Reflections on Becoming (slightly) More Aware of Aboriginal Culture and Traditions

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Today, I am pleased to share with you a blog post from Ron, our Residential Services Program Director.

 

House of Friendship believes strongly in housing as a right

Recently through two opportunities I have become more deeply aware of aboriginal people and culture that we rub shoulders with in our region.

On August 28, 2014 I attended an  Aboriginal Homelessness Prevention Day event sponsored by KW Urban Native Wigwam Project at Kitchener City Hall.

There are several local aboriginal organizations in town that provide a variety of services and supports.  KW Urban Native Wigwam Project, Healing of the Seven Generations, Weejeendimin Native Resource Centre and White Owl Native Ancestry are located at 300 Frederick Street.  Anishnabeg Outreach is located at 151 Frederick Street.  People at any of these organizations are very open to visitors dropping by to become familiar with the services they offer.

Teaching And Sharing

Several things stood out for me that day.  One was a woman who spoke about her tradition of crafting.  Her particular craft is beading.  Her beading is not simply beautiful artwork but is also a vehicle for passing on teaching and traditions.  Every element of her beading represents traditional teachings that are passed on as one learns the beading designs.  For example, a design that included some beads touching and some spaced out was a teaching about relationships and how some are intimate “touching” relationships and others are relationships with wider boundaries.  She said that it is easier to talk about teachings with people while occupying hands with beadwork.  That reminded me of how supportive conversations can happen with program participants at House of Friendship while gardening, playing cards or cooking beside someone in  the kitchen.

I was also made aware of the deeper aspects of asking a person “are you aboriginal” during intake at the hostel for purposes of completing that field on the HIFIS data base.  For many, their aboriginal identity has brought them grief and discrimination and so they may be reluctant to identify as aboriginal.  If asked “why are you asking me that”, then simply saying “to fill out a database” is not sufficient reason.  But if we can explain that there are local aboriginal services that could be accessed, and we can tell people about them, that provides a real benefit for the person to self-identify as aboriginal.  If people are unclear about the term “aboriginal” we could prompt by explaining that could be either Native, Inuit, or Metis.

Moving Ahead

One of the presenters had experienced homelessness in KW as a teen.  A comment that she made about people and organizations that provide support services stuck with me.  She said “you remember the people and agencies that helped you move ahead in your life, you don’t remember the ones who just kept you going”.  Does the support and presence we as House of Friendship staff offer “maintain people” or does it help people to “move ahead in their life”?

I had heard about the destructive impact of residential schools on aboriginal culture and individuals before.  Realizing that people identify themselves by the number of generations they are removed from residential schools brought home the lasting impact of that system to me.  One of the speakers identified herself as “third generation”.  When I figured out that she meant “third generation since residential school” I realized that I am also “third generation”.  But that small similarity highlighted the huge difference between my being third generation since grandparents who arrived as refugees in Canada with culture and family intact, and being third generation since grandparents entered an ongoing system of cultural suppression and disruption.

Walking With People in Our Common Human Experience

The second opportunity was on October 1st at the House of Friendship staff retreat.  Clarence is a member of the Cree nation and works as Shelter to Housing Stability worker out of the Charles Street Men’s Hostel.  He shared some of the contents of his sacred bundle and the associated teachings about who we are and our place in the world as spiritual beings having a human experience.  There are physical, emotional, spiritual and mental dimensions to our human experience as we live in relationship with all other beings.   In this life we strive to keep ourselves healthy in each of those areas.  I found that a powerful and poignant reminder of our own House of Friendship approach to walking with people.  Thank you Clarence, for that teaching.

 

Reflection

One thing this (slightly) deeper awareness of Aboriginal culture and values has taught me is that even though I may think of myself as open-minded and accepting of others, my respect for people can only be as complete as I know them for who they are as a whole person.

As I received these glimpses into Aboriginal culture and values I appreciated more deeply how relevant ancient wisdom can be for us today.

 

 

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