Monday, February 13, 2012

A Kind Of Symmetry

Recently, in a letter to a friend living on the East Coast, I wrote:

..."I am of the mind that our lives ARE dramatic, ARE filled with unbelievable things that defy description to others. One simply must appreciate the events as they happen (or after the fact) and with luck they may come to understand what profound and meaningful days or moments are unfolding that may be intended only for them, us, or you…and no one else"...

I was fostered out as a baby during what has been coined “the 60’s and 70’s Scoop.” As such, I had virtually no contact whatsoever with my birth community or family of origin. That was until my mother passed away. Up to that point in my life I had visited several countries around the world but fear and trepidation had always prevented me from connecting with where I came from. I always meant to but never did. But when my mother died there was no question of what I must do and I made the journey to the reserve for the first time. To this day I believe my mom called me home for I am not sure if I ever would have mustered the courage to go of my own will and volition. It was during her wake and funeral that I met everybody and that my life changed momentously. It was surreal, it was profound and I know this: she brought me home.

In some of the recent work I do I’ve been involved in connecting with 1st Nations families who, for one reason or another, have come to have various agencies involved in their lives. It’s not easy work and I do ALL SORTS OF THINGS to try and help keep families together (can’t think of too many things right now I won’t try, lol). So it was with some small measure of gratitude that I encountered a young, scrappy woman from northern Alberta as she fought to get her daughter returned to her care after having been apprehended under what I will only describe as dubious circumstances. The woman was obligated by authorities to complete a list of 4 conditions, which were then increased to 6, then 7, then FIFTEEN! At every step of the way for 6 months this woman was compliant and cooperative and I confess I was almost out of constructive feedback for her. The lawyers involved took it all in stride (why wouldn’t they?) but I was becoming frustrated. - Last week, before a court session, she and I went outside to stand near the trees, drop tobacco and pray. I told her about a woman from Vancouver Island who several years ago showed me a way of using water to pray and call for your helpers. It is clear to me that help is needed because I know what it is to feel your future was or is somehow dependent on people who likely, after a time, won’t even remember your name. But lo and behold a mediated agreement was reached with the Ministry and on a chilly and rainy evening this week the woman got her daughter back. The woman has no family on the coast and asked me to be there and so after the social worker left it was just the three of us as. I was touched and happy for them.

**(Aboriginal children are disproportionately represented in foster care in Canada. Data from provincial and territorial ministries of child and family services for 2000–2002 suggest that 30% to 40% of children and youth placed in out-of-home care during those years were Aboriginal, yet Aboriginal children made up less than 5% of the total child population in Canada. This is especially daunting when one realizes these figures are on the increase everywhere.)**

I do believe creator speaks to me through people and so, a couple weeks back, when an elder asked if I was attending a ceremony the next night (Saturday night)in East Vancouver my initial impulse was to decline but instead I said yes – I’m not kidding, if it is an elder I respect, I can’t say no and I fear I am becoming something of a soft touch in this town – they’re on to me! There is something sooooooo beautiful to be experienced among a bunch of Indians drumming, praying, singing then feasting in a run-down gymnasium in East Vancouver. The modest venue was deceptively perfect for our purpose. As the ceremony was set to begin I approached the elder who initiated my involvement and offered her the tobacco I had smudged and asked if she would mention my family in her prayers and I told her I would do the same for her.

As I compose this piece a friend is traveling to Alberta by bus to try her luck in the mountains at Banff, near where, for a time, I lived at Lake Louise. I have high hopes for my friend but her situation is fraught with complicated circumstances. She feels rather apart from the world and believes the connection she seeks is to be found down that next road, in the next town, always over that next horizon. She’s an Indian, fostered out as a baby, not in touch with her birth community and maybe not so connected to her non-native adopted family and not at all receptive to subjects relating to her native ancestry. In days gone by I would have been sad for her but this is not what is called for. She has been here there and everywhere in Western Canada in her short, though to her, grueling 32 years and it was quite by happenstance that she and I became friends almost 2 years ago. But friends we are and I recognize her walk. I know her and I know something of her journey. We talked a lot when she arrived in Vancouver and eventually she agreed to counseling, to go to 12-step meetings and generally take care of herself. Last year she bounced around shared rental situations, recovery houses, emergency shelters and couches. I was happily surprised when she called one day from a treatment center in Saskatchewan, where she stayed put for 6 months and yet again I was surprised when she called once more from downtown Vancouver. She was back. No plan, no prospects just basically keeping her head above water which was, I reminded her, progress. So as I type this she will have departed again by a few hours which I must admit did not surprise me. She is sober 9 months and I hope the best for her. She has my landline, my office number my cell number and we are connected by internet. She knows how to reach me and I send her good thoughts as I understand they can travel vast distances.

This coming Tuesday, February 14 we’ll mark the solemn occasion that is the annual Missing Women’s March and this year I honor specifically the woman identified as Brenda Wolfe, a victim of Robert Pickton. I knew her as Brenda Belanger when we were schoolmates, both of us students at Victoria Park School in Calgary. We were the cast-offs I think you could say, a few Indians but mainly Vietnamese and white kids but all decidedly the underclass and I believe we adopted something of an “us” against “them” attitude though today it is clear we were all the same. Back then, if you were a trouble-maker and couldn’t make it at Forest Lawn School or Bowness Public School (the bad schools), then Victoria Park, situated as it was near the Bow and Elbow rivers, near the Stampede grounds, close to downtown, was the place for you. It was essentially the end of the line. I don’t what happened to the kids who didn’t make it at Victoria Park. Though, sadly, Brenda’s fate was confirmed through DNA analysis and she was added to the official list, the seventh official murder charge. Brenda and I would cross paths occasionally over the years since middle school and she was always struck by the fact that I remembered her and that I would come up and talk to her. Even in my first spring and summer in Vancouver as I sat in a fast food joint on Broadway, wouldn’t you know I spotted Brenda of all people walking by and so I raced out to say hello. She gave me the lowdown and the heads up on a few things about Vancouver as I didn’t know anybody or anything about the city. I would see her briefly a few times more after that but never again.

There appears to be a peculiar but unmistakable symmetry to life, events re-occur and people return or the memory of them resonates in a way seems to inform the goings-on in my life today. The cosmic filter through which I experience consciousness (life) carries real power and is deeply forceful.

I take the Women’s March to be a ceremony. It is a ceremony in every real way that matters. It is a symbolic show of solidarity among the marginalized, the voiceless and powerless. It is a way of acknowledging that people do care. It is our way of saying that smoke and mirror procedural showcases by government and authorities that promote merely a pretense of justice will not undermine the spirit of people who clearly must fend for themselves and each other. I will go there to pray like devout Indians huddled in a gym in East Vancouver, those Indians of faith gathered in what may be the toughest and most dangerous neighborhood in the country, ground zero, praying - praying as though lives were depending on it.

© 2012 Champsteen Publishing

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