Wednesday, May 19, 2021

What's It All Worth? (article)

I was asked in early 2020 to contribute (in x-amount of words) to my friend's college assignment, part of which called for students to compile 3 accounts of what "Culture" meant to those who had experienced foster care in Canada. I gladly contributed as the student is a dear friend. The question or assignment, as posed to me, was: write about the impact the 60’s Scoop had on you regarding your culture. Here is my response.

I am 50 years old as I write this and am one who “aged-out” while in care. Meaning I turned 18, the legal age of consent in Alberta and up to then I had remained in government care in that province. My last social worker gave me a toaster, wished me luck then closed my file. I could no longer turn to the province (social workers) for assistance, programs or supports, and without any connection to family or community of origin, I was on my own. I mean, I had never reached out to a social worker anyway, I was told, "they're coming on this day, come home and change your clothes." I see now how performative it all was. To that point I had spent my entire life in foster care, yet I was never told who they were, what they were for, what their role in my life was. I simply understood it was for me to please them in some way, get their approval. I was never told or given insight into what my true circumstances were or those of my natural family. I was so naive I didn't even know til way late in life that foster parents were paid each month to "care" for me. I thought it was simply a kindness, so, I felt obligated the whole time. There was no contact with my birth parents, no "programs" anyway, not like today, at all - no integration whatsoever within the native community in Calgary while growing up in all non-native foster situations. Later, while on my own healing journey I discovered first-hand growing up this way can lead to basic and complicated emotional issues around love, trust, abandonment, authority, self worth, identity, loss and grief and so much more.

It still seems to me people wield the term “culture” either as a weapon or something akin to a prized possession, a really nice shirt –“who in this room knows their culture?” or "who's the biggest Indian! - or, mine's bigger n yours!?" In its most common usage, context or understanding and in reference to 1st Nations people, it tends to mean language fluency, hunting/fishing, drumming or regalia focused activity (powwow/dancing) or time-immemorial-speak, featuring furry animals designed to encode how one should conduct themselves. I’d wager that little else enters the mind when one thinks of culture and a Native person. If you don't overtly display these items you are written off or disregarded as being "without culture" by both Native and Non (I'm generalizing, but it's the rule not the exception). While not growing up with the features listed can be tragic, sad, something to mourn, the fact is, I can still experience those things if I make the effort and get proper guidance in doing so, so I have not “lost’ them as I see it…But if, as I contend, we occupy one or more cultures simultaneously, where no one actually exists within a literal mono-culture then it is the everyday, mundane, banal experiences most people take for granted that I have missed most profoundly and can never get back. Loss of this part of my culture has been devastating. I will never know the sound of my mom’s voice, that voice which nurtures, soothes, comforts and guides people their whole lives. I don’t know either of my parent’s favorite songs or movies. I don’t know how they met. I don’t know which handed they were (their strong hand). I don’t know their favorite food. I don’t know what time of day I was born, who picked my name or why. I never held my dad’s hand, talked to him about the birds or the bees or how Crees came into the world. I never sat at a dinner table with either of my parents or any of my brothers and sisters, small talking, teasing, pretending to argue. I don’t know what either of their childhood’s looked like. I don’t know a world with Grandparents in it, I never met any of them. I don’t know what it’s like to see biological family spend time with my kids, just spending time. I remember observing my daughters through a bedroom window during an unguarded moment between them in Ottawa while they chatted and absent-mindedly volleyed a badminton bird back and forth. They were 14 and 11 years old. I can’t recall their words, just sound of their voices and, for me, the simple yet intense beauty of their kinship, their wit, their mutual affection and their perfect innocence. It was like an ache, but a good ache and it is locked safely in my memory. These and a thousand other basic, everyday experiences between any of my family or with any of my family – never to occur in this life. Never. The simple yet soul-nurturing events that happen a thousand times a day and are among necessities for life right alongside air, food and shelter are among what has been lost and what I’ve been most damaged by. Never mind the demoralizing facts of history, colonization, confederation, assimilation, death, disease, displacement, relocation, residential school, foster care, murdered and missing women and the accelerated rate of mortality of my people…and so much more. I could list so...much...more. Home?!?! Now that is an abstract concept and always changing for someone of my disposition, if there are such people . In my personal and professional experience I have consistently observed posers, frauds and people so desperate for validation they adopt "culture tunnel-vision" that is, canceling in their minds anything counter to the noble, stoic portrayal of the drumming, misplaced warrior learning from their elder that very morning that, you know, sketchy behavior, for instance, is - hello? - not cool, man! These professional, knowledge-keeper types do really well for themselves I've observed. The rest of us discounted for not embodying the soft inside, gentle, quiet, braided-being they prefer. I am more than happy to burst their lame bubbles and work frontline with individuals and families helping navigate urban wilderness. I work very very very hard to stay vigilant so I that I don't project all my "stuff' onto my girls. I find myself unable to even write this small note in one sitting as it is all enough to make me want to scream, still.

Near-constant mental processing and compartmentalization, endless self-talk, consistent reassurance to oneself that you count, that you are important, that you are loved, that things you do or say matter when any discussion turns to family, family history, culture, cultural awareness, teachings, elders and all the political and legal wrangling, which seem incessant subtext to these topics, is essential. I have teachings such as they are about an afterlife and have learned lots about ways of mourning, grieving and the rituals around them, why they matter and how they function as they do – these are clear, they are obvious. Will I ever see any of my family – like, in an “after-life” or "next life" of some sort? I do not take that kind of stuff for granted. I can't. In fact there are very few things I can take for granted. I believe I am skeptical (not cynical) by nature and suspicious by experience. I observe what people say and what they do and believe myself to have strong skills for thinking critically. If the question were put: what is your culture or what is culture to you? My response would be that culture is how I live everyday, the varied realities that I am engrossed in most often – the chosen communities where I live and work. My culture consists of all the relationships I engage in and the values that emanate but it is also involves the predominant thoughts and impulses I have around these ideas. Despair is never far away, still, after all this time, observant people see clearly my "fronts." But I work to understand myself in spiritual, essential terms not religious ones and it's crucial for me to have historical and political awareness and facts. I have worked exclusively with or for Native people and organizations serving Native people since '96. Wherever I am I go where Natives go, it just feels emotionally safer. I do modest ceremony, I get counseling (still), I stay connected to those I feel are authentic types...and yet I still often feel unworthy of bothering many bright elders I look up to - I am like a lot of other "scooped" people in this regard but I haven't stopped working on it. When does it change? Today, maybe? My inexhaustible hope is that my girls are careful observers and that they have the courage to think for themselves, that they take that very risk, so that much more truth, beauty and wisdom might come to them. This is the reality, the culture, and the salvation in which I strive daily to be immersed.


I despise the term "60's Scoop" or being referred to as a "Scooper" but I get it, people need a reference point. I do, however, want to indicate that authentic 1st Nations culture is REAL (language fluency, ceremonies, strong communities, families and individuals, all aspects, really) - it does exist and is alive, thriving, robust and in places amid all the areas I've designated above. This whole blog has been about the authentic culture that is every place one cares to really look and I am lucky to experience some of it.


©2021 Champsteen Publishing

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Poem published in The Salt Chuck City Review

On Becoming A River

Just days ago
I drove through Squamish Mountains
with a Haida boy and a young Cree girl,
the young travelers and me
bound for ceremony in Stat-lee-um woods

glancing at the young ones
I was for a moment fearful of what lay before them,
not the ceremony but the hostile world, the merciless world
of course, only people are foolish enough to concern themselves with things yet to be
I am still learning

think like a river, I said out loud to them
the words once given to me by an old Ojibway woman,
when I was younger

think like a river and it may be so, she said
her words lingered in the air and my mind drifted into holy memory
my own place of sacred things

here, I return again and again
to a tranquil spot at a slight curve on the South Thompson,
amid the lush breast of *Secwepemc Territory
and long amber rays of warm and dusky sunlight in the early October evening –
it is the Moon of Falling Leaves

managing to find myself alone
I sit among the sandy banks in silence,
in clear view of the gravel shallows near me where the river is but a trickle –
Here, can be heard the din of insects, all winged and buzzing things
flitting and darting above the abundant deposits of fresh bear scat,
The cackle of distracted crows and their lunatic agenda
A pair of eagles, one disheveled if not slightly ragged,
the other regal, its feathers smooth and nearly black with age,
clearly a couple, they feast undisturbed on carrion the far side of the bend

Dispersed everywhere in places farther and closer to me
are the sacrificial smelt and decaying forms of spent salmon
the sentient beings somehow still dignified, still important
as evidenced by the whole host of life teeming at their scattered and bountiful remains
their eroding but nutrient bodies feeding and caring for all who live here
There is nothing worldly here, just peace and murmuring stillness
Serenity lulls me into warm thoughts of drifting away, perhaps forever
with the soothing currents in the middle deeper waters
I breathe in the same particles of air that rushed through throats and filled the lungs
of tribespeople in my grandmother's grandmother's age,
air that has passed continuously through life on earth, endlessly, infinitely...

The calm shattered by a flash
I am startled by the sun-splashed, quicksilver burst
of an immaculate fish lifting itself into the air, into a somersault -
upside down and backwards
as if desperate to cry out: I am here!
Its thrash - a glorious display, definitive and remarkable
then a spattering commotion and downward return to life below the surface with the rest
The split-second event a defiant response to forces
that would deter the relentless quest for home
The reserves of stamina remaining steadfast 
in the mission, the quest, maybe even the pilgrimage –
perhaps the very reason for being
Not predators, currents or the fearsome march of time
will keep them from going home

In that instant I was touched...changed
became connected to ones vying for that place just a little further on
our kinship rooted in our obedience to a great if not solitary pursuit,
we are orphans of a type,
coming into the world seemingly at the expense of our parent's lives,
like the young smolt and fry, my folks gave their lives to bring me here
and I have made this entire journey without them
a drama composed for me by unknown hands
I cannot speak for the salmon
but mine has always been a longing to be defined by something other than absence
so, I exalt in remembering that ordinary day emptying into twilight,
sitting there thinking wild thoughts before joining the night and stars

Since then,
I remain susceptible to those wild thoughts
and to thinking of myself as that river
dark, deep and sometimes shallow
but with clear origins at the feet of venerable mountains,
like the bloodlines to ancestors,
this may well be where I emerged out of spirit into being...
forever enchanted by you and a moment in time,
actually, changed in that moment
now always the memory of that moment

and this, my own momentous cry that I was here

Sometimes the reasons for things in life cannot be named
Where once I was a boy with the worship solely of buffalo in my blood
now, these many miles and years later I come endowed
with reverence for salmon and for the lifelong voyage home in my wandering soul

It is a blessing to be Indian, more so to be Cree
but I am more like the salmon these days
more a creature at once resilient and fragile,
manipulated and wild,
at times I think it sinful of me to envy the majestic and unassuming salmon
or to wish to unlock the secrets of the great ocean pasture that only they know
observing their stark refusal to be anything but what they are
their graceful singularity of purpose to be undaunted
I am contented in believing the songs of these places
do not end at the banks and tree-lines of territories
but are alive and sung in the hearts of those who love these things

I am no elder
but I know that people protect what they love –
I know this much

So, for now I remain willingly chained to my life as a freedom fighter in the false-hearted city
witnessing and sometimes helping establish small freedoms,
occasional escapes by those Indians with some place to go
I hurl myself ever upstream through the urban wilderness,
inventing ceremony and ways of manifesting cracks
because like Uncle Leonard said, THAT's how the light gets in
still navigating the roiling waters, where I have been shown by salmon
that even without mom and dad to help them along
even the tiny roe, on their own,
still manage to find fire for life in the cold stone of a river bed

It seems to me now that I may have been called to the edge of that water
a response to my yearning to be kept in the heart of things
if not in the ones that I love
as when salmon quit the sea and the river calls them home,
upstream to the birthplace
to fertilize the alpine womb

But I am fed, warmed and infused with the spirit and memory of that place
There are many ways to salvation and one of them is a river
so, I am thinking like a river
because inside me is a nameless salmon
a salmon leaping - leaping for life - into the eternal and transcendent moment
where all beings merge into one
Hearing an ancient song only the heart understands –
the sound and vision clutched and held onto by one dazed and love-sick Cree
all dissolving into distance and oblivion

*(Secwepemc: Shuswap)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Springsteen on Broadway

onstage at Walter Kerr Theater, November 17, 2017

The Set Up
My guy heads into the autumn (if not winter) of his time onstage and headlines his first Broadway show at the tiny (and I mean, TINY) Walter Kerr Theater. Not a bad seat in the house in this ancient and refurbished theater nestled on 48th Street, just off Times Square. I effectively won 2 lotteries to gain an access code to use the morning tickets went on-sale and I still had to vie with everyone else who made it that far. But, something about me and the Boss…we’re bound to be together!...I scored tickets and lo and behold touched down at La Guardia air port 24 hours before the Friday night performance. We took a room at the distinguished Barclay Intercontinental Hotel (also on 48th and easy walking distance to the venue). At last, The Champ sees the Boss in New York City.

The Show
The performance was not a concert proper but rather a scripted performance (it IS Broadway after all) compiled of spoken word sections, inspired by, if not quoted directly, from Springsteen’s acclaimed biography, released in September 2016 – and 15 songs played randomly on guitar and piano. No accompanying band, no video screens, a stark and rough-hewn backdrop set and basic lighting to augment mostly the songs. The audience was treated to a one-of-a-kind performance quite unlike anything he’s ever done before. The songs seemed chosen to accentuate the various themes Springsteen presented and were elegantly laid bare in stories with intimate insights on his roots – familial, geographical and musical. Fans like me know most of the superficial details of the Boss’s life on the Jersey shore and his meteoric rise to super-stardom that continues unabated to this day, evidenced by his sold-out worldwide River Tour of 2016/17 which filled North American arenas and vast stadiums all over Europe – I saw his most recent show in Seattle on that tour (and was back in Seattle half a year later to meet and greet the Boss at a book launch promotion, where again I was lucky enough to be among the limited few granted access). It was thrilling to see my guy in such an intimate setting and to hear him tell stories full of poignant insight and detail. There was even a point where I may have gotten a little choked up and teary, maybe - I can’t really remember. But sublime versions of My Hometown (on piano), My Father's House, Growin' Up and of course Born to Run made one understand that a good song is timeless and a great performer breathes new life into such songs, every night.

Thanks Boss, you always come through.

Oh yeah, New York!...I’ll do a separate post on it later.

©2018 Champsteen Publishing

Monday, September 4, 2017

Twilight Life (song)

words & music by Larry

a black-haired woman walks down to the edge of dark water
a clutch roses in her arms for the all the lost tribes with homes on the sea
ghostly waves beat the shore
like spectral ones come before
taking solace in storms and the things that'll be

a thousand kisses won’t mend the bend in your heart
nothing in this world that you’ve seen helps you come to grips with your fate
play the undertaker’s blues
get confused by the rules
you want no piece of the illusion that they call hate

chorus 1
when you stand high on the piny ridge of that beautiful mountain
and look across the expanse of the beautiful sea
your heart beats so fast
there’s no future no past
there’s no feeling alone in your twilight life…

chorus 2
when you rise up to a silver moon where you wait for no one
you find that place with your love where you reach for the sky
there’s no secrets to keep
living forever deep
all you know is the quiet of your twilight life…

the orphan girl diving down in the urban jungle
a nameless child walks the streets named for sons of the city long since dead
wears a coat full of holes
stepping over lost souls
never understood anything that they’ve said

all the roads lead us home to that same mystic garden
fires burn and the smoke bathes our bodies in ashes and in coal
the wind cuts like a knife
no one come back alive
there’s no need for explaining in this twilight life…

(chorus 1)

©2017 Champsteen Publishing

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

..."you see a light and then another"...

                                         Stay - The tragically Hip

In late August '96 I had just moved to Penticton BC, from the rez in Alberta and was about to begin art school. I was so excited to be living in the Okanagan and the road ahead seemed to stretch out before me in infinite directions. I had spent the better part of the Summer in Europe and had actually made some money part of which I used to buy one sweet guitar. In my new room I sat nursing beverages while strumming away then turned up the volume on the television to hear Gord Downie telling the interviewer what the best thing was about being the singer for the Tragically Hip. He said that besides getting to spend so much time with his friends the best part was being able to make a living from his imagination. What a wondrous thing. I've never forgotten that sentiment.

In the work-a-day, 9 to 5 world it's easy to take people and things for granted. I admit that with the Hip it was easy to do because they've always been there. Their first record came out in '87, the year I turned 18. All told, they've released 14 albums and I honestly can't recall how many times I've seen them in concert but as I head to Rogers Arena tomorrow night to see them it seems that it just may be for the final time as lead singer Gord Downie has been diagnosed with inoperable and terminal brain cancer. Reviews for the shows previous to this one have been stellar and I head there not for goodbyes or sentimental reasons, The Hip aren't that kind of band. They are vital and robust artists and musicians who have collectively harnessed a creative energy that has sustained them over a career and given us, their admirers, a hell of a lot of good music. I'll go see The Hip for perhaps the last time and strum my air guitar at my side as usual. I'll rock out, I'll be thankful and it will seem important that I am there in the same large room with them doing what we were both meant to do...

...but tonight as I write this I can't stop listening to this song over and over again...

© 2016 Champsteen Publishing

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Game (song)

this recording made when I was 19 or of the first two songs I ever wrote...which means I've been writing and singing bad songs for nigh on 26 years!

Yesterday, in court details released from a plagiarism trial involving Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, it was revealed that the song Stairway To Heaven has so far earned $526 million dollars - that's from ONE SONG!!! you see, as I've been saying for as long as I can remember, all I need is one hit.

...this probably ain't it.

I wrote the song  - I'm singing and playing acoustic, Ben's bass and background vocals, John's on electric guitar and Jason's on drums.

The Game

There's a picture of you in my head
that'll never fade
and your voice plays like a record
over and over again
 when you look into my eyes can you
see what might have been
this game that we keep playin'
we'll never win...

When it hits the fan it seems like
I'm always to blame
when the sun is shining for you 
you don't remember my name
if there's room in your heart for me
I wish you'd let me know
you always say that you're thinkin' of me
but it doesn't show...

I play the game and you pull my chain
either way, baby, it's always the same
you make the rules and I play the fool for you
I play the fool...

© 2016 Champsteen Publishing

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Humming Bird Dreams Press launches BROKEN MAN

New publishing concern Humming Bird Dreams Press launched Raul Gatica's poetry collection Broken Man (Hombre Roto) at Vancouver Public Liberry, Saturday November 14, 2015. A co-presentation Hummingbird and Spanish-language online magazine, Cencerro, the author and friends gathered to celebrate the new collection. Several speakers were on hand to sing the bi-lingual book's praises and to celebrate. Gatica, a Oaxacan political refugee and now exile, living in Vancouver since 2005, has remained a high profile activist for social justice and various causes. His activism in his native country led to 13 arrests, torture and the need to flee his homeland in fear for his life. Throughout the formal refugee process, Raul has continued to write, organize and speak out against oppression and tyranny.

The poems chronicle every aspect of a doomed relationship. A jagged sense of romance and the fallout of a love betrayed are the primary features of this literary litany of the Hombre Roto (the Broken Man). Raul read selected pieces from the book and after each I read the same poem in English. A lively Q and A followed the reading. If you like your love poems bloodied and your poets bruised and battered, Broken Man will speak to you.


©2015 Champsteen Publishing

Monday, March 23, 2015

Maybe it's about being there...(article)

"Long and Wasted Years"
It's been such a long, long time
Since we loved each other and our hearts were true
One time, for one brief day, I was the man for you

Last night I heard you talking in your sleep
Saying things you shouldn't say
Oh baby, you just might have to go to jail someday

Is there a place we can go?
Is there anybody we can see?
Maybe, it's the same for you as it is for me

I ain't seen my family in twenty years
That ain't easy to understand
They may be dead by now
I lost track of them after they lost their land

Shake it up baby twist and shout
You know what it's all about
What are you doing out there in the sun anyway?
Don't you know the sun can burn your brains right out?

My enemy crashed into the dust
Stopped dead in his tracks and he lost his lust
He was run down hard and he broke apart
He died in shame he had an iron heart

I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes
There are secrets in them I can't disguise
Come back baby if I ever hurt your feelings I apologize

Two trains running side by side
Forty miles wide, down the eastern line
You don't have to go
I just came to you because your a friend of mine

I think that when my back was turned
The whole world behind me burned
It's been awhile since we walked down that long, long aisle

We cried on that cold and frosty morn
We cried because our souls were torn
So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years

_ _ _

For me, there is something to doing things out of posterity. That is, documenting here (on the nebulous web) snippets of my life and my times, simply for sake of the future. It may be important to none other than me but in that it seems very important.

In conversation people who know me understand the importance of music, poetry, art in general and Bob Dylan specifically. It’s merely a perspective but I do believe that Bob Dylan is the Shakespeare of our time and will be immortalized through his recorded work. I challenge anyone to give me the name of someone, anyone born in the in 1560’s…Go ahead…


It’s challenging to make a mark in our own time, our own LIFE. But to have the grace to have been the creator, maker, author of so much creative material astounds. As one who has tried his hand at poetry, prose, music and lyric making I am simply amazed at the notion of the volume of material coming from a single source, a single person. I think we are conditioned to think it’s easy. Turn on the radio and you are inundated with songs, hits, chart-toppers. But how many of these are one-hit wonders? How many will last - how many aren’t simply frivolous articles of fashion? A 50 year recording career, a novel, a biography, at least 3 films, several books of drawings, exhibitions of his paintings all over the world, art installations and a never-ending tour beginning in 1988 that has seen him tour every year since. To say that is creative output is prolific and varied is well below understating it.

On this blog I’ve conceded to the notions of taste and preference and I will do so again – for some, Dylan’s voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard, but I love the sound of his weathered and distinctive wail. However, as with Shakespeare, I believe posterity will have the final word. Not only did people in his time appreciate the Bard’s (Shakespeare's) work, but as time went on more and more did also. This I believe will be the case with Bob Dylan. There will always be an audience of admirer’s of exhibitions Picasso’s paintings and drawings. In any given city there will always several productions of Shakespeare’s dramatic work under way. And I believe there will always be an audience of listeners and musicians to appreciate Dylan’s songs and recording artists continuing to include their versions of his songs on their records. Sure, a person can have a hit. Some have several. Some have greatest hits packages one and two. But no recording artist of our time is as universally covered as Bob Dylan. This means that among his fellow craftsmen and women he is more revered than anybody. Imitation is the purest form of flattery it’s been said. The people who write and record songs themselves consistently dip into the well created by Dylan. I won’t delve into the cultural significance of the artist here because I believe that to be of less import than his truest legacy - an immense body of songs of depth and power.

So it was that last October I waffled though I knew Uncle Bob was playing 3 consecutive nights in Seattle WA., a 3 hour’s drive across the border and south. Could my finances bear it? Who could go with me on such short notice? Were tickets yet available? And now several months later I am so glad I seized upon what may be the last chance I’ll have to see him in concert though I said the same thing in Oct 2001, when the lights went down at the start of his show then, when he was a sprite 61 years old.

I am including his performance and the lyrics to Lost and Wasted Years from TEMPEST, his most recent album of original songs. It’s a wonderful thing that in his 70's he is still composing original songs of startling lyrical intensity and still traversing the world modestly to perform night after night like an old bluesman, like a troubadour. What else was Bob Dylan put here on earth to do? And unlike Shakespeare or Picasso, I got to be in the same room with Bob Dylan several times over the years as he did his thing. There'll never be the likes of him again.

©2015 Champsteen Publishing