Tuesday, October 30, 2012

National Novel Writing Month

Dear Friends,
November is National Novel Writing Month (nanomowri) and this year I have decided to take on the challenge! I have been telling close friends around me, friends who know I have a passion for the written word; a passion to use this passion as an act of hope in a world that desperately needs hope! Today I make this announcement publicly as a means of holding myself accountable to this beautifully crazified creative goal!

I read this today on nanomowri webpage: 
“Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.”

Ok so here goes I am writing a novel this month! I am writing the bulk of a first draft of a novel. Where it goes or what journey it takes me on I have no idea but I know it will be a catalyst of some sort! I also know I am doing this for me, without any big illusion of becoming published and being interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel on Writers and Company, cbc radio!!

I leave you with a powerful quote from one of my favorite writers, Isabelle Allende. She breathes life and wisdom into these hands ready to give birth to 1,667 words a day! 

“I feel that writing is an act of hope, a sort of communion with our fellow beings. The writer of good will carries a lamp to illuminate the dark corners; only that, nothing more - a tiny beam of light to show some hidden aspect of reality, to help decipher and understand thus to initiate, if possible, a change in the conscience of some readers. This kind of writer is not seduced by the mermaid’s voice of celebrity or tempted by exclusive literary circles. He/She has both feet planted firmly on the ground and walks hand in hand with the people in the streets. She knows that the lamp is very small and the shadows are immense. This makes her humble.”


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Do What You Know to be Right : Part Three

My Dear Friend and Sister, Cathy Gerrior continues to write her truth in this third powerful piece that confronts not only the United Church but all of us  to do what we know to be right and to not be complacent in researching what we know and do not know and making right decisions based on this. For example do you know where your pension plan invests your money, or where your bank banks or where your food, clothes, pharmacudical drugs comes from and at whose expense?


One Love

One Family



To the People of the United Church

A letter from wape'k mikjikj e'pit

by Cathy Gerrior
Cathy Gerrior is calling on people to challenge the United Church on its decision to remain invested in Goldcorp.   Photo: Paula Gerrior
Cathy Gerrior is calling on people to challenge the United Church on its decision to remain invested in Goldcorp. Photo: Paula Gerrior

I am called wape'k mikjikj e'pit - white turtle woman. I am the daughter of a residential school survivor and know first-hand the generational and long term effects of the abuses suffered there. It has been partly through the reconciliation work of the United Church that I have reconnected with my own heritage and culture. I recently learned, however, that the United Church's pension plan is invested in Goldcorp. I feel confused and betrayed. My teachings are that an apology is not sincere when the one who apologizes continues to do the same thing that was harmful.

My personal story is not uncommon. My mother was in a residential school in Labrador for approximately four years. She was one of the children who never went back home once she joined her brother and sister at the school. My Grandmother eventually found a way to get her kids away from the school and moved her children far from there. That provided some immediate safety for her family, but the long term was a different story. As a result of the residential schools, I was raised away from my culture. I lived most of my life apart from who and what I am.

My journey to reclaim my own culture was, in a large part, made possible by the United Church. I am not a member of the church in any way, however, I and my family have benefitted from the church's commitment to hold themselves accountable for their complicity in operating the residential schools. My very first experience with Ceremony was through the Peace and Friendship Gatherings held at the Tatamagouche Centre. The Tatamagouche Centre is one of the four education and retreat centers of the United Church of Canada. This is where I first began to confront my own demons, begin the healing process and my journey to honor who and what I am.

Recently, I was devastated by the news that the United Church; who i have considered groundbreakers, has chosen to allow the United Church Pension Plan to remain invested with Goldcorp. Goldcorp is a mining company in Guatemala that is accused of being responsible for many atrocities perpetrated against the Mayan's, their culture, and Mother Earth.
In July of this year, the United Church partly funded my trip to Guatemala to enable me to attend the Health Tribunal as a representative of the Breaking the Silence Network. My role was to stand in solidarity with the Mayan people against the mining companies who are decimating people, culture, and the environment for obscene profits. I was honored to travel there and play this role.

Goldcorp uses mining techniques that require the decimation of seven tones of mountain to produce one ounce of gold, according to Grahame Russell, our delegation leader in Guatemala. And that they have many mountains there they intend to mine. Goldcorp is directly benefitting from millions of dollars invested by the Canada Pension Fund.  Canadian mining companies, including Goldcorp, are accused of being directly involved in murders, rapes, and illegal land evictions of many communities of Mayan people.

How is it possible to, on the one hand, work hard to reconcile with the past of violations against the native people here; and then on the other, consciously and willingly profit from the violations currently being perpetrated on the native people in Guatemala? While in Guatemala, I saw very clearly that the Mayans are indeed our brothers and sisters, with their connection to Mother Earth and their life-giving ceremonies.

I don't know where this leaves me. I know that I will find ways of making my feelings known to the United Church and hold them accountable for this unthinkable choice. I ask you to do the same. I also ask you to research where your own pension plans are invested and to choose not to profit from the continuing decimation of native people, cultures, and Mother Earth. I ask for you to stand against money being the new Sacred, and to do what you know to be right. Truth, Memory, and Justice for all.
Welalio - thanks to you all.
Cathy Gerrior

Monday, October 15, 2012

celebrating community arts!



Tila Kellman expresses the magic of Antigonight:

"Once again, Antigonight brought together a sparkling array of artists in a wide variety of media representing the various cultures that make up our region to produce a magical mosaic of music, dance, sculpture, song, painting, drawing, theatre, film and this year, henna body painting!  Approximately 1300 festival-goers, including seniors from the RK MacDonald Home, braved the rain to attend the Saturday evening extravaganza.  It never ceases to amaze me how this small place produces such a wide variety of artists and art groups......"
let the pictures above speak for themselves!!!!
One Love

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Native Perspective: Part Two

The first picture of young women  above was taken outside the health tribunal as the testimonies were happening. The other two were of Oscar Morales showing our delegation the mine site that he is fighting against. The last one is of Diadora, who was shot in the eye and still standing against the mining company.
photos by Cathy Gerrior

Do What You Know to be Right - taken from "The Ten Indian Commandments"

i have working on this second article for some time now, trying to find the words to both describe and honor some of my observations and teachings from Guatemala. In all fairness, i have only seen, heard, and experienced a small amount of Mayan culture and belief systems.  i was struck many times though by how similar we are and how i immediately felt a kinship with the Mayan People. i recognized right away that we are indeed brothers and sisters.

Kwe.  i am called wape'k mikjikj e'pit - white turtle woman, and i was deeply moved by the Mayan people and their struggles.  i did not travel there as a tourist, but rather was invited by a caring group of people who belong to an organization called Breaking the Silence and we joined a delegation led by Grahame Russell of Rights Action.  
As a native woman, i recognized that both my motive and my role was somewhat different than the others gathered together for the teachings that were about to unfold as we visited, over the course of 8 days, four different mining harmed regions of Guatemala.  They came to witness and learn the many devastating truths that were about to be revealed around the oppression, exploitation, and attempts at genocide of the Mayan people, specifically around the issue of Canadian Mining Companies currently operating in Guatemala and other Latin American countries.

As a native woman, i already carried many generations of these truths in my whole being, almost as if it were part of my DNA.  i was not there to learn these truths - i already knew them intimately.   i was there to stand with our native brothers and sisters and to offer what i could in terms of support and Ceremony as they, like we have here for seven generations, fight for their land, their rights, their culture, their dignity, and their lives.

Still, the painful details of these truths spoken by the people left me devastated and shaken to the core.  What struck me hard was that their present struggles are our native people's histories prior to the forcing of our children into the residential schools. There was a time when our native people here lived freely and in harmony on Mother Earth.   We always recognized that we needed Mother Earth for our survival - she does not need us.  It was not possible to own Mother Earth.  Our teachings were that we were responsible for walking on her gently, with respect for all things.  In my conversations with the Mayan people, these teachings are the same among our cultures.

i witnessed in Guatemala that the bond the Mayan people have with our Mother the Earth has not been entirely broken.  Many still live off the land in balance and harmony, as our people once did.  They have not been caged into reservations. At first i felt grateful to witness this. That was quickly squashed the moment i also realized that this bond the Mayans still have with our Mother is exploited by the wealthy, as well as foreign countries to keep the Mayans in extreme poverty.

Poverty it seems, is used as a successful tool by certain cultures to keep native populations off-balance. The natives are distracted by the need to just survive, and so are unable to stand up for their rights and freedoms.  In Guatemala, extreme poverty is used to force the Mayan people to work as cheap labor ($2.00 per day minus expenses) to plant and harvest their own fields that they were forcibly and illegally evicted from, growing produce for export to Canada and the US at huge profits.  i myself, can never see items like tropical fruit and coffee the same way now that i have seen the true origins of them being provided to us at 'cheap' prices.

Like the Mayan people today, our poverty really began with the loss of our lands through 'evictions'. The land that provided all our needs and sustained us became coveted by other cultures.  At first, we tried to accommodate them.  As more Europeans arrived, massacres, rapes, and the burning of our crops, food stores, and homes immediately put us into poverty and survival mode.  Labelling us as heathens and savages seemed to legitimize the brutality used to gain access to and control of our ancestral lands.This is what is currently happening in Latin American countries including Guatemala, only there and now it is with the use of military or paramilitary men with machine guns against farmers with hoes.

Trickery, trinkets, and alcohol were also used to cheat us. Our history here also includes blankets infected with measles and small pox were distributed among the people.  Entire communities perished.  Beef infected with tuberculosis was also deemed an effective tool to free up more land.  Bounties on our Scalps was introduced and are still on the law books in Halifax to this day.  Treaties were entered into as an attempt to walk together peacefully, but were never honored by them.   Papers were produced proving to us that we never had the right to be there in the first place.Then we were put on reservations, breaking our bond with our Mother the Earth, and finally we were forced into residential schools to take the indian out of the child, breaking our bond with our children.  The laws were made to condemn, eliminate, control, and/or assimilate, rather than serve us.

ndian Reservations are where extreme poverty, inadequate housing, food, clean water, and health care have long been documented.  It was also impossible for us to continue to live in the way we were taught.  We were promised that we would be provided for and became wards of the government.  The elders here speak of their families going to the Indian Agent for their food allotment.  It was called 'Rations Day'.  Indian Agents were agents of the government and were given food and supplies to sustain the native population as well as keeping us caged.  Often these agents quickly realized they could use these supplies to create total power over the 'savages' as well as amass personal wealth by selling the goods to others.  Many of our people starved or froze to death.
Each large family was allotted exactly four cents worth of flour.  The women named the bread they made after this ration and so "Four Cents" is still made today in native communities, as the allotments are really not that much larger.

In Guatemala, the Mayans are not even afforded that.  They are neither caged in reservations nor are they free.  They are in this uneasy limbo - living off the land, in extreme poverty, surrounded by wealth, waiting and wondering if/when they will again be forced off their lands to produce profits for the next plantation of mono-crops or for a mining company, with no protection from their government, police, or the courts.  All they have are their lands and their lives, which they are being robbed of. The Mayan People do not (yet) have the history of residential schools.  i am fearful though that the dominant societies have not learned from their crimes against native peoples, leaving them more likely to repeat them.  Profit, it would seem, dictates their priorities.

In North America, all school-aged children (5-16 years old) were taken from their families in every native community and sent to residential schools to be educated and become 'functioning members of society'.  One of the devastating realities was that many of the priests and nuns who were moved from churches for 'unacceptable behaviour' were placed in institutions where those they were 'tending' to had no voices.  Orphanages, youth detention centres, and residential schools are but a few.  These places became the hunting and killing grounds for pedophiles, child predators, and sadistic people, all who claimed to be working in the name of God; therefore, with impunity.

Generations of  Native children were brutalized, violated, raped, threatened, and killed.  The days of family and community, warm embraces and loving care were gone.  Their only human touch now was when they were being punished or assaulted. They were savagely beaten for speaking their language and were taught that their parents and culture are evil.   Those who tried to escape and run away were tracked down by the RCMP and brought back to the school to be publicly punished and humiliated.

The generational impacts on the individuals, the communities, and the culture were devastating and long term.  Survivors were left with nothing - doomed to a lifetime in limbo.  Many have spoken of feeling stripped of all spirituality.  Unable to trust anyone or anything.  Feelings of guilt and shame for what happened to them as well as not being able to protect their brothers and sisters are lifelong. There are many issues of drug and alcohol abuse, but we are slowly breathing back our Ceremonies, our language, our culture, and our deep connection and responsibility to Mother Earth, in hopes of healing. And the healing is happening.

i recall a vision i had shortly after my first experience with Native Ceremony almost ten years ago.  It was during a song being sung by my teacher, brother, and friend gkisedtanamoogk.  We were in Circle, releasing the Ancestors from the Sacred Fire.  As my brother sang, i saw an eight pointed star, golden, glimmering, pulsating, and glorious as it rotated inside a circle.  i felt excited, joyful, and alive.  Then suddenly, chunks were wrenched from it at random until it became still, only a shell of its former self, and in almost total darkness.  i wept, feeling empty.  Slowly, small fragments began returning.  With each small piece came a small light and it began to slowly pulse and glow again.  Tentatively at first, like a tiny heartbeat.  As more found their way back, it became stronger and brighter, which then began to attract even more pieces.  The vision ended as abruptly as it had begun.

i like to believe i was one of those small fragments finding my way back to where i belonged.  One small piece that makes the whole more complete, alive, and stronger.  i have worked to help our people in their healing ever since that moment.  Standing in solidarity with the Mayan People is now an important a part of my work.

When i was asked at one point why i chose to go to Guatemala to stand with the Mayan People, my response was simple. "If people had stood with us 500 years ago, would our history be different today?  How can i not?"

The Mayans in Latin America are currently dying from North America's history of brutality and greed. There are several amazing organizations who are currently standing with them in solidarity.  They stand for justice, equality, and fairness.  They stand to protect culture, ancestral lands, dignity, and human lives.  They are still only a few, standing up against the powerful force that is greed.  Please don't let them stand alone while another native people becomes broken and empty.

All my Relations.