Neglected Stories OR Where To Start Exploring Aboriginal Writing

October 30, 2013

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In August of this year (2013), our advisory group (comprised of thirteen students) arrived at the Native Women’s shelter in Montreal, tanned from summer vacation, feeling good about ourselves for helping out some ‘people in need.’

We expected to paint the fence and return to school to discuss it. And then to eat lunch.

We did not anticipate a grave, yet much-needed history lesson on Canada’s mistreatment of its Aboriginal peoples.

Or a real-life horror story so visceral, rendering my usually boisterous group silent.

Nakuset, the impassioned and impressive executive director of the shelter, met us with verve and hard-earned activist passion: as she spoke about the shelter and the communities it serviced, we started to realize how very little we knew about such a large part of our own population in Canada.

At the time of our visit, fifteen women were in-house.

The shelter offers them food, childcare, beds, medical aid, counseling, and other services.

In-house, women are provided with a parenting worker, an addictions counselor, and an outreach worker, to name a few.

Some of these women had taken a more-than 30-hour bus-ride into Montreal from remote areas of rural Quebec for a safe haven where they could replenish their stomachs and their souls.

The women were not only so kind as to meet with us, but generously included us in their morning ceremony, which comprised of a smudging, a ceremony believed to rid all negativity and restore balance.

The women are given their own, customized healing plan, which includes the incorporation of the medicine wheel – a chart that contains the balanced representation of physical, mental, emotional & spiritual states of well being.

Women here deal with issues ranging from untreated diabetes to mental illnesses to serious drug addiction.

When Nakuset discussed the historical and cultural differences amongst the Aboriginal peoples, I was ashamed of how little I knew. I knew next to nothing.

I was especially embarrassed to admit that, as the teacher, I had never heard of the Sixties Scoop (a foul initiative started in the 60s – and which continues today – albeit less ‘aggressively’), during which tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were apprehended and placed in either foster or adoptive homes of non-Aboriginal families.

The government sent in social workers who would evaluate a home that didn’t have running water, deem it unfit and – quite literally – take the children away and place them in other families.

One book on the topic, on Nakuset’s recommendation is Stolen From our Embrace by Ernie Crey and Suzanne Fournier.

One may only imagine the generational trauma induced when taking into consideration the Residential Schools (set up to assimilate Aboriginal children into the Catholic school system) that began when the fur trade died down as early as the 1400’s. The churches and government gained real momentum in the 1800s and onward, resulting in a large percentage of children enduring physical and sexual abuse in school.

They were starved. Medical experiments were carried out on them.

An enlightening book that Nakuset recommends for further reading on the subject is J.R. Miller’s Shingwauk’s Vision.

I also missed the fact that – during the winter of 2013 – a group of Cree teenagers (naming their mission “The Journey of Nishiyuu” or “The Journey of the People”) started a walk from Northern Quebec’s Hudson’s Bay to Ottawa’s Parliament Hill to promote cultural awareness both within and without their respective communities.

As they covered distance, they gathered support from different First Nations communities and collected more walkers. Walkers’ motivations ranged from getting off drugs to finding a solution to suicidal impulses.

When they reached Parliament Hill, there are disputing stories regarding if anyone actually met with them.

Stephen Harper did not. He was busy meeting with a panda that day.

By the time we got around to cutting the weeds around the front of the shelter, and painting the fence in the back, we had an idea of who we were doing it for and why we were doing it.

Herein lies the power of stories:

In order to better understand the culture, I went home and opened up some books on Nakuset’s recommendation (in particular, In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Culleton Mosionier – which I highly recommend).

Books serve as cultural memorials. As witnesses. As hope.

Let’s make sure to pass on the information so that we may educate ourselves. So that we may learn from the past. And from the present.

The shelter is always in need of cleaning supplies, sports equipment and both regular and plus-sized clothing.

Please see below for some useful links should you be interested in reading about Canadian and American Aboriginal peoples and histories.

CBC’s Waubgeshig Rice on the importance of Aboriginal literature:

A solid Goodreads list on Aboriginal writing:

The shelter’s information is:


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