Jobs program – thought meanderings (indigenous considerations)

So far the employment course mentioned in my previous post is going wonderfully well. 

We’re a small group of seven participants in the daily Zoom meetings, plus the facilitator and her assistant. 

Including the assistant, we’re all female-identifying except for one man. Most of us come from care-work backgrounds, and most of the others are single mothers; some of them are new (or newly returned) to the area, like me. The man is a tradesperson. He and his partner are getting ready to start a family and he aims to pivot in careers. He adds a bit of balance to the group, though he is equally (or perhaps even more) respectful of others and as caring.

We are all appear to be caucasian in the group, and other than the facilitator, who is an immigrant from northern Europe, we are all anglophone Canadians. I found that interesting. There are so many First Nations people struggling; why are they not at all represented in the participants? 

On the local radio news, which I hear in the car when I go grocery shopping with my food gift certificates (as given to me by the course organizers, which I mentioned in the last post), there are reports that say that First Nations women receive the poorest medical care services though they are the highest in need. It made me wonder if it is the same thing in jobs programs and it made me wonder at all the reasons why.

It can come from both sides. I know what it feels like to not trust the government or other social services, to not go knocking on the door when most feeling in need. I experienced that in France a couple of times, when our family was cash-poor for a long while (I’m not complaining; I know that would be ridiculous — we had a house and a vehicle). There is a lot of pride, reverse-prejudice, shame, anxiety, fear of judgement and/or rejection, and that almost always comes with bias from past experience. I ended up volunteering for the organization that we’d most needed the help from in the end (from which I had not dared ask, so had not received). But that was long after we had achieved viable income. And I saw that the way the people most in need were treated, and it wasn’t always the most kindly. Far from it.

My husband and I (and our children) are white. And we were not refugees there, nor unmarried, no drug problems, nor have we ever experienced trouble with the law, and we (seem to at least) have all our mental faculties fully in place. So the amount of stigma was reduced only to “foreigner.” (For a number of reasons, and in spite of whatever Michael Moore might have to say about the French medical system, we actually failed to become enrolled in basic medical care during our entire sojourn there, in spite of paying taxes in two and sometimes three countries. We had to pay out of pocket.) I can only imagine that it might have been even harder if our circumstances were different. 

Very few people who most need and could truly benefit from help are willing to ask for it. The same goes for mental health services and medical services. It takes a certain level of confidence to be able to ask. To not be afraid of hearing no as the answer; to be willing to give away all the information that is asked for, even if it’s just one’s personal contact details (but usually it’s much more than that, and most of it intimate/personal); to trust a total stranger, or rather a whole network of total strangers; to hope that the honest information you provide will not somehow be made to work against you. Especially in a small town, where word travels fast, and effectively in some way or other everyone “in the system” knows or will eventually know each other. 

Anyway, I hadn’t meant to write all that. I’d meant to keep it light and short and educational, with a bunch of helpful links to goal-oriented self-development materials. I guess I’m just still processing all my recent “over-fortunate” feelings. 

The first thing we were shown in the very first Zoom meeting made a massive impression on me.

It was a welcome song sung to us by a local tribal elder. It was filmed in an amateur style via mobile phone (portrait mode) which leant it a very personal authenticity. Normally the courses I’m attending would have been at the employment centre and due to a new protocol that has been implemented in the past few years, the tribesperson would have been there to welcome us personally. The reason for this is that the building stands on the the First Nations people’s still-unceded territory, which the Canadian government is beginning to officially recognize (hence the protocol-compliant welcome ceremony). Because of Covid and the fact that classes are now held via Zoom, the tribesman had been filmed singing the welcome song for us, which the facilitator shared in our Zoom meeting digitally. What struck me besides the beauty of the song, the language, and the tribesman’s accompanying drumming, was the sincerity of the delivery. It was a genuine, compassionate and truly open-minded and forgiving (in my view) welcome, to a group that could easily be seen (if he could have seen our faces) as the descendants of recent history’s brutal invaders on tribal lands. 

As I noted in the comments of the last post, reparations are beginning to be made by the Canadian government towards the First Nations peoples against whom catastrophic crimes of holocaust were committed, up to less than even half a century ago (and perhaps still today, in less obvious ways). The residential schools — which aboriginal children were dragged from their families and forced to live in, in order to assimilate them — were places of extreme negative brainwashing, and horrific child abuse of devastating magnitude. As most of us know, similar atrocities are still being committed worldwide, including on the southern borders of the united states, where refugee children have been forcibly separated from their caregivers and imprisoned, in an effort by the previous administration to deter migration.

When I searched the net hoping to find the drumming video to maybe share here, I instead came across an interview which included an inauguration video filmed a few years ago. It was with regards to the inauguration of a memorial sculpture of healing, on the site of one of the residential schools in southwestern Canada. 

In the first ten minutes of that interview, clips are shown of this inauguration, in which First Nations members share aloud, in front of an empathetic audience, stories which include brief allusions to the terrible events they experienced as children, at the hands of abusive missionaries. One also spoke of the forgiveness she finally came to embrace, and the hopes for healing for future generations. The inauguration clips were moving in the utmost and brought me to tears. I had actually not known the extent of what had happened here. The bravery of these speakers hit me to the core. Not only that, but to speak up in a compassionate manner, not only for oneself, but towards the perpetrators as well as the listeners, is a rare art form, and the speakers in this ceremony perfectly exemplified it. Speaking up… it is awfully difficult… but it is absolutely necessary in order for change to occur. It’s a personal sacrifice for generations of the future. 

I’m not sure why there are no First Nations people present in this free government-offered jobs course, although there are many First Nations people living nearby; and I’m still at the stage of building confidence enough to ask anyone who might know. I’m trying not to stare a gift horse in the mouth, as it were, though I’ll admit that goes completely against my nature. 

I will say that being able to participate in this course is helping me a lot; much more than I expected actually. It’s not so much that I’m unfamiliar with the self-discovery materials presented, but having a face-to-face (even if on video, and not in person) support group of empathic and like-minded people is incredibly enriching and confidence-building. I haven’t experienced anything quite like it since my early motherhood days, also in this same geographical location, when I became part of the local perinatal groups. I’m deeply grateful, and I hope I will be able to put the benefits to good use.