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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Appreciating Silence

By: Christine McFarlane

Have you ever stopped what you are doing and really listened to silence around you? I know that is a hard thing to do especially in this day and age when we have all sorts of technology around us. If it isn’t our cell phones ringing, playing our music wherever we go or being online, it is rare to appreciate moments of silence.

When silence comes, it is often hard to sit back and enjoy it. You wonder, is it okay to enjoy this moment, or should I keep running headlong into my daily routine of keeping as busy as possible.

I remember that I used to hate silence. Silence to me was dangerous because it meant that I had to pay attention to feelings I was going through, feelings I wasn’t comfortable in experiencing. I had to have my music on, my television on and I even liked my phone ringing, it made me feel connected to the outside world. I was connected but through artificial means. Meaning, I was not allowing myself to appreciate silence when it came to me.

The silence I grew up with was oppressive. In order to survive I had to be silent. I could not use my voice. Now that I am older, the silence I choose is voluntary. I have learned to appreciate silence and its rarity when it comes to me.  I use my voice now when I choose to, and it is through my writing that I experience the peace of mind that I have always craved. There are some days that I come home from school or from just being out, and I want no noise around me. I want silence around me and through that silence; I can listen to what is around me and be more aware of what is going on inside me. Knowing what is going on inside is not as dangerous as I used to think it was. My television stays off and so does my radio. I learn to appreciate things around me more by listening to the silence around me. I am more aware of the world around me-just being present in the moment I am in.

Appreciating silence, it can be a tough lesson. I think everyone should try to have a few minutes each day to appreciate no noise around you, Try to make it possible and see what you learn in that silence.

I used to be afraid of silence, now I welcome it. It is something to be enjoyed and we all definitely need a break from the chaos around us.

(This was originally published in the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto's newsletter) It is an old piece but still remains one of my favorite earlier pieces

Natives Targeted Most for Hate Crimes - Indian Country Today Media

Natives Targeted Most for Hate Crimes - Indian Country Today Media

Thursday, June 23, 2011

First Nations Youth Participate in Photography Exhibit "In My Own Eyes"

Lori Sterling(Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs), William Boyle (Harbourfront CEO), Sylvia Maracle,(Executive Director of the OFIFC), Jeff Young (Lead Photographer), Courtney Vincent, Dalton Vincent (youth from Moose Cree First Nation) and Chris Bentley (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs) at the "In My Own Eyes" Photo Exhibit at Toronto's CN Tower Skyquest Theatre. (June 21, 2011)

Toronto: More than 50 Aboriginal youth who took part in an Aboriginal Youth Photograph Exhibit Launch showcased their images and stories in an online gallery  “In My Own Eyes,” at the CN Tower of Toronto’s Skyquest Theatre on June 21, 2011, National Aboriginal Day.

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Chris Bentley, who was joined by Harbourfront Centre Chief Executive Officer William Boyle said “this exhibit is a perfect way to launch and start Aboriginal Day.”

The “In My Own Eyes” Initiative was supported by the province of Ontario and Planet IndigenUS, a major international cultural initiative of Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre in partnership with the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford.

Professional photographers visited seven communities to mentor youth in Grades 6-8, teaching them about photography and how to use it to tell a story. The communities that were involved included M’Chigeeng First Nation, Ojibways of Onigaming, Moose Cree First Nation, Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation and urban Aboriginal youth from the cities of Fort Frances, Toronto and North Bay.

Two of the youth that participated in the photography exhibit, Dalton Vincent, 18 of Moose Cree First Nation and Courtney Vincent, 14 also of Moose Cree travelled down to take part in the launch, where one of the photographers , Jeff Young who was a part of the initiative stated “the images that the youth captured are phenomenal, and this project was not only about power and voice, but shooting what is important to your heart.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Story of Recovery:

By: Christine McFarlane

The shout out

“It’s dinner time”

Used to be the three words I dreaded the most.  I remember sitting on my bed, hunched over my night table furiously coloring in the book I had bought at the hospital gift store on one of my trips off of the 8th floor hospital ward.

I want to ignore the call out, but knew that if I did, my doctor would be told that I was being difficult. I put my markers away in their plastic wrap, and put them down on my table where my poster lay. I swing my legs over the edge of my bed, and stand up. I feel a wave of dizziness; I stop, grab the table beside me and close my eyes until it passes.

I walk slowly out of the room, pulling my sweater around me closely, as I feel the cold from the hospital’s a/c system, and shiver.  I try not to pay attention to the scurrying of the other patients around me, as they head into the dining room.

 I hear the attendant start to call out the patient’s name and their room numbers.

“801A, 801B, 801C”

I don’t have to sit with everyone. My doctor has decided that I need to be kept an eye on. He wants me behind the nurse’s desk, so that they can see whether I am eating or not.  I try to tell myself that I don’t like this arrangement, but secretly I do because it means that I don’t have to be near anyone else. I like being alone, separated from everyone else, because then I won’t have to hear the comments from the other patients

“Christine, why aren’t you eating?” or

“I’ll take your food, if you’re not going to eat it.”

I didn’t want people taking my food. It was my food, I always thought to myself, even if it did mean I wasn’t going to touch it.

I pull out the cold plastic chair that’s in front of me and prepare to sit down. I look at the tray in front of me and subconsciously go over what I’ll try to eat and what I won’t touch. Food occupies my mind ninety per cent of my waking hours. The other ten percent that occupies my mind is how I can fool others around me into believing that I’m trying to get better and that I’m going to start eating. Food is my enemy.

I have been in the hospital this time for over a month. I remember when I got admitted; the nurses shook their heads and said

 “Christine, you have to stop this, you have to start eating.” And they would ask

“You want to get better don’t you?”

I couldn’t explain to anyone why I was so afraid to eat. I just knew that this disease-anorexia nervosa had all begun with a passing comment from a classmate in grade 8 and had escalated from there. 

“Look at you! You’re so fat, you can’t fit into your desk.”

The desks were small, and I fit into them fine, but she was the type of girl everyone was envious of. She was pretty, popular, thin and a straight A student. I was the new kid who came into the class halfway through the school year. I stood out from everyone else, not only was I the new kid, but also I was so painfully shy that I couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone. I was also brown, in a sea of white faces, the only First Nations student in a small town called Kingsville.

My eating disorder began a few months after that comment was made. At the time I was just about to turn 13 years old, and I had been placed in my third foster home. I was going to be starting grade nine and I felt lost. I couldn’t tell anyone about this feeling because even I was unsure of why it was there and what it had begun to stir inside me.

My mind couldn’t grasp that the transition of moving to a new place and getting used to new people a mere few months before and essentially starting all over again could be playing a role in the turmoil I was feeling.

The feelings of confusion and feeling lost perpetuated my eating disorder. I didn’t know how to deal with the feelings I was experiencing, so it turned to something that I later came to understand as being something I knew I could control-my intake of food. It began with cutting back foods that I normally enjoyed- no more peanut butter and bread, no more chips or ice cream, and definitely no more fried foods. I said good-bye to a lot of foods, without really understanding why.

My foster parents were perplexed at what I was doing. I remember when my foster parents nonchalantly asked me during a conversation we were having on the deck in their backyard

“What is wrong Christine?” and

“Why aren’t you having breakfast anymore?” and my response was

“I really don’t like having that meal anymore.”

“Not even peanut butter and toast?” my foster mom asked.

“That’s your favorite food, Christine”

I sat there and without so much of a reaction to this question, I said

“I really have to watch everything I take in, and peanut butter and toast is one of those things to watch.”

 When they asked me

“Why? “

I could not give them a clear explanation.  All rationale was lost. The list of foods I couldn’t touch grew bigger and bigger, until it became a list that I had to absolutely live by. This meant not eating any foods that were mixed together, eating anything with sauces on them, no butter or margarine, only having diet pop if I was going to drink any pop at all, no milk, or desserts. To go off this regimented list meant setting myself off into an anxious frenzy of worry, and actions that I still feel a lot of shame about.

Mealtimes became fraught with anxiety as I tried to figure out and keep to the list that I had acquired in my head, and had also secretly hidden in my journal.  My foster parents at the time, didn’t know what to make of what I was doing, but they tried to accommodate me with things they knew I would eat- while everyone else would have a heaping plate of spaghetti or potatoes and meat, I would sit at the table with a bowl of plain rice, and twirl my fork around the bowl and take bits at a time. Rice quickly became a staple at every meal; it was what I called a ‘safe food’  in my early days of anorexia nervosa, I didn’t have the desire to get rid of it as soon as it hit my mouth.

Anorexia nervosa consumed me for the remainder of my stay in my foster home. I went from a quiet yet healthy looking kid, to someone who became more withdrawn, moody and a shadow of her former self.  I no longer laughed or smiled with ease. My foster parents had to take measures that they had not had to take before with me - locking their freezer with a big lock so that their freezie pops wouldn’t just disappear because for some reason I believed that if I just ate a freezie, that would sustain me.  They had to hide their milk of magnesia and their occasional boxes of laxatives because they never knew when I would reach into the medicine cabinet and take them, and with my emotions all over the place, and the tantrums I threw, they occasionally had to hold me down just so that I wouldn’t hurt myself or anyone else around me.

Back at the hospital, as I am sitting in the cold plastic chair behind the nurse’s desk, I look at the food on my tray. I wrinkle my nose when I see that my tray consists of a salad, soup and goop they call macaroni and cheese. One of the nurses comes up and stands beside my chair. I feel her hand come down upon my shoulder and I look up at her as she says

“Christine, at least eat the salad.”

I nod my head at her; I can feel the tears threatening to spill. I grab the closest utensil, and as the nurse turns to walk away, I eat one piece of lettuce, and grimace. To me, this is torture.

Long hospital stays were the norm for me in the throes of my eating disorder. The doctors were often treating me for more than just my eating disorder because I also suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, and depression. The hospital served as my refuge from the chaos I felt on the inside and on the outside. Today I am free from that confined refuge, after much hard work.

Treatment was often difficult no matter where I was because I often fought to comply with what my doctors and therapists were trying to teach me. Over the course of being in and out of in patient and outpatient treatment, I came across a catalogue called Gurze Books, and though the place was based in California, I gave one of the co-founders a call.

The two people that entered my life after that initial call have become my greatest friends and allies. Over many years, through phone calls, letters, and email, Lindsey Hall-Cohn and Leigh Cohn offered me the love I had always yearned for, and the support to help guide me to the recovery point I am at today.

Though I believe that food will always be an issue for me, and its something that I will always have to be conscious about, I am no longer in the throes of an eating disorder that could very well have killed me. Instead I am here today, smiling and saying

“Chi miigwetch” 

I have my life back.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Canada Leaves Oilsands Pollution Rise From UN Report:

 The Oilsands (

By: Christine McFarlane

Why would anyone be surprised that the federal government has deliberately excluded data that indicates a 20 per cent increase in annual pollution from Canada’s oilsands industry in 2009 from a recent 567-page report on climate change?  They were required to submit this Report to the United Nations, and left out pertinent data reflecting the real extent of pollution from the oilsands production in Canada.

The numbers that were acquired by PostMedia news on May 30, 2011 were left out of the report, a national inventory on Canada’s greenhouse pollution. It also revealed a six per cent drop in annual emissions from the entire economy from 2008 to 2009, but does not directly show the extent of pollution from the oilsands production, which is said to amount to being greater than the greenhouse gas emissions of all the cars driven on Canada’s roads.

The data also indicated that emissions per barrel of oil produced by the sector are increasing, despite claims made by the industry in an advertising campaign, and officials were unable to answer questions about who made the decision in government to exclude the numbers from the oilsands or provide a detailed explanation about changes in emissions.

I ask though, why would this information- the leaving out of pertinent data or government officials being unable to answer why this happened be of any surprise to anyone, considering that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government has been less than truthful about anything that they do.

 Canadians do not seem to understand or want to grasp the idea that we are talking about a man who has prorogued Parliament, has been found in contempt of Parliament, hides the true cost of fighter jets for our military and oh yes! I forgot to mention the issue of the G20 bills and the violations that came along with that.

According to Clare Demerse, director of climate change at the Pembina Institute, an Alberta based environmental research group  “the oilsands remain Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse pollution, and they’re the subject of a huge amount of attention and scrutiny in Canada and internationally,” and Demerse says ‘it’s very disappointing to see Environment Canada publish a 500 page report that leaves out these critical numbers-especially when last year’s edition included them.”

 Environment Canada only provided the oilsands numbers in response to questions from Postmedia News after they were asked why the information had been omitted from its report after publishing more detailed data in previous years. Furthermore a department spokesman stated that “some” of the information was still available in the latest report, which still meets Canada’s reporting obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Critics have suggested that the Harper government is deliberately trying to delay international action to fight climate change, following revelations reported last fall by Postmedia News that it had set up a partnership with the Alberta government, industry and several federal departments to fight pollution-reduction policies from other countries that target the oilsands through lobbying and public relations.

On May 2, 2011, Canada had a chance to vote for change, to have Stephen Harper put out of office, but they did not take that opportunity and instead they voted him in again. There’s a saying “you get what you ask for,” 

 I strongly believe this is the case for those Canadians who voted Stephen Harper back into office. We are going to continuously be faced with a government that hides the truth, as long as Harper stays in office.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"The Goodbye"

By: Christine McFarlane

My world changed the day I heard a nurse say over the phone

“Your friend is very sick and he’s in the ICU,”

“I think it would be good if you came to see him.”

It was seven years ago, that I got that phone call and at the time, I recall that I had been living in shared housing, and to get any semblance of privacy, I often chose to stay in my room with my door locked, so that no one could bother me. 

My friend Lori and I had been worried because we hadn’t heard from our friend for a few days. I was nervously calling around to the hospitals after failing to locate him through the various other places we knew he could be at.

As I heard the nurse say this, my heart leapt into my throat and the tears just spilled down my cheeks. As I took in this bit of news, I didn't realize that I would be saying goodbye to the closest friend I had at that time, in a matter of days.

My hands were shaking as I put the phone down and picked it up again to call my friend Lori. I heard the RING...RING... of her phone, and a wave of fear/anxiety hit me in the gut as though someone had just punched me.

My friend Lori, answers


She hears me crying and says

Christine? Is that you? What’s wrong?”

I stop crying long enough to blurt out

“It's Chris. He’s in the hospital in ICU.”

I hear Lori draw in her breath and gasp. There’s a moment of silence before she says

“Do you know what hospital he’s in”

Followed by

“I’ll come and get you. We will go and see him.”

I don’t know how long I waited for my friend to come and get me. Everything at that point became a blur, even the car ride to the hospital that was clear across the city from where my friend had to drive from and to my place to pick me up. 

I recall getting to the hospital and getting off the elevator at ICU. I hear the noises of the various machines that are attached to each patient and I remember shivering, and thinking to myself,

“This can’t be happening.”

The scene around me was chaotic, as nurses rushed here and there. I could hear the BEEP....BEEP...of the heart monitors, and the announcement CODE BLUE...CODE BLUE...that occasionally blasts from the hospital’s p.a. system.

Usually I am afraid of hospitals and stay clear away from them. I have my own bad history with them but this time, I knew I had to be there. I enter the room 320 and my eyes nervously scan the four beds that are there. My friend is laying in the bed 320B. 

I slowly walk over to his bed and stand there looking at him. I grab his hand and hold onto it, willing the tears to stop flowing because I know I have to be strong for him.

He’s as still as can be, tubes are coming out of him every way possible. I hear the hum of the machine that I learn later is breathing for him. As my friend and I are standing at his bedside, Lori says to him

“You have to fight, you can’t give up” and even jokingly says

“You’re missing Coronation Street and the Simpsons.”

Those were two of his favorite shows that the two of us often watched when I spent time with him. A million thoughts went through my head as I stood there. I wondered if my friend was going to pull through, would I see him smile again or hear his laugh.

That day at the hospital, I stood by him and hoped that he would hear my silent prayer that we would all see him well again. Lori and I stayed until visiting hours were over.

As we left, I looked back once more and silently mouthed

 “I love you”

Two days later, I called the hospital once more, and was told

“Your friend is gone. He passed away this afternoon.”

I put the phone down, and cried myself to sleep. 

I never knew that I would be saying goodbye to the closest friend I had ever had at that time. I still miss him to this day, but I know now that he is in a better place and isn’t in anymore pain.

(In memory of C.A.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Native Science: Differs from the Western Paradigm

As a First Nations woman, who has only come to know the culture, traditions and the ways of her people in the last few years, I find that I struggle within about how native science is defined and is looked at through the Western paradigm.
 It states in the foreword, written by Leroy Little Bear in the text Native Science:  Natural Laws of Interdependence, that “Science has been and can be defined many different ways depending on who is doing the defining”(Cajete) and that “science is dependent on the culture/worldview/paradigm of the definer.” (Cajete) When reading this I wondered why ‘ differing views of science needs to be questioned at all?” and ‘why can’t differing paradigms just respect their own worldview without having to question those that have a different way of relating to the world than their own?”
As I have come to understand the indigenous worldview, science in the Indigenous paradigm plays a foundational role in Indigenous peoples lives and how they relate to the world. It is a way of life that encompasses the spiritual and material, the emotional and the physical. It is a worldview that is “not only one of livelihood but community”(RCAP) and the basis for the continuity of their cultures and societies.
With the above statement in mind, I now refer to how it was through colonial policies of assimilation that the Native paradigm suffered. It was through these colonial policies of assimilation that according to Paula Sherman in her book “Dishonour of the Crown” led to policies that enabled Europeans to profit from our lands and resources while economically and politically marginalizing us to the fringes of our own territory,”(Sherman) and also led to “jeopardizing our autonomy,”(Sherman) and “transforming our perceptions of our relationships with the land and even with each other.” (Sherman)
With this in mind, I think about how Indigenous peoples have had to straddle two worldviews due to the colonial discourse that saw their relationship to the land be taken away and I come back to the uneasiness I feel in regards to how a differing paradigm – in this case the Western paradigm can feel that they have authority to say in the words of Walter Cronkite “That’s the way it is.” (09/21/2010)
Science is a pursuit of knowledge and Native science was borne out of a different history than Western science. Therefore when comparing the two different paradigms, one should see the uniqueness in both, and treat them as such. It is easy to see that the modern description of science does not come even close to the Indigenous paradigm. The modern description is largely based on an intellectual discourse based in measurements and using mathematics, and the modern description leaves out so much—“it leaves out the sacredness, the livingness, the soul of the world,” (Cajete)
I like that Native science can be explained as being “born of a lived and storied participation with the natural landscape and that all aspects of one’s experience in the world is inclusive and that by being “open to the roles of sensation, perception, imagination, emotion, symbols and spirit as well as concept, logic and rational empiricism,”(Cajete) you are being a part of the story being told.
In conclusion, definitions of science are varied and that is very dependent on who is doing the defining. Cajete speaks of Western science and Indigenous science and how though they may have commonalities, they also have differences. To me, these differences are in the way science is perceived, and because of the colonial discourse that saw Indigenous people’s way of relating to the world; I believe a definition by an opposing worldview of what should be ‘science’ is problematic. It is problematic because in a way it becomes another way of forcing Indigenous people back into the colonial discourse that they have been fighting so hard to overcome.


Works Cited:

Cajete, Gregory. Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence. pg. x. Clear Light Publishers. Sante Fe, New Mexico, 2000

Neegan, Erica. Class Lecture. University of Toronto. September 21, 2010

RCAP. Volume 2. Restructuring the Relationship Part Two: Chapter 4-Lands and Resources. 3.2 Significance of Lands and Resources to Aboriginal Peoples. pg. 1

Sherman, Paula, Dishonouring the Arbeiter Ring Publishing. Winnipeg, Manitoba. 2008


Dodem's: What They Mean in Anishnabe Worldview

By: Christine McFarlane     
Within the Aboriginal worldview, it is  understood that if you belong to a certain ‘dodem’ such as deer, moose, buffalo etc, you cannot partake in eating them because it is considered a personal taboo, and a violation to the “blessings” in which their dodem can bring into your life.
            Dodems are an integral part of an Anishinabe person’s life, because it is often through our relationship with our dodem that we learn of the roles that they can play in our daily lives, and how we are to carry on those roles ourselves.   These blessings are strictly adhered to because they are considered gifts that are given to us by our ancestors, and in A. Irving Hallowell’s words in Chapter 6 “Religion, Moral Conduct, and Personality “the blessings obtained from other than human persons were never free gifts,” (92)[1] and involved “reciprocal moral obligations on the part of the recipient.” (92)[2]
            Within the story of “The Woman Who Married A Beaver,” we are privy to how a woman through marriage learns to interact with what is clearly a dodem-the beaver. It is through her dodem of the beaver that I believe she learned the teachings of wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth. It taught her how to be in the world, and that is clearly what our dodems are all about-teaching us and guiding us to live the good life- piimaatsawin.

[1] A. Irving Hallowell. The Ojibwas of Berens River, Manitoba: Ethnography into History. p. 92
[2] A. Irving Hallowell. The Ojibwas of Berens River, Manitoba: Ethnography into History.