Loving the Sacred through Word and Image. Parliament Hill Ottawa. A Wordpress Production

Indigenous Stories

On Being Canadian…

“This year we mark and celebrate the founding of the Canadian state 400 years ago; from Champlain to today.”

From Celebrate Canada Day

It has been over six years since I moved to Montreal, and Canada the larger nation. And I thought that I would write a post about being a Canadian and why that is so important to me. Living in Canada as a gay, hiv positive man has done wonders for my life. I have achieved heights here I would never have been able to in the United States as the situation was in the past. Living hand to mouth, having to choose between bills and food, over medications was a real downer.

Moving from one BIG city to a truly Cosmopolitan BIG Candian city was remarkable. Montreal had a mystique all its own. There was so much to see and there still is so much to see here that I would never think of leaving this great city. I have grown up in this city in ways I never thought possible.

Living in Canada brought with it radical changes in the way I see the world from above the Northern Border. Learning where my loyalties lain was very important seeing that I was here as the Iraq war had begun, taking part in demonstrations against the war was life changing. Not knowing where to stand at one point of this journey, I had to take the time to learn about what I was feeling and where those loyalties laid. That took a while to figure out but when the map finally appeared before me, I was good to go.

Coming from the United States, knowing what I knew changed when the run up to the war took place. Everything I knew came into question. Everything I had grown up to believe was challenged. The very way I lived my  life was on the line. I had one foot in the U.S. and one foot in Canada. And I was at odds with my self because I did not know where I stood on many issues. I had to find my way. That took some time. I eventually chose to place both feet firmly on Canadian soil and make my stand here. And that decision changed my life. I may hold dual citizenship but my soul is firmly a Canadian soul. I sewed Canadian flags on my backpack and I became one of many. My collective here in Canada.

Canada has grown as a country. Montreal has grown as a city. I have grown into the man I am. I have learned about the myriad of religious beliefs that reside here. I have met, studied and befriended many different people from all walks of life. Returning to University was the biggest decision I had made at one point in my journey. And now I hold a B.A. in Religious Studies which has changed the way I see religion today.

When Canada passed legislation on Same Sex marriage, Hubby and I were amongst the first ten couples in Montreal to get a marriage license. We eventually married in November of 2004, with friends and family in attendance. That was a big change in our lives to be recognized as a couple legally. Gay rights IS a big deal no matter where you live. And we have seen what kind of divisivness can come about from the discussion of Gay Marriage in the United States.

Being gay in Canada has changed the way we see the world around us. Because here in Canada we are afforded right according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have an entire neighborhood devoted to all things gay. We have a vibrant multicultural gay community, and a vibrant multicultural city, a mosaic of people, ethnicity and faith. Gay Pride is a daily way of life. We don’t have to hide in closets and in dark corners of neighborhoods. With the passage of gay rights and marriage rights here we move more fully into community and that is lacking in the United States. When will the United States realize that there are bigger fish to fry like impeaching the President and taking him the the Hague for War Crimes! When will gay move main stream and the people of an entire nation rise up and do the right thing for a change, instead of being led to slaughter like mindless sheep?

I tell you truly, that if you really want to see the world (The U.S. ) for what it is, then uproot your family, leave your sofas and beer cans and football games and move abroad for One Calendar year. See the United States from someplace else, like Canada, and I assure you that you will never see the U.S. the way you did before and forever after.

I became part of a church, I found my religious roots so to speak. With my religious studies my faith has changed. Everything I knew and loved about Catholicism was changed. Being gay and informed has truly changed the way I see Christianity and the way I practice my faith. I moved away from Holy Mother Church and into the Anglican communion and as a communion community here in Canada we came to agreement on the blessing of same sex couples in the last year. A change that has challenged the greater Anglican and Episcopal community at large.

As we see today that the Anglican community is more fractured than ever just because a Gay, now married man, The V. Rev. Gene Robinson is Bishop in New Hampshire. My views and practice of Christian faith has been tempered by the way other Christians live their lives. It is my belief that I practice an active true faith in Christ. I love my god with all my heart, soul and strength and I love my neighbor as myself. How much easier can Christianity be? My faith is so much richer for the opportunity to study religion in University. That has also changed my life for the better.

Over the years we have seen many things change in Canada. The recognition of the past and apologies made to certain communities of people have changed Canada for the better. The head tax apology to the Chinese community was a big step in Asia Pacific understanding. And more recently the Truth and Reconciliation commission undertaking the huge step in repairing the sins of a Nation against the Native Peoples of Canada. The great apology from the Prime Minister to the native community just a little while ago was a big step in helping Canada and a peoples move forward from one of the darkest periods in Canadian history.

Canada is a great country to live in – Montreal is a wonderful city to be a part of. There is so much more freedom here than in the United States. My life is so much richer for being here. And I am more the man I was meant to be here. I work with my kids, I have great friends, and I have a great life. And I live. I have medical treatment here that is unheard of in the United States. I am in trials for new medications for people with Aids. I work every day to try to help find solutions for the sick and dying. That is my full time job here, to live and to make sure that as these meds come off the production line that they work so that you, out there can use them with the assurance that they really do work.

I am sober now seven years going on eight this Winter. I am committed to my home group and the ministry of AA in my community. I help others get sober and we teach them how to live in the moment and to stay in their days. So much has changed in sobriety. My life is so different from what it had been and I have everything to be grateful for in coming to Canada.

If you can dream it you can live it. Always fight for what you believe in, and if you can’t find it where you are, then come and find it elsewhere. There are always possibilities.

**Edit**

September 25th, 2010

It seems this post has been accessed by someone and I am reading this again tonight, having traveled farther down the journey here in Canada. Since that post was written, I have graduated from University with my BA in Religious studies, I have completed a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry in 2010. I am now studying languages and history at Dawson College here in Montreal. It truly has been a journey of a thousand steps all one day at a time.

I spent a year working on my M.A. in Theology and I found myself wanting more, I was not enjoying myself, and my papers were not what was necessary to keep up a GPA. I left the university with no way to continue my studies there, which sent me to Dawson, because unlike the U.S. you can get financial aide from the government to go to school at all levels of the educational ladder. And since I did not attend CeGep on the way up, I was able to continue my studies at that level. It’s all good.

Hubby has since completed a BA in English lit and a second BA in Sociology. And today he is working on his M.A. in Sociology at Concordia University. We are all so very proud of him, he has come a LONG way from the point that I wrote this first entry some years ago. We have been married now almost 6 years come November. He will have been sober almost eight years as well. We have traveled a thousand miles in our marriage. Life could not be better for either one of us today.

I am still alive, I have been testing HIV medications for the entire time that I have been here in Montreal, having a doctor who has treated patient zero, as my doctor has changed my life. Pills that were never available to the general public were made available because we tested them here in Montreal first. I tested them just for you, because you matter to the rest of us, every one of you. This year I crossed the 16 year mark living with aids. And I am doing very well, with the treatment that I have been on for more than three years now.

This calendar year, 2010 I will celebrate 9 years of sobriety on December the 9th. Sobriety has changed my life. Being in Canada has changed my life in ways I could never have imagined even when I wrote this original entry, I was no so far up the road, but far enough to root myself in Montreal.

I still maintain that if you want to see the world and the place you come from in a different light, you have to leave the comfort of home and move someplace else for at least a calendar year.

That is all for this update on Being Canadian…


PM cites 'sad chapter' in apology for residential schools

Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine, in headdress, watches as Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially apologizes for more than a century of abuse and cultural loss involving residential schools. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons on Wednesday to say sorry to former students of native residential schools — in the first formal apology from a Canadian prime minister over the federally financed program.

“Mr. Speaker, I stand before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian residential schools,” Harper said in Ottawa, surrounded by a small group of aboriginal leaders and former students, some of whom wept as he spoke.

“The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history.

“Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,” he said to applause.

“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language,” Harper said.

“While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities.”

Apology broadcast during nationwide events

Above the floor in the Commons gallery, hundreds of former students, church representatives and others watched Harper’s statement, which began at 3 p.m. ET. About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities throughout most of the last century and forced to attend residential schools.

‘Today’s apology is about a past that should have been completely different.’—Stéphane Dion, Liberal leader

Harper’s speech was followed by a statement from Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.

“Today’s apology is about a past that should have been completely different,” he said. “But it must be also about the future. It must be about collective reconciliation and fundamental changes.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion addresses the House during the government's apology to former students of native residential schools.Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion addresses the House during the government’s apology to former students of native residential schools. (CBC)

“It must be about moving forward together, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, into a future based on respect. It is about trying to find in each of us some of the immense courage that we see in the eyes of those who have survived.”

NDP Leader Jack Layton denounced the residential schools program as “racist,” and called Wednesday’s event an important moment for Canada.

“It is the moment where we as a Parliament and as a country assume the responsibility for one of the most shameful eras of our history,” Layton said in an emotional address.

“It is the moment to finally say we are sorry and it is the moment where we start to begin a shared future on equal footing through mutual respect and truth.”

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe offered his own apology, adding that the most meaningful expressions of regret are followed by concrete action.

“This is something that must be done concretely by the government …The federal government has not invested enough for young aboriginal people.”

Televisions set up in a room outside the House and on the lawn of Parliament Hill broadcast the statement to overflow crowds, while more than 30 events were staged across the country so the apology could be viewed live.

While aboriginal leaders were not expected to have an opportunity to respond on the record in the House of Commons chamber, House leaders agreed at the last minute to allow it.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, himself a former residential school student, was one of several aboriginal leaders who took the floor, saying the occasion “testifies nothing less than the accomplishment of the impossible.”

“For the generation that will follow us, we bear witness today…Never again will this House consider us the Indian problem just for being who we are,” he said.

“We heard the government of Canada take full responsibility for this dreadful chapter in our shared history. We heard the prime minister declare that this will never happen again. Finally, we heard Canada say it is sorry,” Fontaine added.

Connie Brooks, who attended the Shubenacadie Residential School in the early 1960s, during a \Connie Brooks, who attended the Shubenacadie Residential School in the early 1960s, during a “Letting Go” ceremony in Shubenacadie, N.S., on Wednesday. (Mike Dembeck/Canadian Press)

Wednesday marked the first time a Canadian prime minister has formally apologized for the physical and sexual abuse that occurred in the now-defunct network of federally financed, church-run residential schools.

Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien offered a statement of reconciliation on behalf of the government in 1998, although it was largely rejected by members of the aboriginal community as lip service. In advance of Harper’s apology, many have said they want to see a sincere, heartfelt apology from the prime minister.

Working business was cancelled in Parliament on Wednesday in order to mark the apology. The day began with a sunrise ceremony on an island in the Ottawa River behind Parliament Hill, where about 100 people gathered to say prayers for former residential school students who didn’t live to see the historic event.

In partnership with Health Canada, the Assembly of First Nations arranged for counsellors to be available at Parliament Hill and other gatherings planned across Canada to provide support for those overwrought with emotion.

Survivors can call crisis line

The Assembly of First Nations said survivors watching the apology who need support can call a 24-hour toll-free crisis line at 1-866-925-4419. Other support information is also available on the AFN website.

Overseen by the Department of Indian Affairs, residential schools aimed to force aboriginal children to learn English, and adopt Christianity and Canadian customs as part of a government policy called “aggressive assimilation.”

There were about 130 such schools in Canada, with some in every territory and province except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, from as early as the 19th century to 1996.

In September, the government formalized a $1.9-billion compensation plan for victims. The government has also established a truth and reconciliation commission to examine the legacy of the residential schools.

The commission was scheduled to begin its work this month.

With files from the Canadian Press


PM cites ‘sad chapter’ in apology for residential schools

Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine, in headdress, watches as Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially apologizes for more than a century of abuse and cultural loss involving residential schools. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons on Wednesday to say sorry to former students of native residential schools — in the first formal apology from a Canadian prime minister over the federally financed program.

“Mr. Speaker, I stand before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian residential schools,” Harper said in Ottawa, surrounded by a small group of aboriginal leaders and former students, some of whom wept as he spoke.

“The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history.

“Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,” he said to applause.

“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language,” Harper said.

“While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities.”

Apology broadcast during nationwide events

Above the floor in the Commons gallery, hundreds of former students, church representatives and others watched Harper’s statement, which began at 3 p.m. ET. About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities throughout most of the last century and forced to attend residential schools.

‘Today’s apology is about a past that should have been completely different.’—Stéphane Dion, Liberal leader

Harper’s speech was followed by a statement from Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.

“Today’s apology is about a past that should have been completely different,” he said. “But it must be also about the future. It must be about collective reconciliation and fundamental changes.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion addresses the House during the government's apology to former students of native residential schools.Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion addresses the House during the government’s apology to former students of native residential schools. (CBC)

“It must be about moving forward together, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, into a future based on respect. It is about trying to find in each of us some of the immense courage that we see in the eyes of those who have survived.”

NDP Leader Jack Layton denounced the residential schools program as “racist,” and called Wednesday’s event an important moment for Canada.

“It is the moment where we as a Parliament and as a country assume the responsibility for one of the most shameful eras of our history,” Layton said in an emotional address.

“It is the moment to finally say we are sorry and it is the moment where we start to begin a shared future on equal footing through mutual respect and truth.”

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe offered his own apology, adding that the most meaningful expressions of regret are followed by concrete action.

“This is something that must be done concretely by the government …The federal government has not invested enough for young aboriginal people.”

Televisions set up in a room outside the House and on the lawn of Parliament Hill broadcast the statement to overflow crowds, while more than 30 events were staged across the country so the apology could be viewed live.

While aboriginal leaders were not expected to have an opportunity to respond on the record in the House of Commons chamber, House leaders agreed at the last minute to allow it.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, himself a former residential school student, was one of several aboriginal leaders who took the floor, saying the occasion “testifies nothing less than the accomplishment of the impossible.”

“For the generation that will follow us, we bear witness today…Never again will this House consider us the Indian problem just for being who we are,” he said.

“We heard the government of Canada take full responsibility for this dreadful chapter in our shared history. We heard the prime minister declare that this will never happen again. Finally, we heard Canada say it is sorry,” Fontaine added.

Connie Brooks, who attended the Shubenacadie Residential School in the early 1960s, during a Connie Brooks, who attended the Shubenacadie Residential School in the early 1960s, during a “Letting Go” ceremony in Shubenacadie, N.S., on Wednesday. (Mike Dembeck/Canadian Press)

Wednesday marked the first time a Canadian prime minister has formally apologized for the physical and sexual abuse that occurred in the now-defunct network of federally financed, church-run residential schools.

Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien offered a statement of reconciliation on behalf of the government in 1998, although it was largely rejected by members of the aboriginal community as lip service. In advance of Harper’s apology, many have said they want to see a sincere, heartfelt apology from the prime minister.

Working business was cancelled in Parliament on Wednesday in order to mark the apology. The day began with a sunrise ceremony on an island in the Ottawa River behind Parliament Hill, where about 100 people gathered to say prayers for former residential school students who didn’t live to see the historic event.

In partnership with Health Canada, the Assembly of First Nations arranged for counsellors to be available at Parliament Hill and other gatherings planned across Canada to provide support for those overwrought with emotion.

Survivors can call crisis line

The Assembly of First Nations said survivors watching the apology who need support can call a 24-hour toll-free crisis line at 1-866-925-4419. Other support information is also available on the AFN website.

Overseen by the Department of Indian Affairs, residential schools aimed to force aboriginal children to learn English, and adopt Christianity and Canadian customs as part of a government policy called “aggressive assimilation.”

There were about 130 such schools in Canada, with some in every territory and province except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, from as early as the 19th century to 1996.

In September, the government formalized a $1.9-billion compensation plan for victims. The government has also established a truth and reconciliation commission to examine the legacy of the residential schools.

The commission was scheduled to begin its work this month.

With files from the Canadian Press


Micro-Burst…

I headed out this afternoon to a meeting over at St. Leon’s Church in Westmount. As I walked out the front of the building a very ominous dark cloud was hanging overhead. As I thought to myself, dammit I don’t have my umbrella and I did not feel like coming back upstairs to get one, I started walking.

The walk to the church takes about 20 minutes, so I took the Westmount Square tunnel from the shopping mall to the other side of the square which is 2 blocks from the church. As I came up out of the tunnel on the other side, the sky had opened up and it was raining cats, dogs and little fishes…

So I stood in the tunnel and waited for the rain to pass, I was actually hoping that it would pass quickly as I was running against the clock. As fast as it had started raining, the rain dump did not last very long, as I set out for the church, praying that I did not get caught again outside without an umbrella.

I hit two meetings in one tonight. The first was a big book meeting that I walked into amid swing and so my friend Danny handed me his book to read a short story from, little blessings I like to call it. From the Big Book,”He Lived only to Drink” page 446. What struck me was this quote from the reading:

“Then I realized that I had to separate my sobriety from everything else that was going on in my life. No matter what happened or didn’t happen, I couldn’t drink. In fact, none of these things that I was going through had anything to do with my sobriety the tides of life flow endlessly for better or worse, both good and bad, and I cannot allow my sobriety to become dependent on these ups and downs or living. Sobriety must live a life of its own.”

My sobriety lives a life of its own. Aside from everything going on in my life, if I am not connected to my higher power through the vehicle of the meetings, then I am putting myself in danger of drinking. Not that I entertain thoughts of drinking, my brain goes hay wire on its own without alcohol so I have to keep myself in check.

I stayed for the speaker meeting which followed the Big Book meeting and I got to hear another member share his experience, strength and hope from a native perspective. I really enjoy listening to indigenous men and women speak. This member is a member of the Mi’k Maq nation and the indigenous spiritual practice is something that I have studied and that I respect a great deal. It was a great meeting. I can only get sober for myself and that is that. Hubby is dry – he doesn’t go to meetings like I do and that is his issue not mine, I can’t make him get sober Soberer, so I can only take care of me. And leave the rest to God.

So now I am home. and all is well in the world.


The Totem

totem_pole_stanley_park-200x300.jpg

Tonight I am proud to present the last of the three very special writers who were commissioned to write for me during my birthday week. This is from Cooper – from Coopers Corridor out in B.C. He is a truly gifted writer and a father of two young boys. Without further ado, I give you Cooper and his writing on the Totem.

*****************

I stand in the great hall of the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, head bent back, gazing up forty feet to where precise images have been carved into cedar totem poles by craftsmen whose art has been almost entirely erased by time. Near the bottom of a nearby pole, a smooth-shouldered wolf rests in the shadow of a killer whale. The eye of the whale is a shadowed well.

This wood, these bones, trace the nature and purpose of a vast awareness, a living spirit in the grain, each knot and every growth-ring a secret hieroglyph worked carefully into many layers of meaning. The echo of leaves is here, the resonance of damp fields half submerged in twilight, of dark soil and tales of night. And long, interwoven strands of time knitted together by wood and human hands.

The wood has been coaxed into shape … whittled, chiseled, sculpted with broad, incising strokes … by tools of utmost antiquity, by weapons, by stones, by countless forms oiled by brown muscled skin.

The focus of the collections is northwestern …hundreds of examples … an eagle with a five-foot, intricately carved beak, a tenebrous skull shape, moons and ravens and wild spirits of the forest. There are objects of great power here. The spirit of creative work calls to whomever will listen, and as I gaze at these ethereal faces staring back from a lost age, their muted colors hiding a secret flame, once again I hear that whisper spiraling out from the primordial source of things.

This is my spiritual heritage.

The instant I reach my hand to the wood and sense a silent energy thrumming inside, I become aware of being pulled into an elemental state. The stillness of that source lies behind the dream of an ancient, verdant grove that sometimes wakes me in the night.

Dark sky, cold rain, and a ground made bright by the sinuous shapes of wood sawn fresh from the tree … ivory of birch, faded porcelain of maple, linen of alder. There is some cypress, too, its scent of lemons reaching to sting me with exhilaration. A black, rough walnut rests alongside the opened bole of a Douglas fir, its orange grain glowing from a sunrise heart. I reach down to touch the alder, and in the moment of reaching, of touching the silent wood with its living core of mystery, I become acutely aware of the life-blood of my ancestors within me.

I acknowledge that the wood’s redemption … its escape from dissolution … is also my own. We are bound now, fragments of becoming. We share the journey of the totem. The faces of the figures are hidden in my own hands and heart. The totem is a spiritual heraldry. It describes, through a vast shorthand, the indications of the unfathomable. It is a finger pointing to the beginning, a wind blowing from a pristine field of possibility. It relates the tale of meteoric iron birthed as companion to the sun. Totems are reminders to remember, and to act.

I step into the landscape of my own totem. I see my Nana, the falcon, her brow etched like the grain of rough cedar, weathered by pain, made bright with love. I hear the voice of my mother, the wolf … first a clear call, then a tremor, and finally a sorrowing wail. I feel the hands of my unknown father, the ghostly raven that I sometimes watch, looking for myself.

I am the eagle ….the one who carries and sustains, whose touch is redolent with solace.

My oldest son, to whom I gave the second name Cedar … the swift little deer … blueberry stains on his chin, shouting with joy as he runs through green fields. And my baby boy Rowan, the seal, cradled by wonder, darting into the light with luminous eyes.

I wonder what indelible traces I will leave … and they … what teeth marks from carved mouths? I reach toward a horizon of prophecy, to mentors and unknown guides, the gods and goddesses of an unbroken cord of lineage secured at the source by invisible hands.

This is where I begin.

Totem Poles – The Story of a Nation carved in Cedar (website)

 


Coming soon… 7 – 31 – 2007

ben-leto-2.jpg

We have invited several well known and brilliant writers to come and write selections for my Birthday Celebration next week. The brilliant Cooper from BC on the Peoples of the West Coast, And Novelists – (The Misanthropic Anarchist) Ben Leto from London England and our very own Haiku author of Montreal, the most amazing Angela Leuck.

You can visit Ben: The Boy who Could but Didn’t
You can visit Cooper : Cooper’s Corridor

It will be a most beautiful day of writing, poetry, prose and story. I hope you all will join us on Tuesday July 31st…