Welcome! I love to write, and I love sharing what I write with my readers. I vary my style as much as I can-posting events, creative non-fiction, prose and poetry and the occasional video. Enjoy!



Monday, August 29, 2011

A Poem: She Remembers

She Remembers:
By: Christine McFarlane

She remembers
the girl 
she used to be

the one who sat
on the sidelines
with her shoulders hunched
and her head down

her voice
barely above a whisper
refusing to make eye contact

just in case 
she would begin 
to cry

for her confidence
was next to non-existent
and so was her pride

beaten down
by her oppressors
after years of being told
"you will be nothing"

You will die

Now she's a woman
Who can hold her head high
And smile

For she has
made and defined
her own path

Choosing education
instead of ignorance
About who she was
And what she stood for

Choosing healing
instead of sickness

Finding community
Instead of being alone

And knowing inside
with help and support
 from those who believed

That she can succeed
At whatever she wants to be

She just has to

And she will fly



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Review: Lateral Violence


Lateral Violence
By: Christine McFarlane

Lateral violence is a topic that is rarely addressed, and it is also an issue that is very contentious. I heard about this term a few times throughout my school career, I have read about it in the numerous books I have, and I have also experienced it in one form or another. I think we all have whether we care to admit it or not. First, here is what lateral violence means and why I have chosen to speak about this topic in particular:

“Lateral violence is defined as happening when people who are both victims of a situation of dominance, in fact turn on each other rather than confront the system that oppresses them both. Lateral violence occurs when oppressed groups/individuals internalize feelings such as anger and rage, and manifest their feelings through behaviors such as gossip, jealousy, put downs and blaming.” (

I wanted to start addressing different issues, and go beyond the scope of what I usually write and cover within my blog. I’ve heard and understood that it is good to have variety when you are a blogger, because you don’t want your readership to get bored with the same content over and over again. Therefore I began a search for new material to cover.

I was going through books, and looking through old articles that I have kept over the years in my filing cabinet. One day, while surfing the Internet, I came across some information about a video that was put out by the Native Counseling Services of Alberta and BearPaw educational resources- “Lateral Violence.” An idea was born, and after receiving the video in the mail, it has come to fruition.

The video- “Lateral Violence” is a documentary drama illuminating an issue that you could say is easier to be kept in the dark, or not discussed at all.  I mean why give voice to something we all feel uncomfortable about? I believe that the mandate I follow in my writing is to write about the truth and for the truth. It is important that issues not normally discussed are brought up because when we give an issue a voice, we are bringing forth a dialogue. A dialogue that will help us all to move forward in a good way “piimaatisiwin.”

Tantoo Cardinal hosts “Lateral Violence” and it sheds new light on an age-old topic-ourselves. It explains what lateral violence is, how it can happen and why it happens. The example shown in the video is about gossip in the workplace and how through malicious gossip, a woman’s job, marriage and credibility is almost destroyed all because of another co-worker’s jealousy and insecurities.

Cardinal is a well-known native activist and actress, and in the opening of the documentary she addresses what lateral violence is and how lateral violence “happens to me, happens to you and its not who we are.”

Within the video, future and present leaders take a look within their own Nations, communities, organizations and families. They ask and examine pertinent questions like “where did we learn to treat each other that way,” and state that “its not just gossip that is the most destructive form of violence, but it’s the behavior of lateral violence itself” that makes us struggle not only with mainstream society but with each other.

Lateral violence is a behavior that Cardinal states, “ has its roots in colonialism.” Furthermore, according to the website- “it is a cloud that has loomed over us for years. It has become a destructive way of life for families and communities.

We have learned many negative ways to live with one another. We have learned that whoever drives the best car or lives in the best house is better off than we are. I believe that lateral violence plays a role in our societies because we have moved away from our teachings of being community based to a way that is individual based.

It is important that we not get stuck in a place that is blaming one another, and this includes the non-Native society. We are all responsible for the choices we make and the actions we carry out. A renowned researcher Cora Weber-Pillwax who is also in the video argues that “lateral violence is not just with First Nations people, it is everywhere.”

We see it in the workplace, we see it at home, we see it in our communities, and in the way we interact with each other. We do not need to get caught up in lateral violence. We can choose to walk away, let go of past grudges and move on with our lives. This can be difficult but if we choose to live our lives in a healthy manner, and choose to see healing in our lives, it is something that we must do. We need to deal with lateral violence with kindness, instead of more hurt and anger because reconciliation and healing cannot happen unless we take the responsibility to make the changes ourselves to live in a better way.

BearPaw Media produces useful Aboriginal produced resources that are used across Canada as healing tools to promote discussion of critical issues within Aboriginal communities and to educate others on topics they may not be aware of.

“Lateral Violence” is 20 minutes in length and funded by the Alberta Law Foundation and Native Counselling Services of Alberta. To obtain your copy of “Lateral Violence” from Bearpaw Media Productions please visit Copyright. 2006.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Desk ( A Short Story)

The Desk:
By: Christine McFarlane

I was eleven years old and I remember being hunched over an old fashioned desk that was all wood and had a little well in it, where I could put my pens and pencils. I lovingly organized the contents of my desk every day, making sure that everything was always in order. I felt such pride in having something I could call my own.

This desk was the first thing I had ever owned because when I moved into my foster home, I had very little that I brought with me. I loved this desk so much that one day while sitting at it, I childishly decided to etch my name into its surface. There was something about seeing my name-CHRISTINE etched into the surface. It made me feel proud, and told me that this desk was mine!

I sat at this desk day in and day out, daydreaming as I looked out my bedroom window, and took in the flowering on the trees, or saw a car go slowly by. I did my homework, and colored at it. I even sat there when my social worker visited. She would sit at the edge of my bed, while I would turn in my desk and look at her, pretending I was interested in what she was saying to me.

I remember when my foster parents discovered that I had etched my name into my desk and the consequence that followed from that discovery. First, my desk was removed from my room, much to my dismay. I recall my foster dad marching into my room and taking the desk and me asking his departing back

“Where are you going?” and emphatically saying, “That’s my desk, you can’t take it.”

His reply was  “If you’re going to deface property, this is what happens.”

“I hate you!” I yelled. As my foster dad left my room, I slammed my bedroom door and threw myself onto my bed, crying uncontrollably. I was crying more out of anger than anything else.

After about an hour of being on my own, I was called out of my room and my foster dad told me

“You will refinish this desk, and that means sanding it, staining it, and bringing it back to what it looked like when we first gave it to you.”

I hung my head, and said “okay.”

The desk was put in the basement of my foster home. Every day after school, and on weekends, I had to go to the basement. With the sandpaper clenched in my fist, I scrubbed and scrubbed at the desk for what seemed like hours. I hated this, but I know in retrospect, I had brought this on myself.

At eleven, I didn’t want to be stuck in the basement working on this bloody desk.
“This is work,” I told myself and I wanted to be outside riding my bike, or hanging out with a friend, be anywhere but stuck in a basement sanding a desk.

As I worked in the basement, an allergy to the dust conjured up by my sanding began to affect me. I started sneezing over and over again, and getting nosebleeds. The nosebleeds happened so much, that my foster parents thought I was playing a trick on them to get myself out of working on my desk.

In frustration, they once again moved my desk, and this time put it outside. Outside, the desk sat underneath their carport. The desk was flimsily protected from the outdoor elements by the carport’s roof and was sandwiched between a car and a wire fence that led to the backyard.

Each day I was told to “get to work.” I remember standing under the carport, the roughness of the sandpaper in my hand, the contempt I felt for having to do this work and how it led to the very last time I would run away from that foster home, or see my beloved desk again.

I’m outside; the sandpaper is clenched in my fist. My shoulders are tense and my back is aching as I run the sandpaper back and forth, back and forth. The dust occasionally makes me sneeze and my nose gets all congested. I have no Kleenex, so I just sniff and hope to God that it won’t lead to another nosebleed.

I’ve been working on my desk for days; this sanding is not getting me anywhere. I don’t know how long I am outside this time. It feels like forever, but its today that I decide,

“Enough is enough” I'm not going to take anymore crap, and I am not going to keep sanding this desk if it meant that I could not hang out with friends, or ride my bikes. My leisure time had been taken away just because I had carved my name into my desk.

 All of a sudden the stillness is broken by the sound of the backdoor to the house opening. My foster dad materializes and says

“We have to go get groceries, you stay here and continue working.” He gets into his car and the door slams shut.

As the car leaves the driveway and turns the corner, its then that I impulsively decide that I have to make my move. I stop sanding, stretch and then put the sandpaper down. I walk to the end of the driveway, look both ways and as I start walking, the tension in my shoulders dissipates. I am not afraid-I just walk.

Shortly afterwards, upon being returned to my foster home by the police, I was taken from my foster home on the pretence that I would be going to summer camp and would be back in two weeks. Well I went to camp, but I never went back to that home, and I never saw my desk again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ten Tips To Get Started Writing a Book

Ten Tips To Get Started Writing a Book

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Poem-Afraid To Let You Go

Afraid to Let You Go
By: Christine McFarlane

I wonder why
It's so hard
For me to let you go

Even after
All of these years

I see your image
Within my head

And though
Its foggy
I think I have seen you

Sometimes standing
At the end of my bed

Reaching your hand out
Smiling and telling me

You will be okay.

I wonder why
Its so hard
To let you go

But deep down inside
 I think I know why

You were my one comfort
My rock
When you were here

I am afraid
To let that go

To explore
Something new

Calling All Aboriginal Students!!

Are you interested in writing for the First Nations House magazine based out of the University of Toronto?

If so, please email Cherie Dimaline, First Nations House Writer in Residence with a cv, writing sample(s) and a pitch if you have one at

To see past issues of the FNH Magazine, please visit

Chi Miigwetch


Monday, August 22, 2011

Review of Gord Hill's "The 500 Years Of Resistance Comic Book"


Review: The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book

By: Christine McFarlane

This is the first time that I have done a review on a graphic comic book, but after someone mentioned “The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book” to me, I thought that I would take a look at it, and see for myself what it was all about.

Once I opened up the book, I could see why The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book would be a hit. It is done in a format that not only gives you a very solid mental image of just how involved the Indigenous peoples of America were in their efforts to keep and reclaim their lands, but the format is also accessible to all age groups. It is a book that I would give my own niece, if she were to ask for starter references as far as history goes.

After a somewhat longwinded introduction by activist and author Ward Churchill, I was happy to see Gord Hill's talent introduced in the book. The visual history he presents weaves the many stories of colonialism and resistance together and opens you to higher level of understanding. I also notice that the visual context of looking at the comics gives your eyes a break from the small print and also makes it accessible to those who may have a hard time engaging in reading lengthy books or articles.

Gord Hill, states in his preface “unfortunately the history we are taught through the educational system and corporate entertainment industry is false, particularly its depiction of European colonization as inevitable (or even justified) and Indigenous peoples as helpless victims (or even willing participants). The story of our ancestors resistance is minimized, at best, or erased entirely.” (5)

The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book works to uncover the history we have seen minimized and covers ground that I do not ever recall seeing in my own history books in school. It reaches back to the start of it all when Christopher Columbus landed in South America and ends with the Six Nations land reclamation in Ontario in 2006. Other events depicted include the 1680 Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico; the Inca Insurgency in Peru from the 1500s to the 1780’s; Pontiac and the 1763 Rebellion& Royal Proclamation; Geronimo and the 1860s Seminole Wars; Crazy Horse and the 1877 War on the Plains; the rise of the American Indian Movement; Wounded Knee; the Mohawk Oka Crisis and lastly the 1995 Aazhoodena/Stoney Point resistance.

It is stated that Hill spent two years researching historical information to create this 87 page comic book. His skill at producing and capturing the history of Indigenous people is incredible, and is sure to leave you with long lasting memories of the fighting spirit and ongoing resistance that Indigenous people have had and continue to have.

The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book written by Gord Hill is 87 pages and published by Arsenal Pulp Press (  and can be found in your local bookstore under Comics & Graphic Novels/Native Studies. $12.95 Canada/US $11.95 ISBN 978-1-55152-360-6

RIP Jack Layton


NDP Leader Jack Layton has died. This comes early this morning after just announcing weeks ago that he was fighting a new form of cancer, and just months after leading his party to its most successful federal election result ever.

Layton was 61 years old. His death is heartbreaking because of how quickly it came after he announced his illness on July 25, 2011. He was a leader that I sincerely hoped would win his battle and become Canada's next Prime Minister.

RIP Jack Layton....

Friday, August 19, 2011

An Interview with Singer/Songwriter Susan Aglukark

(Susan Aglukark-

An Interview with Singer/Songwriter Susan Aglukark
By: Christine McFarlane

This is different for every individual who makes a living out of interviewing people, but for me when it comes to interviewing an individual whom you have always considered a role model and is as big in the Canadian music scene as Susan Aglukark is, it can be both exhilarating and anxiety provoking.

In anticipation of my phone interview on August 18, 2011, I was up at the ridiculous hour of 5am to prepare myself, even though my interview wasn’t until 11am. I found myself asking, “Am I going to sound okay?” Will my questions sound well rounded out or will I come across as a star struck fan and lose my calm?

I was quickly put at ease though as soon as I dialed the number and heard Aglukark on the other end of the phone. She was very down to earth, calming and easy to speak with. Here is an excerpt of my interview, but first, a little description of who Susan Aglukark is:

Susan Aglukark is one of Canada’s most unique artists and a leading voice in Canadian music. She blends the Inuktitut and English languages with contemporary pop music arrangements to tell the stories of her people, the Inuit of Arctic Canada. The emotional depth and honesty of her lyrics; her pure, clear voice and themes of hope, spirit and encouragement captivate and inspire listeners from all walks of life.

C.M-Please tell me about your new album-White Sahara and when it will be released?

S.A.- “My new album White Sahara will be released on September 27 and it is a compilation of favorites and hits and will include two new songs. It has been a project that I have been wanting to do for awhile, and a lot of the songs in this compilation are story songs, songs my people have been carrying.”

C.M-How long has your new cd been in the works?

S.A-. “It has been about one and a half years in the making amongst the other work I have been doing.

CM- Between your last work “Blood Red Earth” until now-what have you been up to?

S.A- I was appointed a Distinguished Scholar residency at the University of Alberta where I was a mentor to aboriginal artists on campus and helped build a joint native studies, recreation, sport and community health degree program, and have also been working with the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation where the mission is “ to work at all levels to assist Arctic children and youth to attain standards of living, education, opportunities and health and well-being equal to those of other Canadians."

C.M- Your music is very inspirational, where do you find the inspiration that you convey in your music

S.A- I find that many things inspire me, the life we live whether that is in the city, or in small communities. I am inspired by the history of the Iquliat people and the life we live and giving a voice to those experiences.

C.M.- How will you be promoting your new cd-White Sahara?

S.A- “Well I just hired  a new assistant, and in the next while we will be doing a lot of press across the country. There will be press releases to the media, fundraising because without fundraising it is difficult to get out and do concerts.

C.M- What can fans expect from you in the next while? Are you doing any speaking engagements, concerts etc?

S.A- I will be doing a concert on September 10 for International Suicide Prevention week, and there are speaking engagements in October in Alberta and locally in Toronto for federal funding and a Christmas tour.”

C.M- How do you stay true to your roots despite being as popular as you are in Canadian music?

S.A- “I never set out to pursue popularity, its something that I just attained, and though I am a successful artist, I am human too. Music and writing comes from personal experience, I know what it is like to struggle, to want something you don’t have, and life is about struggle and getting through it.

For more information on Susan Aglukark, you can check out her website at where she also maintains a blog that she explains as “though its not always steady, and its sometimes sporadic, I want it to give a context of who I am and let people know that I’m like everyone else.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Learning to Let Go of A First Job Experience

Lately I have been questioning what good job prospects are out there for someone who is graduated and fairly new to the workforce.  I jumped into my first job with great excitement because I truly believed that having my newly minted degree in hand, I could go out and show off my new skills. Nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered.

Instead the job that I entered was not what I believed it to be, and I quickly became disappointed and disenchanted by this first experience. When you have been in school for most of your adult life, and have had your nose in the books, there is nothing that prepares you for experience in the real world. That lesson has been difficult to learn to say the least.

Though the job I first encountered sounded perfect, as time progressed I realized how unhappy I was becoming. I felt tired all the time, I would not make time for myself to have breaks, I would break down in tears, I became deathly afraid of making any type of mistake, and I felt like I had to walk on eggshells around my employer.

I always thought that with all the years of counseling that I have had, I would have recognized the warning signs that I was not happy, but it was like I had blinders on. I jumped in and did not pay attention to the voice in the back of my mind that said “This place may not be the place for you right now.”

I have always been told to pay attention to warning signs, and in the words of one of my mentors, “If you are feeling any hesitation, you need to stop, pay attention to it, name it, and then take action if you need to.”

Warning signs came at me every which way, but I naively believed that, “Oh its just me, they’ll go away,” but they did not. The signs that came at me included impatience on the part of my employer when I would ask, “how do I do this?” and my employer flipped back and forth from being warm to cold, joking one minute and then the next minute being outright rude, particularly and short with me when I would ask for assistance with something I had just learned. 
I thought that I was in the perfect job. I attributed the second-guessing of myself and my work to my nerves and that it would go away in time, but nothing improved. I was working my tail off, working past my allotted hours, and forgetting that taking care of myself, keeping in touch with friends, and socializing had to remain a priority also.
Getting hired at your first job can be exhilarating at first but if you find that you are questioning yourself too much, or there is a dread of “what’s going to happen next,” it is time for you to stop and reevaluate yourself and what is really making you stay at a job that is making you unhappy.
Once you reevaluate your options, you can then decide what action you are going to take next. That could mean, going to your human resource office, or if the organization you are working for does not have that option, then maybe you need to sit down and ask your employer what can be done to remedy the situation. Lastly if those options do not work, you can go to a trusted friend for advice and finally there is the option of telling yourself, “It is okay to leave.”
I think it would have been better for me to have left instead of staying on because my world crashed down around me when I went to open my email and found the message stating “Things aren’t working out, your job is finished.”
When I read that, it really tested my resolve because I broke down crying and wondered “What did I do,” After the initial tears, I became frustrated and asked myself “Why did I choose to not recognize the signs that this might happen?”
My first experience in the working world was difficult, and my emotional/physical/spiritual and mental health went a bit off kilter, because I was not paying attention to the stress I was feeling, and the warning signs I kept repeatedly getting. I know now that I never again want to be in that type of position where I am second guessing myself and letting my own self worth slide to the point that I ask myself “Is all this worth it”. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: Dance of Windigo and Nanboozhou

Review: The Dance of Wiindigo and Nanaboozhou: An Indigenous Journey through hatred and violence

By: Christine McFarlane

Though E-Books are fast becoming the new way to read, I still prefer holding a book within my hands, and being able to turn or earmark the pages as I go along. I find it difficult to sit and stare at my computer screen for lengths at a time to read a book. You can call me old fashioned, but that is the way I am!.

“The Dance of Wiindigo and Nanaboozhou” is an intense read. It is a collection of First Nations people’s responses to the question of what is hatred and racism. It is also a celebration of traditional teachings from Elders, activists, teachers and Wisdom keepers of various Indigenous nations across this land.

It addresses the realities of residential schools, child welfare, women’s issues, land reclamation, the justice system and gender/sexuality for Native peoples. The seven chapters in this e-book are based on one of the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinabe tradition, and the project in which this book is premised on, is about hatred and how individuals interviewed view and define hatred within their worldview.

The author, Madeleine Berglund states that according to the Report of the Hate Crimes Community Working Group entitled “Addressing Hate Crimes in Ontario”

             “Hate incidents” are expressions of bias, prejudice and bigotry that are carried out by individuals, groups, organizations and states, directed against stigmatized and marginalized groups or communities, and intended to affirm and secure existing structures of domination and subordination,” and

“Hate crimes” are hate incidents that are also criminal offences committed against a person or property and motivated, in whole or in part, by bias or prejudice based on real or perceived race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, gender, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor.” (2006, pp.18-19)

Berglund relays that in those who were interviewed, many questioned “why a hate incident” is considered less offensive than a hate crime,” and she goes onto explain that hate incidences are the impetus of hate crimes and they embody the systemic issues of why hate crimes are committed. This is interesting to state when you consider the injustices that have and were imposed upon Indigenous peoples all over, and how these issues raised in this book can relate and contribute to the hate incidents/crimes so many of our Indigenous people encounter.

I question though, if you remove the ‘incidence’ like the author states, will that really remove the ‘crime’? Years of state legislation perpetuate expressions of bias, prejudice and bigotry towards marginalized groups or communities and as long as we have those in place, these incidences and/or crimes will continue. I believe that if a nation/state legislates something that they see as just, people will continue to go along with the actions that are mirrored to them by those in power.

The author raises a good argument in how words and language play a role in these incidences and/or crimes. She states “language and words embody the direction of our thoughts and the intention of our actions,” (Berglund 10) and through words we can impose a dualistic system of thought that divides people and the notion of victim and perpetrator. She suggests that if we were to take away this dualistic way of thinking we can begin to catch a glimpse into a worldview that speaks to us from the traditions of where the ‘law’ maintained that everyone was respected and everyone had a responsibility for making the community a healthy place.

Berglund relays that these laws “do not demand us to prove guilt based on the physical evidence and the facts nor do they demand universal punishments to right a wrong but it asks us all as individuals, families and communities to tell our stories, our truth and decide what is needed to repair the damaged or social relations that caused the harm.” (Berglund 10)

The author believes that it is through the focus of Indigenous law that we as individuals, groups and communities can reconnect and that can only happen when all four aspects of ourselves are addressed-the physical, the mental, the emotional and the spiritual.

Berglund states that through her journey of writing “Dance of the Windigo and Nanaboozhou,” she learned that though each Indigenous nation have their own teachings, instructions and practices and ceremonies for re-connection with one another, they all share the same goal-to walk in a good way, to live the good life. This is commonly known as ‘mino-bimadiziwin.’

Berglund relays in the Anishinabe tradition; these teachings are known as the Seven Grandfather Teachings. These teachings are “nibwaakaawin-wisdom; zaagi’idiwin-love; dabaadendiziwin-humility; aakode’win-bravery or courage; gwayakwaadiziwin-honesty; minaadendamowin; respect and debwewin-truth.” (Berglund 10-11)

It is through these teachings that the author believes the approaches to the questions of hatred, racism and oppression are unique. Berglund set out to write this book in the context of the Seven Grandfather Teachings and how incidences of hatred and violence have profoundly impacted our communities, our families and our lives.

Berglund addresses and covers a lot of ground in this book, going from how Indigenous knowledge is often taught through storytelling and oral tradition to specific incidences in Canadian history such as Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology for the residential school system to the famous quote of “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” made by Duncan Campbell Scott.

She argues that “we cannot begin to properly address specific incidences of hatred, bigotry and discrimination effectively without understanding the unique history and context of hatred that Aboriginal peoples of Canada have experienced, nor can we develop appropriate services until we have a clear understanding of the unique cultural perspectives those services would embody.”  (Berglund 24)

Crime, according to teachers that Berglund interviewed believe that “crime is a signal of imbalance and the remedy for that imbalance is the cultivation of practices where crime has no place to flourish and to provide services which address the imbalance and protocols that support guidance and support, healing and connection.” (Berglund 80)

In conclusion, Berglund believes that in order to address issues of hatred, violence and discrimination in a culturally relevant way, it is important to understand the culture that is being addressed, and that appropriate service models must take into consideration each Nation they support, because each one is unique in their own way.

 Lastly, telling our stories, the telling of our Truths from multiple perspectives is essential to us as a whole.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Research Proposal: A Work in Progress

Research Proposal

Aanii. Christine nitishinikaas. Peguis nitoonci. Maashkodebizihiki ni totem.  My name is Christine. I am from Peguis First Nation. Buffalo is my clan.
Research Title: Healing Through Writing and its Process. How It Can Help You to Heal

            The nature of this research proposal is to examine writing and its process towards healing. I understand that the writing process is different for everyone, but as a First Nations woman writer, I have come to understand that my own writing process has been essential to my healing journey. The writing process and its healing effects are something that I would like to explore more of. Upon conclusion of my research, I would like to gather a collection of stories from First Nations women and youth. The purpose would be to create an anthology of survival, healing and inspirational stories for those who are still working on healing themselves and wanting to embark on their own healing journey.
Research Question/Statement:
Writing and its process is different for everyone, but I have found that there is healing in the overall writing process. How do you find that the writing process would hinder you or benefit you, and if so why? Would you be willing to participate in a project that explores the writing process, especially if it means you will be able to give a voice to what you have experienced and offer hope to others who have been through similar situations.
            As a First Nations woman who went through the 60’s and 70’s Scoop of Native children, I grew up without knowledge of my heritage and culture, and when I was subsequently returned to the care of the Children’s Aid Society at 10 years of age by emotionally, physically and spiritually abusive adoptive parents, writing became an integral part of my journey to healing and wellness. As a child, I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and that writing was my gift. I recall that when I was locked in my bedroom for hours on end, I would feverishly write poetry and short stories and slip them under my bedroom door for my sister to read. I also recall that my writing had to stay secret because my adoptive parents criticized my desire to be a writer and would often tell me “you will never amount to anything, let alone become a writer.”
            Though I had always wanted to be a writer, my writing did not become serious until I was in my late teenage years and early twenties. It was during this particular time that I found that my writing could give me the voice that I had yearned to have as a child when I was suffering from abuse at the hands of my adoptive parents.
            Writing became a very effective tool for me because it allowed me to sit down and express the thoughts that were always running around in my mind. I found that by journaling, writing poetry and writing about the experiences themselves that it helped me work towards healing from the traumatic experiences I encountered. It was through the writing process that I learned to find the voice I had for so many years buried out of hurt, anger and shame. I would like to offer the opportunity of writing stories to others who have come from similar backgrounds, to give them “a voice” that they would or may not otherwise be able to access or feel comfortable accessing on their own. I believe that by telling their stories, much like I have been able to tell some of my stories, that it can help them with their healing, and help them know that they are not alone.
            Thomas King in “You’ll Never Believe What Happened: Is Always A Great Way to Start,” in the “Truth About Stories” relays that “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (King 2) and I have always believed and have been able to witness for myself that story is an integral part of many people’s lives and it serves many purposes. These purposes are unique to every writer, and so is the process they go through to tell their stories.
            King also relays that stories can change, and that the change is simply through the voice of the storyteller. It is also through story that we see differences in worldviews (non-Native versus Native). Through the context of storytelling from a Native perspective we are witnesses to the use of conversational language, humor and narrative. We also see through King that content is different and he demonstrates how the narrative framework (the strategies) act upon that content. A great example of this is when he starts his story with “You’ll never believe what happened.” (King 5)
            Within the context of starting with “You’ll never believe what happened” you are drawn to the storyteller’s conversational tone. I believe that if a story is told in a conversational tone, it is not only easier to listen to, but it is also easier to digest and process. This is especially important when you are listening to stories that may be especially triggering; these are the healing stories.
            The narrative form of story is what I have found I work my best in, and when it comes to disclosure, it is this narrative genre that I have found most healing in my writing process. Stories can be told in various ways, whether it is through narrative, prose, poetry or script. When it comes to writing and its healing processes I believe it is important to allow others to write in whatever genre they feel comfortable with because usually in each case, a story is waiting to be told, and it is through whatever genre participants would feel comfortable with that they are able to tell of their pain, their survival and their resilience. Linda Tuhwai Smith states “imperialism frames the Indigenous experience. It is part of our story, our version of modernity,” (Tuhiwai Smith 19) and “writing about our experiences under imperialism and its more specific expression of colonialism has become a significant project of the Indigenous world.” (Tuhiwai Smith 19)
            I feel that the topic of healing through writing is important because it enables First Nations people to reclaim the power that was often taken from them through no fault of their own, and my aim is to be able to offer the venue of storytelling in a way that is comfortable for each respondent. In my search to discover how others have approached healing through writing, I found that besides researching Native writers and their processes, I also turned to non Native writers, especially ones who have approached writing as a way to chronicle memoirs through the method of writing freely, and who give guided exercises to help you when you are feeling stuck, or what writers like to call ‘writer’s block.”
            One such individual is Louise DeSalvo, who wrote “Writing As A Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives.”  DeSalvo argues, “As a teacher of writing, I regularly witness the physical and emotional transformation of my students. I see how they change physically and psychically when they work on writing projects-diary, memoir, fiction, poetry, biographical essays-that grow from a deep, authentic place, when they confront their pain in their work.” (De Salvo 11) She also argues how writing is helpful “I have learned that writing can help anyone-not just people who consider themselves writers-significantly improve their psychic states and their psychological well being. I wasn’t surprised to learn this, for I and other writers have known it either intuitively or by reflecting upon our writing process.” (De Salvo 11)
            Another non-native writer is Natalie Goldberg, a poet, teacher and author of several books who wrote “Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir,” relays “in the past, memoir was the country of old people, a looking back, a reminiscence. But now people are disclosing their lives in their twenties, writing their first memoir in their thirties and their second in their forties,” (Goldberg xx) and furthermore “writing is the act of reaching across the abyss of isolation to share and reflect. It’s not a diet to become skinny, but a relaxation into the fat of our lives. Often without realizing it, we are on a quest, a search for meaning.” (Goldberg xxi)
Why This Topic is Important To Me:
I chose the topic of healing through writing because writing is very much a part of who I am and a profession that I have actively been involved in on the side throughout my studies at the University of Toronto. It has also been the act of writing itself that has been extremely beneficial in my own healing process. Within my healing through writing I have found meaning in my life and I wish to share that meaning and hope with others who have stories to tell.
            As a writer, I am a storyteller, but as a storyteller I also have to be cognizant of proper methodologies to help others who wish to share in the same journey as myself. Within the book “Indigenous Storywork: Educating The Heart, Mind, Body And Spirit,” author Jo-ann Archibald relays that while working with Coast Salish Elders who were either storytellers or were versed in oral tradition, they shared ways to become a storyteller, “cultural ways to use stories with children and adults, and ways to help people think, feel and “be” through the power of stories.” (Archibald x)
            Archibald also relays that the Elders taught her about “seven principles related to using First Nations stories and storytelling for educational purposes, what I term storywork: respect, responsibility, reciprocity, reverence, holism, interrelatedness and synergy,”(Archibald x) and that “experiential stories reinforce the need for storywork principles in order for one to use First Nations stories effectively.”(Archibald x)
            I believe that Archibald’s book relates to my research on writing as healing because it shares both traditional and personal life experience stories. Indigenous Storywork seeks to develop way of bringing storytelling into educational contexts and it demonstrates how stories have the power to educate, and heal the heart, mind, body and spirit, and it establishes a receptive learning context for those who wish to engage in story in not only an educational context, but also within a personal context.
            Aboriginal women and youth’s healing stories are compatible with several projects Linda Tuhiwai Smith outlined in Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. (Tuhiwai- Smith 1999). She points out that, “themes such as cultural survival, self determination, healing, restoration and social justice are engaging Indigenous researchers and Indigenous communities in a diverse array of project,” (Tuhiwai Smith 142) and that “they teach both the non-Indigenous audience and the new generations of Indigenous peoples an official account of their collective story.” (Tuhiwai Smith 142) Furthermore Tuhiwai Smith writes that “the ability to write it for oneself is a significant step towards claiming, celebrated survival, remembering, connection, intervening, reframing, representing and restoring, positive cultural and gender, relevant role models. (143-161)
            Lastly, my interest in story and the healing process also stems from having certain role models in my life, many of them women. I found solace and understanding. Many women, whether they have been in the role of friend, sister, professor and even therapist have helped me along in my journey to where I am at now. They have given me advice when I have needed it. They have given me the encouragement when times got tough and I did not feel I could take another step.  They have reminded me to slow down and enjoy each day when they saw me barrelling ahead and stressing myself out. They have reminded me to laugh, and have given me comfort when I was struggling within and had nowhere else to turn.
My Role as Researcher:
My role as researcher is to engage with Aboriginal women and youth to understand what types of stories they would like to consider writing and to create a safe environment for participants. I would have to be cognizant that the writing process and the particular topic of writing about stories of healing can be triggering. Therefore I would have to follow the Principles of Research Design and Implementation by Chief Kerrys Moose, who argues that one of the first steps is respect, and the “need for honouring the limitations of participants and workers. Most individuals can sense whether someone respects them, or is faking it. They can also sense whether the community researcher genuinely honours the experience that is being shared during an interview.” (Moose 1) Furthermore the legacy of the residential schools, the Indian Act, and other government policies have left a mark that makes many participants reluctant to share, and therefore “every person associated with the project must be willing to respect participants in a heartfelt manner, at all times.” (Moose 2)
Respect for my participants experiences that are being shared is extremely important. I would need to be able to listen with an open heart and mind to what they are sharing verbally, physically, emotionally and historically about themselves and their lives. I would take into account, the way that I would not want my research to go awry by keeping in mind what happened with Linda Griffiths and her interaction with Maria Campbell that is documented in The Book Of Jessica: A Theatrical Transformation.” Though I am visibly a First Nations woman, there is still the possibility that by going into communities I would be considered an outsider and someone not to trust.
Other principles to follow as stated by Moose are the ones that include “confidentiality, informed consent, focus, flexibility, consistency, organization, caution, self reporting, integrity, data diamond and lastly fun.”( Moose, 2-13)
What Community Will Benefit:
Primarily I am hoping to reach a broad audience. An audience that consists of First Nations women, youth, educational institutes and health and wellness institutes. At this time I am not comfortable with the inclusion of Native men within my work because I feel that it would be more beneficial for women to get their stories out, because it has been most evident throughout my studies and personal experiences that First Nations women and youth are the ones in our society who are often silenced by emotional, physical, mental and spiritual abuse. This reasoning is also a part of my own healing journey that I still need to address and work on.
 I refer to the importance of First Nations women and youth in my project to also  bring attention to the importance of story when First Nations families are faced with dealing with a murder or of a child being taken away from them. I bring this up because it reminds me of the plight of the Missing and Murdered First Nations women, where in a recent interview that I conducted for the newspaper-Windspeaker, I spoke to the co-founder of Walk4Justice Gladys Radek. Radek, is on a mission to seek justice for these missing women, and the most poignant part of my interview with her was when she simply stated “ People do not think of how the missing and murdered women affect those left behind,” (Windspeaker, 2011)  This would fit in with my storywork and how through writing these survivors would be able to take a step towards healing by telling their stories-giving a voice to those who can no longer speak.
Anticipated Outcomes:
            My ideal outcome would be that there would be the creation and production of an anthology of personal narrative, poetry and prose-stories of courage and healing for use within First Nations communities, educators and health and wellness initiatives. I would hope that the anthology would help serve as a reference point for those who would also like to start up a similar project. Throughout the process, I am hoping that there will be connections made, connections that will help participants to engage with each other and give them the confidence to continue using writing as a tool as an avenue towards their healing. I would feel even more enthusiastic if participants found the writing process helpful to them and that they feel comfortable enough to pass on what they have learned so that the cycle of writing as healing stays strong.

            Research according to Chief Kerry Moose in “Principles of Research: Design and Implementation in A Guidebook to Land Use and Occupancy, Mapping, Research Design and Data Collection,” “There are a number of principles that are very helpful when designing and implementing your work. Projects often take on a life of their own, going off in this direction today, and then pulling you off in a different one tomorrow.” (Moose 2-13) Principles are guidelines that keep you on track, and that your project stays manageable.
Another avenue of methodology that I would consider is one that consists of a focus group. I would start this initially before considering other options such as participatory research. As defined by Bruce L. Berg in “Focus Group Interviewing” “the focus group may be defined as an interview style designed for small groups.” This approach would not only be beneficial to me, because of my writing background and work with various newspapers, but it would also benefit my research participants because I would be able to “learn through discussion about conscious, semi-conscious, and unconscious psychological and socio cultural characteristics and processes among various groups. (Berg 273)
A focus group that I would facilitate would consist of a small number consisting of seven participants, and I would try to conduct as many as I possibly can, taking into consideration time that participants may have, and/or mutually agreeing upon set dates and times. As a moderator, I would attempt to draw out information from my participants regarding what they would like to see if they participated in a writing project of healing. My sessions in groups would be informal because in an informal atmosphere, I believe that participants would feel more at ease to disclose their behaviors, attitudes and opinions about the project and also feel that they are on an equal level by being able to speak freely. I would also consider bringing in a respected Elder in the community who can be there for assistance if participants need it. If there are difficulties with starting the writing process, I would also consider bringing in Aboriginal women who are groundbreakers in Aboriginal literature, so that they could share how they started, what they did and to offer encouragement. Groundbreakers in Aboriginal Literature would and could include Lee Maracle, Marilyn Dumont, Marie Campbell, Eden Robinson and can possibly expand to newer writers such as Cherie Dimaline, Sharron Proulx-turner etc.
            Another approach to my research would be Participatory Research. According to Ann C. Macaulay in “Participatory Research with Native Community of Kahnawake Creates Innovative Code of Research Ethics,” “ All research requires ethical guidelines to protect the research subjects and guide the researchers. In the past, researchers had exclusive control of the research process and use of the results. Participatory research attempts to break down the distinction between researcher and subjects and to build collaboration between the parties.” (Macaulay 187)
            Participatory research would be the most beneficial for the type of research I am proposing and I think that this venue of research would be best suited for the type of work I would be doing- engaging in, gathering and the process of storywork. Participatory research according to Macaulay usually defines a research inquiry which involves: 1) some form of collaboration between the researchers and the researched;2) a reciprocal process in which both parties educate one another; and 3) a focus on the production of local knowledge to improve interventions or professional practices.” (Macaulay 187). Furthermore, I would want my participants to feel empowered through their writing process and the “ultimate aim of participatory research is empower research subjects to assume ownership of the research process and to use the results to improve their quality of life.” (Macaulay 187)
Research Sites:
Information will be sought from various Native organizations within the Greater Toronto Area. I will approach First Nations House of the University of Toronto, specifically those who are undertaking Aboriginal Studies, the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, the Native Women’s Resource Centre, Anduhyuan Inc, and Council Fire. I would approach potential participants via outreach initiatives such as information posters, electronic mailing lists, and using the contacts I have built up over the years as a writer.
            The timeframe for my project is anticipated to be around twelve months. This would allow for opportunities to gain a connection and earn the respects of participants, because gaining the respect from participants is vital to my project being a success.
Potential Risks of My Research:
            Healing through writing can be a very risky topic for those who may just be beginning in their healing journey. Therefore it may be difficult for possible participants to actively and fully engage in the writing process because of possible difficult feelings that they may encounter during the project itself.
            Stories for many people are often very difficult and carry a multitude of feelings that many may have not processed or dealt with yet. Therefore I must be cognizant of the possibility that some people may not be ready for this process of telling their stories and look for other options, such as looking to other writers who may have already gone through this process and are more at ease with saying. I have previously noted who I would approach-Lee Maracle, Marilyn Dumont, Eden Robinson, Sharron Proulx Turner, and newer writers such as Cherie Dimaline.
            I fully recognize that any situation that involves people sharing themselves through story can carry an element of emotional risk. I would provide copies of transcripts and any other related documents in advance to reduce anxieties of participants and if there is any discomfort that arises I will work with Elders and counselors in order to approach this project in a good way.

Works Cited:

Archibald, Jo-ann. Indigenous Storywork: Educating The Heart, Mind, Body And Spirit. University of British Columbia Press. Vancouver. Toronto. 2008

Berg. L. Bruce. “Focus Group Interviewing” in Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. pp. 100-117. 1989 Toronto: Allyn and Bacon.

De Salvo. Louise Writing As A Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives. Beacon Press Books. 1999

Goldberg. Natalie. Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. Free Press. 2007. Preface

King. Thomas. “You’ll Never Believe What Happened” is Always a Great Way to Start” in “The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative,” pp. 1-29. 2003 House of Anansi Press, Toronto

Macaulay. Ann. C. et al. “Participatory Research with Native Community of Kahnawake Creates Innovative Code of Research Ethics” in Canadian Journal of Public Health, 89 (2), pp. 105-108. March/April 1998 Canadian Public Health Association (

Moose, Chief Kerrys. “Principles of Research: Design and Implementation” in A Guidebook to Land Use and Occupancy Mapping, Research Design and Data Collection. Pp.1-13.

Tuhiwai-Smith. Linda. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples.   
London: Zed Books Lit. 1999

Windspeaker. Canada’s National Aboriginal News Source. Volume 28. No. 10. January 2011.

 ( I wrote this for my ABS460Y class this past year. I will be updating and revising, but I wanted to post this, and if anyone has suggestions or feedback in regards to this, I would really welcome hearing it.)


Dealing With Conflict

Dealing with Conflict:
By: Christine McFarlane

Learning to become healthy is often a hard road. It can often be filled with many ups and downs. You may think that you are doing really well; things appear to be going a lot smoother than they used to, but then a conflict arises and your old fears come back to haunt you. A fear that comes back to haunt me is that insecurity that often nagged at me when I first started my road to recovery.  When a conflict arises, first comes my anger, then the tears, and then the old messages that used to play on a regular basis start to roll, even though logically I know better. Conflicts are hard to deal with because they not only makes you take a step back, but they make you draw upon all the skills you have learned to get to where you are today.

I believe that conflict is another test of my resilience in my recovery journey. It tests me when I least expect it, and it makes me draw upon the courage I have within, to sit back and re evaluate the conflict that I am dealing with.
Sitting back and looking within is difficult when conflict arises because it is easy to fall back into old thinking.  The thinking that makes me feel depressed and misunderstood, and makes the tears roll like the old days, when I could not lift my head without a tear bursting forth at the slightest thing. Getting out of that old thinking takes extra effort when I am at odds about something in my life. I know that everyone has their ways of dealing with things. These ways of dealing with things can either be healthy or unhealthy. I try my hardest to stay on the healthy path, because I know that if I was to fall back into old ways, not only would I disappoint myself, but I would disappoint those who have been behind me in my recovery journey.

Conflict can often be dealt with by talking with someone who has some distance from the situation. You can write it out so that it does not stay within, you can let yourself have a good cry, and tell yourself that this conflict shall pass too. The last step is often the hardest for me. I am the type of person who wants to deal with something right away, but I also recognize that when conflict arises, emotion often rises over logic, and that can make a situation worse.

Stepping back, giving a situation or a person space is the healthiest thing to do, even it means you are at war with yourself and wanting to make things right, right away. Conflict is never easy, but I have learned that conflict is just another part of life’s journey. It teaches you to become more understanding, to become more resilient and teaches you courage that you can draw from within, when you are feeling like no else understands.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Do I Dare?

Do I dare
let myself
open up

Let myself
become vulnerable

Bare my soul
And tell you
the way that
I feel

Do I dare
let myself
open up

Bare my soul
open my heart
and risk everything?

(briefest poem I have ever written, maybe more will come to me later)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Afraid of the Dark-

Something tells me in the back of my mind that I am not supposed to be afraid of the dark anymore. I'm a grown woman now,and its not like when I was a little child around five or six years old, and I laid in my bed, with my blankets pulled right up to my chin, and my little heart pounded as I would whisper across the room to my sister

"I think there's a monster under my bed"

My sister, if she were awake would whisper back

"No there's not silly, go to sleep before we get in trouble."

In my five to six year old mind, my sister was my hero, the wise one, who could rationalize everything, even though she wasn't that much older than me-ten months older to be exact. The dark was always ominous to me, not only as a child, but continues to be to this day. I don't know exactly why the dark or the imagery of darkness scares me, but there are plausible memories that make it a little clearer to me.

I think that if I were to dig far enough into the recesses of my mind, many things would come up to explain this fear. As a child, I recall for one of my many punishments being placed inside a walk in closet. I had a sleeping bag and the only light that shone in would be the small fraction of light that came from under the door. I remember to pass the time away, and to quell my fear of this little prison, I would make a game out of counting the shoes that were so carefully placed where I tried to lay my head down.

There there are the times as a teenager, from the lack of nutrition, I would feel the world spinning around me, and see nothing but stars as I laid on the dining room floor of my foster home, waiting for my head to clear, or the time I passed out from doing step aerobics in my gym class, the exertion too much for my malnourished body to take. Lastly another image that pops up was when I was immersed in the depths of despair from the chronic depression I battled, and I would take so many pills that I would black out, and find myself much later, laying in the emergency room of the local hospital, with tubes coming out of me every which way you could imagine.

The dark, though I have a fear of it, I find that I am also drawn to it. It's odd that for some reason, I like dark subjects, whether that is in the form of the Max Haines or Ann Rule books I read on true crime or the television shows I watch like Criminal Minds, Law and Order, X Files, all shows that have a certain element of dark to them.

Something tells me in the back of my mind that I'm not supposed to be afraid of the dark anymore, but I am. Every night before I settle into my bed, there is a routine that I must follow. This routine involves making sure that at least one or sometimes two lights remain on throughout the night. I don't care that I almost thirty eight years old.

The thought of darkness enclosing around me frightens me to no end. The anxiety that threatens to engulf me when my light switch turns off keeps me afraid of the dark.

When I settle into bed at last and pull my blankets around me, I am comforted by the one light I leave on because I don't have anyone beside me to tell me

"There are no monsters under your bed" or a reason for you to be afraid anymore. It is through this light, I know I am somehow safe.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I Hear the Beat of The Drum

I hear the beat
Of the drum

Voices rise
In unison

Hey a
Hey a

I hear the beat
Of the drum

I feel my heart
And a pride rise

Hey a
Hey a

I hear the beat
Of the drum

My foot
Begins to tap

I want to sing

Hey a
Hey a

I want to dance
I feel a happiness
A sense of calm

As I stand and listen
To Mother Earth's
Heart beat

I hear the beat
Of the drum

Voices rise
In unison

It is like the shawl
I have kept wrapped around me

Has risen

Hey a
Hey a

I am home

At last