Little Drum

Fostering the strength and resiliency of Indigenous people worldwide…

Mrs. Murphy

This is an excerpt from a chapter of my new book: Hope, Faith & Empathy.

Currently available as part of Pre Launch sale

Mrs. Murphy


             “Oh no, you have Mrs. Murphy for homeroom. The horror on Anna’s face, my best friend’s older sister, frightened me. Who was this Mrs. Murphy? And why was she to be feared?

The next day was the first day of grade eight and of course, my first homeroom with Mrs. Murphy. She didn’t seem so scary.  I actually thought she was kind of funny. She introduced us to Harry, a small goldfish who lived in a round circular bowl. She informed us that each of us would have our weekly turn of feeding Harry and that his life was in our hands.  She’d had more than one floating goldfish in her history as a teacher, and made it clear that she did not want Harry to be added to that list. So we all took our turns feeding him and for those who sometimes forgot, there was always someone in the class to remind them that we didn’t want a floating Harry. When we came back from Thanksgiving long weekend, Harry was now swimming in a larger bowl.  When we came back from Christmas he was in a larger bowl again, and after Spring Break we came to find Harry living in his very own aquarium.  Few of us had noticed the changes in bowls until the aquarium and even fewer had noticed that Harry had grown.

On that first day back after Spring Break, Mrs. Murphy began telling us in her soft voice that demanded respect and listening ears, that goldfish grew as big as their environment would allow for.  So if a goldfish lived in a small bowl they would always remain small; when put in a bigger bowl they would grow until they fit that bowl to the maximum.  She walked over to Harry’s new aquarium and asked us to have a good look and see if we noticed anything different.  Mrs. Murphy paused as she watched each of us ooh and ahh over Harry as if we were seeing him for the first time.

“He’s bigger,” said one classmate. “He must have taken ‘roids over the break, ‘cuz he got really big really fast,” said one of the jocks in our class.

Mrs. Murphy laughed at this response.  “Actually, Harry did not take steroids over Spring Break,” said Mrs. Murphy with a smile and giggle in her voice.  “Every time we moved him into a bigger bowl, he grew.  We just never really noticed.  His growth happened over time, and we never brought our attention to his growing little body.”

She told us that each of us were exactly like Harry. We will grow into whatever size goldfish bowl we allow ourselves to create.  She clarified by saying, “Each of you will have experiences in your lives that will expand your goldfish bowl, and a few of you will search out experiences in life to either consciously or unconsciously expand your goldfish bowl.”  ‘Consciously?’ What did that mean? I really didn’t know what Mrs. Murphy was talking about, but I knew that what she was saying had butterflies flying in my stomach.   The same sense of excitement and thrill of anticipation was pulsing through my body as being up to bat with bases loaded.  I knew one day I would have to ask her what she meant by ‘consciously’, but not today, not in front of the class.


Sunrise Ceremony

The ceremony started with Elder Sadie having us come together in a circle and she began sharing, “Today is a new day, a fresh start. Each new day is full of hope and endless possibilities.”  She paused and gently ran her left hand up the sides of the eagle feather she was holding.  “It is up to us what we make of today and every day ahead of us.  You are starting today in a good way, in ceremony.”  She pointed to the mountain with the eagle feather, “When the sun begins to come over the mountain and it’s rays dance on the lake, we will begin our ceremony. This is known as a Sunrise Ceremony and Indigenous peoples around the world all have some form of ceremony that honours the rising of the sun and the greeting of a new day.   We will have Frank come around with the smudge and each of you will have a chance to smudge yourselves.  He’s using a mixture of sage and tobacco today. And maybe for some of you, this is your first time smudging. There are lots of different ways to smudge, and you will figure out what is the best way for you.  My Dad explained it to me like this, that when we get up in the morning we have a shower to cleanse our bodies.  Well smudging is like having a spiritual shower, it cleanses our spirits.  So when Frank comes and stands in front of you, he will hold out the smudge bowl and the smoke will be flowing.”

She handed the feather to Frank.  “You can put your hands over the smoke, just as you would wash your hands under the sink.  Then cup your hands and bring the smoke up over your head, asking for the ability to think positive and good thoughts.  Then bring the smoke to your eyes, asking that you may see what you need to see today and that you see the goodness and beauty in the world, Bring the smoke to your ears so that you  may hear the messages you  need to hear and then to your mouth so you may speak with integrity and with kindness.”  Each time she brought the smoke up to show us what she meant.  “Some folks like to bring the smoke down each arm, asking for continued strength to feed their body well.  Down the front of their legs, so they have the courage and strength to continue walking on the red road and in a good way.  Once you’re done smudging and if you would like Frank to smudge your back off, please turn counter clock wise, so follow your heart, and turn so your back is facing Frank.  When he is done smudging you, he will tap you on your head to let you know to turn around.  Make sure that you continue to follow your heart and do a full circle.”

She began to chuckle, “Some of you will find that if you do not follow your heart full circle, you may have a bit of an odd day.  And some of you, well you are blessed as Contrary people you will naturally want to turn to the right instead of the left. It is in your nature to go opposite to everyone else. I honour those of you who are Contrary in our circle and if this is you, please just make sure you do a full circle. When everyone has smudged, I will say a prayer and our ceremony will be finished.”

The birds began to sing. “The birds are telling us the sun is rising, soon we will see the first shimmering of it’s light dance on the lake.  It is time to begin our ceremony.

©Monique Gray Smith


Inspiration, where does it come from?

I awoke early this am., it was not that I had intended to be up at 445am, but I awoke to the smell of sweet grass burning.  Slipping my moccasins on and sleepily meandering my way out to the living room where the sweet grass beckoned me.    I wondered who was up smudging, but there was no one in the living room, except the cat who was curled up on the couch with her paw over her face.

I sat down for a moment and noticed by the fireplace a blade of sweetgrass and box of matches set out.  I learned long ago to pay attention to such signs.  I lit the sweetgrass, and with my right hand brought the smoke up over my head, asking for good thoughts.  Then brought the smoke to my eyes, asking that I may see what I need to see and that I see the goodness in the world, bringing the smoke to my ears so I may hear the messages I need to hear and then to my mouth so I may speak with integrity and with kindness.  I then brought the braid and trailing smoke down each arm asking for continued strength to feed my body well, down the front of my legs so I have the courage to continue walking on the red road and in a good way.  I offered my prayers and gratitude for the day with the sweet smell of sweetgrass filling my nostrils and truly waking my spirit from the dream world.  I closed my personal ceremony with inviting the Ancestors to join me as I venture into a day of writing and business meetings.

While I know the Ancestors are always with me: guiding me, protecting me, and watching over me, there are days when I feel a need to intentionally invite them  to be with me…today is one of those days.

Hope, Faith & Empathy excerpt: Grandma Tilly

Grandma Tilly

We never knew exactly when she would arrive. As she used to say, “When the spirit moves me I get in my car, fill up the tank and start driv’n.”
By herself, she would drive from Saskatchewan to wherever we were living at the time. It was like the moment her car pulled up, a spell was cast over our family. A spell of wonderment, excitement and joy. Sometimes it felt like I lived for Grandma Tilly’s visits.

Each morning I would awake full of anticipation, as I knew a day of adventure awaited me. She taught me how to hook a worm on my fishing rod, how to snare a rabbit, how to hold a baseball bat, how to load a pipe with tobacco so that it would be easy to smoke but not burn the tobacco too fast, and how to stitch the hem on my pants. When I think back, though, perhaps it wasn’t the things I learned to do from Grandma Tilly that have impacted my life the most. Instead it was what I learned from how she lived her life. I learned the importance of keeping our word to people, about telling the truth and always, treating people with dignity and respect—whether they deserved it or not.

Every night after dinner, we’d sit outside and she would pull out her pipe bag and load her pipe for her evening smoke. I can still smell the scent of her tobacco, different from what people smoke today. Grandma Tilly grew her own tobacco. Each winter she would start with 8 seeds; she grew 4 plants for her personal tobacco and 4 plants for use in ceremony, and to make offerings with. She started the plants in the house and would then transfer them to her garden at full moon in May. They were often the most beautiful plants in the garden, especially when they flowered. Thanksgiving Weekend was always tobacco harvesting time for Grandma Tilly and she was known to miss many a turkey dinner because she was in the barn so tenderly and methodically harvesting her tobacco plants.

“Come ‘ere little Tilly, gather under my wing and let’s talk about the day,” she’d say. I’d skootch a bit closer and she would tuck me close to her and wrap her arm around me. Although she had a gift of making everyone feel important and unique, it was these moments that I felt like the most special person in the world. Grandma Tilly and I would go over the escapades of our day and she’d ask me, “Wha’d you learn today?” and “What was the best part of your day?”

In so many ways, Grandma Tilly was ahead of her time. She was feisty, charismatic, funny, had wicked aim with a sling shot and was known to match any man shot to shot with whiskey. She was well-read and a University graduate; which for her age and especially as an Indian woman at that time, is remarkable unto itself. After she gave birth to her fourth of thirteen children, she gave up her dream of becoming a Doctor and focused on raising her family and running the family farm. She wasn’t simply full of love, kindness and joy…she was love, kindness and joy.
One night Grandma Tilly and I were sitting outside and she was having her evening pipe. “You know lil’ Tilly, I was about as old as you are now when I first started learn’n about books.”

“Really?” I asked, “Didn’t you have to go to school?”


Relevance of Hope, Faith & Empathy to Early Years and Education

About….Hope, Faith & Empathy

Hope, Faith & Empathy is the story of Tilly, a young Aboriginal woman growing up in Canada, and the individuals who helped shape her life, her survival and her irrepressible spirit.  Together, they tell a unique perspective of the history of the First Peoples of Canada; a history rooted in strength, resiliency and hope.  Woven throughout the book are stories, humour, wisdom and thought provoking teachings.

Hope, Faith and Empathy is relevant, insightful and inspiring to both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal readers; including readers outside of Canada.

How is Hope, Faith & Empathy relevant to Early Years and Kindergarten?
With Aboriginal children being the fastest growing population in British Columbia and Canada[1], it serves those who will be teaching and working with Aboriginal children to have a solid understanding of the history from an Aboriginal perspective.  Not a perspective full of guilt or shame, but rather a perspective that shares the experience in an honest way and rooted in inspiration, strength and resiliency.

Hope, Faith & Empathy will provide insight into the Aboriginal worldview and unique ways of being, knowing, seeing and learning in the world.  It is full of teachings and words of wisdom that can support staff in understanding the unique learning styles of Aboriginal children.  Through the book’s characters and the stories they tell, staff will have metaphors and words of wisdom that can be used in their program or classroom, engagement with parents/families and in the administration of their school.

At the back of the book is a Glossary of Terms, so while the book is an entertaining and engaging story to read and learn from, it is also a formal educational tool to raise staff’s level of cultural safety and understanding of Aboriginal peoples.  This glossary can be used to foster an understanding and competency in vocabulary.



Why did I choose the words “Hope, Faith & Empathy?”

Hope: that our children do not have a childhood they have to recover from.  For far too many generations Aboriginal people in Canada have experienced immense challenges and as a result, there has been significant trauma in the lives of children.  It is my HOPE that children of this generation and future generations do not have a childhood they have to recover from.

Faith: that we will learn from our history and work together in creating a future that recognizes the gifts of all children and families we have the privilege to work with.

Empathy: that we will be able to foster and witness greater empathy between the relations of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples; that it begins with our children.  Empathy is the bridge linking hope and faith in creating future leaders who will lead us in crafting a world where all children the ability to pursue their dreams.

Hope, Faith & Empathy is currently being sold at a special PreLaunch price of $15.00.  Special discounts for Monique Gray Smith’s coaching and speaking are included in purchases of 10 or more books.  Please visit to read excerpts from Hope, Faith & Empathy and to purchase your copies.

©Little Drum Consulting     

[1] Canadian Supplement to the State of the World’s Children 2009,

Hope, Faith & Empathy sales

Yesterday we started our Pre Launch sale of my new book, Hope, Faith & Empathy.  Sales have been extraordinary so far:)

Hope, Faith & Empathy is the story of Tilly, a young Aboriginal woman growing up in Canada, and the individuals who helped shape her life, her survival and her irrepressible spirit.  Together, they tell a unique perspective of the history of the First Peoples of Canada; a history rooted in strength, resiliency and hope.  Woven throughout the book are stories, humour, wisdom and thought provoking teachings.  Hope, Faith and Empathy is relevant, insightful and inspiring to both Aboriginal and Non Aboriginal readers; including readers outside of Canada.

To purchase the book, visit and your copy or copies will be mailed in July 2012.  Pre Launch sale price is $15/book going up to $20 as of April 1, 2012

Here is an excerpt of the chapter Insights into Mom

Insights into Mom

            Skipping along the sidewalk, my pigtails bouncing rhythmically on the sides of my head, I hung onto my Mom’s pinky.  We had left my tag-along sister at home, and I was thrilled to have Mom all to myself. For that hour or so, she was all mine.  I knew that if I behaved while we did our shopping, a stop at Monty’s ice cream shop would be in the cards for me. Monty had the best homemade ice cream in town, and every time, he double-dipped my chocolate cone for me.  “Just to match your eyes there, little beauty,” he would say as he handed me my scrumptious cone.

I wasn’t really paying attention to where we were going.  I was more interested in watching my pigtails take turns flying in front of my eyes as I skipped along.  All of a sudden, Mom’s pinky slipped out of my hand, there was a hard crack to my face and I felt myself falling.  I landed so hard on the sidewalk that the wind was knocked out of me.  Worn-out cowboy boots were what I saw as I tried to catch my breath. When I looked up, the sun stung my eyes and all I could make out was the hugest belly I had ever seen.             “Jesus Christ kid, you ran right into me.” In one swift move, he yanked me up by my elbow and pushed me towards my Mom. “Goddamn Squaw. Get control of your kid or go back to the reservation.  Back where you belong. And stay there!” He spat these words at my Mom, pushed past her and continued on his way.  I didn’t really know what had just happened. I felt like I was going to throw up.  I reached for my Mom’s pinky, but now it was as cold as an icicle and it shook so fast that I had a hard time hanging onto it.  I was afraid to look at her.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her quickly wiping away tears.  She didn’t seem to be quite as tall as she was before.  I waited until her pinky felt warm again. “Mom, what does Squaw mean?  And why did he tell you to go back to the reservation.  What’s the reservation?”  I paused briefly, “Momma, why was he so mean?”  She kept on walking, but looked away from me.  Her chin trembled and another tear slid down her face.  I let go of her pinky and held onto her whole hand. I needed to feel more of her.  “I’m sorry I made you cry, Momma.”

Who am I?

Monique Gray Smith is a mixed heritage woman of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish descent.  She comes from the Cardinal Family at Peepeekisis First Nation and is the proud Mom of eight year old twins.  Monique has been sober and involved in her healing journey for over 20 years.  Her formal training is as a Psychiatric Nurse and her work experience has been in the areas of Aboriginal Education, Stress and Trauma Recovery, Staff Development and Wellness, Strategic Planning and Addictions.  Monique’s strong understanding of the Early Years has lead her to work as the previous Executive Director for Aboriginal Head Start Association of BC and National Aboriginal Advisor for Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy; as well as an instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. She has had the privilege of doing contract work, facilitating workshops and keynote addresses across BC, Nationally and Internationally, with a focus on fostering an understanding of the strength and resiliency of First Peoples in Canada.   Under the umbrella of her own business, Little Drum Consulting established in 1996, Monique is also an accomplished writer with a diverse body of work that continues to influence the Aboriginal Early Years field.  Monique is currently working on her first novel that tells the history of Aboriginal people in Canada through a lens of strength, resiliency and hope.


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