Little Drum

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Archive for the tag “Faith”

Who were the teacher’s who positively influenced you?

The change is in the air and my children are beginning to talk more and more about going back to school and we are starting to ponder the idea of routine…regular bedtime, packing lunches, up early, etc.  This brings to mind my school experiences, both positive and not so positive and of course the teacher’s who were so instrumental in those experiences.  Below is one of the chapters from Hope, Faith & Empathy in which Tilly describes her experience of a teacher who had a profound impact on her life…in more ways than one.

If you like this chapter and would like to purchase a copy of Hope, Faith & Empathy visit http://www.littledrum.com/news/book.html   or Amazon

Mrs. Murphy

 

             “Oh no, you have Mrs. Murphy for homeroom,” she said. 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 wasn’t a very popular teacher. I think it was because she expected the best from her students and didn’t tolerate typical high school antics in her classroom. She didn’t seem so scary to me. 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 she made it clear that she did not want Harry to be added to that list. We all had our weeks where it was our responsibility to feed him. 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. After all, we were in grade eight and too busy noticing each other.

On that first day back after spring break, Mrs. Murphy began telling us that goldfish grew as big as their environment would allow. 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 and said, “Actually, Harry did not take steroids over spring break,” with a smile and giggle in her voice. “Class, every time we moved him into a bigger bowl, he grew. Most of you just never noticed.”

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. The more risks you take to grow and learn, to try new things and have new experiences, the bigger your goldfish bowl will be.”

Consciously? What did that mean? I really didn’t know what Mrs. Murphy was talking about, but 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.

Two years later, I had Mrs. Murphy for grade ten English. One day a couple friends and I shared a joint at lunch. It just so happened that my first class after lunch was English. Mrs. Murphy instantly knew that I was high. I could tell by how she looked at me. I tried to avoid her eyes, but they did meet at one point and she closed her eyes and shook her head. I was sure it was in disgust.

Once she had given the class the work for the afternoon, she came over to my desk. “Oh crap” was about all I could think as I slithered down into my seat. She wasn’t having any of that.  Instead she motioned with her hand to the hallway. I got up and went out to the hall, followed by the sneers and giggles of my classmates. I leaned against a locker, looked down at the linoleum floor and put my hands in my pockets. I was trying to act cool, like she didn’t scare me. Truth was, I was terrified. I liked Mrs. Murphy, a lot, and was afraid I had disappointed her.

“Look at me, Tilly.”

I slowly raised my head to meet her gaze.

“Oh, Tilly, why’d you do this?” she asked.

The tone of disappointment was all too familiar to me. I had heard it in many voices before, but in Mrs. Murphy’s it felt even more shameful and humiliating. Did she really want to know why I had come to class stoned?  I could give her a whole long list of reasons.

Better not.

Instead, I simply shrugged my shoulders. She took a deep breath and exhaled as she leaned beside me on the locker. I kept waiting for her to say something more, to send me to the principal’s office, or even worse…the counsellor’s office. But she stayed quiet.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her head and shoulder were resting on the locker and her eyes were closed. Shit, I wished she would say something. Maybe it was my paranoia, but that silence was freaking me out. After what seemed like hours, Mrs. Murphy finally turned her head to look at me.

“Tilly,” she said, and I sheepishly turned my head in her direction, but barely raised my eyes to meet hers. “Now I really should be sending you down to Mr. Peterson’s office, but I’m not going to.”

I had not realized I had been holding my breath until it escaped from my lungs.

She continued. “I know that you have a lot going on. I see it in that faraway look you have and how your grades have dropped. But that doesn’t make it okay to be doing drugs.” She stood up straighter, no longer leaning against the locker. “I’m worried about you, Tilly.”

Worried about me? She was worried about me? No one even seemed to notice me lately, let alone be worried. My eyes filled with tears and it felt like someone had just sat on my chest, making it difficult to breathe.

Mrs. Murphy gently touched my arm. “Listen, I’ve been teaching for a long time, and I know when I have a special student in my class. You’re one of them. So please, do not go wasting your future by doing drugs or whatever else you are up to these days, Tilly. That path can lead you into serious trouble.” She paused as if I needed a moment to process the many ways that serious trouble could take me.

“I know you are going to make the world a better place. I see that in you. I see so much in you. You are a good person, Tilly, but somehow you need to find a way to see all that good in yourself. You need to believe it. Lots of people can tell you how precious and gifted you are, but until you truly believe it, their words will only be words.” She pulled a tissue out of her sleeve and handed it to me. “It’s clean.” I hadn’t realized tears were still rolling down my cheeks.

“As I said, I am not going to send you to Mr. Peterson’s or even let anyone know about this, but I want you to check out the Indian Student room. I think it would be a good place for you to hang out at lunch, instead of where you have been spending your lunch breaks.”

How did she know I was Indian? Before I could ask her, she continued on. “And I need you to promise me something, Tilly.” I looked up to meet her eyes, “Promise me you will never come to my class under the influence of drugs, or anything else, ever again.”

I didn’t have to think about it. “I promise.”

“Now you go back into that classroom, and hold your head high,” she said.

“Thank you, Mrs. Murphy,” I humbly muttered and began to reach for the door.

Before I could open the door, she gave me a quick hug. “You’re welcome, Tilly.” I was too surprised to hug her back.

As I opened the door, I felt all my classmates’ eyes on me. Everyone knew Mrs. Murphy’s reputation, and I think some of my friends were scared for me. I wanted to shrink, but Mrs. Murphy’s words echoed in my head: “hold your head high.” I sat down into my desk, wishing I was invisible, and I promised myself that I would not disappoint Mrs. Murphy.                                I never did go back to her class stoned or drunk, but I did check out the Indian Student room as she suggested. It became a safe place for me to hang out, somewhere I felt like I fit in and could be myself.

Over the next few years, school continued to be hard for me. The drinking didn’t stop. Actually it increased, and so did the challenges in school.

~

About four years later, after upgrading and receiving my grade twelve equivalent, I was sitting in a chemistry class at Cariboo College when I heard a familiar voice a few rows behind me. I turned around to see the smiling face and warm eyes of Mrs. Murphy.

On the break I made my way up to her, and before I knew what I was doing, I gave her a big hug. “Mrs. Murphy, it’s so good to see you.”

“It’s really good to see you too, Tilly.”

I couldn’t help myself; my curiosity got the best of me. I asked her, “What are you doing here in chem class? I thought you retired.”

She smiled at me. “Oh, Tilly, you are as precious as ever. You always were so full of questions. Yes, I retired, but I’m not dead.” She giggled and continued. “My husband, George, isn’t as healthy as he used to be, and we want to do some more travelling. We still have so many places in the world we want to see and experience, but the doctors told us we cannot travel unless he is accompanied by a nurse. So I have come back to school to do my pre-nursing courses, and in September I start nursing school.”

I leaned against a desk. “Wow,” was all I could get out.

“I can’t remember you ever being lost for words, Tilly.” We both laughed. She was right.

“That’s amazing, Mrs. Murphy. You could write a Sunday night Hallmark movie about that.” I smiled at her, absolutely in awe of her.

“Well, I don’t know about that, Tilly. What I have come to realize since retirement is that I want to be happy and have a life of good memories and good times. So this is all part of continuing to make sure that is what I have.”

As I took in what she had just said, I looked at the blackboard. All the chemistry equations somehow seemed less intimidating.

“What are you taking this class for?” Mrs. Murphy asked.

“In January, I start psychiatric nursing school down in New Westminster.” She raised her eyebrows. “I know, hard to believe, eh?”

She told me that it wasn’t so hard to believe and that she always knew I was smart. “You just had so much going on that got in your way. And you often got in your own way, too.” She looked over at me and smiled. “I am glad to see you’ve made some changes.” We were both quiet for a few moments. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking about, but I was remembering our talk in the hallway all those years ago. I didn’t know it then, the word dignity, but that is how she treated me that day—with dignity.

Mrs. Murphy was the one who eased us back to reality. “You know, Tilly, I don’t live far from you. If you’d like a ride to class, I’d love a carpool partner.”

“Uh, umm, sure, thanks. That would be great.” Even though I was a bit hesitant at first, I loved the idea of not having to ride the bus.

The following Thursday morning I waited out on our stairs for her. The loud roar of a sports engine came up the cul de sac, and into view came a beautiful candy apple red Mustang.  The top was down and the driver…the one and only Mrs. Murphy. My mouth fell open. I don’t know what I had expected her to drive, but not this!

“Come on, Tilly,” she yelled. “She’s even more beautiful on the inside!” Her whole face lit up with joy. This was a whole new side of Mrs. Murphy.

She reached across the front seat and opened the door for me. I slid in and she said, “Tilly meet Thelma, Thelma meet Tilly.”

“You named your car?”I asked.

“Sure I did. I bought her brand new after my first year of teaching, and I’ve been the only driver, ever. Not even my son or husband has driven her.”

I could feel the warm leather on my back. I fastened the buckle around my waist, and we were off with the top down and the wind blowing in our hair.

After a few blocks, Mrs. Murphy asked me, “So what do you think, Tilly?”

“I love this car, Mrs. Murphy. Way better than the bus.”

“Yes, I bet it is, but if we are going to continue carpooling like this, you need to call me Gayle, not Mrs. Murphy.”

I had never known her first name. Gayle.  She didn’t seem like a Gayle to me.

“Okay, but it’ll be a bit weird at first.” She nodded in agreement.

“Hey Mrs., or um, Gayle, do you remember what you told us about Harry? How goldfish are just like us—the more risks we take, the more we grow and the bigger our bowl will be?”

“Sure I remember, Tilly.”

I was quiet for a few moments, and the wind blowing through my hair gave me a rare feeling of optimism. “I hope I have a really big bowl someday.”

“You don’t have to wait until some day. Your courage to go back and get your GED, come to college and go off to nursing school…I’d say your bowl is pretty big.”

I wasn’t sure of that, not yet anyways, but I was willing to trust her and believe in her perception of me.

©Monique Gray Smith

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Let’s start to talk about the resiliency of Tuberculosis Hospital survivors

When we look at our history as Indigenous people in the country of Canada, there are so many elements to that history that have required of us to be extraordinary resilient.  Indian Residential Schools have been an area of much needed profiling and awareness raising, few have spoken of the high rates of children who contracted TB in these schools and subsequently ended up in one of the many TB Hospitals across Canada.  It is estimated that there were as many as 8,000 students died for every 100,000 who contracted TB.   The hospitals caused an interruption in attachment to family, isolation, and loneliness that have and continue to impact the lives and relationships of the survivors of the TB hospitals. This chapter from Hope, Faith & Empathy opens the door to begin dialogue about TB…this is a story of one man and his unique experience in the TB hospital and it’s impact on his life.

Chapter 22

Family

“Now there’s so many of us trying to find our way back to our families. Culture and ceremony, that’s what has kept me alive—even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to be alive.”

—Saul

I wasn’t sure when I had fallen asleep. It had been about all I could do to roll my sweatshirt into a makeshift pillow…and I was out. I had been so exhausted, the kind of exhaustion where every bone in your body aches and no matter how you try, it’s just not possible to keep your eyes open.

My work that week, in an isolated and remote First Nation community, had been immensely gratifying, humbling and intense. It was a week of listening to heart-wrenching stories of trauma—the kinds of stories that made me wonder how the person sharing was even alive, let alone a functioning member of their community. Every time I worked in one of our communities, I was awed by the power of the human spirit as I was privileged to witness powerful breakthroughs of resiliency.

It wasn’t a hard jar as the ferry docked at its next stop, but enough to stir me from my deep sleep. I half opened my eyes, but the sun shining through the window was almost blinding and provided me with a good excuse to close my eyes again. The gentle rocking of the ferry and the warm glow of sun on my face eased me back to sleep.

“Um, excuse me, Miss?” A man’s voice woke me. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or not. I opened my eyes to check it out.

“The ferry is pretty full, so I’m wondering if I can have this seat.” He motioned to the seat that I had my legs curled up on.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” I quickly brought my feet and legs down to the floor and used my hand to wipe the seat where they had been.

“Not to worry,” he said as he placed his suitcase under the seat in front of him. It was one of those older style suitcases, no rolling wheels or extending handle. He put a small cooler and thermos by his feet. With his thumb and forefinger he grasped his pants and pulled them up towards his waist as he sat down. “There’s usually lots of empty seats on this ferry. Now that the road has been built, hardly anyone rides it anymore. But me, I like the tranquility of the ride and being out on the ocean.” He reached across his body with his left hand, extending it to me. “Pardon my rudeness, my name is Saul.”

I shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, Saul. My name’s Tilly.”

“Pleasure is all mine, Tilly.”

I smiled. Normally a response like this would give me the eeby jeebies and I would find some excuse to remove myself from further conversation. But there was something about this man that drew me to him instead of repelling me. He had the face of a little boy and a dimple in his chin. His hair was black, with only a few grey wisps around his temple and was all combed back and held in place with a succulent amount of Brylcreem. His red cowboy shirt was unbuttoned at the neck exposing a necklace with a gold cross, and he had a cigarette pack in his chest pocket. His sleeves were rolled up to just below his elbows, revealing hairless arms and a variety of tattoos—not the professional tattoos that are so popular today, but rather the tattoos that are done by a friend or while in jail or serving in the Navy. He wore grey polyester pants and sported freshly polished black cowboy boots.

“Where you from, Tilly?” he asked. I knew what he meant. Not where do I live, but rather, much deeper. That question really means: what community are you from, who is your family, what Nation are you from, who are your people.

“Long version or short version?” I asked him, now feeling fully awake and revitalized from my nap.

“Mmm, well now I’m intrigued. Let’s go with the long version.” He smiled at me and raised his eyebrows. His eyes danced.

“Oh geez, where do I begin?” I turned my body towards him, leaning against the window and began. “I’m mixed heritage.”

“Seems we all mixed heritage these days, Tilly. Not many of us Aboriginal people who are just from one or two Nations or don’t have some white blood somewhere in their family genes. But go on, tell me more about your family.”

“On my Mom’s side, I’m Cree from Saskatchewan. I don’t know what community I’m from because my Mom was removed from her parents at birth and placed in an orphanage. My Dad’s family is of Lakota ancestry and moved to Canada in the mid 1930’s, when my Grandma was little.” As I shared with him, he held my gaze.

“Did your Mom grow up in the orphanage?” he asked.

“No, she was only there until she was three. A friend of my Grandma and Grandpa’s worked at the orphanage and knew my grandparents were considering adoption, so she told them about this little girl with dark curly hair and who she felt they just had to meet. So they took a trip down to the orphanage…not anticipating coming home with this little girl, but they did. They came home with my Mom.”

“Did your grandparents already have kids?”

“Yeah, they had my Aunt who was about five then, but they both came from large farming families and they wanted to have a large family too.”

“And were they Indian?”

“No, they were English and German. She was raised in primarily a German community and was the only Indian.” I wasn’t sure why I was telling him all of this, but it was like I couldn’t stop myself and…it felt good. “My Mom told me once that one of the best days of her life was the day a Chinese family moved to town and opened a restaurant. She was so happy to no longer be the only person who had dark skin in her town.” I turned and looked out the window for a moment. The wild west coast scenery slowly passed before my eyes: the rocks, shaped from the tides for generations, the cedar trees and their boughs so thick I couldn’t see past the forest entrance. I wondered what lived in there…beyond what we knew. We methodically rolled up and down as the small, passenger-only ferry cut through the waves.

I turned back to him. “You know, Saul, I have no idea why I’m telling you all this.”

He smiled and tipped his head towards me. “Yeah, I know. Everyone tells me I shoulda been a counsellor instead of an accountant. I learned to listen to my Grandpa on the fishing boat, alongside the river and out hunting. There was no option but to listen. Oh yeah, and spending my teen years in the TB hospital surrounded by women, I’m sure that helped too.” He chuckled to himself. “Surrounded by women, yep, that’ll teach any man to be a good listener.”

Happy to have the focus off of myself, I said, “TB hospital, do you mean tuberculosis?”

“Yep,” he responded. “And that story, well, that story requires a cup of coffee.” He leaned forward and picked up his thermos. “I have another mug in my cooler. Would you like a cup? Already doctored up with cream and sugar…well not really cream, evaporated milk, better than cream.”

“Sure, I’d love a coffee.”

He poured a cup and handed it to me, then poured himself a cup. “I have salmon sandwiches too, if you’re hungry. Caught and canned it myself. Would you like one?” he asked.

“No thanks, Saul.”

Again, he reached into the cooler, pulling out a salmon sandwich. As he unwrapped it, he said, “I have to back up a few years before the TB hospital, or it won’t make any sense.”

The smell of salmon wafting between us, he took a bite of his sandwich and sat back a bit in his seat. After he finished chewing, he said, “Late summer days like this always remind me of the first time I rode this ferry.” I noticed his jaw clench and his eyes became a bit narrower. He continued. “My life changed that day.” He turned to me. “I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true, Tilly. When I think of my life, I put it into two categories: Before Residential School and After Residential School. And that first ferry ride, that’s the day that divides the two. That’s when it all changed.” He took another bite of his sandwich, chewed for a bit and had a sip of his coffee. I could tell this story was not one to be rushed. I pulled my knees in a bit closer to my chest and held my coffee cup with both hands. I was content to sip my coffee and wait.

“See that space there between those two small islands?” He pointed out the window. “That’s where my Grandpa’s boat was that morning. He was out on the bow and waved as we passed. He stayed out there on the bow watching us. I’m not sure how long he stood there. That was the last time I saw him, alive anyways. I can still see him standing there, Tilly, as if it was yesterday.”

“What us kids didn’t know when we got on the ferry, and what our parents didn’t know as they said goodbye to us that morning was that when we reached Vancouver, all five of us would be sent to different schools.” He took another sip of his coffee. “You know, that morning as we stood waiting for the ferry, well, that was the last time that my whole family was ever together.” His eyes filled and he was quiet again. It was like he was reliving those last moments on the ferry dock.

“That was forty-six years ago, Tilly,” he said, in a strained voice. “Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder how my life, how all our lives would be different if we hadn’t had to get on that ferry. But I can’t think of it for long—makes me crazy with rage. And that don’t do anyone any good. So I focus on what I can change. Me, my attitude, my actions…that’s about all I have control over.”

His honesty moved me. My eyes stung, salty tears invading them. I clenched my teeth together to try and push the tears away, but slowly they rolled down my face.

“Forty-six years…an awful long time to not be together as a family.” He cleared his throat and used the back of his hand to wipe the tears from his eyes. He continued. “Sure, I see some of my brothers and sisters every now and then. A few of them have moved back home to the reserve, but most of them, they live in the city. I’m not sure what they’d do if they came back home. I’m not even sure they’d call this home anymore. They’ve all created their own sense of community there in the city and it works for them.” He crossed his right leg over his left, looking down as he folded the wax paper that had previously held his sandwich. Flip by flip the wax paper was folded into smaller squares. I waited.

“People are just starting to talk about those schools, and all the horrible things that happened there.” He looked at me and then past me out the window. He told me how in his language the word for “child” has many meanings and that one of them is “purpose for living.” “You can imagine then, Tilly, what happens to a community if all the purposes for living are taken away one day. I think that the most painful part of those schools is what they did to my family.” Saul went on to tell me how he had a whole new perspective on the impacts of Residential Schools when he had his own children and again when he became a grandparent.

“I guess in some ways, Tilly, I was lucky. I didn’t go to Residential School until I was ten, so I had a lot of time with my Grandpa and my Dad. They taught me of our ways, our ceremonies, our songs, how to navigate and fish these waters.” He nodded his head towards the window. “My Mom, well, she was…there really aren’t any words in English that describe her. She was my everything. She was the most beautiful woman. And smart, holy, was she smart! But she was never the same after we were sent to school. Like the happiness in her heart died, but she kept on living.”

He reached into his cooler and pulled out a Tupperware container. He opened the lid and handed the container to me. Homemade cookies. “You gotta have one. They are my wife’s secret recipe.”

I helped myself and took a bite. It was chewy and chocolate. “Delicious.”

“I know, eh? So where was I? Oh yeah, like I could forget.” He smiled at me. “Family. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.” He chuckled. “Therein lies the problem, Tilly. I think the government set up those schools ‘cuz they were scared of us and our family structures—how powerful we were. And how powerful we still are, Tilly. That’s what we gotta focus on.”

“Mmm,” I agreed.

We were both quiet, his sharing made me think of my Mom’s birth family. So many unanswered questions, just one of them being how, or if, Residential Schools had impacted them. My Mom had been trying to find her birth family for over ten years. During one of her many calls to Social Services in Regina, the Social Worker indicated she had my Mom’s birth Father’s Status Number and name of the Band he was registered with. Since then, she had met road block after road block. I admired so many things about my Mom, and one of them was her tenacity. I knew that one day she would find them. Until then, all I could do was support her, listen and be empathic to the inner turmoil and immense sense of loss she experienced as a result of not knowing her birth family. I was reminded of this turmoil a few weeks before when we were at the Kamloops Pow Wow and she turned to me and said, “You know Tilly, I could be sitting beside my cousin or maybe even my sister and not even know it.” That comment had run through my mind so many times over the past weeks. I felt helpless in easing her pain, her loss and her sense of not knowing where and who she belonged with.

It was like Saul was reading my mind. “Now there’s so many of us trying to find our way back to our families. Culture and ceremony, that’s what has kept me alive—even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to be alive.”

Again, we sat quietly for a while, each processing in our own unique way. It was Saul who spoke first. “I guess lots of people would consider me lucky having only spent three years at that school.”

“What do you mean, you spent three years away from home at school? Didn’t you come home for holidays or summer vacation?” I asked.

“I came home for Christmas the first year, but after that the school said it cost too much money to get me home and back again. And my family, well, they just didn’t have the money to bring all of us kids home. I suppose because I was the oldest, maybe they thought out of all the kids I was the one who could handle not coming home. I honestly don’t know, Tilly, but they were three extremely long years.”

“I bet they were, Saul. What happened after the three years?” I asked.

He rubbed his chin with his hand. “I need a smoke before I go into that story, Tilly. You want to come up on deck with me and get some fresh air? You can see so much more up there that you can’t see sitting here.” He stood up. “Come on.” He motioned with his hand for me to get up. So I did and out on the deck we went.

After a few puffs on his cigarette, Saul told me he had contracted tuberculosis near the end of his third year at school and had to go to the TB hospital in Vancouver. He shared how lonely it was lying in a hospital bed day after day. “Lots of people ask me if I got bored. Sure, at times I did, but it wasn’t the boredom that haunted me, it was how alone I was. And how much I missed my family.”

He went on to tell me he would pass the time by counting the tiles in the panelling on the roof or the number of intersecting corners in the room or how he figured out how many beds were in the hospital. Saul shared how one day he had asked a nurse if she knew how many beds were in the hospital. She didn’t know and was quite shocked that he did. Asking him how he knew, he told her how he had figured it out.

The nurse, Ruth, took a special liking to Saul and spent many hours after her shifts with him. She would bring in her son’s math and calculus textbooks and Saul would devour them. His natural gift with numbers was evident. The content of the textbooks were easy for him to understand and the problems seemed even easier for him to solve. He told me how those books and problems helped him pass the days, weeks and months.

As Saul got better and was able to get up and about, Ruth convinced him to study for the grade twelve exams. She organized for him to go to her son’s high school and write them. When he was eighteen, Saul graduated from high school without having ever attended a day.

“That nurse, Ruth, she saw my gift—my gift of being able to sort through numbers and have them make sense. She’s the reason I am an accountant today. Other than my family, she was the first person who ever believed in me, challenged me and supported me. My wife and me, we named our oldest daughter after her. Ruth.”

Before I knew it we were docking in Prince Rupert, and it was time for Saul and me to say goodbye. The ride had taken just over three hours, but felt like only moments and yet also a lifetime. We gathered up our belongings and exited the ferry, walked along the dock and up the stairs to the road.

“My daughter’s pick’n me up and we’re heading over to a gathering at the Friendship Centre. Wanna join us, Tilly?”

“I’d love to, Saul, but I have to get to the airport to get my flight home. So I guess we need to say goodbye,” I said.

“Let’s say ‘see ya’, since there’s no such word as goodbye in our language. Way too final.” He smiled at me. “Sure am glad I decided to take the ferry today. Wouldn’t have met you if I’d taken the sea plane.” Looking at his feet and suddenly seeming weighed down, he said, “I don’t usually talk about all that stuff, Tilly. It’s in the past and that’s usually where I like it to stay. But today, today it actually felt good to talk. Well, maybe good isn’t the right word.” He looked up from his feet and smiled at me. “It was, it was healing to talk about them.” He stepped forward and hugged me.

“You take good care of yourself, Tilly. Help your Mom. Keep after her to look for her family. One day you’ll find them. I really believe that.” A honk of a car horn startled both of us.

“Well, there’s my ride. Look forward to our paths cross’n again one day, Tilly.” With that he squeezed my cheek, picked up his cooler and suitcase and headed towards the car.

I threw my backpack over my shoulder and started to make my way out to the airport, hoping to have time to give my Mom a call before my flight home to Victoria.

Prologue for Hope, Faith & Empathy

This is the intro to my new book Hope, Faith & Empathy. To purchase go on line at http://www.littledrum.com/news/book.html

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Prologue

Hope, Faith & Empathy will take you on a journey, a journey that is loosely based on my life’s story as an Indigenous woman, of individuals who showed up at a pivotal time in my life to guide and teach me and of characters who came to me as I wrote. These characters I believe are gifts from the Ancestors.

Hope, Faith & Empathy includes parts of our collective Indigenous history, and I am hopeful that readers will have a greater sense of the history and how it ripples into the current circumstances facing our people. The mere fact that Indigenous peoples exist in Canada is a miracle unto itself. The fact that we are thriving in the multitude of ways that we are is pure inspiration.

I offer much gratitude to you for sharing your time in reading this book and sincerely hope that you find whatever you may be seeking as you join Tilly on her journey and meet the characters that come into her life.

It is my hope that while reading you will encounter yourself, your strength and your own resiliency. Perhaps, even just a little, you will have a greater sense of hope…for whatever your dreams, ambitions and heart’s desires may be.

Tears are Medicine

This is a segment from a chapter in my soon to be released book, Hope, Faith & Empathy.  It is from the chapter called Tears are Medicine.

Tilly, the main character, is just finishing a counselling session with Bea who is also a wise elder and guides Tilly in far more than her recovery from alcoholism.  This sharing from Bea happens just as a session is coming to end.  Enjoy!  And if you want to read more, please go on line to purchase the book http://www.littledrum.com Mail out in July 2012.

 

“You need to give everyone you spend time with a present, everyone.” She had instructed me.

“Everyone? A present? How is that possible Bea?” I asked, confused.

“Yep.” She shook her head up and down dramatically. “Everyone Tilly. I want you to be fully present with each person you spend time with. Give ‘em your full attention, look ‘em in the eyes and let ‘em know you are listen’n. People just need to be seen ‘n’ heard Tilly. ‘N you know what?” I moved my head sideways and she said in response. “It takes li’l effort for us to really see some’n or to list’n to’em. You know what it’s like to be listened to and then what it also feels like when some’un prettend’n they listen’n. So your homework is to see ‘n listen to each person.”

“What about like when the Cashier at the Grocery store starts chatt’n me up?” I asked.

“Everyone Tilly, you never know who has a story or teach’n for you or whose day you could bright’n or light’n. So yes, even the Cashier at the Grocery store.”

©Monique Gray Smith   littledrum@telus.net

Why Hope, Faith & Empathy?

On June 11th, 2008 the Prime Minister of Canada offered a public apology for the atrocities that occurred in Indian Residential Schools.  It followed on the heels of the Australian Prime Minister’s Apology for Forgotten Australians on November 16, 2009.  Both of these apologies and public acknowledgments opened a door for the world to better understand our history as Indigenous people, its continued ripple effect and our desire to create a new legacy for our children and future generations. These apologies have also served to foster a greater sense of empathy towards Indigenous peoples and supported the breakdown of cultural divides and misunderstandings.

The soon to be released Hope, Faith & Empathy is a timely book that bridges the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures and appeals to readers from all walks of life.  Hope, Faith & Empathy is a moving and inspiring story of a mixed heritage Indigenous woman (Cree, Lakota and Scottish) and the people she meets along her healing journey from teenage alcoholism to successful business woman, International speaker and mother of twins.

The tradition of teaching and healing through storytelling comes alive in this modern-day story that is rich with Indigenous wisdom, humour and thought-provoking teachings.  It provides insight into the Indigenous worldview and unique ways of being, knowing, seeing and learning in the world.  Through the resiliency of the characters and embedded within the stories they tell, are metaphors for life that are relevant to all who are interested in creating a more caring, civil and empathic society. It draws readers into a first-hand experience of Indigenous peoples and their inspiring spirit and tenacity to overcome the wounds of Residential School abuse, colonization, historical oppression and forced assimilation. Hope, Faith & Empathy gently provokes readers to look at their beliefs and move beyond any negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples and communities they may have.

Why the words Hope, Faith & Empathy as the title of the book?  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, families, nations and races.  Empathy that we will be able to foster and witness greater empathy between the relations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.  It begins with each of us.  Empathy is the bridge connecting hope and faith.

Hope, Faith & Empathy is an entertaining, engaging and inspiring story to read and learn from.  It can also be used as a formal educational tool to raise levels of cultural competency, cultural safety and understanding of Indigenous peoples.

Please visit www.littledrum.com to read excerpts from Hope, Faith & Empathy and to purchase your copies.  Purchases can also be made by emailing Littledrum@telus.net.

 

About the Author: Monique Gray Smith is an Indigenous woman, a Mother, Writer, International Speaker and Consultant focusing on the Strength and Resiliency of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide.

 

©Little Drum Consulting        www.littledrum.com               Littledrum@telus.net

 

Mrs. Murphy

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

Currently available as part of Pre Launch sale http://www.littledrum.com

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?”

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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 www.littledrum.com to read excerpts from Hope, Faith & Empathy and to purchase your copies.

©Little Drum Consulting        www.littledrum.com               Littledrum@telus.net


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

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