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Smashed by the Oppression and Fighting My Way Back

Dear Harvey,

We met at the Native teachers' and leaders' workshop in 1996. That was a wonderful time spent with you and the other Native leaders in RC.

Since then I have been to other workshops. The one that made a lasting impression on me was the women and physical power workshop. I loved meeting and wrestling with Diane Shisk. From that weekend my thinking has changed. I have been able to see how I try to act like a white person with my own people. The pattern that gets played all the time when I am with other Native people says, "I'm smarter than you. You don't know what you're talking about. You don't have anything to offer me." My behaviour reflects this internalized racism when I do all the talking, all the planning, and all the thinking in a group.

We have been thoroughly separated from each other. Our kinship and respect for each other and our trust in and reliance on each other have been destroyed. How they have been destroyed is shocking. We have been pitted against each other in desperate situations. I remember a time when I was sleeping with my cousin, as we often did for safety. Some men came to our bed. Right then, when I woke up, I had to leave her there sleeping so I would not be molested also. I blame myself for what happened to her. This is where most of my people are-blaming themselves, feeling bad about something, feeling bad for surviving and for having had to leave others behind.

How can my mind recognize what has happened to me and my people if I am busy trying to survive or stay numb? I feel enraged about this. I feel like I just woke up. Why didn't anybody tell me what was going on? Not only have I been tremendously abused by white people but I have also been educated to blame my own people for it!

There are many layers of distress, and patterns on top of those layers, that keep me isolated from my own liberty, that make my journey back to health and healing almost impossible. For so long I have stayed in defeat by trying to avoid feeling what I need to feel to get out from under this pile of crap. I am so thankful to the Co-Counselors I have had these past four years. Even if they are white and act strange sometimes, they have been clear in making contact with me, human contact, closeness. This alone has helped me so much.

Lately I have been seeing how intact our humanness and our intelligence have remained in spite of all the damage that has been done to us as Native people. If you think about how far removed white people are from their humanness, having had centuries of oppression passed down, and think about how relatively new this oppression is for the first people of North America (at most five hundred years), it would only make sense that Native people are the most humane group on the planet.

What had to happen to make Natives forget and abandon who we are? The residential school policy has been the most effective measure for erasing our history and severing family ties. All of my siblings went to residential school while I stayed home without their protection from my parents' alcoholism and violence. I know that if my brothers and sisters had been home, I would not have been raped as a child. They would have cared for me. I also know that they feel bad about the situation I was in. They had to leave me there to survive whatever was to happen to me. And they had to go to a place where they would have to survive whatever happened to them. By the time we reached adulthood all ties were broken. We had become strangers without even the faintest desire to get close.

I see how the white government deliberately planned to remove us completely from the world, to destroy us-spiritually, if not physically. Many of us are like ghosts roaming without a home, without a family, without an identity. My two sisters are out there on the street, using alcohol and drugs. I don't go after them. I just let them go. I have five brothers, but you wouldn't know it unless I told you. We never talk. We can't hug or be in the same room together with any sense of peace.

It has been useful to have non-Native Co-Counselors because theirs are not the faces I see when I am working on my early sexual memories. Their faces are neutral for the moment.

My life is very full and busy with my daughter and my work, and I am teaching another Native people's RC class. Marcie* was right. With discharge, we're just getting smarter and smarter!

Brenda Wastasecoot
Brandon, Manitoba,

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00