Renee Vaugeois, Moosejaw, Saskatchewan
By Louise X
Sometimes sharing stories of others who have faced their own challenges stresses the importance of sharing those stories to improve our collective human experience. Being courageous is only half the battle. You have to keep going. You have to persevere. And you must be aware that you are not in this alone. Being human is both singular and plural – I am human and we are human. Though we are, each of us, more! Talking and listening to each others’ stories can be the antidote to fear associated with this journey, and the key to creating genuine understanding and empathy of our joint experiences.
Women are a source of strength, of power, of influence. Yet, many do not understand their own ability to tap into the Inner Strength.
While listening to or reading inspiring stories may be an uplifting experience for a time for some, the stories are not enough on their own to motivate. Making the conscious choice to accept and pursue a challenge that is staring you in the face requires commitment. Excitement is a key ingredient in commitment, motivation and success. Success in facing challenges is diminished when fear is overwhelmingly present. Fear comes from childhood conditioning, societal and educational conditioning, messages from the false belief systems that we have held throughout our lives which tell us that we are not good enough, that we are not enough, that we will fail.
Desperation to survive, to protect and to provide for ourselves or our children, is often the motivator for change in a situation. After many failed attempts to face severe life challenges, I acknowledged and accepted that I am never alone, help is only a prayer away. I stay open to whatever and whomever arrives as a response. I am not advocating any religious practices. What I am saying is that sincere prayer produces miracles often in ways that we could not even imagine. Now on to my personal story, which has changed from the way I used to tell it as I consider myself Victorious rather than a victim.
In 1982 my husband was unemployed and attending therapy with the Workmen’s Compensation Board so our income was severely reduced. Not accustomed to being unemployed and at home on the farm with us, he was miserable and abusive towards our three children and myself.
Before driving to work as a camp attendant, I dropped him off at the bus terminal in the local town so that he could attend his appointment in Edmonton for physiotherapy. He was going to come home that same evening, though I didn’t receive a call from him to be picked up. Days passed and still no word from him. I continued to go to work at the nearby construction camp where I assisted the cook in meal prep, baking and cleaned the men’s rooms. One of the men was conscientious and always put down newspapers at the entrance to his room. Every day I picked up the carefully placed papers without taking the time to read anything in them. This day was different. The name X in the Edmonton Sun caught my eye so I read … He had been picked up by the police and was in the Remand Centre after having been charged with theft of a vehicle, threatening a taxi driver with a dangerous weapon and resisting arrest. I was stunned!
He was sentenced to 2+, a federal sentence, and was sent to Drumheller, a maximum security institution. I managed to get focused and completed all of the tasks required of me in camp and drove home thinking, “O God, now what am I going to do?” That night I stayed up all night and prayed. At 7 am, my brother-in-law phoned me and asked if I would consider being a hotshot driver! After hearing all of the details I said, “YES!”
As I only had a small car, I knew that I would require a pickup truck so I called the owner of a vehicle dealership and arranged to have a suitable vehicle delivered to the local town. Joe told me not to worry about financing and to just go to the bank and make arrangements and then let him know.
Brian, the bank manager, had no problem giving me the credit without a down payment as he knew me well. Everything just fell into place!
The next day I received a call from an engineer on a rig nearby who had been in contact with my brother-in-law. I drove to the rig and was put on ‘standby’ for the next 24 hours. They had lost the bit in the hole and the roughnecks had to go ‘fishing’ for it. I earned enough to pay for the pick-up that time! During that time on ‘standby,’ my father-in-law had my truck outfitted with an ax secured behind the driver’s seat, a set of tire chains that he had bargained with a neighbour for, a shovel and a fire extinguisher. A few days later I was on my way to Calgary with my first core samples. From that day on, I was kept busy by three engineers in the area. My children and I never lacked for anything in the two and a half years that my then husband was in jail. We even enjoyed a shopping spree and a holiday!
On my own, I would have been challenged to arrange all that had to be done in order for me to prepare for the job. My prayers and constant gratitude started the ball rolling and kept bringing me the people that fit into the divine plan … Collective Strength! To my amazement, all of the people were men … Gary, Joe, Brian, Dad, George, Eugene and the three engineers. More, two years after X was released from incarceration, I filed for divorce, left the farm and began to move forward in my life.
As an Indigenous woman, whose family spent a total of 200+ accumulated years at a Residential School, who has experienced enough heartache and disconnection to fill a thousand pages, the “Righting Relations” Folk School Gathering in Wabamun Alberta proved to be healing, engendered hope, and a heartfelt wish that many Canadians and Indigenous people get a chance to experience this initiative, as well. Righting Relations is an initiative of the Catherine Donnelly Foundation with the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights spearheading the development of a Western Canadian Hub for Adult Educators.
There were many different people coming from all walks of life, and cultural backgrounds. When reflecting at the gathering my thoughts would often go to my own Grandmother, my children’s great-Grandparents, and my own parents. Each stayed at the residential school for many years and experienced things no child, no human should ever experience. There is one exercise we did at the Gathering that I’d like to share that captures the power of our journey together for that weekend. We were gifted by three newcomer women (Adult Educators) who joined the Gathering and did a skit about their experience learning about Canada and our Indigenous peoples, and then they said something like this, “We have learned about what Canada wants us to learn, and we have learned about your Indigenous people. Learning from your people, we can now say that we like what we have learned and believe your people need to lead.” “Wow!”, I thought, “Wow!, I get to hear this!?” “What did she just say!?” More thoughts surfaced, “I wish my parents were here (tears welling); they wouldn’t believe this was real; Oh Grandma, are you here, too … Peaking through the veil from the other side? I hope you are. Thank you.”
Other Indigenous participants also got to witness this display of Righting Relations and my heart swelled with so much hope and a feeling of safety and calm that I don’t usually get to experience. In light of this sacred time together that we shared with newcomers, Settlers, Canadians, Indigenous peoples, and many mixed blood people, I approached more closely the idea that maybe, identifying myself as “Canadian” might not be so bad if being “Canadian” means we create our “village” together. In this space at the Gathering, we actually created a new kind of “Canadian”; a new way to move forward together without alienating each other due to our inherited legacy of colonization, residential schools, racist policies and practices, etc. What is unique about Righting Relations is that it engages Adult Educators willing to be the change agents that heal, empower, and enlighten Canadian settler populations, newcomers and Indigenous people with unique workshops, learning circles, and cultural reclamation/acknowledgements that engender mutual respect within their spheres of influence, both personal and professional. They are correcting historical wrongs in such a way that builds newfound relationships and creates deeper understanding and appreciation for the common history that binds us, one to the other.
We can’t change history; however, we can change what this moment offers by a genuine commitment to the Canadian ideals of inclusiveness, cultural diversity, and respect for human rights that haven’t always been the experience for Indigenous peoples, and people who are economically disadvantaged. Our Adult Educators come into this program with unique skill sets, professional backgrounds, and the Spirit to ensure all human beings who engage with our program understand and appreciate that the way forward for Canadians is made more promising by inclusion of Indigenous worldviews, practices, ceremonies, and ways of being together.
If you hear of a gathering in your area that is put together by Righting Relations we hope you join us. Be a part of the solution, a part of the healing of our Nations, so much so that when your children and your grandchildren look back at this particular time they know their Ancestors (you) began the necessary healing that they got to inherit, and be filled with a genuine and well deserved sense of pride.
This video documents the journey of the first Righting Relations Western Folk School Regional Gathering