We’re more than just poverty.

Today was a bit of a low day for me, emotionally.  Try as I might, I can’t seem to escape the negativity being spewed from so many mouths, streaming from the tips of so many furiously typing fingers.  No, I’m not going to link to the rants and articles I’m referring to.  No need to spread the malaise.

I echo the sentiments of Brent Wesley, however.  I know a lot of us have been feeling it too.

Lazy. Incompetent. Dead weight. Basically, a burden on the taxpayers. Harsh descriptives for anyone to swallow, yet it’s par for the course for First Nations in this country.

Others have done a good job of breaking down the numbers, so I won’t dwell on it. Rather, as a First Nation person, the public backlash has weighed heavy. Instead of compassion, First Nations were suddenly generalized and told we don’t know how to fend for ourselves. Funny, considering I have an education, have a job, own a home and I’m raising a family. But wait, “you’re okay, I like you. It’s those other Indians I don’t like.” Words I have actually heard before.

It’s most certainly a two-dimensional portrait being painted, ignoring our resilience, our humour, our determination.  Reduced to stereotypes, we get to watch while these effigies of ourselves are attacked and reviled and talked about (never to).  It is incredibly disempowering.  It always has been.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the emotional ups and downs of trying to stay strong in the face of such negativity.  It is hard to see it and know how huge the task is to inform people and undo the damage done, how to heal as a nation because yes, I think non-natives have a major part to play in that process as well.  It’s exhausting to think about doing all that, especially when you also need to heal yourself.

So perhaps it is not so strange that I found myself in tears today, watching a video produced by students on the Rosebud reservation.  The neighbouring Pine Ridge reservation was recently the subject of a Diane Sawyer special which focused on problems many native communities in Canada and the US face; alcoholism, crime, unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, despair. Despite the fact that the trailer of the Sawyer special, Hidden America: Children of the Plains, leads you to believe the special is uplifting and inspiring, the Lakota students believed that it failed to offer historical context or question why conditions are that way.

It’s true that both US and Canadian audiences need to become more aware of the issues faced by native peoples.  Nonetheless, we need understanding to be about more than just how bad things are.  We need people to also understand the strength that has sustained us.  We need people to see that we are not helpless, not unworthy, not all the horrible things that so many are saying we are.

As Brent Wesley points out:

We’re a resilient people. My grandparents survived the mess that was the Indian residential school system and did their best to raise a family of 16 children. They succeeded. All we want today is the same comforts as any other Canadian, but it’s up to us to figure out how we are going to accomplish that goal of self-sufficiency. The only thing we want is a bit of help to ensure we get culturally appropriate education, housing and infrastructure. All things the rest of society needs.

So I want to thank these students for the video I’ve included below.  It made me cry because it made me feel proud again.  We have so much more than poverty.


About âpihtawikosisân

Métis from Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. Currently living in Montreal, Quebec. Passions: education, Aboriginal law, the Cree language, and roller derby. Education: BEd, LLB, working on a BCL
This entry was posted in Alienation, First Nations, Injustice, Parts of language, Sioux and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to We’re more than just poverty.

  1. Heather says:

    That was an awesome video. Thank you for sharing. Know that the followers of your blog are among the many people that support you and your voice. Keep talking. We’re listening.

  2. Lynn Harris says:

    What a beautiful video. Thank you so much for sharing it. I am a non-native who is so grateful to you for the opportunity to learn. Thank you.

  3. daveM says:

    Not only are we listening as previous poster mentions, we are attempting to get positive actions initiated. Time for bashing people and government must end, time for creative solutions, time to get jobs and revenues to these communities and allow these people to be as much as they can be. Surely Canadians can find a way to move these communities up.

  4. i have been reading your posts since you began. My heart was heavy on your post today. Well for myself and my family we appreciate and support you. My daughter is planning on applying the faculty of law i have been sharing your posts and she has been hopeful things will change for aboriginal people. I guess my point of sharing is to let you know you make a difference. And only keep the positive comments. will put out tobacco for all of us. thanks

  5. tippycanoe7@gmail.com says:

    and then i shed a tear again reading this. thanks for saying so eloquently what so many of us are feeling. ❤

  6. Nokamis says:

    One of the most encouraging stories the old people in my family and now my grandchildren’s generation have to share is one of hope and joy in the very depths of despair.

    My old old nokamis/grandmother was left no choice but to relocate from her home on a destitute reserve. She and her children moved into town. Her relatives and other members of her community made the incredibly long trek by snowshoe into the town as well seeking sustenance and a long shot of a chance of finding a means to feed their families.

    My grandmother’s home was a place of refuge and everyone from her community came to her for help because she was kind and also very knowledgeable about natural medicines. She opened her door to the people and welcomed them in, not a word being spoken. She relieved them of their wet blankets, gave them dry ones, and as they warmed their bodies around her cookstove she made kettles of tea and always had a large pot of soup on the go.

    All of this without a word spoken. When the people were sufficiently warm she would say “Cuppa Tea?” and the whole place would erupt in laughter! Such a precious memory I carry of my grandmother and her people laughing heartily in the midst of despair. The quiet strength and endurance of my people continues to instill a deep sense of hope and joy in the very depths of my bones.

    Five generations later we enter each other’s homes and the greeting “Cuppa Tea?” continues to be a precious vehicle for laughter, and oh so much more!

  7. Nokamis says:

    On another note I want to honour my grandmother by sharing that she was a great believer in getting an education, an encouragement that was engrained in our hearts and minds in our early years. Some of us have, some have not, nonetheless the momentum is gathering and I am encouraged!

  8. H. Harvey says:

    Totally positive video: truly where I want to see our people start thinking, someplace to start building from. Hope this video goes to every young person, especially young Indians, across North America.

  9. annemoore83 says:

    This kind of writing and this level of honesty is so wonderful during this difficult time. Thank you so much for your hard work. Please never give up….

  10. There can be no justice for all as long as there is injustice for any segment of a population. Thank you for your post and for including the video. Enough said.

  11. Medic72 says:

    We are such an untapped and rich resource, it is really sad that the rest of Canada cannot see the potential in the people. Look around on any reserve, every face you meet will hold a shy smile. We are a humble, stoic and resilient people and it is our resilience that keeps us enduring.

  12. morehistory says:

    Watching this video brought immediately to mind the short time ago when I was made aware of Shannen’s Dream, and how I cried at the end of the short video piece that told of the struggle to have a decent school in which to get an education.

    What I’ve had a harder time coming to grips with is the “why”. Why did this young girl have to campaign to have a decent school? Why, despite agreement on all sides, is education not a primary focus and a priority? Why aren’t we fixing it?

    I admit I don’t have the answers, but until we ask the questions, we can’t hope to discover the way. Education and young people are the way forward, in any society.

  13. morehistory says:

    âpihtawikosisân — don’t get too down about those news story comments. Much of it is of course misinformed, hateful and ignorant. No matter what the facts or points of discussion, there will always be those hardcore idiots who feel they are “right”.

    The way to blunt the sword of racism is at it’s always been — education and facts. And while it can be a slow, painful, and frustrating process at times, it will bear fruit over time.

    Just remember — none of us is alone out there, even though it may seem so at times.

  14. Angela says:

    I am thoroughly enjoying your blog! I’m not sure how you’re doing with the Cree language, but you have no trouble expressing yourself in English, that’s for sure! This article is a great example. Keep up the good work!

  15. That’s right. Most First Nations have to get permission before they can spend money. That is the opposite of ‘doing whatever they want’ with the money. Bands are micromanaged to an extent unseen in nearly any other context that does not involve a minor or someone who lacks capacity due to mental disability.


  16. Gail Taylor says:

    I hate to just keep leaving messages, but I get these thoughts and I need to do something with them. When I was reading a lot of the negative comments on other sites, a reference to the chief’s house kept surfacing. One would almost think that there is a picture of her mansion? somewhere on the Internet but I have looked and looked to no avail. The closest thing I have come up with is a photo that may have been taken in the band office with Charlie Angus. If I can not find this mysterious picture and I am pretty good with my searching, where are these people seeing it or is it a rumour that has just run rampant.
    Merry Christmas. You have been my light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Seems to be a rumour. An assumption, along with all the others.

    • morehistory says:

      Gail Taylor says: a reference to the chief’s house kept surfacing

      While âpihtawikosisân had a great response to this before, I soft peddled this a bit. When Spence was deputy chief, it seems she was living in the emergency trailer, while her house was given to a young family whose house had been lost in a fire. I’m not sure what the current situation is, but that seems like a pretty concrete compassionate response.

      My general feeling about this is that “what does the chief’s house look like”, “she looks well fed”, “who has been profiting” questions is that those asking them are generally involved in character assassination, and their questions are rhetorical. They aren’t looking to be engaged, but rather to engage in the “groupthink” that is “She must be
      wrong, because she isn’t doing things the way I think they ought to be done”.

      • The whole ‘she looks well fed’ comment made me physically ill, it is so entirely malicious and hateful.

        It is flat out character assassination, similar to that being used against all First Nations with the direct claims of ‘malfeasance’. One fellow writing an article actually said he’d be shocked if there isn’t any evidence of corruption and malfeasance…how clear the bias, how clear the assumption based on ‘belief’ and a deliberate refusal to examine ALL the evidence.

        • Gail Taylor says:

          What I found the most hurtful were the comments I received from some people I had regarded as friends. At four in the morning I was still pacing the floor seething with anger after our meeting where I had made a point of bringing up the issue at one of our meetings by suggesting there were more serious matters to discuss. All I could think about was how could I have been so blind and thought these people were my friends. It will take me a long time (if ever) before I can feel the same about them. If I can feel so betrayed, I cannot imagine how we can find a way to heal.

  17. Ginny says:

    Please know not all feel the way these vile people feel. I know I don’t. And as mostly Caucasian (I have a few drops of Native American blood but certainly not enough to make any claims of being one!) I have long said that the mistreatment is criminal, truly without a doubt criminal. All I can say is I’m sorry. Sorry people treat you this way, and sorry for all the long years it has went on.

  18. Thank you for another great article. I struggle with this too, and IT HURTS. reading your blog brings me back to feeling good and proud 🙂

  19. Nokamis says:

    I hear you apihtawikosisan – I ventured out again into the world of mainstream media today and tasted the uninformed opinions of many who ventured to offer their lack of knowledge any real insight regarding life in Attiwapiskat. One word – distasteful! You either have to laugh or cry, and I choose to try to laugh because it helps me to stay in a much better place with a vision to encourage. What I witnessed today is much akin to ignorant children with no survival skills left alone (in a wilderness of media intent on inflicting harm) to fend for themselves, trying to mother other orphans in the process…sad indeed, and yet it’s also in some sad way laughable watching these awkward scenes unfold, albeit with a heart toward nurturing a better understanding. Keep the fires burning – there are many walking with you.

  20. korenle says:

    You are a light my friend.. an inspiration. Even as a leader the days get long and heavy. I find motivation in friends and family that continue to fight the good fight. That video was great. I am going to share it. We are so much more than they hype. We are amazing. Keep up the great work and the more people that stand up to the injustices and discrimination in this world the stronger we are together.

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