May 26, 2008

Aligning with the Vision

Chiyakmesh (Cheakmus) Lake

Over 30 days ago, I asked myself a question. "In decolonization, liberation, and resurgence, what are the habits that I need to create or foster, and the ones I need to relinquish and dissolve, in order to be a "good" leader, for myself, my family, and my people?" This came from an invitation from Chris Corrigan at Parking Lot. Chris mentions he writes in his book about his observations and exploration into these kinds of questions. I didn’t do that for this one, but for future excursions into my thoughts, I probably will carry along a way to record everything. This question came as I was beginning to understand more and more of myself as I moved off the reserve, out of my fathers house, and started to look deeply at the person I want to be. The things I want to do. And what I want to have happened when I do those things.

Decolonization is an interesting thing. It's becoming something quite larger then most thinks it is. Largely an "indigenous youth" notion, it's encouraging to see it expanding more and more. A sad understanding of our current political leadership is how they once to were the leading rebels of discontent and dissident, but in reality they failed to accomplish something that was quite larger; the real enemy of our peoples.


So they became co-opted and coerced and now deal business in colonial ways. Decolonization asks and requires something different of us. It asks of us to act in accordance to our indigenous principles, worldview, and values. Not to claim "Traditions" or "traditionalism" as tools to feed our egos of power, manipulation, and fear. The real essence of what our way of life is, not just our culture. It is about abandoning the colonial influences on our lives, our families, our communities, and our nations. It is working to move beyond the assimilated and into something more.

There is something about decolonization that is very individualistic. It's because it starts with me, then my friends, then my family, then the community. But first it must start with me. Now, trying to restore balance to our indigenous way, something that is about collective, communal, and group-strength, plagues me as ironic. We're trying to achieve something in a way that works on the individual, to eventually accomplish something that is collective.

In my relationships, I've contemplating the gift and responsibility of being honest or truthful. It's a rare thing to find people who do speak truthfully of themselves, their feelings, and their thoughts. But they also carry the responsibility of what that will have effect on. I think back to what it was like ago, because that's the inspiration for my decolonization. In the long ago, large extended families lived in longhouses. Sometimes these things went on for 900 feet long. In these dwellings, multiple branches of families lived together. No hard walls, no "private-personal" areas, but communal collectives. This thought brings to believe that in order to live in balance with so many individuals in a large house like this, their had to be a level of respect for each others to be open. You need to be open and not afraid to be open in this kind of environment.

This kind of openness does require respect. First it is a respect for the individual to be open, and two, respect for the other individual to be open. In this kind of environment, there is a trust there that no matter what feelings are coming, what words, thoughts, or anything happening will be respect. In this, people are not afraid to tell their brothers and sister they think something they are doing is questionable. They are not afraid to be confident in their beliefs. They are not afraid to express themselves. Imagine that. Your brother, sister, cousin, or someone acts a fool, does something wrong, is being disrespectful, and in this level of openness, you can sit down, discuss with this person openly your feelings, their feelings, and restore balance again. Isn't that beautiful, something worth fighting for?

Of course, the disconnect came with residential school. The Christianizing of our people has created a fear in discontent, a fear of any sort of rebellion, a deep-rooted fear. This started with the residential school children, then continued on with their children, their grand children, and their great grandchildren. Here is where dysfunction comes from. This is where rooted hurt and pain continues to linger. For leaving it inside, not restoring balance, just rots the relationships and dynamics of our families. Can we see the disconnect between now and then?

I recognize my own disconnect. I have the same fear, and nothing like what happened before exists in my or any family I know of. These behaviors of fear are innate in us because of the way we are raised, and the way our parents were raised. So perhaps this is where decolonization can begin. I can be fearless and courageous enough to change my perception of "truth" and "honest", in order to be more open with my friends and family. Perhaps even my own people.

My grandfather Frank Rivers was a councilor on the Squamish Nation band council for many years until his untimely death. He worked on many projects like Park Royal, the Plaza, the Misquito Creek Marina, and many others. I never knew him because my father was around the same age I am when he passed away. All I know is his legacy left by his children and my grandmother. I hear from them stories of him and what he did. Back in the day, the band councilors would come to the table to meet. It was here that idea’s; objectives, and reasoning were hashed out. In the name of “Making the Best Choices for the People”, disagreements of heated would be hashed out. But there was something back in these days, and even going back to the long ago, where our leaders could go to war over idea’s, thoughts, plans, in the name of doing the best for the people, but afterwards, leaves as brothers and sisters. In the council table it was war, but at lunch it was brotherhood. There is something very strong about leadership like this. The ties of family-lines and brotherhood were brought us together as a people, but recognizing the need to challenge individuals and their beliefs. I can’t say the same occurs now at the council table.

During the Christianizing of indigenous peoples, there was a notion imbedded of “speaking out against”. Historically, it’s tied to Lucifer and his rebellion against their God. That rebellion against the church was somehow connected to satanic reasoning. Ironically Jesus is a figure in their history that is depicted as a rebel. But here is you can see where the threads of discontent start to become strict solid wire. That we now have a level of fear in rebelling against our brothers and sister, our leaders, our friends, and the fear of “speaking out against” or “being against”. It’s a travesty within our culture because there now exist no accountability for people who abuse our culture for their own gain, false claims of “leadership”, or straight up failure to be a “Good person”. It’s this fear that allows teenagers to beat each other to a inch of life, or the death of our youth. It’s a strangling terror in stepping our and doing something worthy of legend, like trailblazing.

I was raised with this fear. Raised without the tools to honestly discuss the issues at hand and restore balance. Fear dominated our choices growing up, leading us to do a pathetic mechanism to flee. It exists with me today, but I identify it, and then work on doing my life differently from then on. This is what I see as decolonization.

I believe integrity is living with the highest vision of our self. It’s something I strive for: to be a man of integrity. In our cleansing rituals, my people take spiritual baths in the glacier cold water. It’s a purifying action to sacrifice something of this world for something of more then just this world. But the act is quite hard when you’re young. Your mind keeps telling you, “You do not want to f#$%ing go in there. Seriously man, it’s freezing cold. Look at how cold it is. You do not want to go in.” These impulses try to dictate us. Although some of intellectuals would like to think our minds are the highest function of our reality, it’s undoubtedly smart at deceiving us. The reality is, going into that water tests you. It trains to work against those impulses. The disciplines in making thought become action. Here, it’s taking a bath in cold water. Tomorrow, it’s getting off the couch to do some carvings. The next day, it’s saying no to that drink of alcohol. In other cases, our mind tells us things that really are not true, but we tend to believe. “You will never accomplish that.” “They don’t really like you.” “You work really hard.” “You have to be silent.”

The habits and behaviors I exist will be hard to control or overcome. But everything is difficult until it becomes easy. (On some occasions, the try attempt is easy, thus passing the difficult part.) When climbing a mountain, one can stop and feel the insurmountable goal of reaching the top, or keep putting one foot in front of the other, always moving, no matter how slow it seems. Life really isn’t about the destination though; it’s about the journey. If it was about the destination, what’s the purpose of life and death? Haha. Maybe going slower for now will reveal other wisdoms or knowledge.

My habits that I must change and become:
  • Be honest. This is about being honest to myself for what I need to do, and honest with the ones and things I care about. We have to be able to overcome those tendencies and work in a place of honesty, to restore balance all over.
  • Live with my highest vision of myself. I must work every day to align myself with my own vision of myself. No matter how many things I write or create, I must “be” what I want to see in this world.
  • Being committing and disciplined. I must live with the integrity to commit and disciplined to follow through. To do this, I must carefully examine the promises I make so I know full well what I’m committing to. (Note: this doesn’t make take lots of time on every decision, just be aware of your decisions and know that you will commit your best to them.)
  • Honor my gift. It’s my personal belief that every one of our young people is born with a talent or gift. This ranges from all kinds of things. Spiritual, intellectual, physical, humor, wisdom, whatever. The problem is our elders and leaders don’t pay attention and nurture these gifts, and we let school kill these. By the time adulthood comes, most of these gifts have been greatly destroyed or wrecked. I’m grateful to know my gifts and I need to honor them. The ancestors and Creator gave them to me for a reason, and I, and everyone else, needs to honor them because of that. Any gift from our Creator must be honored. If we don’t, it may be lost, or it may have been a waste.

I think those are good for now. With the current state of things for our peoples across the world, it’s coming to a crossroads point where we need to organize, or meet the end. Meet the end as in becoming something unrecognizable to memory of our ancestors, or die in a way that we’ve warped ourselves by allowing our past become our destiny (Residential School-Indian Act-Colonization legacy). So my dream is decolonization, and this is above is one part of the path on that mountain climb.


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