Friday, December 18, 2015

A Wind of Change

"Windy Intuition" by Courtney Lynn

Make no mistake. I’m white. My mother’s parents came to Canada from Denmark and my father’s came from England. I grew up with a mom, a dad, two sisters, several pets, middle class home. Danish flags hung on our Christmas tree each year. A.A. Milne poetry was read to me every night.

An awareness of my privilege was non-existent.

My family.

Never questioned why I shouldn’t walk north of Manitoba Avenue in my hometown of Selkirk. Just knew it was rough up that way. Small houses. Big families. No running water. Same for Winnipeg’s north end. Always made sure to lock our car doors as we drove through.

Didn’t everybody?

Yep. I’m a WASP. Grew up admiring my grandpa. Wasn’t it heroic of him to move to Northern Quebec and build an Anglican church for those Cree people? How lucky were they? What a great adventure for him! He explained to me that they needed him to correct their animistic thinking.

I listened in awe.

Couldn’t understand why the kids that came to my home in the middle of the night hated me so much. We were good enough to provide emergency foster care for them, weren’t we? I just didn’t want them to touch my stuff. They didn’t have to glare and swear at me like that. And then threaten me at school the next day.

Geez, I didn’t do anything.


I’m a racist. A polite Canadian racist.

But I’m changing.

Over time, I’ve learned about colonization. Stolen land. Broken promises. Residential schools. Families torn apart. Tiny boys and girls, removed, stripped, scrubbed, whitened. Pins through their tongues if they spoke their own language. Parents in tipis waiting outside the fence, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of the children they loved. And the historical shame that became embedded in their hearts.

I’ve learned from my Indigenous students. I never thought the college I worked at was scary, till they pointed out that it was an imposing, intimidating institution. Looked like a modern day residential school. I didn’t know they had to pay their cab fare before the driver would take them anywhere. I was unaware their grandmothers had been raped by priests. That their brothers had been driven out to the middle of nowhere and dumped by the police. In the wintertime. And if these college students went for drinks after school on a Friday night, they would be propositioned by men, assuming they were for sale.

At school, one wore a t-shirt that read, “Got privilege?” and I realized I did.

I had more to learn.


So I shut up during sharing circles. I spoke only when I held the grandfather. (Oh yeah, I learned that rocks are grandfathers.) And I attended ceremonies. Listened to elders. Sweated. Feasted. And beyond the tragedy, I discovered the beauty of traditional First Nations culture. The respect for nature. Love of children. Playful teasing. Courage. Strength. Honesty.

Medicine picking.

And finally, I felt ready to learn my spirit name. Nervous, I could hear the voices of some family and friends in my head, jeering “you’re not Aboriginal you know” and I wondered aloud if a whitey like me should even ask for my name. But the elder assured me that the teachings were for everybody.

She said, “You are Wind Spirit Woman. Like the wind, you can travel where you want, do what you need to do, say what you need to say. The judgements of others cannot stop you. Will not stop you. You are Wind Spirit Woman.”

Wind Spirit Woman

I cried.

Now I know that my words and actions should create change. Can make a difference. Howling in grief, I will blow you over with my frustration. Or cool you down with a light breezy story. I will surround you with gale force laughter. I might be gentle. Sometimes biting. Soothing. Fierce.

I am Wind Spirit Woman.

I have been changed.

Make no mistake. I will bring change.

Star blanket with my spirit colours by Viola at Neechi Niche.

© Conni Cartlidge, November 2015

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