The Children of Attawapiskat, have potential

Photos and story by Danny Beaton

Brian Martin a Mohawk from Tyendinaga told me to call this elder who was a doctor working up north with people from Attawapiskat and gave me her card, which was the best news I had all last summer while I was researching the events at Attawapiskat that have been unfolding for several years now.

So when I called Dr A.A. Dunlop who was both positive and friendly I asked her if she knew any Natives in Attawapiskat who were using traditional native culture to heal and were there any people who she thought I could connect with after telling her my back ground with Native Child and Family Services, 6 Saint Josephs and Queen West Health Center.

Dr Dunlop gave me the phone number of the Mental Health unit in Attawapiskat and told me to said ask for Jane or Peggy and tell them I was a Mohawk elder who wants to help by bringing native ceremonies to the community for healing and unity with Cree elders who were healing, using traditional Native ceremonies.

When I called the Attawapiskat hospital and asked for Peggy or Jane the person I spoke to said it sounded like I needed to talk to Joe Tipp the head of Health Canada in Attawapiskat because Peggy and Jane were not there that day.

I immediately called Joe Tipp or Joe Tippeneskum, Cree elder and explained that I was being funded to assist in culture and ceremonies and my back ground of organizing healing activities to assist the elders and youth who were suffering in their community was my desire.

Joe Tipp was more than positive for me to connect with and he explained the youth were taking a lead in trying to bring back traditional Cree culture but could use my skills in organizing events that would unite the elders and youth in Attawapiskat. Joe said there were several youth organizing the sacred sweat lodge ceremony and if I was free at night it would be good to join them.

Joe mentioned we could work together in the Secondary School presenting traditional Native culture to the youth in grades nine to thirteen and anyone interested in hearing our message. As it turned out, Joe and I did present at Vezina Secondary for one morning last October.

Afterwards I  gave the Traditional Iroquois Thanksgiving Address, a prayer like poem honoring creation by giving great thanks to the plant life, waters, and relatives, addressing creation and everything that moves on Mother earth, in the sky and all that is invisible.

My understanding of our Thanksgiving ceremony is it is equivalent to smoking the pipe for the Lakota or any Indigenous way of giving thanks or respecting the gifts of the universe and Mother Earth.

We answered questions that the students had later and I shared several songs on my native flutes which I play for healing and meditating the spirit and mind.

The students I could see were glad to see a Mohawk and Cree elder working together for the protection of Mother Earth and the future of seven generations to come. We explained that we were working for the benefit of all children not just our own and that every child deserved to be treated with respect and dignity.

Then I explained how our Mohawk spiritual leader Tom Porter viewed all men as brothers and all women as sisters in our way of life in our country and that it was no different in Attawapiskat. I explained that in the Indigenous way of life in North America, the first law of the land for Indigenous people alike, is respect and that respect was the first law of the land.

We talked about art and the sacredness of healing through communicating through all forms of the arts writing, drawing, singing, photography, film making even talking.

When my partner and I go to the bush down south we rent a car and leave Friday night or Saturday mornings just to get to the forest, but in Attawapiskat you are surrounded by forest and bush.

Down south when we leave Toronto for Georgian Bay there are one hundred thousand people with us leaving the city.

In Attawapiskat there are only two thousand Cree, no one else except non-native teachers and nurses who are also care givers trying to help the community in every capacity.

You have the cleanest and freshest air in the world right here in Attawapiskat I love it there. It is so quiet I can fall asleep any time you lay down to rest.

We are living in a concrete jungle back home. People have forgotten how to live simply down south in Toronto and my wife was the best person I ever met who tried to live like a Zen monk. But you can still live a good life right there in Attawapiskat.

Once you finish high school in Attawapiskat you can travel down south to get a college or university degree if that is what you want, then you will have the education and freedom to earn a good living.

But you need the tools to earn a living or express yourself and to communicate for yourself or community. In Attawapiskat you are surrounded by animals, water, forest, birds and natural life. Sometimes it is hard to see what you have when it is right in front of you. I love Attawapiskat and I love the Cree people because they too are pure in their own community, but here only drugs, alcohol and trauma hurt you.

When my mother was put into residential school and she lost her culture and my uncles and my aunt too all Indian people in Canada lost their culture when it started. Mohawks, Ojibway, Cree, Inuit, Haida, Algonquin, etc... Indigenous people down south recovered in a big way and many indigenous people healed from residential school down south, but I see the Cree are still suffering from Culture Shock and residential school trauma.

Our elders say when you take away the ceremonies and way of life for natives you are taking away their wisdom and connection to Mother Earth Once a person has been traumatized they need help or healing by therapist or native ceremonies.

Personally when I see how happy our people are, it usually is when they were raised with ceremonial parents. There is something beautiful in every culture once you take out the alcohol and drugs, so in that way, we all have been wounded a little.

In Six Nations, our ceremonies are still going and there are may social events that bring our people together for honoring Mother Earth and Creation. Today I see many young people and adults looking for their native roots and culture because they see how broken and lost society has become.

If the Cree people can get their ceremonies and cultural roots back, then they will not be hurt or broken.

People have to be reminded just like our elders had to remind us here over and over again until we started learning and healing, we are all learning till our last breath but we have no right to take our own life, only our Great Creator can take a life when our time is up.

Life is so sacred every minute, when times get tough we need to seek help to work out difficulties and what seems too hard to bear. If we had the positive teachers and healers in our life things would not get so bleak. We all need positive energy positive thoughts and beauty, love, respect, companionship, creativity and peace without this in our world, negativity gets in and destroys our health.

The residential school system did not take care of native youth or people and it broke the culture and our way of life.

This has to be said in the case of Attawapiskat because I heard it from the people, community and nurses and teachers too! Many northern communities need healing and resources fast!

When I look the faces of the children I worked with I am ecstatic from the Cree beauty! The idiosyncrasy of the children come from the earth, wetlands, marsh, moose, bear, wolf, deer and wounded parents.  When I study trauma this is what I see in Attawapiskat!

Many aspects of a child’s health physical and mental development rely on this primary source of safety and stability. Drug and alcohol abuse are a symptom of the pain never healed from residential school and it creates all forms of mental trauma for Indigenous people everywhere.

We need our native values and culture more than ever to fill our mind, body and spirit with that kind of medicine.

Like my uncle said, “Danny the kids need to see us laughing and having fun. They need to see us working together singing, starting a sacred fire, loading our pipes, eating together, praying, doing our Sacred Ceremonies in unity the way it was before residential school at the beginning.

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska

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