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Friday, July 29, 2016

Part Two: Finding My Birth Mom

Content Warning: self-harming behaviors

Part Two- Teenage Angst and The Burning Question “Where is my Real Mom?” Turns To
Your Birth Mom Wants to Meet You!

The social worker Kathy was right about the process of finding my birth mother not being easy. It brought on an avalanche of emotions that I didn’t think at the time I could live through. The burning questions I had about my mom increased tenfold and didn’t help my mental health at all. At the time I was going through full blown depression and anorexia. I kept at trying to find my mom because it was something that I just had to know. It had become an all-consuming project now.

There was invasive paperwork to fill out, and I put my name on the adoptive birth registry saying that if they found my mom, I wanted to have contact with her. I also put my name on the registry to find my birth father and birth siblings. I remember the social worker telling me “meeting your mom may not work out to be the best thing for you,” and I admit that at the time my ideas of meeting her were grandiose and a bit out in left field. I thought that if I found my mom, all my problems would be answered. That my mom would welcome me back and we would have the greatest relationship in the world.

Beyond knowing basic info such as knowing that my mom’s name was Anna, that her last name was Smith, I had to research the rest of the information regarding my family. I obviously now knew that she lived out of the province of Ontario, and that I had other siblings due to conversations I had with my former adoptive father and his second wife. But some of their information was misleading too. Some of their information dealt in stereotypes that in my later years I have grown prone to understanding that there was no basis for them.

There were periodic meetings with the social worker Kathy to get updates on the progress of my application and in between that I tried to go on with my life. My visits to my foster home in the county as sparse as they were becoming less and less, and that was through no one’s fault but my own.  Not only was I dealing with trying to find my mom and my birth family, but my mental health was getting worse. Not only was I dealing with depression but I was dealing with the ever emerging desire to self-harm even more through my eating disorder.

I became acquainted with the porcelain bowl known as the toilet, after anything I tried to eat. For some reason I had begun believing that it wasn’t worth having anything in me and I would stick my finger down my throat until I thought everything I had tried to eat had been purged from my system. I had also taken to cutting myself and taking extra medication to the point that I would end up overdosing and be admitted to the hospital. The friends I did have didn’t know how to deal with what I was doing to myself. They thought that if I just ate and kept what I did eat in, I would be okay. But I wasn’t and I didn’t understand it myself.

Between the slippery slope of my eating disorder and my depression, I managed to attend school, do my assignments, but the burning questions that were always in the back of my mind- Is my mom alive? Is she going to want to see me?” 
By the time I did receive the notice about my birth mom I was out of the Children’s Aid Society’s care and living in a dive of an apartment, a block away from the Independent Home I had previously lived in while under the care of the CAS (Children’s Aid Society). It had taken about 6months to a year for me to hear back from the adoption registry office. A long wait indeed.

I remember I was on my way to school and I was going to be late, so I grabbed my mail and ran out of my apartment like a fire had been lit under me. As I shuffled through the mail, I noticed an official government envelope and feeling trepidation as I glanced at it and opened it. My hands were trembling and my palms sweaty. This was my moment, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. In my nervousness I almost gave myself a paper cut by opening the envelope, but there in front of me was the letter with the words jumping out at me:


If I had not been trying to cross the street at the time, I probably would have done a couple of somersaults. My heart started pounding and I was excited. Now that I had the word that my mom was alive and wanted to meet me, I began to realize that meeting my mom would soon be a reality. A dream of mine was finally coming true.

On another note, sadly I found out that my birth father was deceased, murdered at the hands of a so called friend over a money issue, my oldest brother was in an institution and my youngest brother possibly adopted out to the States. Though that news dampened some of my excitement, I was still thrilled that I had found my mom, even if it was just on paper for now.

To Be Continued.....

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Essay: When Worldviews Collide

When Worldviews Collide

By: Christine Smith (McFarlane) 
The First Nations peoples of Canada have a particular understanding of the ways in which the world came into being, and the ways they have come into being as a people. This particular knowledge is often conveyed through story/myth and legend, and it is through these venues that we have come to understand how we as a people were created. 

First Nations peoples are storytellers, and have been since the beginning of time. It is through legends (aatisoohkan (an) or aatisoohkan (ak)) and stories (tepachimowan) that they relate to the world around them. Therefore I am going to discuss how stories, myths and legends play an important role in First Nations peoples' lives, and how creation stories are very much guiding tools that have taught us how to be. I will also briefly touch upon the Bering Strait Theory and how it is a theory that is "not so much science as it is politics."
Let me tell you something first. Creation stories vary from nation to nation, but they all play an important role in the lives of First Nations peoples. So, if a First Nations person were from the Plains area of Canada, their creation story and what they've learned would be different from someone who has grown up in the Great Lakes region and vice versa. 

Though I am originally from western Canada, I have lived in Ojibwa (Anishinaabe) territory since I was a young child. As a means of respect to the land I live on, I must relay what I have learned about the Anishinaabe worldview because I reside on their lands. 

Another important thing to know is that in the First Nations peoples' worldview, story/myth and legend play a huge role in their creation stories. They reflect and characterize important relationships between the human and non-human, reflect who and where the story is being told, and also reflect vital features of the Anishinaabe worldview. 

According to The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, written by Edward Benton-Banai, the creation story goes like this:

When Ah-ki (the Earth) was young, it was said that the Earth had a family. Nee-ba-gee-sis (the Moon) is called Grandmother, and Gee-sis (the Sun) is called Grandfather. The Creator of this family is called Gi-tchie Man-ito (Great Mystery or Creator). 1
Benton-Benai goes onto relay that
...the Earth is said to be a woman. In this way, it is understood that woman preceded man on the Earth. She is called Mother Earth because from her come all living things. Water is her life blood. It flows through her, nourishes her and purifies her.

On the surface of the Earth, all is given Four Sacred Directions -- North, South, East, and West. Each of these directions contributes a vital part of the wholeness of the Earth. Each has physical powers as well as spiritual powers, as do all things.

It is said when the Earth was young, she was filled with beauty, and the Creator sent his singers in the form of birds to the Earth to carry the seeds of life to all of the Four Directions. It was in this way, life was spread across the Earth. It was on the Earth that the Creator placed all beings -- the swimming creatures of the water, he gave life to all crawling things and the four leggeds on the land. All of these parts of life lived in harmony with each other.

Gitchie Manito then took four parts of Mother Earth and blew into them using a Sacred Shell. From the union of the Four Sacred Elements and his breath, man was created.2
Gitchie Manito then lowered man to the Earth. "Thus, man was the last form of life to be placed on the Earth. From this Original Man came the A-nish-i-na-be people."

From this creation story, First Nations peoples believe that all nations came from this Original Man, and although traditions may differ from nation to nation, there is a common thread that runs throughout every one. This common thread represents a string of lives that goes back all the way to Original Man. 

The Creation story, along with other stories, myths and legends are seen as teaching and guiding tools. They teach us lessons of morality, law and governance and relay how everything is interrelated in one way or another. The Creation story also teaches us how we are to live the good life -- piimaatsiwin. This is why stories/myth and legends are usually "...taught to children in their earliest years, because it not only helps them to view their place in the world but it also teaches life lessons."3
The debate of how First Nations peoples came to be has been going on for years and years. Defining the worldview of First Nations people can be problematic, in the sense that often other cultures have different ways of understanding how they themselves came to be, and this creates a challenge between non-native people and First Nations people. 

In the words of scholar and author of Rediscovering the First Nations of Canada, John W. Friesen, "No one really knows the exact origins of Canada's First Nations; that may well have always been here -- as some of them claimed. Many archaeologists believe the First Peoples of Canada (at least in the west), came to this continent from Asia via Alaska across the Bering Strait as many as 30,000 years ago. Those who adhere to this interpretation estimate that at that time the 80 kilometre wide strait was actually a land bridge that may have stretched to 1500 kilometres across."4
It is further argued by Friesen that American Indian and scholar Vine Deloria, Jr. debunks this theory on the basis that an ocean water level drop of 60 meters would have been necessary to form the bridge so that they could cross, and that Siberia at the time was locked in huge glaciers and its population would have had to be minute. Also, Siberian temperatures at that time would have been such that "it would have been impossible for people to move without freezing to death or falling into glaciers."5
In his book Red Earth, White Lies, Vine Deloria, Jr. makes a very valid point when he argues "When reading these 'scientific' explanations, we must always remember that in order to have land bridges at all, or even an occasional isthmus, we are basically committed to moving a great deal of water around to create an ice age, or we are making the continents rise and fall a significant distance or we are otherwise manipulating a monstrous amount of physical material just to make our theories and speculations seem reasonable." Furthermore, if we were to "follow orthodox methodology, we should not invoke activities of nature that we do not see operative today."6
So you see when there is one worldview -- in this case the Western worldview -- trying to understand a worldview other than their own -- the First Nations worldview -- reasoning or trying to explain something that they don't understand can be seen as highly questionable. 

To First Nations people, the Bering Strait Myth is not so much science as it is politics. I say this because within my research for this column I came across an Indigenous website "Native Circle - Issues: Mistakes, Lies & Misconceptions about American Indian People" that detailed "much objective modern science in the past several decades has even suggested that it is highly questionable if there ever was a so-called 'land-bridge' or 'ice-bridge as some have defined it, because numbers suggest otherwise." 

First ... Many Indigenous Nations have calendars which have been counting the years for a very long time. I am aware that the calendar of the Mohawk Indian Nation has been counting the winters for over 33,120 years. This pre-dates the so-called 'land-bridge' of the Bering Strait theory, unless, of course, the Bering Strait scientists decide to move their interestingly illusive time period for "early migration" of Indians back to 40,000 years! Many American Indian early histories tell of events that took place on this Turtle continent (North America) long before any so-called ice age. But, for political reasons, these histories have been mostly ignored. You see, the Bering Strait, in truth, is a theory that was born of the politics and propaganda of early America. In the midst of the American 'Manifest Destiny' social climate, the Bering Strait theory provided a 'scientific' means to justify the taking of ancestral Indian lands. In short, the mythical theory eased the conscience, as it was a way for land hungry immigrants to believe that, because Indian people were only 'recent inhabitants' of this land, it was not really their 'homeland'. Therefore Indians were, in their minds, not any more the 'original people' of this land than they were. This was, and still is, the political power of the infamous 'Bering Strait theory'. (Native Circle)

In conclusion, the First Nations peoples of Canada have a particular understanding of the ways in which the world came into being, and the ways they have come into being as a people. Their creation stories serve as a testament to how they came to be, and though I am in no way an expert on the Bering Strait Theory, I very clearly understand the ways of my people and the land that I live on.
I understand that the Aboriginal worldview is relayed via storytelling, and it is through story/myth and legend that we learn of creation, history and how we are supposed to live our lives. It is also within story, in the Aboriginal worldview, that we as First Nations become engaged without the linear chronology that we see in the Western paradigm of thinking, and that the Bering Strait Theory is something that goes against every teaching that has been handed down to us from our Elders and our ancestors.

1. Edward Benton-Benai, The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, pg. 2
2. Ibid., pg. 3
3. Alex McKay, lecture, University of Toronto, 16/11/2010
4. John W. Friesen, Rediscovering The First Nations of Canada, pg. 21
5. Ibid., pp. 88-89
6. Vine Deloria, Jr., Red Earth, White Lies, pg. 89
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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Part One: Teenage Angst and the Burning Question "Where is My Real Mom?"

Part One-Teenage Angst and the Burning Question “Where is my Real Mom?”
By: Christine Smith McFarlane

I had teenage angst just like any other teenager, but the angst I felt inside was often something I felt no one around me could understand. While living in my third foster home in which I was placed by the Roman Catholic Children’s Aid Society, I felt an emptiness inside me that I couldn’t quite explain. It gnawed at me on a continuous basis, leaving me wondering, would this emptiness I felt ever go away or would it slowly kill me?

I lived in a small town in southern Ontario where I obviously stood out- a brown face in a sea of white faces. I had transferred from the automotive capital of southern Ontario- Windsor to a small town where I knew no one. It was in the middle of my grade eight year, and I remember thinking “what a time to transfer”. The racism was there, but not always noticeable to those around me. But I felt it, and I experienced it.

The racism came out subtly when no one wanted to pick me to be a part of their team when it came to team sports, even if I was the last one to be picked. It came out when no one would sit with me at lunch time, and the only person who would take the time to talk with me was my teacher. Because no one would talk to me in my age group, I would hang out with younger students. I found they were less discriminating and more accepting of who I was. I would get teased for that, so I often found myself walking with the teacher on yard duty when it came to recess time instead of socializing with the other kids. I would walk in companionable silence with whatever teacher was on yard duty and I felt safe. I sought out attention from the school principal by telling him I was sick and needed to go home. He was a short little balding man, maybe five feet and one-inch-tall, but he would put his arm around me, smile and say “Christine, its ok, you’re okay.”

But even those words couldn’t cure a lonely heart or the ache I felt inside. I would start to cry and tell him “I can’t stay; I want to go home!”  I’m sure my foster mom at the time didn’t know the real reason why I wanted to be at home instead of school. She never really questioned me as to why, she just accepted that I wanted to be at home. She would give permission for me to come back home for the day, as long as I promised that I would go back to school the next day.

Don’t get me wrong here, I excelled at school but I always knew that I was the different one everywhere I went. I would go to sleep at night where in the deep recesses of my mind I would ask myself repeatedly “Is my mom alive? Will I ever find her? And will she want to see me?”

I graduated from grade eight and went to the local high school. My angst grew in leaps and bounds. After a comment by a fellow student that “you are ugly and fat,” I began to restrict my food intake to the point that I passed out in gym class while exercising, and at lunchtimes the principal of my school would be watching me from a distance as I sat with a small group of people, and pretended to eat. Mr. Chisholm would come up to me and say “Christine, would you like an orange?” I’d say “sure” and I would go as far as peeling it while he was standing there over me but the orange would never pass my lips. I would grab a napkin when I thought no one was looking and quietly fold the pieces of orange into it and it would make its way to the garbage along with my other food. My foster parents didn’t know what to make of my desire to not eat. But God knows, I know they tried to understand. They would ask me “What is it that is bothering you so much, Christine,” and “You have to eat, not eating is not going to help you any.” They called in my social worker from the Children’s Aid Society to talk to me, they made me see the town’s doctor, and eventually I went to see a psychologist, but it still didn’t stop me from not eating or self- harming by taking laxatives, milk of magnesia or the water pills that I found in the medicine cabinet. My angst had become bigger than myself.

            When I graduated from high school, freedom came upon me in many ways. I had been accepted back in my hometown of Windsor at the local college for the Journalism-Print program. As part of my freedom, despite the outcry of my foster parents, I tried to re-ignite my failed relationship with my adoptive father. I would call him, and he would call me. I received letters from him, and somehow I thought that would solve the angst I felt inside. It didn’t, it deepened it.

Upon being accepted to college, I was also accepted at an Independent Living Home for teenagers transitioning out of care. I still remember my first day at the home. My social worker, Lynn had driven me from the little town I lived in to the city. I remember the key she had to the home making its clicking noise as the tumbler unlocked and the door swung open. On the floor, was a letter addressed to me. Lynn picked it up, and in disgust said “oh it’s from your adoptive father.” She also didn’t understand why I wanted to make amends with my adoptive father. I wish I had listened to my foster parents and her back in those days, but I didn’t. I thought I knew what was best for me, and one of those things was getting back in touch and finding out why, did my adoptive parents hate me so much to give me up and keep my sister.

Not long after that, I decided to try and find my birth mom. I was tired of not knowing what she looked like. I was tired of not knowing if she was alive or not, and most of all tired of riding the buses in the city and seeing other native women and wondering “is that my mom?”

At the time, I didn’t know that my mother lived entirely in another province. I guess my hopes had been that she would just magically appear on my doorstep, open her arms and take me back, but that wasn’t the case at all. I had to go to the very same Roman Catholic Children’s Aid Society I was in the care of, and talk to a worker by the name of Kathy. Kathy was the worker kids went to when they wanted to find their parents. I remember timidly going into her office and sitting on a cold hard plastic chair and saying “I’m here to search for my mom.” And I remember Kathy looking at me and saying “It’s not going to be easy.”