Posts Tagged anishinaabe&
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Keeping the circle strong

Me and my dad c. 1980

Me and my dad c. 1980

It’s by and large a Hallmark holiday, but I do like to proclaim my love and thanks for my dad on Father’s Day, even though I’m grateful for him every day of the year. He’s always fulfilled the criteria of a good dad according to the sentimental cards and pop culture. He taught me how to shoot a puck, always kept the fire going, and took all the driving shifts on those long family trips. But he went above and beyond those stereotypical traits to try to raise his children the best he could even though he had no template to follow.

He came to the drum when I was a little boy, so I was very fortunate to grow up drumming and singing our Anishinaabe songs. It was a crucial part of a long and medicinal journey that brought him to ceremony and a deeper understanding of his culture and background. My mother, brothers and I benefited greatly from his reconnection with the Anishinaabe way of life. He sought the drum and our old ways for healing, and it helped us all thrive.

His own father died when he was just 29 years old. He fell off a boat on a cold fall morning just off the shore of our reserve and never came back up. He left behind a wife and five children all under the age of seven. My dad was just five years old. He has little memory of my grandfather, and wasn’t able to share much about him throughout my upbringing. But it was always clear to me that he grew up without a dad, and from a young age I imagined it must have been tough for him to learn how to be a father without having his own.

There were challenges, of course, but he still did a wonderful job raising us. And that’s become much more evident now that I have a son of my own. Parenthood is the ultimate test of a person, and although my journey is really just beginning, I have a much greater appreciation of my parents and the sacrifices they made for us to ensure we grew up in a good way. My dad really did have to figure out fatherhood on his own, and my mom supported him and us along that path.

It was pretty neat to see him reflect on that experience in this video with other Indigenous men that came out a few years ago:

PERFORMANCE – First Nation Dad Roles from Brian Russell on Vimeo.

Although ultimately heartfelt and hopeful, these candid reflections illustrate the widespread, tragic challenges of Indigenous fatherhood on Turtle Island. Colonialism, forced assimilation, and ongoing oppression have severely damaged traditional parenting practices and ideals. Violence like residential schools and the enforcement of the Indian Act infected Anishinaabe masculinity with a brutal toxicity that lingers and continues to manifest itself in horrible ways.

As a result, Indigenous fathers are expected to neglect or destroy. And that happens. But it’s important to remember what’s at the root of that behaviour and why many of these men are struggling. Otherwise stereotypes of the violent or absent Native dad will persist and even become a self-fulfilling prophecy for many young men who become fathers. It’s ultimately up to them to break those cycles, but they need a supportive and understanding community to empower and enable them.

Being a father is the greatest joy I have ever known. My son is the greatest gift I have ever received. I love every moment with him; from teaching him to talk to tempering his tantrums. I walk proudly with him, whether it’s pushing his stroller or taking his hand in mine. Making it just a year and a half into this journey feels like my greatest accomplishment. He teaches me something new every day, and I can’t wait to keep walking on the rest of this path with him.

My responsibility as a father is to raise him to be kind and respectful. It’s on me to ensure that he grows up as a loving and humble person who treats everyone around him as he’d want to be treated. I want him to be patient and polite, and to try to be positive whenever he can. I hope he follows his dreams and never denies his feelings. These are some of the basic values that guide parents in all cultures and nations in raising decent human beings.

These are ideals that were embedded deeply in me thanks to my parents, my family, and my community, despite the intergenerational trauma of displacement and assimilation. Violent cycles were broken, but more importantly, a strong circle was maintained. Strong Indigenous parenthood is about creating and sustaining viable communities, and at the core, survival.

Me and my son Jiikwis, 2018

Me and my son Jiikwis, 2018

Legacy Update

Legacy Cover

With Legacy, Waubgeshig Rice places himself squarely at the forefront of the next wave of Native authors. Bold, envisioned storytelling. A hands down pleasure to read.
-Richard Wagamese

I’m very happy to announce that my new novel Legacy will begin shipping across Canada by the second week of August. Published by Theytus Books and edited by the wonderfully brilliant Adeena Karasick, the story follows four young siblings from an Anishinaabe community as they try to rewrite their family’s legacy of tragedy.

Muskrat Magazine was kind enough to chat with me recently about the novel and published a great preview. Check it out for a better idea of the story and how it came about. I will announce an official launch in Ottawa (and hopefully Toronto) soon, and I’m currently lining up other readings at literary events. Stay tuned for details. Theytus is also working on an electronic version of the book, and hopefully that will be available not long after the hard copy.

This has been my greatest creative endeavour thus far. It’s a real labour of love, and I hope you get the chance to read it. Please take a moment to view the video below for more. Miigwech!

The Greatest Teacher

Elaine Kelly, far right, holding my cousin Marion. I'm in my aunt Lorna Pawis' arms. 1980

Elaine Kelly, far right, holding my cousin Marion. I’m in my aunt Lorna Pawis’ arms. 1980

My aunt Elaine Rose Kelly, also known as Shawishkokeeshigogue (Blue Sky Woman), died suddenly on Wednesday morning at the age of 60. She was in North Bay, getting ready to go teach, when she had a heart attack. It has been a shocking, immeasurable loss for her entire family, but in these days of immense grief we take great pride in all of her accomplishments and everything that she was. She dedicated her life to education and advocated for Anishinaabe children in the classroom. She was also a devoted member of the Midewiwin way of life and extolled the many beautiful virtues of traditional Anishinaabe spirituality. On top of so many other admirable attributes, she epitomized everything about being an extraordinary teacher and a person. Along with so many other young people, she helped make me who I am today, and I will continue to be thankful and honour her for the rest of my life.

Growing up in our community of Wasauksing, Elaine was thrust into a leadership role early in life. Her father (my grandfather) died in a boating accident when she was just seven years old. In the years that followed, she became a role model and family leader to her six younger siblings, including my dad. My grandmother, Aileen Rice, instilled the value of education early in her children, and that set Elaine on her pioneering path as a student and eventually as a teacher. As a high school student in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Parry Sound, she fought to take humanities classes at a time when First Nations students were placed only in the vocational stream. She then went on to the University of Toronto, when First Nations students in post-secondary education in Canada was extremely rare. She eventually got her Master’s degree in education.

A long career teaching in communities across Ontario followed. She returned to Wasauksing in the early 1980s to teach at what was then called Ryerson Indian Day School. That’s where I began my education journey, along with her daughter Marion and many of our cousins and friends. She helped expand it beyond a kindergarten-only school. Prior to that, children were bussed into public school in Parry Sound after finishing their two years at “The Little Red School House.” Thanks to the vision and collective hard work of our community, the school was renamed Wasauksing Kinomaugewgamik, and I was fortunate to graduate from grade eight there.

That’s just one of the many gifts my auntie gave me on this path. Not only did a learn invaluable lessons from her as my aunt, she was also my teacher from grades one through four. She was the person who taught me how to read and write. Today, as an author and a journalist, I make my living thanks to those initial skills and gifts that came from her. It’s incredibly heartwarming and an indescribable honour to be able to carry that with me for the rest of my life.

And Auntie Elaine kept fostering that passion for words and stories within me well beyond our time together in the classroom. She continued to give me books for my birthday – everything from history to anthropology to politics to literature – right up until I turned 34 last month. The subjects of those books were always Indigenous. She wanted to ensure that I knew as much as possible about being Anishinaabe, and she wanted me to be proud of it. So many children, youth, and adults benefited from her enthusiasm and her passion to teach and share the culture.

My auntie had an extremely deep love for the Anishinaabe way of life, especially being Midewiwin. She was a third degree Mide in the Lodge, and enthusiastically supported and shared those beautiful traditional teachings. As such, she was incredibly loved and respected in traditional circles across Anishinaabe land. She truly embodied all of the great virtues extolled in that way of life: love, respect, truth, humility, wisdom, honesty, and bravery. She carried an incredible amount of knowledge with her, but she did so in a very humble way.

Above all, there was unrivalled kindness and strength in her spirit. She exuded love, and being in her presence was enough to heal and learn. She had an unmistakable laugh that will echo in thousands of ears for decades to come. Her bright, wide smile often made her eyes disappear, and that beautiful image is forever imprinted on my mind. Her ultimate legacy, though, is the successful education of all of our young people. She fought so hard to make sure First Nations children had all the same opportunities and achievements as non-Aboriginal students. She would say that each accomplishment in the classroom is a victory for all of us. She saw those victories as important steps forward in living on this land in a beautiful and positive way with everyone else. As such, her important and incomparable work will never die. And for me, her legacy lives on in the words I have written, and in the words that I will write.

G’gaawaabmin miinwaa Zhaawshkogiizhgokwe, g’zaagin.

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