To be an indigenous parent in the generations before ours meant ensuring that indigenous children were raised with the weapons of safety and camouflage in order to stay in the family homefires, on the traditional homelands, and most importantly, to be kept alive.
To be an indigenous parent in today’s day and age means ensuring that your children are raised with the weapons of resistance and revitalization in order to defy colonial reconciliation and colonial assimilation.
To be an indigenous parent in the future means to ensure that indigenous children are raised with the weapons of survival and land-based knowledge in order to endure the evident collapse of the colonial systems we are reliant on today.
Each generation of being an indigenous parent came with, and continues to come with, a distinct set of virtues, values, and ways of living that ultimately continues to maintain our existence as indigenous peoples.
The ability to resist. It’s everything. As an indigenous parent in times where colonialism began to perform its acts of genocide, resistance was everything. As an indigenous parent in times where colonialism began to specifically target the children and steal them from their home fires, resistance was everything. An an indigenous parent in times where colonialism is covertly performing acts of genocide and disguising them as reconciliation, resistance is everything.
And this is what we are not highlighting enough. The strength, willpower, and sacrifice indigenous parents make each and every day, each and every generation, and each and every lifetime, in order for us to keep breathing, and resisting, today.
How we raise our children as indigenous parents will ultimately create the future for our nations. The decisions we make in regards to diet, language, traditions, integration of land-based practices, kinship, and even whether or not our children are recognized under the Indian act, are all instrumental in designing the future for our nations.
Yet, there is this narrative about indigenous parents and indigenous childhood that is seeping into our lives through stereotypes, colonial discourse, indigenous fiction, indigenous film, and even how we speak about our childhoods at events and conferences.
The narrative sounds something like this:
“My dad/mother was a drunk.”
“I grew up with no father.”
“My mother/father was violent/abusive.”
“My mother used to whip me with a willow.”
“My mother cried lots.”
“My mother had lots of boyfriends.”
“My parents partied a lot.”
“My mother/father never allowed me to cry.”
“My childhood was dysfunctional.”
“My parents were dysfunctional.”
Yes, this narrative is true in many of our families. Yes, many of our childhoods were like this. And yes, we have every right to feel how we need to feel about it all.
But our intergenerational trauma, our parent’s intergenerational trauma, and our moshum’s/kokum’s intergenerational trauma does not have to be our only truth shared and repeated today.
Oftentimes when we talk about trauma, intergenerational or not, we commend ourselves for overcoming what we had to in order for us to be where we are today as indigenous parents. We highlight what we are doing differently or how we learned from our parent’s mistakes. This is important and deserves recognition.
However, another important piece is missing from these conversations and dialogues. The need to commend our parents, our moshums and kokums, and our relatives generations prior for overcoming their atrocious and barbaric traumas is imperative. It is imperative because without their ability to resist, or simply survive with the best way they knew how during that time of indigenous perseverance, we would not be alive today.
We need to commend those generations before ours for raising us the best way they knew how with the tools that they had at the time because the trauma of witnessing one’s whole tribe and village being murdered by the colonizer would be enough for many to want to give up. But, many didn’t. And many continued to raise children, and families, despite the most atrocious traumas becoming eternally embedded and intertwined into their existence.
And amongst all the trauma within Indigenous parents and families is this ultimate truth: the love far outweighs the trauma. Even if the trauma showed up more than the love- the love existed, buried beneath the layers of the trauma.
Because truthfully, no indigenous parent has been left unscathed by colonialism. Which also translates into the reality that no indigenous child has been left unscathed by colonialism.
And the scary part is that many of us are now doing the colonizer’s work today by unintentionally parenting our children from a place where colonialism is automatically interfering with their lives.
So here we are, fighting against colonialism, attempting to hold colonialism accountable for generations of trauma against our people, yet we are choosing to raise our children from a place that is inauthentically indigenous- from a place of colonialism.
It shows up as authoritative parenting, as thinking we know better than, smarter than, and superior to our children. It shows up as sending our children to public schools, or even schools in our communities that are littered with nepotism, lateral violence, and gossip in the adults who run the schools. It shows up as allowing our children to be taught that Columbus discovered these lands, that Sir John A Macdonald was a forefather of this “country,” thanksgiving was a sharing of a meal between pilgrims and Indians, and that reconciliation will fix everything. It shows up as teaching our children virtues and values that the colonizer would be proud of, like capitalism and consumerism. It shows up as not taking the time to remind our children how to love the land. It shows up as not correcting our children when they repeat what they are taught in the outside realm of their families, “I am Canadian.”
To be an Indigenous parent today is about reversing the toxic narrative found in novels, speeches, magazines, and movies. Its about teaching our children indigenous truths rather than colonial lies. It’s about restoring the truth of our kinship models.
“I am sober.”
“My children will grow up with healthy family members around, even the adopted family members.”
“I have done my best to heal my own traumas, and am devoted to continue to heal my own traumas, so as not to inflict harm on my own children.”
“I teach my children that all emotions are good emotions.”
“I respect myself enough to be in healthy relationships, especially for my children.”
“My children can cry whenever they feel they need to.”
“Indigenous families are healing.”
These are the messages we need to hear. We need to flip the script in order for indigenous children to live in an indigenous truth so authentic, so real, that anything less than will not suffice in their lives.
To be an Indigenous parent today means recognizing generations of Indigenous parents before us who were living, breathing examples of the word ahkameyimok (to persevere, or try hard) before we even knew what resistance was.
It means carrying a very real fear of your child pulling up to a farm when they need help in the rural areas of their people’s traditional homelands and being murdered, point blank, with no repercussions for the murderer.
It means teaching your daughter to not walk alone, no matter where she is, because you do not want to have to bring her photograph and name to parliament hill to fight for an inquiry for her death.
Being an Indigenous parent means reminding your sons over, and over, and over again, why having a braid is important when they come home in tears after a tough day of teasing.
Being an Indigenous parent means teaching your children what racism is at the age of three when they’re made fun of for their brown skin.
It means having a deeply ceded fear that a bruise from a fall, or your child looking a little unkempt, will lead to their apprehension, simply because you are Indigenous.
Being an Indigenous parent means constantly equipping your children with the tools to battle the comments about tax dollars, free education, free housing, welfare, living on reserve, why every white guy was wrong for murdering the Indian, and any other racist encounter they may come across in their lives.
Being an indigenous parent is a fear-inducing, yet liberating experience as we strive to overcome the challenges that colonialism orchestrates against us daily.
Ultimately, to be an Indigenous parent today means to acknowledge the lessons of resistance that have been ceremoniously sewn into our existence from generations ago, it means collectively overthrowing the narrative that is being replayed that focuses on our intergenerational trauma rather than our intergenerational kinship practices. It was these intergenerational kinship practices that maintained our livelihoods and the land-based practices and teachings that came with them which lead to our ancestors prayers, suffering, and revolutionizing in order for us to do our best as parents today.
To be an indigenous parent today, one must continue the exercises and practices of healing one’s own trauma. One must remember that they are not responsible in putting an end to all racism, oppression, and white-privilege- but one can do their best in starting revitalization, resistance, and revolution. One must remember that forgiveness and reconciliation for one’s own mistakes, and one’s own family, MUST go before reconciliation with colonialism.
And lastly, to be an indigenous parent today means honouring, and continuously revitalizing, the essence of those who walked before us through meticulously and tirelessly practicing all that they taught us generationally. It means healing oneself constantly so that “intergenerational trauma” becomes extinct from our vernacular.
Because intergenerational teachings and intergenerational healing will always, always, always supersede intergenerational trauma.
And this, is how we need to raise our children.
And lastly, unapologetically Indigenous.
Artwork by: Chief Ladybird