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!



Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guest Post- Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux

Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux has worked in the local, regional and national Canadian Native political field as a treaty researcher, land claims coordinator, vice chief, government and community advisor and political advocate. She has written and co-negotiated several Ontario land claims, and has presented papers on historic trauma and Native health. In 2004, she completed her PhD dissertation at the University of Toronto in the Department of Anthology. Over the past three decades, she has developed insight, compassion, an enduring optimism and a genuine desire to work with Aboriginal people everywhere.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation – Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Ph.D.

When the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) became a reality in 1998, I was elated, as were many other Aboriginal people in Canada.  How long had we fought for recognition and resolution of damages that had been so harshly wrought upon the Indigenous peoples of this country?  So many of our people were adversely affected, disabled and degraded by their experiences in residential schools, on the streets of urban centres, and in their own hearts, minds and families through the violence of  “special care” they had been recipients of.  The attention they received at the hands of the “benevolent” individuals they had been so abruptly handed over to, in reality, had had the effect of robbing them of their spirits and shattering their sense of self. 

I understand this thing called “benevolence” to be a form of societal violence, along with this thing called “care” and this thing called “the Indian Act”.  It was the visiting of someone else’s notion of “right” that sent families reeling from the loss of everything they held dear. They lost the one thing that men and women the world over seek to achieve and maintain, this thing called “family” and shared joy at the birth of children. Instead, their children were denied the care of a mother, the protection of a father; all gone in the stroke of a “benevolent” pen, held by someone who had the power, but not the knowledge of what they were causing, because they were looking in on something they would not, and therefore could not, see.
I had the honour of sitting in the early AHF circles that were convened to review community based proposals, and what a heavy responsibility that was. I fought hard to ensure that no one was disqualified because their submission was not “technically proficient” because their spelling was poor, it was handwritten, or was missing a few critical elements.  The proposals were coming in from the hands and hearts of the community, from those who had not had the wherewithal or sometimes the courage to go back into academic settings after their own residential school experiences, but who knew that those that were broken could be healed, and that the community had the inner wisdom to make it happen.

How hard I fought to allow those communities who had moved past their traditional practices because of external influences to have the kind of healing they chose, no matter how contemporary, no matter how different from ceremonial practices. Healing was healing and who were we to dictate method and modality? I didn’t always win, but I spent considerable time during the early years helping to ensure that as many communities as possible got their funding and could begin the endless work of making lives whole again.  Those of us invited to those AHF circles in Ottawa were privileged to review community-healing proposals and later joined dozens of other Aboriginal peoples in Vancouver, where we reviewed proposals for healing centres and larger initiatives.  Once again, heady work and emotionally challenging because while every proposal had merit, we knew it would not be possible to fund them all.  There were tears, there were debates, and there were heavy hearts, but the work moved forward and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation fulfilled its promise to support community level initiatives for the duration of its mandate.  In subsequent years I have had the honour of working with several communities in various stages of their work across Canada; beginning their work, evaluating their work, celebrating their work, and wondering what to do after their work was done.  Amazing examples of something done right, something that empowered, challenged, and helped each individual and community find inner strength and healing on its own terms.

The Government of Canada was becoming the recipient of a renewed vigor and social efficacy built from the ground up in Aboriginal communities across the countries.  We witnessed reclamation of languages, celebrations of identity, and a reconstitution of pride.  So why did the government, in all its’ colonial “wisdom” chose to discontinue the funding of the AHF?  Here was an organization that worked hard to “lift up the morale” of so many Aboriginal peoples, and clearly demonstrated that it was not only possible, it was sustainable.  Everything the Government of Canada had ever tried to do to solve what its’ Ministers regarded as “the Indian problem” had never worked to anyone’s advantage, including its’ own.  Now, a viable, sensible, and self-realized process was unfolding across Canada and they chose to ignore the merits and cut the continuation of work being generated from the grassroots up to provincially based healing centres and committed programs.

Well, I have never been one to accuse the Government of Canada of being sensible when it comes to handling Indigenous matters, but this has been one of the most insensitive and bone-headed decisions they have ever made.  Perhaps we were too successful? I know however, that the fight will continue, that we will continue to stand strong, that we will persevere in our bid to resolve historic trauma, residential school syndrome, PTSD in our adult population, and fully reclaim our strengths through the wisdom of our elders, and the grace of our children.  I know that the Government of Canada has made many decisions that have undermined and marginalized the Aboriginal peoples of this country.  I know equally well that we have great reservoirs of determination and strength, that we will continue, that we will heal, and that we do have a future in this country.  I know that we have allies, the support of coming generations, and a vision that embraces spiritual practices and inclusion of the many.

We have come a long way, and we have benefitted from the work that the AHF was able to support during the fourteen years of its operations.  I believe that the Foundation’s work should have been continued, and that the communities and centres funded during its tenure should be celebrated for their many contributions.  I believe that the “violence of benevolence” must be stopped, and that we as a people must learn to separate “help from hindrance” and move forward with the gifts of our elders, the educations we are gaining, and the rejuvenation and use of traditional knowledge.  We can mobilize the power and courage of our coming generations, have heart, and cultivate a new mindfulness generated out of self-reliance and renewed pride.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Personal Muse- The Urge to Run

The Urge to Run:
By: Christine McFarlane

Do you ever get the feeling when things get overwhelming, to just drop everything and run? Running away was something I was really good at: whether it was emotionally distancing myself or physically taking myself away from those around me. I know it’s not something to really brag about. It’s the last thing that I would want people to do when things get difficult, but we all know that flight response lies deep within all of us.

Running away was something I did on a number of occasions when I was a child. I did it to escape the abuse I went through at the hands of my adoptive parents. I also did it later on in life when I was feeling overwhelmed and angry, and felt that if I voiced the turmoil I was feeling, no one would understand. Looking back now, I was very lucky that while running away, I was never hurt because there were many times that I could have been.

I remember my last run like it happened yesterday. I was in my third foster home and things weren’t going that well. Part of it was my doing, after all I was thirteen years old, and as difficult as you can get. Those who have teenagers know what that is like, and the other part was my foster parents not knowing how to deal with the immense amount of anger I carried within me.

I had just had my one-millionth disagreement with my foster mom and I remember her saying

“We are not going to tolerate this behavior, Christine” followed two minutes later with the proverbial

“Go to your room.”

Angrily, I said “Fine” and went up the stairs to my room. I slammed my bedroom door. Opened the door one more time, and BANG slammed my door again just for effect. I remember sitting in my bedroom, stewing at how life was so unfair, and crying more out of anger than hurt.

I felt the anger boiling up inside and then an inner voice saying 

“It’s time to run.”

I mustered up my energy, wiped the tears falling swiftly down my cheeks, walked across my room and pulled my bedroom door open. At first I was afraid to come out of my room, I was like a deer frozen in headlights. But then I smiled, the biggest smile I could and sprang into action.

I recall making a hasty dash to the front door of the home I was living in. I pulled the door open and ran out onto the porch and then the driveway. I thought no one had seen me, and that I would be able to make a clean getaway. I was wrong. Striding down the driveway, I felt the sun beating down and the hot asphalt through my shoes. I had just reached the end of the driveway, when all of a sudden, a voice yells out

“CHRISTINE, if you leave this driveway, and run away, you will not be able to stay here any longer!”

My heart pounding, I stopped in my tracks. I turned around and saw my foster mom standing on the front porch looking at me.  For a few minutes I stood there, and then I turned around and walked back towards her. Though I never physically ran away again, I found other ways to deal with the pain I was feeling inside. They weren’t good; in fact I feel shame for the actions I soon engaged in, self-destructive behaviors that have taken me years to fight and overcome.

Running away, when things get overwhelming is not okay to do. In fact it makes things worse. But I know we all get that feeling of wanting to run. We need to learn ways of coping that help us to stay and deal with what may be going on within, and that could be

  •  writing
  •  talking to a trusted friend
  • listening to music
  • painting or drawing
  • watching your favorite movie or show
  • going for a walk, even if its just for a walk around your neighborhood and then coming back to deal with whatever it is that’s bothering you.                                                                                                                           

It is up to us individually, to find ways of coping that are healthy and not self-destructive. Running may seem the easiest response, but in the end it hurts you and others around you more than you think.

When my foster mom stood on that porch years ago and said

“if you run, you won’t be able to stay here any longer,”

It made me stop and take notice. Sure, at the time I was angry to hear her say that, but later I began to see it differently. This woman decided that despite our difficulties, she wouldn’t give me up, like so many others in my past had, and would stand by me. For that, I will always be grateful. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Getting Yourself out of a Writer's Block with Free Writing

Get Yourself Out of Writer's Block with Free Writing Exercises:

Free writing is helpful when you need to get out of a writer's block. The material you write while engaging in this exercise, actually brings up things you never thought you would write about. Believe me, I have tried it and end up having a few good laughs at some of the stuff I have written. Try it, don't be afraid to let me know what you think of this type of writing exercise. Contact me at 

Free writing follows these simple guidelines:

                Write nonstop for a set period of time (10–20 minutes).
                Do not make corrections as you write.
                Keep writing; even if you have to write something like, "I don't know what to write."
                Write whatever comes into your mind.
                Do not judge or censor what you are writing, just let your writing flow.

Free writing has these benefits:
                It makes you more comfortable with the act of writing.
                It helps you bypass the "inner critic"
                It can be a valve to release inner tensions.
                It can help you discover things to write about.
                It can indirectly improve your formal writing.
                It can be fun.

                Use the writing tool that is most comfortable for you— pencil, computer, or whatever.
                Don't cross anything out: Write the new idea down; leave the old one.
                Drop all punctuation. That can make your free writing faster and more fluent.

Happy Writing!!!

(content on free writing guidelines and the benefits are borrowed from

Coming this week:

 My next blog post will be a review of the "Aboriginal People, Resilience and the Residential School Legacy" from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) Research Series books and then I will have a guest post write up about the AHF by Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Guest Post-Jamaias DaCosta-Unpacking Mixed Identity and Privilege

Jamaias DaCosta is a musical artist, writer and activist journalist, and is mixed identified of Jamaican (Colombian(Indigenous, African), Portuguese, African, South Asian, Sephardic Jew) and Irish, Kanien’keha:ka, Cree and French descent. Through broadcast and print journalism, music, creative writing, and education her work consistently involves an exploration of resistance, identity and examination of colonial oppression, decolonial thought and processes and
cultural expressions.

Jamaias is a member of the multi-disciplinary artist/activist org R3 Collective; is Host and Producer of The Vibe Collective on CIUT 89.5FM and is the Producer of Indigenous Waves Radio, also on CIUT 89.5FM. Jamaias is also a workshop facilitator and has held workshops at both grade schools and universities in Toronto around stereotypes; Indigenous education and decolonial thought. Jamaias has also worked with Caribbean Tales and has written for the CBC, First Nations House Magazine, U of T’s Independent Weekly and several news and community blogs.

 Unpacking Mixed Identity and Privilege
 By: Jamaias DaCosta 

For those of us who are mixed, not just with NDN blood but any thing that is considered “different” or “unique” or “exotic”,  this is a statement that is heard repeatedly “Really? You don’t look it”.  From the moment I was first asked “What are you?”, the response is most often “…you don’t look it” or  “Really? I thought you were (blank)” or some other presumption of that nature. And the reality for many mixed people, is that the above statement is mild compared to some of the other expressions of opinions on our identities people have and feel completely free to express.  Often we mixed folks are viewed as an aberration, since we do not fit neatly into a box or category.

For many who are mixed there is conflict and tension when we attempt to dialogue about dealing with prejudice, especially when we consider shadism and privilege.  The lighter the mixed person’s skin, the more privilege the individual has access to. And unless that access and privilege is carefully deconstructed and understood, it further removes the individual from the point where the river of prejudice and cataloging ethnicities meets the ocean of oppression felt for the majority of People of Colour and Indigenous peoples.

Owning and deconstructing what that means for our realities can be problematic because, despite the white privilege, which can divide us from our darker skinned brothers and sisters who’s identities have suffered in countless ways at the hands of colonial white supremacy, mixed identities are in fact quite vulnerable as well, due to several factors.

Most often I am identified by the outside world as white. People see me and they see a tanned white woman. My features are angular and pointed, and my skin, though tanned as
soon as kissed by the sun, is “light”. For me, this has meant I am often rejected or scrutinized for authenticity, not just by white people but also by PoCs and Indigenous folks. At the same time, there is this ridiculous tokenization by white people who feel I am the safe common denominator. That can include an assumption that I should go along when they speak with that exclusive "I'm not racist but you know those people who..." rhetoric. My former boss (who thankfully has been fired for all kinds of unethical behaviour) used to rib me with racist commentary that I would call him out on, and then mock me to my colleagues about how "sensitive" I am, and to watch what you say to her because she thinks she's (black/indian/native...etc.). Just another day in the life of anyone who is racialized, really.
There is a very distinct feeling for those of us whose ethnicities are ambiguous in any way of being stretched in multiple directions, across vast landscapes of sociopolitical minefields. And despite many fantastic blogs and anthologies on this subject, there is not a lot of dialogue in mainstream about this kind of "mixed" or multi-racial reality, and the tension that comes with it. So in the meantime, mixed identified individuals are fair play for prejudice from all directions, especially when we give voice to all of who we are.

Despite all of this, or more likely because of it, I have grown to see my white privilege as a responsibility, to put that white privilege to work through various methods. This includes holding up the mirror for white people who are blissfully ignorant to the myriad ways in which the education system, the media, the histories that we celebrate, the heroes we canonize, the holidays we observe, are all encased within a Eurocentric, white supremacist framework.  And how these ideologies purposefully ignore the bloody and heinous history of colonization and replaces the word "colonizer" with "settler" or "pilgrim".  Further, the insidious attack on Indigenous and PoC family structures, land resources, cultures, worldviews, histories and of course because of all of this, identities.

For me, white privilege chafes against my soul and my heart, and requires me to actively deconstruct that reality every day and in every interaction. I often feel I am wearing a disguise, and am constantly searching for ways to interject who I REALLY am. I am a mixed identified person of Jamaican (Colombian(Indigenous, African), Portuguese, African, South Asian, Sephardic Jew) and Irish, Kanien’keha:ka, Cree and (just learned recently) French descent. (Try fitting that casually into a conversation.) And because it requires so much time to say, my identity takes up some space. It is usually either further scrutinized or dismissed for being too complicated, which means that, unfortunately many people walk away with their own assumptions about who I am, unless they have encountered me in a space where they are able to see me and get beyond the light skin to who it is that I am, and what it is that I do, and the communities with whom I am engaged. My experience is often that with white people, it means either fascination with the “diversity” or put out for having been fooled. For PoCs and Indigenous folks, it frequently means dismissing me as a wannabe or just another white girl. Clearly these experiences pale by comparison (pun intended) in the oppression Olympics, yet are none the less alienating and tension making. The point is, that despite the work that I do, on the surface, I just don't look it. So identity becomes this heavy baggage, ever present, and forever unpacked.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: "Canada, Aboriginal Peoples and Residential Schools: They Came for the Children"

Important Note: Due to the heavy content of the reviews I will be doing following this review, I will try to vary the content on my blog-switching between the reviews of the books by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, with other content such as poetry, prose, fiction, creative non-fiction etc) Chi miigwetch

Review: "Canada, Aboriginal Peoples and Residential Schools: They Came for the Children"
By: Christine McFarlane

“ Canada, Aboriginal Peoples and Residential Schools: They Came for the Children” is an historical publication released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in February 2012.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, an agreement that was reached in response to numerous class-action lawsuits that former students of residential schools had brought against the federal government and the churches that operated those schools in Canada for well over 100 years.

As part of their mandate, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has published this book to educate the Canadian public about residential schools and their place in Canadian history. The Commission states within the preface of “They Came for the Children,” “For the child taken, and for the parent left behind, we encourage Canadians to read this history, to understand the legacy of the schools, and to participate in the work of reconciliation.” (vii)

“They Came For the Children” is a painful read. It’s painful because quite simply the story within this publication speaks about more than neglect and abuse. It encompasses many things. It speaks about loss, Canadian colonialism, humility and the possibility of change, it’s a tribute to Aboriginal resilience, how our schools failed us and it’s a story of destruction carried out in the name of civilization.

Within the introduction, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission states, “In talking about residential schools and their legacy, we are not talking about an Aboriginal problem, but a Canadian problem. It is not simply a dark chapter from our past. It was integral to the making of Canada,”(3) and “the colonial framework of which they were a central element has not been dismantled. One can see its impact in the social, economic, and political challenges that Aboriginal communities struggle with every day. It is present also in the attitudes that too often shape the relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada.” (3)

The history recounted in this book causes you to sit up and look at Canada through different eyes. It teaches you that Canada has not always lived up to the ideals and image that our government likes to project on an international stage. It speaks about how the residential school system was not a well intentioned system, and how “the purpose of the residential school system was to separate children from the influences of their parents and community, so as to destroy their culture. The impact was devastating.”[1]

“They Came for the Children” examines more than 100 years of history, purpose, operation and supervision of the residential school system, the effect and consequences of the system and its ongoing legacy.

Government and church officials often said the role of the residential school was to civilize and Christianize Aboriginal children, and “when put into practice, these noble sounding ambitions translated into an assault on Aboriginal culture, language, spiritual beliefs, and practices.” (10)

“They Came for the Children,” details personal experiences of residential school survivors, and the personal accounts are heart wrenching. It states that “for some, school was exciting, the clothing novel, and the food an improvement, but for most students, residential school was an alien and frightening experience.” (25)

While reading the personal accounts, I could not help but wonder what the experience was like for my own biological mother, because I know that she is also a residential school survivor, and its something that went unspoken about when I met her several years ago, and still to this day.

The TRC does a thorough job of detailing the history of residential schools and what happened at them. They also include findings in this book that are important if we as individuals or as society are to consider reconciliation.

 Findings that include:

· Residential Schools constituted an assault on Aboriginal children, families, self-governing Aboriginal nations and culture. The impacts of the Residential School system were immediate, and have been ongoing since the earliest years of the schools.

· Canadians have been denied a full and proper education as to the nature of
Aboriginal societies, and the history of the relationship between Aboriginal and
non-Aboriginal peoples.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) notes that  “Canadians generally have been led to believe-by what has been taught and not taught in schools-that Aboriginal people were and are uncivilized, primitive, and inferior and continue to need to be civilized. They have not been well informed about the nature of the relationship that was established between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples and the way that relationship has been shaped over time by colonialism and racism,” (86) and how “this lack of education and misinformation has led to misunderstanding and in some cases, hostility between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians on matters of importance.” (86)

The TRC also recognizes in this book that it will take time and commitment to reverse the legacy left behind by the residential school system, and that “in the same way, the reconciliation process will have to span generations. It will take time to re-establish respect,” and “effective reconciliation will see Aboriginal people regaining their sense of self-respect, and development of relations of mutual respect between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people,” and lastly “A commission such as this cannot itself achieve reconciliation.”(86)

Reconciliation implies relationship. It implies a commitment albeit a passionate commitment of individuals and the genuine engagement of society to start the process of reconciliation. “Reconciliation also will require changes in the relationship between Aboriginal people and the government of Canada. The federal government, along with the provincial governments, historically has taken a social welfare approach to its dealings with Aboriginal people. This approach fails to recognize the unique legal status of Aboriginal peoples as the original peoples of this country. Without that recognition, we run the risk of continuing the assimilationist policies and the social harms that were integral to the residential schools.

“Canada, Aboriginal Peoples, and Residential Schools: They Came for the Children” is published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It is 111 pages. If you wish to acquire a copy, please visit the Truth and Reconciliation Commission website at

Works Cited:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. “Canada, Aboriginal Peoples, and Residential Schools: They Came for the Children,” 2012.

[1] Canada, Aboriginal Peoples, and Residential Schools: They Came for the Children. Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2012.