myself time to read
  2. learn something new
  3. limit social media
  4. stick to a routine
  5. give myself “silence” time

In the emotional:

  1. FaceTime with friends
  2. give myself the time to write
  3. reach out to a friend
  4. don’t be afraid to ask for support
  5. listen to music/laugh

and lastly in the spiritual:

  1. listen to my Elders/or phone one
  2. smudge myself and my apartment
  3. practice self-reflection/meditation
  4. remember to breathe

As a lesson in patience, I made my self care medicine wheel in a word document, carefully drawing each quadrant, and listing all the things I want to do to take better care of myself. Yep, I swore a few times, almost wanted to throw my laptop off my table while doing this exercise, but once I had it done, I was really happy. I had sat long enough to do something that I haven’t allowed myself to do in ages-focusing on my inner health.

COVID has turned my world upside down, and I am sure that it has for everyone else. We’ve all had to learn how to adjust to a world we haven’t experienced before. We have to keep our distances so that this disease doesn’t spread and make things even worse. We’ve gone without seeing our friends or in some cases family, virtual Zoom meetings are the norm, and now it is a bylaw that we don masks, in order to protect not only ourselves but others around us, who may have a immunocompromised immune system.

Times are difficult, but if you struggle with trying to cope in this new world as it is now, I gently suggest that you sit down and take the time to really reflect on what you can do for yourself. When you figure out what you can do to assist yourself in these trying times to keep up the good fight- obstacles get overcome!

Reconciliation? What is it?

I often wonder what reconciliation means. Does it mean that non Indigenous people will finally understand what we as Indigenous people have gone through?

Will they understand how first impact affected us? Will they care that it was first contact that changed our way of life. Changed our traditions and how it affected the way we could practice our culture?

Colonization was put in place to effectively kill “the Indian inside”. No one thought of the repercussions or what it would bring years later when there was a resurgence of Indigenous people fighting back. We fought for our culture, our traditions and way of life. We fought for who we are.

I often wonder what reconciliation means. Does it mean Indigenous people’s and settlers will be able to work together? That remains to be seen.

I see reconciliation as a two way road. A way of understanding that involves the participation of Indigenous and non Indigenous people alike.

Is that too much to ask for?

Remembering Ni mamaa pan and the day she passed

By: Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith

Remembering Ni Mama:

I remember the dream as though it happened yesterday. You know the one where I woke up short of breath and counting 1…2…3… in order to try and calm myself down. In the dream, I had received a call saying “Christine, I’m sorry your mom has passed away.”  In actuality this dream had happened years ago, at a time that I was probably a bit distanced from my mom. There was a period where I didn’t talk to my mom for a bit, not because I didn’t want to, but because I wasn’t sure how to finally handle, having my mom in my life. It was through no fault of her own, nor mine, I just wasn’t sure how to take having someone I could actually call “mom” in my life.

Yeah, I know it sounds weird to the layperson but when you are taken away from your mom, your culture and traditions, due to the assimilationist policies of your countries government,  you really don’t know how to act or behave when all of a sudden you are reunited with your birth mom.

I didn’t really think much of that dream at first. I thought it was just me and my fatalistic thoughts. I’ve always been that way-thinking of everything at once, or nothing. I could never think of the in between. I beat myself up for that, because there were probably many dreams and opportunities I gave up because of that way of thinking.

The dream, though I don’t really want to think about it, came alive on August 25, 2017. Ironically, I had an appointment with an employment counsellor at the place I currently work at in downtown Toronto. I was sitting in a chair just steps away from the front desk in the Aboriginal Employment and Training Resource Centre, and my phone rang.

RING…RING….RING…. I had my earphones on because I was listening to some music on my Ipod, but the shrill ring of my phone broke through and almost made me jump out of my seat. Yeah, I scare easily. Since my mom had become ill, every time the phone rang, and it had the area code 204 flash on my caller id, I grew scared because I didn’t know what the phone call would bring. Often, I wished that the hospital where my momma was staying would call and say, “hey your mom is better and she’s going home,” but that call never happened. Wishful thinking on my part, right?

After all, my mom was ill with stomach cancer and hadn’t been home in months. Her last year on this earthly realm was spent in the hospital, and that thought alone always had me close to tears, even though I tried so hard to stay composed on the outside. Inside though, I was a mess.

Back to sitting in the resource centre. My phone rang, and I remember practically ripping my earphones out of my ears, so that I could pick up my phone and answer.

“Hello?” Hello?” I said kind of breathlessly. It sounded as though I had run across a room to answer the phone, but really, I had just been sitting beside my phone. The shrill ring broke the quiet around me.

I brought the phone to my ear, and on the other end I hear a lady say

“Hello?” 

“Can I speak to Christine?” 

I hear some muffled noises in the background, and I feel a bit distracted because my appointment time is coming up.  I hurriedly say

“This is Christine.”

The lady on the other side is the head nurse at Lakeshore General Hospital in Ashern, Manitoba. The hospital where my mom has been for the last few months.

Remembering what the nurse said to me is a bit of a blur. I remember her telling me

“Your mom is going downhill fast. She isn’t breathing very well, and she isn’t eating,” the nurse says.

I gulp when I hear that and selfishly say

“Isn’t there something you can do, give her a feeding tube? Keep her going?”

I wasn’t ready to let my momma go just yet. I had just been on the phone with her a few days before and she had managed to ask me 

“When are you coming to visit me again?”

I had just seen her maybe a little over a month before I got the dreaded call.

I had told her “I’m going to come and see you in the fall Mom, I can’t afford to come out right at this moment.”

It made me tear up when I had told her that. Money was always an issue when it came to getting out to Ashern to see my momma. I live in another province, and the cost of a flight out to see her plus the cost of a bus and a motel was enough at that time to proverbially sink me financially. I had to plan my visits almost strategically, because since my mom had fallen ill, I didn’t have a place to stay other than the motel that sat across the highway from the hospital that my mom was staying in. My mom’s partner, Jim was in the same hospital. He had suffered a major stroke shortly before my mom had to be hospitalized. But that’s another story, I guess.

The resiliency and strength my mom tried to show was amazing. It was quiet on the other end of the phone for about a minute before she answered back with

“Ok, fall is good, everything will be good in the fall.”

I felt her disappointment, and I knew she was trying to be strong. We had talked for a couple more minutes that night. I told her “I love you”, and she told me 

“I love you too”

I honestly didn’t think my momma was going to go so quickly after that last phone call I had with her. But I had my appointment with the employment counsellor and somehow in a fog made it across downtown to go and see my friend Jen at the University of Toronto’s First Nations House. 

I remember getting there, and I was a bit distracted. I was trying not to think of the phone call I had merely two hours before while I had been at the Employment Resource Centre. I tried to say hello to my friend and others around me in the cheeriest way I knew, but there was a heaviness inside me. 

I had taken my phone and placed it in the charging stand. I walked away from it for a bit. I had been sitting in the conference room in a worn-out black chair, staring kind of mindlessly at the chalkboard before me, when I heard my phone ringing once again. 

I didn’t want to go and answer it, but there was a sense of urgency that was lit within me when I heard my phone that time. I tore across the floor, from the conference room to behind the front desk. I fumbled clumsily but managed to answer.

My caller ID flashed with the name “Lakeshore General Hospital”

I answered “hello?”

The same nurse I had talked to two hours before was on the other side. Before she could get the words out, I knew. My mom had passed away.

It was on August 25, 2017, at 12pm, that I got the first call about my mom going downhill and then three hours later, at 3pm the second call came and the very same nurse that had called before broke the news and said

“I’m sorry, Christine, your mom has passed. I’m so sorry.”

I was quiet for maybe a second and then the tears came flowing out of me like crazy.

My friend saw my face crumple and the tears come. She said

“It’s ok, Christine, It’s okay”

She led me back to the conference room and had me sit down. I remember in a daze, calling my sister, and letting her know. I called a couple of other friends, and not long after that, I got up and walked out of First Nations House to head back home.

It was raining that day. I walked home slowly, thinking of my mom and asking 

“Why? Why did you have to go?

At first, I was angry because she didn’t make it to the fall, in order for me to come and visit her. But then there was an overwhelming sadness because that dream, I had had years ago had come alive.

Living without my mom has been difficult. It will be three years this summer that she has been gone, but there is not a day that goes by that I am not thinking of her and wishing almost selfishly that she was still here.

But I also know now, my mom had lived her life as long as she was able to. It had been full of pain and torment because she had lived through and witnessed so much trauma. The stories I had heard over the years of knowing her and being with her broke my heart. But through it all she had found me and had found my sister, and though at first the relationship between her and I had been a bit tenuous; we had survived it and had built a strong connection towards the end.

There are memories of her I will always hold onto, from our everyday phone calls, my yearly visits to see her, and then coming out and taking care of her as much as I could while she was in the hospital. But there will always be a part of me missing, because she is no longer here physically, where I can reach out and touch her. To give her a hug or tell her “I love you”. 

I can honestly say I haven’t been the same since. But I am soldiering on, just like my mom did with her own life when the going got tough.

When Worldviews Collide

By: Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith

When Worldviews Collide

The First Nations peoples of Canada have a particular understanding of the ways in which the world came into being, and the ways they have come into being as a people. This particular knowledge is often conveyed through story/myth and legend, and it is through these venues that we have come to understand how we as a people were created.

First Nations peoples are storytellers, and have been since the beginning of time. It is through legends (aatisoohkan (an) or aatisoohkan (ak)) and stories (tepachimowan) that they relate to the world around them. Therefore, I am going to discuss how stories, myths and legends play an important role in First Nations peoples’ lives, and how creation stories are very much guiding tools that have taught us how to be. I will also briefly touch upon the Bering Strait Theory and how it is a theory that is “not so much science as it is politics.”

Let me tell you something first. Creation stories vary from nation to nation, but they all play an important role in the lives of First Nations peoples. So, if a First Nations person were from the Plains area of Canada, their creation story and what they’ve learned would be different from someone who has grown up in the Great Lakes region and vice versa.

Though I am originally from western Canada, I have lived in Ojibwa (Anishinaabe) territory since I was a young child. As a means of respect to the land I live on, I must relay what I have learned about the Anishinaabe worldview because I reside on their lands.

Another important thing to know is that in the First Nations peoples’ worldview, story/myth and legend play a huge role in their creation stories. They reflect and characterize important relationships between the human and non-human, reflect who and where the story is being told, and also reflect vital features of the Anishinaabe worldview.

According to The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, written by Edward Benton-Banai, the creation story goes like this:

When Ah-ki (the Earth) was young, it was said that the Earth had a family. Nee-ba-gee-sis (the Moon) is called Grandmother, and Gee-sis (the Sun) is called Grandfather. The Creator of this family is called Gi-tchie Man-ito (Great Mystery or Creator). 1

Benton-Benai goes onto relay that

…the Earth is said to be a woman. In this way, it is understood that woman preceded man on the Earth. She is called Mother Earth because from her come all living things. Water is her life blood. It flows through her, nourishes her and purifies her.

On the surface of the Earth, all is given Four Sacred Directions — North, South, East, and West. Each of these directions contributes a vital part of the wholeness of the Earth. Each has physical powers as well as spiritual powers, as do all things.

It is said when the Earth was young, she was filled with beauty, and the Creator sent his singers in the form of birds to the Earth to carry the seeds of life to all of the Four Directions. It was in this way, life was spread across the Earth. It was on the Earth that the Creator placed all beings — the swimming creatures of the water, he gave life to all crawling things and the four leggeds on the land. All of these parts of life lived in harmony with each other.

Gitchie Manito then took four parts of Mother Earth and blew into them using a Sacred Shell. From the union of the Four Sacred Elements and his breath, man was created.2

Gitchie Manito then lowered man to the Earth. “Thus, man was the last form of life to be placed on the Earth. From this Original Man came the A-nish-i-na-be people.”

From this creation story, First Nations peoples believe that all nations came from this Original Man, and although traditions may differ from nation to nation, there is a common thread that runs throughout every one. This common thread represents a string of lives that goes back all the way to Original Man.

The Creation story, along with other stories, myths and legends are seen as teaching and guiding tools. They teach us lessons of morality, law and governance and relay how everything is interrelated in one way or another. The Creation story also teaches us how we are to live the good life — piimaatsiwin. This is why stories/myth and legends are usually “…taught to children in their earliest years, because it not only helps them to view their place in the world but it also teaches life lessons.”3

The debate of how First Nations peoples came to be has been going on for years and years. Defining the worldview of First Nations people can be problematic, in the sense that often other cultures have different ways of understanding how they themselves came to be, and this creates a challenge between non-native people and First Nations people.

In the words of scholar and author of Rediscovering the First Nations of Canada, John W. Friesen, “No one really knows the exact origins of Canada’s First Nations; that may well have always been here — as some of them claimed. Many archaeologists believe the First Peoples of Canada (at least in the west), came to this continent from Asia via Alaska across the Bering Strait as many as 30,000 years ago. Those who adhere to this interpretation estimate that at that time the 80 kilometre wide strait was actually a land bridge that may have stretched to 1500 kilometres across.”4

It is further argued by Friesen that American Indian and scholar Vine Deloria, Jr. debunks this theory on the basis that an ocean water level drop of 60 meters would have been necessary to form the bridge so that they could cross, and that Siberia at the time was locked in huge glaciers and its population would have had to be minute. Also, Siberian temperatures at that time would have been such that “it would have been impossible for people to move without freezing to death or falling into glaciers.”5

In his book Red Earth, White Lies, Vine Deloria, Jr. makes a very valid point when he argues “When reading these ‘scientific’ explanations, we must always remember that in order to have land bridges at all, or even an occasional isthmus, we are basically committed to moving a great deal of water around to create an ice age, or we are making the continents rise and fall a significant distance or we are otherwise manipulating a monstrous amount of physical material just to make our theories and speculations seem reasonable.” Furthermore, if we were to “follow orthodox methodology, we should not invoke activities of nature that we do not see operative today.”6

So you see when there is one worldview — in this case the Western worldview — trying to understand a worldview other than their own — the First Nations worldview — reasoning or trying to explain something that they don’t understand can be seen as highly questionable.

To First Nations people, the Bering Strait Myth is not so much science as it is politics. I say this because within my research for this column I came across an Indigenous website “Native Circle – Issues: Mistakes, Lies & Misconceptions about American Indian People” that detailed “much objective modern science in the past several decades has even suggested that it is highly questionable if there ever was a so-called ‘land-bridge’ or ‘ice-bridge as some have defined it, because numbers suggest otherwise.”

First … Many Indigenous Nations have calendars which have been counting the years for a very long time. I am aware that the calendar of the Mohawk Indian Nation has been counting the winters for over 33,120 years. This pre-dates the so-called ‘land-bridge’ of the Bering Strait theory, unless, of course, the Bering Strait scientists decide to move their interestingly illusive time period for “early migration” of Indians back to 40,000 years! Many American Indian early histories tell of events that took place on this Turtle continent (North America) long before any so-called ice age. But, for political reasons, these histories have been mostly ignored. You see, the Bering Strait, in truth, is a theory that was born of the politics and propaganda of early America. In the midst of the American ‘Manifest Destiny’ social climate, the Bering Strait theory provided a ‘scientific’ means to justify the taking of ancestral Indian lands. In short, the mythical theory eased the conscience, as it was a way for land hungry immigrants to believe that, because Indian people were only ‘recent inhabitants’ of this land, it was not really their ‘homeland’. Therefore Indians were, in their minds, not any more the ‘original people’ of this land than they were. This was, and still is, the political power of the infamous ‘Bering Strait theory’. (Native Circle)

In conclusion, the First Nations peoples of Canada have a particular understanding of the ways in which the world came into being, and the ways they have come into being as a people. Their creation stories serve as a testament to how they came to be, and though I am in no way an expert on the Bering Strait Theory, I very clearly understand the ways of my people and the land that I live on.

I understand that the Aboriginal worldview is relayed via storytelling, and it is through story/myth and legend that we learn of creation, history and how we are supposed to live our lives. It is also within story, in the Aboriginal worldview, that we as First Nations become engaged without the linear chronology that we see in the Western paradigm of thinking, and that the Bering Strait Theory is something that goes against every teaching that has been handed down to us from our Elders and our ancestors.

Notes

1. Edward Benton-Benai, The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, pg. 2
2. Ibid., pg. 3
3. Alex McKay, lecture, University of Toronto, 16/11/2010
4. John W. Friesen, Rediscovering The First Nations of Canada, pg. 21
5. Ibid., pp. 88-89
6. Vine Deloria, Jr., Red Earth, White Lies, pg. 89

– See more at: http://www.pikerpress.com/article.php?aID=5558#sthash.ukvj06ev.dpuf

Review of Highway of Tears

Review: “Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls”

Reviewed By: Christine Miskonoodinkwe-Smith

“Highway of Tears: A true story of racism, indifference and the pursuit of justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and girls,” is written by journalist Jessica McDiarmid and recounts the colonial and patriarchal history of northwestern British Columbia. She also brings to light the social and cultural tensions that small communities in northwestern BC face which has no doubt contributed to  the stories of those who have gone missing or have been murdered on what has become known as the infamous Highway of Tears. 

The Highway of Tears “is a 725-kilometre stretch of highway in British Columbia. And it is a microcosm of a national tragedy-and travesty. Indigenous people in this country are far more likely to face violence than any other segment of the population.”

McDiarmid writes about the Highway of Tears to bring more national awareness to the issue of the missing and murdered women and girls by writing firsthand accounts of those closest to the missing and murdered victims. She talks to the mothers, sisters, brothers and others who knew these missing and murdered women and brings forth stories that give these women and girls more than just a name that is written in a police officer’s book or a name on a piece of paper that is sitting on a shelve collecting dust because there has been no leads or tips to say where these women and girls went.

As an Indigenous woman, and as a reader,  it was infuriating to read the various stories and know that so many missing and murdered women and girls families have suffered through so much pain and continue to suffer because there is no such thing as a tidy closure to what happened to their loved ones. Not only did I feel the pain and sorrow in each story, but I also felt the frustration bleeding through the pages at the indifference and almost dismissive actions the families faced when reporting their loved ones missing to the police in their communities.

I believe that McDiarmid wrote “The Highway of Tears: A true story of racism, indifference and the pursuit of justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and girls” to raise even more awareness surrounding the contentious issue of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and how Canada has and is continuing to fail not only Indigenous women and girls, but the Indigenous population as a whole.

McDiarmid does an excellent job of documenting the stories of the women and girls who have gone missing or have been murdered, as a reader I would have liked to have seen more analysis done on the complacency and disinterest that she documented throughout the book in regards to how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) treated the families of those who went missing and were murdered. I believe it is this very complacency and disinterest from those in uniform who continue the stigmatization and stereotypes that are continually perpetuated in mainstream society against Indigenous women, girls and Indigenous men.

McDiarmid writes for a general audience, for Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous. She accomplishes getting more awareness out surrounding the Highway of Tears and its victims and the fight to accomplish some type of justice.

“Highway of Tears: a true story of Racism, Indifference and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” was published by Double Day Canada in 2019 and is 332 pages. The ISBN number is 9 780385 687577.