Cultural appropriation or reverence?

nativebracelet2With all the talk in Canada these days fuelled by the new Liberal government in relation to Aboriginal peoples, I opened this blog, my blog, and realized not for the first time (but with deeper consideration) that what people see is a photograph in the header of a bracelet created by an Aboriginal man and I’m a middle- aged white chic.

What’s THAT image got to do with anything relevant to my life?

I wear this bracelet every day, and a silver with gold ring that was given to me by the UBC Department of Computer Science, after I worked there for almost four years doing Communications for them.

It was such a special gift and so amazing to receive because it was something more than I could have imagined any work place would ever give me, and because it represented something that I really revere: Aboriginal art and the culture it emerges from.

After all these years, (I left there in November 2006), I almost never take it off and it has become a part of my identity, a comfort, a symbol of rightness in feeling, when it’s on.

I realize that I have never even acknowledged the artist who created it, and now, unfortunately, I’m having trouble really recalling who that was. It could be Tony Hunt Jr.  The image on the bracelet is representative of the Wolf.

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I’m thinking about this now because it is so heartening to see that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is at least moving in the right direction in terms of inclusivity and acknowledgement of Aboriginal peoples trying to build on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As a non-aboriginal person, it can feel awkward speaking to aboriginal anything. Are you using the right terminology? What’s the difference between indigenous, aboriginal, and First Nation’s? Here’s an article from UBC about this topic of terminology. I’m hoping it’s as up to date as it should be in terms of understanding.

Where’s the line between appreciation and cultural appropriation? Is it wrong to call in aboriginal dancers and carvers at every major event (think Olympics) while throughout our country our lack of valuing Aboriginal peoples is carved into the landscape in reserves without running water, in missing and murdered aboriginal women whose numbers continue to grow, in the homeless,  in our prisons where the percentage of Aboriginal people is disproportionate.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2013/2014, Aboriginals account for one-quarter of admissions to provincial/territorial correctional services in spite of representing three percent of the Canadian adult population.  They made up 26% of total custodial admissions in 2013/2014.

Recently I was reading a paper written by Amrita Roy from Manitoba about Inter-generational Trauma and the implications for Mental Health in Aboriginal Women during pregnancy.

One of the sentences in this paper that really struck with me was this one: “The explicit patriarchy embedded into Aboriginal societies by missionaries, residential schools and the Indian Act have yielded inequities and oppression based on gender (LaRoque, 1994). It goes on to talk about how “the symptoms of the Intergenerational Trauma experience have been absorbed into the culture and transmitted as learned behaviour from generation to generation”(Sotero, 2006, p. 96).

When I read what now seems like such an obvious statement,  I had this lightning bolt realization that of course there is a connection between  missing and murdered aboriginal women and this history relative to Aboriginals, especially Aboriginal women, in Canada.

Now, you might think to yourself, “Duh, where have you been?” But, to really realize how the history of patriarchy has played out in the individual lives of aboriginal peoples, and focus that lens on how that continues to impact girl children and women, with the most obvious signs being that of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal girls and women, seems pretty key to learning how to overcome the humanitarian crisis in Canada in relation to Aboriginal people in general, and girls and women in particular.

So, that’s a very convoluted thought process to say that I wear this bracelet because it was a beautiful gift, because of what it represents to me in what I have overcome in my own life and how that specific job was a part of that, and for hope that understanding through cultural sharing can create a bridge to emotional recovery and success.

In search of a personal peace

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In the wake of the terror that has struck at Paris, but will strike elsewhere in an equally senseless manner, I’ve been really struggling with how to go about my life while being inundated by news of horrific realities?

I can’t stop thinking of fearful innocent children and babies, their heartbroken mothers and fathers, and the desperate, confused, sick and elderly all trying to survive in what is amounting to hell on earth.

I can’t stop seeing that photo of a little boy’s body, like a doll’s, prostrate on a beach. I can’t escape the photos in social media and on TV of life rafts bulging with desperate humans, or soldiers in Belgium with automatic weapons who must be wondering about every single person walking towards them and whether they are who they seem.

I was in a shopping mall the other day and I saw a Muslim woman pushing her child in a stroller. I felt sad thinking about what it might feel like to be her. I wondered if she was fearful just to go shopping knowing that even though it’s Canada, there is that ignorant plague who haven’t bothered to educate themselves, and never have. Their reactions always predictable when confronted by any type of difference regardless of its manifestation, whether indigenous, homeless, or immigrant.  We all know them.

All of this going on and yet I still have clean sheets. I wash my dishes. I have the luxury of safety in my living room.  I eat chocolate. I watch TV. I go about my small little life and feel comforted by familiarity. I enjoy some of the nice things that I have purchased – and grown attached to –  on vacations in foreign places. So many people have had that small luxury of attachment ripped from their reality. Or they never experienced it in the first place.

So when I hear Canadians call into radio shows and say, “But we’re just not ready to accept 25,000 refugees,” I want to laugh at them and their wariness in a world that is begging for heroes. Who said anything about being ready? Just like those fleeing, ready or not has become the new reality. Our risk, however, is so much less than the risk refugees lived with ever time they left their homes, when they had homes, before their homes were blown to bits.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just about the newly power hungry. Don’t let recent events lull you into ignoring the West’s role in this, the actions of Superpowers, and who armed who and which side is backing the others and learning a least a little bit about what contributed to how we ended up here in this mess.

If not now, then when? If you’re not willing to have your small little life disturbed just a little, for the sake of others in desperate life and death need, then when? Stop living as if he or she, they, those foreigners, have nothing to do with you because they’re there and you’re here. If you live in Canada, you won the lifestyle lottery through no effort of your own.

What strikes me overwhelmingly in the frenzied din of all those media producers beating every Think Tank for commentators is all the new terminology. There’s that word: caliphate. Whenever I hear that word, I am offended. It’s as if I’ve entered some medieval video game that I never wanted to play in the first place. And then at complete odds with that ideology, we have a term that I just heard today in a different context – pathological hopefulness – which I think is a perfect fit for all those naive enough to think that, in this instance, prayer is going to make a difference.

I don’t want this new ugly knowledge as the warlord of my consciousness. It’s like a strain of bacteria that has mutated and is well on its way to becoming a Super bug.

Suicide belts and caliphates and all that other ridiculous boy toy, war game craziness feels like some James Bond film in which the virtual reality has managed to leap from the screen.

Given all this, I find myself wondering how to integrate what is going on in the world with the peace that is my own reality, the peace I have only ever desired be available to every soul on the planet.

So how are you feeling these days? Do you find yourself asking similar questions? What kind of touchstones are you finding any solace in? I’d really like to know.

Life choices and steering the ship

 

StevestonboatIt has been quite an interesting month or so.

I’ve interviewed a wonderfully quirky glass artist whose father was best friends with the former Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

I loved meeting a self taught musician who is passionate about making silent films and has made 40-50 doing everything from acting to filming, production and set building.

stevestondockI was fascinated to meet with a female real estate executive who built her career from the age of 19 and whose brokerage did a sales volume of 11 billion in 2014. She was nothing like I expected her to be. I felt as if she should have been sitting in some English country manor hosting me to tea, her refinement so much a defining feature.

DisneyshipI got a contract through a friend of a friend who connected me with a neuropsychologist, originally from New York, who specializes in concussion. She is the only person in BC with the specialized credentials that she has related to baseline testing and providing the kind of comprehensive, interdisciplinary post-injury care that, according to her, isn’t done here, even though many pretend to do it if you are convinced by their marketing.

As I was enjoying meeting and hearing the stories of these very diverse individuals, I was reminded of why it was that I was interested in journalism in the first place. It wasn’t really the writing. It was the people. Or maybe that isn’t quite right. Maybe it was both. It’s the melding the oral stories into print stories and the combination of those two realities where interpersonal and inner worlds meet. The wonder, still, of being given the privilege of asking questions of individuals whom I would never meet in my daily existence.  And regardless of whether they were incredibly wealthy or invested very little in our society’s focus on money, they were all successful to me, because of the unique lives they’ve created for themselves.

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Yesterday, I was reminded, again, that we all have our stories. You don’t have to be famous to count. Someone I’ve been acquainted with for about four years in a very superficial way told me a personal story as I folded my laundry in her laundromat. She told me that when she was 16, she came to Canada and was adopted by her mother’s sister because her mother’s sister didn’t have any children. So she actually has two mothers, one biological in the Philippines, and the other, her aunt, now her mother, who took her in, raised her and legally adopted her.

“But did you want to come here?”

“Yes and no,” she said.

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I was intrigued by the family dynamics that would have gone into that decision and after the fact I wondered what made her finally share that personal story with me, yesterday.

One of my interview subjects grew up in Outremont and now drives around in a rusted, dented truck in which the passenger seat doesn’t even sit upright so when you’re in it you have to support yourself leaning forward or pretend you’re a mannequin in some film noir movie where you’re leaning back, crooked and stiff.

She’s an example of how far we move from our roots both geographically and metaphorically when artistic sensibilities drive us to alternative choices than the ones our parents would have hoped for us. Or perhaps it was the tragedy in her past that has pushed her to this opposite coast, like the fallout after the storm when a rare bird ends up in a part of the world where it isn’t typically to be found.

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Two of them spoke about the role of unconditional love and how that early security and attachment to a caregiver, a mother, a father, imbued in them the ability to embrace risk, confident that they could go out into the world secure in knowing they had an anchor to turn to when emotional turbulence struck. It was a theme.

Then I read a Facebook posting that introduced me to a test that I’d never heard of before called the ACE Score with ACE standing for Adverse Childhood Experiences. Apparently, your score on this test, based on your experiences in childhood, can predict a lot about your future in terms of mental, physical health and overall wellbeing.   If you feel like it, you can take the ACE test. But then what? What do you do with the result if you score 4 or higher? What are you supposed to do with that number?  It’s why some tests may be better left untaken.

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A friend who always has pearls of wisdom wrote to me the other day and ended her letter this way.   “Remember that you steer your own ship, or to change metaphors, you are the mistress of your soul. So go for what, in the clear light of your present situation, you really want to do. Life is short.”

Advice we all know. The trick is to live it.

The World as Sexist Amusement Park

womenandmen

I walked into my apartment building the other afternoon and heard a man somewhere on the second floor yelling vehemently at a woman with his words ending with the C..T label ringing out onto the street.  I am so incensed by the use of this label to demean women. And I’m willing to bet that most women, even those you wouldn’t expect, have had this spiked back at them in the heat of an argument.

Sitting on the sky train last night I was using Twitter and as sometimes pops up, I was able to see others who are connected to WIFI. Someone had labelled their WIFI connection CityRapist. That alarmed me. I looked around the Skytrain car trying to guess which guy that might be. What are you supposed to do when you see that? How can you not think that someone in close proximity could be dangerous?

Saw the video on that loser from Hydro One who couldn’t get enough of the FHRITP immaturity which led to his firing which seems, in a way, too easy a response towards his behaviour. His firing will change nothing about his behaviour. In fact, it may entrench it further in an even angrier way.  Participation with victims after extensive sensitivity training might have gone further towards a minor hope for change given his Neanderthal-level maturity that was so vividly captured on videotape.

Hearing about the reported discrepancy between Prime Minister Harper’s directive to the Canadian Military to try and find a way to change what has been described as a misogynistic and sexualized culture and then the follow up report by CBC that Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of defence staff, who has allegedly responded in a way that leads one to assume that key recommendations will be ignored.

And that’s only what we hear about en masse. But we all know that too often what gets said to a female’s face is not the same as what gets said behind her back, and that can often fall along the lines of what that guy on the street said to that reporter, complete with snickers and defiance and a sense of gender superiority and judgement based on the grading and judgement of female sexuality, female bodies as commodity, not human beings.

It’s all so tiring and old.

And I have to hope that it’s because we’re on the cusp of a significant social shift that the natives, at times, can become even more unruly which is why we’re seeing such pushback from those desperately trying to hang on to a status quo of sexist thought and behaviour as the ubiquitous and unconscious norm.

Revisiting Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

It must have been about 20 years ago now that I started to read the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Enquiry into Values and then, like a lot of people, I got a little overwhelmed by the density of the content in spots and put it down.

I love reading about road trips. I have fantasies about being a motorcycle owner and riding off into the sunset. Who hasn’t?  Robert Pirsig’s descriptions along the way kept me engaged even though I was increasingly frustrated by not really understanding what the philosophy behind the book was really about. I didn’t get it.

A few months ago, I heard a really engaging radio documentary about the book which brought it back to life, and as you might have noticed in your own life, the universe conspired to put the content right in front of me, albeit in a bit of a round about way.

I stumbled across, Zen and Now, a book written by Mark Richardson, the editor of the Wheels section of the Toronto Star newspaper. Richardson published his book in 2008 after doing the Pirsig Pilgrimage, following the route that Robert Pirsig took with his young son, Chris, back in 1968. Pirsig’s book was published in 1974.

Richardson had an inkling about writing a book before he took off on his copycat journey in 2008 but really wasn’t sure he would follow through on it.

What I enjoyed most about Richardson’s book was the background information on Robert Pirsig’s life, written with the advantage of history on Richardson’s side.

Robert Pirsig is still alive. His son, Chris, was robbed and murdered outside a Zen monastery in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco when Chris was 22-years-old.

Pirsig is now 86-years-old according to Google and his whole life (at least to the public) has been defined (for better or worse) by taking that motorcycle journey from Minneapolis to San Francisco and his compulsion to write about it, and then follow the first book up with a second book, Lila: An Enquiry into Morals.

If you’re interested, here’s Mark Richardson’s website, Zen and Now.

Here’s a timeline of Robert Pirsig’s life: http://www.psybertron.org/timeline.html

Watch an 8 minute video and hear Robert Pirsig speak and hear how the title of the book came to him.

Here’s a discussion group on the Metaphysics of Quality. http://moq.org/

I now have the little pink paperback, the original Pirsig book. I purchased it at a used bookstore near UBC and I’m feeling a little more ready to commit to getting through it this time, now that I’m a little more clued in to what he was trying to communicate.

Let new doors open

light

So long ago, I heard the call of the journey. It beckoned to me in a dream. With all the courage I could muster, I answered the call. Now I close the door forever on the past of myself. I walk into the future. Here, new knowing waits for me; new doors open to me.

It seemed like a good thought to greet the new year with. From a wonderful little book written by Joseph Dispenza, The Way of the Traveler. Making every Trip a Journey of Self-Discovery.

I walked by it yesterday in the library. It was not an accident.

May this be our experience in the new year, inside and out, wherever we wander.

You as Peace

whiterose

In a world where some men appear to have gone mad and I use the word men intentionally because too often I read newspapers that use the word “people” when in fact it is, unfortunately, men who are perpetrating most of the violence in the world. Let’s be specific.

We listen as allegations of astonishing abuse rise against men who were once revered and who have now fallen from grace. We hear today about the evil and heartbreak perpetuated by some men whose humanity and reason have left them and where rationalizations will never explain because there can never be rationalizations acceptable for what we are witnessing.

There is only one possibility for me. That is, to acknowledge the victims of the atrocities in my heart and then to turn away to refocus on beauty and small graces and the awareness of nature’s cycle that is imitated via human destruction and resurrection.

To keep my own heart returning to a peaceful place, turning towards the light even on those days when I feel a desolation, when I feel battered and angry but knowing that is the time, especially, to find a way back to love, for myself first and then spreading that out throughout my own connectedness as best I can.

It’s so easy to become unconscious of mood and seething and worrying and the turmoil in one’s inner self in a way that turns us away from awareness of how we’re coming across in the world, how we’re infecting our own small space in energy and spirit.

The other day I went with a friend for a walk out of Stanley Park’s Nature House. The topic was Solstice and traditions but it meandered from identification of tree species to Norse mythology to rituals. It reminded me of the time I gathered some friends, made them each a little boat out of the bark of a tree found on the ground on the path around the Lagoon. I glued a tea light to each small piece of bark. We gathered on the shores and I handed out their lights and I said some sort of poem that made sense. We each then spoke of something we wanted to let go of and afterwards, we kneeled and pushed our floating tea lighted bark into the water and released as a symbol of letting go. It was such a small event but it was so fantastic. It reminded all of us of how far away we can move away from rituals that uplift our hearts, recognize our own impermanence and the inevitability of change heading towards the ultimate letting go.

It’s the time of year when I am most reflective. The season of winter is meant for that. An inward transformation bubbling from the quiet, a brook in a cold winter stream, easily mistaken for a static time when in fact so much is happening inside.

Reflecting. Assessing. Planning. Hoping. Dreaming.  Our inner selves on high alert, welcoming transformation.

We have come into a time, maybe a time that’s never not been, where every one of us, must become the peace as the change we want to see in the world.