It has been a roller coaster ride this past year. I had been rudely manipulated and ultimately uprooted from my position as a youth worker. Office politics came at a heavy cost to my mental health and ultimately my marriage.
During the course of the year after initially taking stress leave, I felt I was losing my sense of community. This organization I had worked for was created in the 70’s by and for the Okanagan women who were expelled from the reserve on the bases of marriage, my mother being one of those women who married a non-native man, my dad. It was an ironic turn of events that would see this once deeply rooted in Okanagan organization attempt to shut out most of the founding Okanagan woman who did not work within the main building.
Back in the early days, this organization was the hub for cultural activity. I grew up in summer camps run by my Okanagan cousins; camping at Echo Lake going on group trips to the Native Youth Olympics and performing in Senklip Native Theatre. It was at Senklip that I really found myself a home.
Senklip Native Theatre was developed to teach the younger generation valuable lessons in performance theatre based on the chaptixwl – legend stories of the Animal People. It also gave me a firm foundation in the career I continue to pursue today – Acting.
I was fortunate enough to learn how to tan hides, to gather and dry berries, to smoke fish and meat while offering guided tours to a multitude of tourists and schools within the Living Museum. I also learned to interpret Okanagan legends through performance.
I was raised there, in and amongst the urban and reserve community that once accepted and rejected my mother because of her marriage status. As a family – my mother, sister, brother and I regained our “Indian status” in 1985. Still the Organization was my community, it was urban but rooted within the boundaries of our territory.
As I was raised by ‘community mothers’, a variety of women who worked within the local indigenous society, I learned as a teenager how to peer facilitate, how to give back to the community that ultimately raised me up to cut me down.
I grieved the loss for a year. Numbed myself with substance, wallowing there without connection to my youth, my purpose. During that process I lost sight of the man I loved, the non-indigenous man I married. In my down time, while I was on medical leave I started a quest of discovery. Who am I, where do I come from, where do I belong? It was clear I did not belong with this urban organization that would manipulate me out of the job that empowered me to give back to the younger generation – no matter what their native ancestry.
I dove into “The Queens People – A study of Hegemony, Coercion, and Accommodation among the Okanagan of Canada” by Peter Carstens. Within these pages I learned of an earlier non-indigenous relation. My early ancestors had an English connection and pre-empted large tracts of Okanagan territory for the purpose of ranching. Thomas Greenhow married Marianne an Okanagan woman and had a daughter Marie Terese Greenhow.
There is not much on record of these two women. I became fixated on trying to figure out who they were. I dove into another book “Q’sapi – A History of Okanagan People as Told by Okanagan Families” and though I found knowledge I had previously not known about my grandmother Mary Abel and great grandfather Joe Abel, I failed to find anything on Marie Terese. I was desperate to know her, to understand her separation, the rejection she must have felt when her white father abandoned her and her mother for a 14 year old child bride.
During the course of the year my husband’s attitude to my historical musings shifted. It was getting to be too much for him. Everything I spoke about was historical or political. I was learning the true history of this city we lived in – Vernon. I was learning the injustices of that time and comparing them with the injustices that continue to occur today. We argued. We fought about my origins. We fought about my passions.
It disturbed me deeply to see the shift in acceptance of my husband. He was no longer the man who I thought reconnected me with the land. He became a stranger to me. At the same time this was happening, I was finding my own way of tuning into and connecting my thoughts with the land. I created a poem inspired by Pillar Rock, a significant ‘Coyote marker’ for our sqilxw people. I had been engaging in multi-media for quite some time. Creating multi-media cultural exhibitions based on my research findings. This particular one granted me access to imagineNATIVE film fest in 2012 through an Ullus project called “PictoProphecy” engaging gps digital markers with digital storytelling to the land. I had been invited in 2008 to screen one of my first films titled “I still hear my granny speak” a short film based on the digital oral stories of my grandmother Mary Abel.
I felt acceptance there. Amongst indigenous people from all over the world. Engaging in new media discussions with like minded people – indigenous people. They did not judge my findings in the injustices inflicted upon my community by the founding fathers of the town my husband was born and raised in. Instead, they encouraged me to seek out more, to learn more about who I am and create. In over a year I hadn’t felt so good about myself and realized the place I belonged was not at home sitting on the couch vegging to bad comedy. I belonged in the community of indigenous artists.
It has taken almost six months for me to change my situation. I have had to end that marriage, the one I waited so long for that lasted only a year. Not because I didn’t love my husband, but because our ideas of what is right changed so dramatically. I find peace in being alone for the moment, reading indigenous articles, poetry, teaching professional development for indigenous artists in community and dreaming, manifesting new projects. I am engaging in a new project “In search of Self – a personal identity model” I’m realizing my research has been about me, rediscovering my sense of community to finding my balance as a valued Indigenous woman.