Crawling towards the light How I conquered bullying in my life.

As far back as I can remember there has been anger, there have been bullies, and there has been pain. I was born during a snowstorm back in 1971 and though I started my life living on St Urbain st my earliest memories are from living on Hutchinson st in the plateau. Like any kid growing up in the 70’s there were challenges, at that time there were plenty of kids to play with but very few friends. One thing I realized very quickly is that if your different you become a target and since I was a half Mohawk half Belgian kid who also an Anglophone I was a target. I also realized that kids can be real ass holes if their parents don’t reel them in from time to time. I found myself spending considerable time alone, away from my parents and sister. Many of the other kids would tease me for no reason other than being jerks.

My parents were artists; my mother was a sculptor and painter while my father focused on oil painting. To say that there was friction between my parents would be an understatement. My mother was a Mohawk artist; she made beautiful work and for a time was successful at it. My dad however was a different story; a quiet man when he wasn’t losing his temper loved painting landscapes and nude models. It was the 70’s, things were different back then. I never really knew my father, even though he lived with until I was 7 or 8, it would be decades before I would come to understand my father that I would discover that my dad suffered from some form of PTSD which was attributed to what he experienced during World War 2. And because I did not understand what happened the night my mother threw him out I began to think it was because he didn’t love us. I realized later that it was because he didn’t know how.

Things didn’t get better when I started school at Bancroft elementary; I was immediately placed with kids who had special needs. Not a great way to help one’s self esteem. I was a hyperactive kid who had mood swings so naturally that made me even more of a target; for one bully in particular. I could never figure what Bryan’s problem with me was, most days he’d slam me into the lockers, punch me in the gut or face or just make my life miserable. I began to hate recess and lunch times because he’d be hunting for me. It got so bad that no matter what I did didn’t help. I remember coming home and telling my mother that I hated who I was because of the bullying I got. It also didn’t help that my teachers consistently reminded that there was something wrong with me because I was hyperactive; it would be years before I would discover that I was hypoglycemic and that with a regular diet I would be fine.

Eventually my mother had had enough of her son being a punching bag so she came to school with me to find what she could do. The suggestion was made that since the students didn’t know about First Nations my mother would teach them using art. The kids started treating me better except for Bryan. The kid loved being an ass hole, I don’t know what happened to him after elementary school but I sometimes think about what I’d do if I ever saw him again and the image isn’t pretty. The scars he left me with I still have to this day, the anger is still there too. Things at home calmed down as well, things weren’t going well financially but my mother always managed to see us fed. It was also around this time that we started attending the Montreal Mennonite fellowship and where I met Sandy and James Chism it was also around that time that I would experience something that would change my life forever.

His name was John; he lived up the street from us. He was a friendly chap and aside from James was the only adult male that I could really bond with now that my father was out of the picture. He was an older man and a friend of my mothers. We got along well, bought me candy, he let me watch movies at his place. I didn’t see it anything wrong with him, he wasn’t a bully, he listened to me, and he was a nice guy. All that changed about a year later. The fire trucks woke us up one morning, the rooming house that John was living in had caught fire and though he was fine the place was gutted. It wasn’t long before John had found a new place on Barclay Street in cote des niege area of Montreal. I asked if I could help him move and my mother agreed even though I would be staying overnight. I still remember the smell of the smoke filled boxes and clothes he had. He bought pizza for the both of us and I remember going to sleep afterwards, aside from summer camp I rarely ever stayed at other people’s places. He sexually assaulted me that night, most of it is just flashes of memory but the smell of that apartment will always be with me. When we were waiting for the bus to take me home the next day he told me not to say anything about what happened: he said people wouldn’t like or believe me if I did and my mother would be hurt by it.

For a child who has experienced bullying most of his life, the idea of people not liking me was terrifying. I honestly don’t remember how old I was because most of it I tried to block out. All I knew was that my life was over, ruined by this man who said he cared about me, and said that he was my friend. I never told anyone, even when another kid was assaulted on my street, I was afraid that people would think that I was a bad kid or that I made it up just to get a attention. It was also around this time that my little brother was born so there was a lot less attention towards me which I see now why I hated my brother so much, I was in pain but he got the attention. I know it doesn’t make sense but being sexually assaulted didn’t just destroy me but it caused a rift between me and him that wasn’t at all his fault. So I kept it all inside where it festered for 15 years.

Things only got worse after that, I attended Outremont high school where again I was placed in the special needs section because of my hyper active status and learning disabilities. Aside from a couple, the teachers were ass holes in that school, it was the mid 80’s and you were told to just man up when it came to bullying. There were so many bullies in that school, from teachers, school staff, to students. It was a nightmare until my sister joined me there. My sister was always tougher than I, I remember the first year that she attended Outremont high; she’d gotten into to a fight with another girl in her first week there. She even got into the faces of some of the boys who were beating me up regularly. I wish I could have been as tough as she was but I was already lost in my own world.

I made a few friends at Outremont but they were the kind of friends that weren’t really friends, they’d tease and bully me but because the bullying wasn’t so bad I dealt with it. It was around this time that my mother broke her ankle and was hospitalized for an extended period of time. My sister and little brother went to stay with some friends from church and I went to stay with the Chism’s. I had already bonded with Jim because was the closest thing to a male figure in my life. It also gave me a sense of peace that I had never experienced before and I ended up staying with them for the rest of my teens, never going back to live with mother, sister and brother which of course caused quite a rift.

High school didn’t get better, it got worse. There was always a bully and no matter how much I tried to keep my head down they still managed fuck up my days, be it being assaulted in class in full view of the teacher or being used as target practice when one of them brought his bb gun to school. My inner turmoil got worse and I began to verbally lash out, most of the time it was at people I cared about. I don’t know how the Chisms ever put up with me but maybe in their own way they saw how damaged I was and hoped they’d break through, but I still kept my secret. I ended up dropping out of school and went to work, living with the Chisms until I my world hit a brick wall.

May 12th 1993 when I thought that shit couldn’t get any worse my mother, the center of my universe had a heart attack. I remember the day like it was yesterday, I had seen my mother earlier that morning; we had gone for a walk and talk. I was high school dropout, unemployed and she was worried about where I was going in life, I didn’t have an answer for because frankly I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was lost. I remember giving her a hug goodbye telling her that I loved her and that I would see her later and then went home for a nap. That would be the last time I would ever hear my mother’s voice again, a few hours later I got a phone call that changed my life forever, mom had had a heart attack, the ambulance had taken too long to get to her and the damage was done. She slipped into a coma and never woke up. It’s hard to explain what happens to someone when they experience something like that, unless you’ve been there. Soon afterwards I moved out on my own and went on welfare, I fell deeper into depression. I stopped going to the hospital to see her because I just couldn’t handle it anymore I also let all the responsibilities fall on my sister. Like I said my sister is tough, she took the reins and made sure everything kept going. Making sure my brother was okay, bills were paid she did everything while I fell apart. I don’t expect that I will ever be forgiven for that. I failed my family and I’ve carried that around for years.

In the months that followed I barely ate, I drank…a lot and experimented with various drugs. I hung out with my friends who put the idea into my head that I could make some quick cash and it was a mistake that would cost me dearly. I can’t go into details but the damage from that one mistake would reverberate for the next 2 decades and I think that is when my rebirth began. I had had a dream, the dream was of my mother. She was just looking at me like mothers do but this time it wasn’t love, it was disappointment and I couldn’t blame her because I felt the same. I ended up crashing at my sisters until I could find a new place. It was a miserable time for me, self respect was gone, my family wasn’t happy and everywhere there seemed to criticism: some fair and some not. Everything came to a head when on January 11th 1995, Keena Beljaars passed away; she was just 27 days shy of her 45th birthday. After the funeral I tried putting the pieces of my shattered life back together, trying to figure out what to do. Then I remembered the dream and I made a plan. I went back to school; I found a new place and got to work getting my life back together. I only had to look that faces of the people close to me to see how much I had failed, looks that haunt me to this day.

Jim was the one who had helped me put things into perspective; he had a hand in raising me so he was one of the ones who knew me best. I’ll never forget what he said to me that day he found out about my stupidity. My best friend and big brother Luke had had a friend who lived in the same building as I when shit hit the fan and told Luke who then told Jim. We met up for coffee and I explained to the both of them what had happened but Jim didn’t want to hear it all he said was “I don’t care what you did, want I want to know is what are you going to do now? Think of it this way, you have just come out of this deep dark chasm, your busted up and bleeding but you made it out and are resting on a plateau, where you want to be is up on top where the sun is. So dust yourself off and get going.”

And that’s who my dad is, unconditional love.

From then on I focused on getting better, within six months I had graduated high school and had gotten myself a job. I still had to deal with the fact that I would do time, how much was up to the judge. I also started to drift away from my old friends, I knew I deserved better and after they had played me into the biggest mistake of my life I knew I needed to be elsewhere. I went to live with Jim and Sandy and straight back to work. Mega bloks was based in ville st Laurent and I did pretty well there, pushing myself and trying to improve my life. Unfortunately my past would come back to haunt me; one day on my way to work I saw him, I saw John. I was walking up the tunnel at cote vertu metro when I saw this older man walking towards me. You never forget the face of your rapist, it was John, and he must have been in his 80’s at the time. At that moment everything hit me, like a tidal wave of pain. This was the man who had destroyed my childhood.

In the time that it took to get to him I had thought about ending his life, in my opinion he deserved it for what he had done to me. In the end I chose to walk up to him, I said “Hello John; remember me? It’s me Irkar.” He mumbled some recognition. I continued. “Remember what you did to me, because I do” That’s when I saw it; the look in his 80 year old eyes, his expression said it all. The last thing I said was enjoy hell and walked away. I can’t say that I felt vindicated because that would have meant that John ended up in prison but I did get some closure. Two years later when I was at Dawson college and at the urging of a friend; I would walk into a police station and file a police report. There’s something surreal about sharing a story of abuse with a police officer who is half your size. I’ll never forget the look on her face when told her and I’ll never forget the empathy she displayed that day. The Montreal police sex crimes unit showed me nothing but class; in the end though John had passed away before any formal charges could be made. But I shared my secret and someone had listened; just wish I had done so earlier.

Starting at Dawson was both a blessing and a curse for me. On the one hand I was trying to find the path the creator had set out for me and at the same time met one of the worst bullies I had ever known. But I do not regret my going to Dawson because it was there that I fell in love with radio. CIXS radio was where my path began, though the path got really bumpy at times; radio was my base. That was the Dawson experience for me, I joined various clubs, some I found interesting and some not. I even started dating, her name was Liz and we dated most of my first year at Dawson. I didn’t last but I did learn a few things about myself; first and foremost is I don’t know jack about women still don’t.

I made new friends at Dawson, something that I found easier to do now that I was older but I met some people I wish I hadn’t. One in particular who I will call X, X is probably one of the worst people that I have met in the last 20 or so years and I have met my fair share of ass holes. He came off as nice and sweet and we quickly became friends, we hung out a lot and he was my intro into the gaming scene where I found many people I liked and they liked me. Unfortunately I let my guard down too quickly and I found myself right back in high school with the same group friends who made me feel inadequate. The next few years were filled with more falling down mistakes that I care to admit and it justifiably cost me friendships. My late 20’s and early 30’s was me trying to find myself and making many mistakes along the way, I was constantly dealing with my own insecurities, pain and anger. I guess I’ve always been a target for people looking to use and abuse me and though I did not see it at the time; X was one of those people.

I began to notice things about X that raised red flags; like his need for control and his incessant narcissism. What I didn’t realize at the time was how toxic X was; his need to humiliate and hit me was getting out of control. If I said the wrong thing I’d get a slap upside the head or somewhere else on my body. There was also the verbal abuse that happened almost daily but unfortunately because of my own insecurities and low self esteem I rarely called him on it. One instance I have burned into my memory was when I showed up to help a friend move he proceeded to publicly call me out for sleeping around. Something I said I didn’t do much of, he publicly called me a whore and a hypocrite which almost got him a bat to the head. But once again I quelled my anger by moving furniture that took two men to move. That was a red flag though, X was clearly jealous a jealousy that got worse as we got closer. X is gay, I am Bi but I never was interested in X in that way. To be honest he just didn’t do it for me hence the jealousy towards any women I dated. We did mess a around a couple of times but became disinterested in stuff like that but he did not unfortunately. After awhile people were coming up to me and asking me why I was letting him treat me that way, they saw that I was clearly being bullied but I honestly believed I deserved it for all the mistakes I made in my life. Thanks to many more stupid mistakes I ended up crashing and becoming X’s roommate which I wish I had never done because he became more controlling and belittling.

I finally had to sit down with him and make it clear that his hitting me needed to stop and just to be clear when I say hitting I mean things a slap upside the head, face, groin, and various other parts of my body which he always justified by saying that it was all in fun. He grudgingly stopped, but the abuse did not. Another red flag was his unwanted sexual touching which I tolerated and said nothing about. I made the mistake of sharing a story with X about a woman asking if we were dating; which is what X really wanted. All these things and the constant control he pushed on my life made life intolerable sometimes. I wanted to leave but financially it was never a good time. He treated me more like a boyfriend than friend and his diva behaviour was starting to get to me. When I met my ex Jen he created rules that limited intimacy between the two of us, Jen and I didn’t last and I eventually moved out only to find myself returning a few months later.

One of the biggest red flags that left me asking WTF was a tactic X began using. X went through a few tragedies in his life and every time someone in circle would pass on he would use it to get sexual gratification from me. He would threaten to hurt himself saying that he was afraid he would do something crazy suggesting that I drop my pants to prevent him from doing that. He played on my empathy and insecurity to get what he wanted. One time I remember him telling me to just lie back and enjoy it, I never did. I don’t know why I let him do that to me, I felt disgusted after every time. I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to, I was being raped by my best friend and the pain of it was strangling me.

Around this time I had found a place to explore radio in CKUT. When I started at there I immediately fell in love, finally here was a place where I could expand and explore my First Nations heritage and hopefully reconnect with my own people, since my mother’s death I had become disconnected from who I was meant to be which was a journalist. I had no formal training before CKUT but thanks to my ex Jen I found my fire again and boy did I stoke it. Over the years I became more and more entrenched in activism; I expanded my knowledge of First Nations issues. I met new people and made many great friends. I even won an award for an interview I did. Through CKUT I began organising and speaking at events. My voice became clearer and my reputation grew. Jen and I may not have lasted but thanks to her I found my place in life and I build on that every day. I even got a job at another radio station, and sat on the board of National Campus Radio Association (NCRA) for two years. Things were finally going well and that’s when I met Samantha.

I was at a friend’s birthday party when Sam had arrived; I was sitting in back chatting with some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile all I could say was wow. I struck up a conversation with her and we hit it off and started dating. X didn’t like her at all; he made that clear with his behavior, acting like jealous girlfriend. I started spending a lot of time with Sam causing X to feel left out for which I admit I did not care. It was also around this time that X had a concussion after slipping on some water at work. As the concussion became worse it also caused him to become more aggressive and even violent. One instance I remember was him nearly throwing me down the stairs all because I was standing behind him waiting while he put his shoes on. It was at this time that I knew the end of friendship was near. So I starting spending all of my time with Sam and when X’s symptoms became worse I ignored him. I know that wasn’t very nice but I was sick of being a verbal punching bag.

Eventually I moved in with Sam and I saw less and less of X. One of the many things Samantha taught me and why I loved her so much was how she taught me to love and be loved which was something I never allowed myself to do. I felt like I didn’t deserve it didn’t deserve her. And even though we are no longer together she helped me open the door to my heart, a door I had long since closed. Sam and I lasted nearly three years and though it was painful when it ended I still care and will always care for her and wish nothing but the best. Out of respect for her I won’t go into details about what happened. Naturally X was ecstatic even saying “Can we hate her now?” I quickly ended the conversation and called someone who actually did care, and like a true friend rushed out to meet me.

The break up with Sam hit me pretty hard but like any man I did what I needed to do, I bought a bucket of Ben and jerry’s ice cream and curled up on the couch and watched Sex and the city reruns. Two weeks later I was done feeling sorry for myself and I started to rebuild my life. I found a place to live and though the first year things were tough things started picking up then it all went south. While on his way home X slipped and broke his shoulder and ended up in hospital. He’d gotten onto face book and asked if people could bring some stuff to pass the time. I volunteered; we were still friends after all. The meeting wasn’t as friendly as I’d hoped, he blamed me for all that had gone wrong between us and of course not taking any responsibility for the shit he had done. We had a cigarette in the parking lot before I left and he asked me if there could be anything between us and I said no, I wasn’t comfortable with doing that to which for which he agreed.

In the months after that conversation X sexually harassed me several times trying to get into my pants. He even made up an elaborate lie about how the govt had changed the rules on STD admission, that partners were no longer obliged to share their status, complete bullshit, I knew it. I’m a journalist if something like that had happened it would have made national news. “I know you don’t want to do that anymore but you’re a clean source” He knew I was clean and tried desperately to get into my pants. Whenever we made bets he’d make it that if I lost I would have to let him have me sexually. Naturally that did not happen. Unfortunately this didn’t stop X and it let led to the end of our friendship.

About two and half years ago X’s beloved grandmother passed away, naturally I texted him condolences and asked if he needed anything. His reply shook me to the core. “You need to do what you need to do” translation drop your pants or I’ll do something crazy. I knew that if I said no and reminded him our conversation he would use it against me. So I dropped my pants, I hated him for what I felt he was making me do. After it was done, I did not speak to him for months and nosed dived into a depression. While that was happening he went around telling people that I had abandoned him in his time of need.

I eventually confided in two of my closest friends about what X had been doing to me for years. I honestly thought I was the bad guy in all of it that somehow I deserved what happened to me. My friend simply what I was describing was rape. At the time I was 42 years old, how does a 42 years old man allow himself to be raped? This left me reeling; I became even more depressed finally realizing that my best friend was raping me. How did this happen to me twice in one lifetime? I decided that I needed to share my story, so I asked around and found a cop to talk to off the record and shared my story with him. When I was done the first thing he said to me was ‘It’s not your fault”. Validation!

Naturally the next step was to end it with X altogether; our friendship had become so toxic that it was killing me. I knew I had to delicately tell that I was done and to fuck off but there is no easy way to do that when you’re dealing with a narcissistic psychopath. Unfortunately X got word what was going and called me. At first I just let the phone ring, gathering my thoughts before I finally answered. Long story short there was a great deal of yelling, he pretended not remember the conversation in the parking lot stating that he had just been given morphine and couldn’t possibly remember what was said, he also went to deflect and justify everything. At that point our friendship was unofficially over.

In the months that followed I distanced myself from X until I stopped taking his calls altogether. A few months after our fight I had an anxiety attack and I was forced to deal with my pain. The fight also made me see that X was never my friend but more of a stalker. I realized in the end that the nice things I thought he was doing were just a smokes screen in order for him to take control of my life, to get what he wanted which in the end he did, experts have called this gas lighting. Here is the Wikipedia definition of Gas lighting.

Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity.[1][2] Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term owes its origin to Gas Light, a 1938 play and 1944 film, and has been used in clinical and research literature

Since the fight I have come to realise that life is a lot more gray than black and white. Once I realised this; I started cleaning house. I became determined to detoxify my life and asked myself “do I really need this; do I need these people around me?” After that life became simpler, I regularly remind myself that my mother would want me to be happy. So I focused on what makes me happy, radio; Indigenous activism, friends, family, my cat George. I no longer look for the light at the end of the tunnel; that doesn’t matter; it’s the journey that matters. I’m 45 now and I can finally say that I’m living for myself. No more toxic habits and people, just happiness, good health and a good walk down the path of life.

Please help and share!

Today was the official announcement of a federal inquiry into decades-long national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. We commend the Liberal government, Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Bennett for holding true to their promise to address this Canada-wide issue.

Together we can build stronger communities! Objective for the Christmas 2015 fundraising for the Native Women’s Shelter is $2000.00

Supporting Native Women’s Shelter is important to us and we are reaching out to the listeners to join us in making this Christmas extra special for these women and their children.

The ACS is organizing a Christmas dinner for the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. We are planning activities for the children and the mothers throughout the day followed by gifts and dinner. Together with your help, we can bring the magic of Christmas.

Until Dec 18th, 2015 you can support us by dropping off gift cards, donations for the purchase of the food for the feast and gifts. Drop off can be done at the Ashukan Cultural Space located at 431 Place Jacques-Cartier Old Montreal H2Y 3B1

Follow the leader?

Over the last few weeks I have come to the realization that politics really don’t matter anymore, be honest folks is there really a politician who truly cares about the people because I can’t think of one. I’m a Mohawk journalist and have been for about 8 years but I’ve been a political junkie for at least twice that and I can safely say that there is no one that I feel I can place my faith in. Jack Layton was the only politician that came close to what I wanted in a leader. With Stephen Harper rejecting calls to develop a comprehensive national review to end violence against aboriginal women and Pauline Marois’s blatantly racist Charter of Quebec values, it begs the question, is there a responsible ethical leader out there and if so will he or she please stand up?

Harper has done so much damage to the relationship between First Nations and the government that it is doubtful that it can be repaired. The AFN has not done enough to push for better conditions either. The AFN needs to be a stronger voice for First Nations, it also needs to stop being an all boys club. Native women need to be able to take their place at the table, after all we do come from matrilineal societies. First Nations voices are strongest when united and it’s time all our chiefs stand shoulder to shoulder with our native women.

Harper’s refusal of a national inquiry into missing and murdered native women has proven that he is not a leader but a coward who can’t face the fact his government, the RCMP and most police forces have dropped the ball on this issue. It is almost certain that if by some miracle an inquiry were to happen, it would expose massive misconduct on the part of the police and the justice system. Then there are the omnibus bills that Harper has rammed through Parliament, which has reduced First Nations treaty rights and limited environmental regulations protecting Canadian lakes and rivers. He has muzzled scientists that speak out about the long term damage of the tar sands and other environmental issues as well.

How can First Nations have faith in the leaders we have today, we only hear from them at election time and they don’t exactly have the best track record. It’s about our vote in the end and more empty promises. What is really needed in a leader is someone who is going to take an active role in dealing with the issues facing First Nations once and for all. First off the government needs to stop treating First Nations like children and give them control of their natural resources so their communities have a chance at sustainability which would in turn force big business to deal with first nations on an even playing field.

Second the government needs to start being fair with First Nations children they aren’t getting a fair deal and the government needs to acknowledge that fact. A serious prime minster would honor the Kelowna accord, the Trilateral agreement and the various treaties the Harper government has tried to circumvent with various omnibus bills. Violence against native women must be dealt with and that means revamping how the police forces veiws and treats native women. They need to see that native women are people not stereotypes, police officers need to look past skin color. Renewed funding for Sisters in Spirit, the Native healing foundation and Native women shelters would go a long way to helping native women feel safe.

There are so many ways to help First Nations become stronger and that is through education, education can be a powerful tool to rebuilding stronger healthier First Nations communities. It also wouldn’t hurt to start educating our youth about First Nations history, the good and the bad. Wouldn’t be nice to have youth in this country understand what First Nations have been through? It would go along way to eliminating racial sterotypes. Job creation programs for First Nations people on reserve would help curb the unemployment rate and give hope to endangered native youth.

Those same programs could be used to help rebuild communities, had the Kelowna accord been honored by the Conservative government, communities like Attawapiskat might not be in the shape that it’s in now. At the same time the accord could have been used to create jobs, build schools and give hope to Aboriginal youth who’s suicide rates are in some communities 5 times the national average. A strong leader may be able to curb those statistics.

Another important issue, First Nations need to be included in any and all environmental legislation, a lot of mining and oil companies have caused havoc on First Nations land, these companies have poisoning lakes and rivers with impunity and that needs to stop. They need to be held accountable for their actions and the government can start in Fort Chippewa in Alberta where the people are suffering from rare forms of cancer. I saw how quickly the government responded to the Wakerton tragedy, it’s time that they investigate why so many First Nations communities are under boiling water advisories.

Discrimination within the justice system is another serious issue, a recent report by Correctional investigator Howard Sapers exposed the chronic underfunding of Aboriginal prisoners compared to non Aboriginal prisoners. The report calls for an end to over classification of Aboriginal prisoners which has led to longer stays and less services for Aboriginal inmates. These discriminatory issues are even more pronounced in the case of female Aboriginal offenders who spend more time behind bars than their non native counterparts. The report has called for changes in order to curb this over representation of Aboriginal prisoners so that they can receive the rehabilitative programming and services while incarcerated. Services that can lead to a quicker release.

These are just a few of the many problems we face as First Nations and that is the reason why we are so untrusting of the government. It’s because these problems still exist, when the United Nations is asking why are there so many of us in prison or why are there so many missing native women or why do First Nations still live in such poor conditions. We say it’s because our government would rather build prisons or purchase fighter jets but the real reason is that the government just doesn’t care accept at election time when the leaders look in our direction and make hollow promises. By the next election Stephen Harper will have been in power for 8 years 281 days. Will the next PM undo the damage he’s done or just continue on that path?

What Canada needs is a Prime Minster who has the will power to break the cycle and help First Nations gain equal footing in a country that was once theirs. Does a leader like that even exist?

Irkar Beljaars is a freelance Mohawk journalist living in Montreal.

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Sharing Their Stories

One of the most difficult sessions taking place at the Truth and Reconciliation commission was the Sharing Circle. Sitting down and listening to elders speak about what they went through in the residential schools. Rebecca Williams and Barney Williams were two members of the TRC survivor committee who acted as moderators for the other speakers. Barney started by thanking the creator for giving him and the survivors the strength to speak and for everyone for attending.

One of the first speakers, Norman Mianscum spoke about how the majority of his family had ended up in the schools. “In all they were 28 nieces and nephews that grew up not knowing their language and culture because my siblings who had attended the schools were to ashamed to teach it to them”. At the bequest of father, Norman became the caretaker of all the children because he like his parents didn’t drink. He helped his mother take care of those who needed it, being a teenager in the 70’s and 80’s he was tramatized by everything he saw. It was only when he came to Quebec when was he was 24 to find himself and begin the slow journey to healing himself.

Norman’s story as difficult as it was a common theme during the sharing circles, the way survivors talked about the abuse made it hard to imagine that kind of evil happening to children. Connie Shingus who went to a school in Saskatchewan, talked about being separated from her sisters due to age. She talked about the sexual abuse how a lot of the girls including her were targets of the staff. When she arrived at the TRC she wasn’t sure she would want to speak about what went on in the school and how it had destroyed her family. “ I wasn’t planning to be here in this circle, I here because I want so badly for it to stop running my life. I live that shunned unwanted feeling daily, I’m lost, my family is broken up and I came in hopes of finding pictures so that I was see the truth of what happened to me.”

Connie echoed what a lot of survivors feel and what the schools were successful is accomplishing was not only killing the Indian in the child but also destroying their self worth, trust and putting fear in it’s place. Elisabeth spoke next, she talked about the separation from her parents and how she didn’t understand why she and her cousins were in the school? Why were they beaten because they spoke their own language and why was their hair cut?

Naturally the sexual abuse was the hardest to listen to, one survivor had talked about how she had been raped at the age of 12 by the bishop who was visiting the school at that time and how she had gotten pregnant from that rape. When the child was born she was told that the child had died. The rapes continued once month for 6 years while she stayed at the school. She talked about her difficulty share her experiences with her children and how it would be years before she could talk about it.

One of the many services the TRC provided were health care workers for the survivors and their families as well as for the guests, many of which were wiping away tears. Another service was a smudging room, where people could go to be alone with their thoughts or just to talk to someone. The survivors also had access to daily sweat lodges which took place at the botanical gardens, a shuttle was provided to take them to and from 4 times a day. The TRC made sure to organize the event around the survivors and their families. To make sure that the process was as comfortable as possible. The House of Friendship provided many of the volunteers and many of the events will posted on the TRC website.

Irkar Beljaars

 mohawk_voice (Twitter)

It Matter’s to Me By Irkar Beljaars

One of the events the TRC was a town hall discussion about residential schools, a chance for the public to speak about how they felt. The event was moderated by long time CBC news anchor Dennis Trudeau who took questions in both English and French and it wasn’t long before people were up on their feet sharing their stories. Trudeau was quick to ask follow up questions in hopes of finding solutions to the problems facing a lot of survivors. Solomon Wawatie a residential school survivor asked about how reconciliation took two people but the truth has not come out. “The truth is not being entirely told from my perspective, there are five elements that are considered genocide, one of them is outright killing, killing the spirit, residential schools, sterilization, and starvation. What happened in Canada is genocide and until the Canadian Government and clergy acknowledge that there will be no reconciliation!”

One of the statements came from Stuart Myiow Jr from Kahnawake talked about crimes committed against the Indigenous people, crimes like kidnapping, and forcible confinement. “We have to understand that people form within a government , people from a religion caused great pain and suffering, Stephen Harper apologized said that it was wrong!” He went on to talk about crimes committed by people within the highest levels of government and the highest levels of the Catholic church and because Harper said he was sorry that these people who committed these horrendous crimes would not be charged. He said that just because there has been forgiveness does not mean people who committed these crimes then there must be justice.

Trudeau asked the question if there was significant movement towards reconciliation? To which Myiow said no! Myiow Sr then entered into the conversation, spoke of his love of hunting and how the distruction of the forests affected his life. Myiow Sr went has far as to say the Harper should be shot. Trudeau quickly stepped saying that violence doesn’t beget violence and that there needs to be a better way to bring reconciliation to Canada. Trudeau then asked former Conservative MP David McDonald who seated nearby about his thoughts on what had been said by the first few people. MacDonald serves as special advisor to the United Church Committee on Indigenous Justice and Residential Schools. Mcdonald found himself surprisingly in agreement with a lot of what was said.

The one thing that hasn’t mentioned here that I believe needs to be said if we think governments have done a pretty terrible job, I would say that we’ve all done a terrible job in regards to public attitudes.” Mcdonald would go on to add that when issues happened in First Nations communities like Attawapiskat, the Canadian public didn’t understand beyond the superficial and often blamed the victim themselves. He acknowledged the gulf between First Nations and Canadians and asked if there were bridges that could be built?

Lee Grayfeather a MicMac residential school survivor, had this to say. “When Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologizes to us and then the very next cuts out over 8 million in grants to women and children and to this day does nothing else.” Irene a survivor and elders coordinator, talked about how she worked to build her family back up after spending 6 years in the schools. “ We can stand here and blame everyone in our lives but where is the reconciliation, an elder told me, the more things happen to you, the stronger you become”. Irene Barbeau a residential school survivor of two schools has been working with survivors for over 30 years long before any agreement was signed. “We recognized that we needed to heal ourselves ans since nobody was going to do for us, we decided to take the bull by the horns and heal ourselves.” She talked about she could finally reconcile with her own life and how it could be accomplished for others. “What I had to do was forgive someone, but everyone that was there was now dead so I forgave the system”

The last person to comment was CBC’s Sheila Rogers. “I want to thank everyone for speaking from the heart and that I hear you. I feel very uncomfortable but when is growth not uncomfortable?” She also suggested that Aboriginal people should be Aboriginal teachers and for making for making her uncomfortable.

Irkar Beljaars

mohawk_voice (Twitter)