Saturday, 27 April 2013

Derek Pitawanakwat

Wikwemikong First Nation, Ontario

I was raised in Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve (Wiky), and my childhood was very cultural.  I owe this to my Grandmother, Dad, late Mother and other members of the Family.  We were raised with the Seven Grandfather’s Teachings: wisdom, love, respect, humility, truth, honesty and bravery; this is the natural law handed down by the Creator to the native people.  We practiced this in our home.

I have to begin by saying the language was handed to us by the Creator.  The Creator gave us our language so we could talk to the Creator.  Anywhere I would go, to school or out to play, my Grandmother would ask me, and “Did you practice your traditions? Did you practice your wisdom?” When you look at the natural law, it will never change. This is the way I grew up with the teachings. When I went out to play or I met the day, the Seven Grandfathers were with me.  I would feel the wind blowing. It was neither warm nor cold in winter or summer time.  I could relate to nature, the nature of the land.  The land we would plant in would give us food and medicine.  My Grandmother was a medicine woman, she would ask me to harvest the medicinal plants and provide me with the tools and tobacco.  From a very early age I would go around the river, and my Grandmother told me where the plant grew and what color it was.  The plant with the different color was the plant we would use.  I would take the shovel and dig the plant out and offer tobacco, thanking the Creator for taking this life and for the healing power of the plant. We would use that plant to heal, this was my Grandmother’s teaching.
My brother, sister and I were also taught about the stages of life for seven years, when you come into boyhood, then the voice changes in boys and the girls with their moon time.  My sister had proper teachings for this from Grandmother and I was there sitting and listening. Then from the age 14 to 21 there was another stage, the boys’ voices changed and we became more mature and she would teach sexuality to us.  This was an important stage to us as well as to my sister.  We were never taught about sexual abuse or the nature of sexual abuse.

In 1949, my mother passed on and at that time we were told in the fall we would be going to the residential school.  My dad rejected this because of our Seven Grandfather’s Teachings; he knew at this school the Teachings were going to disappear. That fall the bus came around the village but it did not stop for us.   At the end of October, the Indian Agent came with the Jesuit priest from Wiky and put my brother, sister and myself in the car.  My Dad was plowing in the field with a team of horses, when he saw the car he came over to see what the commotion was.  He went over to talk with the Jesuit and the Indian agent and afterwards he came to us and said in the language (Ojibwe), “They are going to take you to the school because you will receive better care; this is what the Jesuit and Indian agent told me.  I cannot do anything, I cannot hold you back.  Listen to those people with black robes, listen to what they tell you, but do not let them touch you.”   I did not understood what my dad meant by this “do not let them touch you.”  He knew what the outcome was going to be.

After a while they took us, without our own clothes, as they would not allow us to take anything. They told us they had all the clothes in the school.  We were given clothes there, too big, shoes too small.   My nephew was also there, they brought him to the office, and we were told we could play with him.  With my Seven Grandfather’s Teachings, I could see the other kids were orphans; they had no Mother, Father or home.  They did not have the Seven Grandfather’s Teachings and they were kids like me. The priest told me I could NOT live by the Seven Grandfather’ Teachings, that I would have to leave them behind, and that this was an evil way. They had another system.

This was the beginning of assimilation, to my understanding. I had to learn their way. I was tall, around age 11 or 12, in grade 7.  I learned about Julius Caesar, Champlain, Columbus, the first people who came to this country.  How the Europeans found us Indians here, this is what I had to write an essay on.  I could not concentrate on this, this was something new to me, and this was never spoken about to me in my language.  I was then sent upstairs where there was a blind Jesuit. I had to look at the spelling of the language and spell with blocks as he researched.  He would say a word in the language this felt good when I heard the word, and it was a word from the Bible.  

We came home on Christmas. I never saw my sister the entire time I was there.  When we went to their church at school we went at different times.  On Sunday, I don’t know how many times we had to go to church.  My brother and I were put in the kitchen to work, and I did not know anything about gay people, but the Jesuit, Brother Wesley, in charge of the kitchen picked me up and said, “Oh, my gosh, aren’t you a nice cute little boy,” and I kicked him.  I did not know what triggered me to kick him.  I was then taken upstairs to Fr. Hanin to be strapped by him for kicking Brother Wesley.  As I sat there I remembered what my dad told me: do not let them touch you. But I was-had to listen to them.  Fr. Hanin then said to me “I’m going to let you sit there; if you kick anyone else I’m going to strap you.”  When I went back downstairs they took me out of the kitchen and put me upstairs where the Jesuits and the teachers eat.

The food would come off the elevator and it was numbered, I would take the number and put the food where it belonged.  Later, another Jesuit, Father Bellaire, supervised the boys. I did not know how to shower because I never had one before, and he was telling me and the other boys that we did not know how to wash.  He was going to teach us how to wash, and then he started touching my penis and my bum.  He did this each time I showered, and the other boys started looking at what he was doing.  He had his sleeves up and each time he was playing with my penis.  He was trying to get me to masturbate.  There was also an older student that was in the kitchen that tried to rape me.  That student tried to get into my anus but he could not because I fought, screamed and cried.  

My brother was sexually abused in residential school by Brother Wesley, and my sister was lonely there.  She wrote my dad a letter saying, lonesome, lonesome, lonesome…. That was the whole letter.  She did not know how to describe this feeling, she cried all the time, and she was about 9 years old. The sisters would beat her for crying.  We were all three years apart. We spent one year at the school because my father remarried. We now had a step mother who would ensure care and this saved us from residential school.  Years later at Wiky another member of the family was sexually abused by another Jesuit, Father Epoch.  

My stepmother was culturally educated; she went to residential school in Wiky.  She was a bright woman and could read in the language.  She cared for us and showed that love.  My peers would tell me my stepmother was a whore she could not bear children, she was a drunk, and this was piled into me every day.  I could separate this because of the medicine wheel teachings, not to believe in the negative but believe in the positive, in the Creator.  My dad was strict in this area; he was neither an alcoholic nor abusive.  

After I was assimilated my culture meant nothing, and when I was 16 years old my sister told me “We are going to take you to Toronto to find work there.”  I went to work in Toronto and the man I was working for asked-told me I should go back to school.  I worked as a messenger boy giving out tickets. The staff knew I was shy and withdrawn -- this was part of the effect from being abused.  Later in life my girlfriends told me they could not get close to me -- I had a stop sign and that was as far as I would go.  They would tell me “We can’t reach you to talk, you will only go so far and we do not know what is wrong.”  This is what I had to live through. The silence, I could not talk to anybody because no one would understand me; no one would believe me about the missionaries. And I was well aware that I should not talk to anyone.  

I lived like this until 1971 and then eventually I went back to school in Toronto.  I then tried to drown these feelings, until I could not drink any more.  I hallucinated so much from drinking, the professional people told me I was going to be in the mental hospital suffering from a wet brain and then I would not know my name anymore.  I was taken to a mental institution so I could identify with the people with the wet brain.  I began to slowly understand what I was doing to myself and I did not want to end up like this.  It was a bad way of living, trying to forget the abuse and I wanted to go back to school.  Eventually I went to see a psychologist in Toronto and talked to her. I told her what had happened to me.  They wanted me to go often to see the psychologist for the progress I would make talking with her about my abuse.  I went back once, and I talked about the issue of sexual abuse and that released me.  

Forty years ago I stopped drinking.  I had to go back to Wikwemikong to all the people I had harmed through drinking.  I had to unravel myself over these issues.  I spent a number of years talking with someone in A.A. (Alcohol Anonymous). I never talked about the sexual abuse because I did not have enough trust in him.  After a few years he advised me to go and find my elders, “They have something that is not written, it is in their heart.” I did not know what that meant. After a number of years I realized it was me, I had to look within, I had to find where the problem was and it went back to the sexual abuse.

This is where I had to begin; I had to go back to my Seven Grandfather’s Teachings, and where I left off before I went to the residential school.  I had a lot of pain to go through. This is how I am able to live today and this is what gives me sanity instead of insanity.   

When I went to the judicial hearing I spoke from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They came to the conclusion I was raped.  There was a native lawyer who was representing Canada and the Residential Schools and the judge asked me if I had something to say to her. I said yes.

“An innocent child like me did not know anything about people or gay people1. I was never taught about gay people, I was taught everybody was good and equal, this was my teaching and the understanding I had for God’s people.  In residential school this was the kind of people they had in there, I should never have been in there. I came from a good home with good teachings, and I’m in there with the gay people.  Further more the Prime Minister of Canada, Harper, made an apology and the apology was written by a university student.  He decided on the best apology, and it was written by a group of university students.  Harper or his political party did not write this apology, it did not come from his heart.  A.P.T.N. (Aboriginal People Television Network) did special investigative work from the newsroom and they learned how the apology was written.”  

Then I told the judicial hearing, “The Prime Minister’s apology is not going to heal my abuse, the Pope is also going to make an apology, I have a wound and no apology is going to heal it.  No apology is going to heal the cultural assimilation that I have had to live through.  My culture was strong, it is what I had been taught, and there was meaning in my language about life.” It is also not the financial compensation that is going to heal me; the money is only a material thing.

The judicatory told me, “I never heard anybody talking so honestly about their abuse. You are going to go down in history with this.”  It was just her and I talking about my abuse, what the harm was, and then what I did in trying to drown the pain with booze, until I could not drink anymore.  She later asked me, “What are you going to do with this?”  I told her, “I have to live with this and every now and then I have to ask the Creator for help. This is the spiritual part of it.”

My partner and I raised two girls. Nobody wanted them and we took them in.  We could not have children of our own. I also have a son and daughter from previous relationships. I looked after these girls using my Grandmother’s teachings.  One became pregnant and I moved with her to Sudbury and I counseled her every day.  The baby heard my voice everyday counseling her mother and today I have a close relationship with that child.   The teachings I stressed to my daughter while she was pregnant were my Grandmother’s teachings.  When a woman is pregnant the teachings are no drinking, quarrels, smoking, live a good life, pray to the Creator for your unborn child and for the way the child is going to be.  How you feel is the way the child is going to be. I would tell her these teachings came from my Grandmother.  
Today I sit and counsel two spirited people; I understand what happened to them because of my Grandmother’s teaching.  In the past the medicine people, like my Grandmother and some of the elders knew who the two-spirited were when they saw them at birth.  Knowing this would help prepare the elders to guide and assist these individuals into understanding the gifts they possessed and what role they played in the native culture.  I learned there was six different ways to satisfy the sexual needs.  I counsel some of them today because they are drinking and do not know who they are. They need to identify themselves and work in the proper way on how to handle their lives.  I am thankful for this education by the two-spirited people and I am able to offer my assistance to help this community.

I am asked to teach school about the Seven Grandfather’s Teachings, and I speak about sexual abuse awareness. The kids may experience this and they need to be made aware of abuse.  I also work in our prison systems, and in the traditional courts.  I have seen much sickness in the prison system.  One of the judges told me he sent people to the mental institution in Penetanguishene.  He thought they were getting treatment in there but later learned there was nothing.  He told me, “I’ve been sending these people there all this time and they have nothing, no teachings for them.”  

The way I understand how to bring back the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers’ is this: it should be brought back through the grandparents.  The grandparents should work with their families.  I am being asked to speak with the elders and teach them about the Seven Grandfather’s Teachings. I know it is hard for them to learn this because the teachings are complex.  I have to use my own concept to teach these theories, since they are not written. I have to go deeper with how I feel about the spiritual part, and this is where the healing is.  I could talk for hours about each teaching.  I talk about truth, what truth is because the Creator knows what I think.  Honesty, honesty in life, I could not live in honesty back then, I was living a dishonest life because of the alcohol.
This is why the First Nations are not functioning well.  You look at the native spiritual ways and if we did not have the assimilation and the abuses that ruined our lives, our existence in this world would be different.  It ruined my life; I was an innocent child when I went to that school. Nobody ever told me about the abusers in my Grandmother’s teachings because everybody was equal on the reserve.  She did not speak about the outside world or residential school.  My Father talked to me about the abuse because I got into trouble with the police.  I was in conflict with the law and spent time in jail.  

Eventually I asked for a pardon.  I know the correction system inside and out, and the people involved in that capacity.  In some places over 90% of the people in the corrections are native.  It is hard work working in these institutions -- emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.  I have suffered enough with this abuse and I will never forget.  The apology from the Prime Minister was not given from his heart, the pope is going to make an apology and it is not going to heal my wound.  I have to work on this wound with the Creator for the rest of my life.

1 - Editors note:  Child rapists have nothing to do with being gay.  It is a criminal act of violence with over 25% of the male heterosexualpopulation.

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