It is timely that I am writing about children and knowing, while also finishing up the final preparations for the upcoming Children’s Programming Learning Circle at the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Indigenous children and young people. My life and work are invested in my own healing, but also the healing of children and young people. In 2012, I left child welfare where I was employed for several years as a foster care worker. The homes I was involved with had children who had been in their homes from birth or a very young age, and many were committed to the children and were doing the best they could in the given situation. I was sad when I left; I thought of the spirit of the children. Though there is now more connection to ceremony, family and community, and culture, this is what was on my heart when I left.
During a course I took at the Vancouver School of Theology, the professor said he visits elders wherever he goes, and he spoke of an elder who said Indigenous children are born with everything they need within them and that they are awakened to who they are by stories, songs, prayers, dance, gatherings, and ceremonies throughout their lives; all of these traditions and practices, among others, connect them to the sacred and holy.
This was and is deeply encouraging. For my own personal reconciliation process, it was and is important to understand the effects of colonization, what happened and what can and needs to be done. When I wake in the morning and sit for a few minutes on the bed, I look out the window and see the site of what used to be the Indian Residential School off in the distance on the North Hill in Brandon, Manitoba where I live. I walk along the river most days when I am home, and I say prayers and sing songs, and commit once again to doing what I can to be a part of living out the two apologies made by the United Church of Canada—the banning of spiritual practices and residential schools.
From my own story, I am assured that my identity and personhood are a gift given to me as a Cree woman. I was raised, with my sisters, along the banks of the Churchill River by my parents, James John and Celia. My family and relatives were relocated in January 1957 from York Factory to Churchill. They attended the Anglican Church there, but my dad’s brother was involved in a Cree fellowship at the Alliance Church and so we went there. My dad’s prayers always ended with “God is love, amen” and that teaching has been most helpful over time. The Cree Fellowship is a positive memory, and I still long for those times. We often sang songs in Cree when I was a student at the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre with students from northern communities. I learned much from them and believe that we all have something to teach others, and we all have something to learn…and so it is with children.
In the mid-1990s I went through a process of prayer and counseling and was asked to share the painful and traumatic experiences I had from as far back as I could remember. And I shared each one, about what happened and how I felt way back and at the time. In the book we read prior to the individual session, the first chapter begins with the question, “Who are you?” The question is asked repeatedly with the answers ranging from being a mother or father, what people do for work, and others. The question focussed on the belief of many that they are sinners, and that is who they are; but in this teaching, I have learned that I am a Child of God and one who falls short or overdoes it (sins); but sin is something that we do or don’t do, it is not who we are. This was a revelation for me as I saw myself then, in a deeply conditioned way, as a failure, as not enough, as one who has made mistakes—both my own and those of my parents, my people, and especially in light of how much of society has seen Indigenous people in a negative way; we have all heard them.
For a long time, this has deeply affected the image I’ve had of myself. It is not a wonder then that I, along with many others, am challenged to love myself.
Should children in foster care see themselves as unloved by parents and families? No, this is only what happened to them—it is not who they are. They, and we, are “no less than the trees and stars.” My prayer has been, “help me to see myself as you see me, and worthy of what it takes to better my own life and that of others.”
As I sought for my own reconciliation as Cree and a follower of Jesus, I came across a quote by Thomas Aquinas who said, “Creation was the first bible (divine revelation) and the word—the bible, also known as divine revelation, came later.” This reminds me that each one of us is a part of creation and that the sacred divine is within me too. I’ve also come to understand that Creation is what my ancestors lived by for guidance and wisdom. I imagine the difference this can make with all of Creator God’s children and how we see ourselves and others.
Susie McPherson Derendy is the Keeper of the Learning Circle at Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre.