I work as a Regional Coordinator for an Indigenous Program here in Canada. I was recently meeting with one of the field teams to discuss opportunities of how they were implementing land based healing to their program. The team talked of their new opportunities to help their children to define who they are and re-claim their identity, which was taken from them and their ancestors through colonialism, for many generations .
“We lost our medicine when we were relocated, “ one of the team member went on to say.
“You see, my family, my community and I have been greatly affected by the Residential School System. My mom was in attendance from Kindergarten to Grade 3, and although many years have passed, my family has not been able to recover from her experiences. Throughout my childhood, the negative messages that have stemmed from that experience such as poverty, shame and neglect were evident in my home since I could remember. Many members of community have had to struggle through humiliating memories, personal dysfunction, and family pain, but we are now changing that story, we are reclaiming back our identity through Jordan’s Principle, “ she was very excited and confident.
“ We teaching our children to make Bear Grease, a traditional medicine used by our people. We are excited to see children take on this in our country, we Bear Grease in ceremonies and healing procedures and we are grateful to learn more teachings and participate in preparing the medicine from our elders,” another team member went on to explain.
They talked about a recent winter camp for their youth, “we saw our kids becoming calmer and more aware of the connection to the land – listening to the birds, wind, to their breath, the trees and remembering the times of being immersed in the healing work. I, myself breathing deeper, letting out sighs of stress and exhaustion. As I commented to my friends that this day was exactly what I needed, our healing journey has began, “ she smiled. This was so encouraging and energizing. Their stories about bringing healing in their own way, reclaiming their voices and identity was raw and powerful. We all wept as the team told their way out of pain and all they had endured, and rejoiced as the community choose to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. Their story shines like a brilliant light star, journeying from horror and pain to hope and redemption.
The team mentioned that in there landbased healing journey they were integrating traumas and triumphs, “ we are reclaiming back the right to express our truth with power, and compassion, as embodied beings, living in this moment,” an elder with the team stated, “ we are making peace with what was, what is and what will be. We are people of value, we stand with grace, forgiveness, and with joy, take full responsibility for our lives. In so doing, our voice emerges with strength and purpose. We value our feminine voices, and our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our ancestors, and we encourage the sounds, the groanings, the whispers, of all women who are waiting to be heard.”
This community story ignited fire in me, I could hear my dad’s voice in me. I remember him telling me similar stories. I remember him saying, “When the British settlers began pouring into what is now Kenya in 1902, they intended to set up an agricultural colony. The plan was simple: Flood the land with settlers who would set up farms. To kickstart that project, they needed to shove the native tribes off of the land and turn them into cheap (or preferably unpaid) laborers.
“The British government then began expropriating large tracts of land in the highlands, with or without compensation, and evicting people whose ancestors had lived there for a thousand years. The British set up reservations to house the newly landless peasants, which quickly got crowded and overtaxed the marginal lands they were sited on,”dad explained.
Given these conditions, an internal refugee crisis was well underway by 1910: Masses of native people, most of whom had no connection to their reservations and no reason to stay, started drifting out of their pens and across their old lands in search of income. The roughly 1,000 British settlers now had around 16,000 square miles of prime farmland under their control, and their cheap labor came to them looking for work.
At this time, the British were only farming around five or six percent of the land they had seized. They classified any Kenyan native farmer caught sneaking back onto the land to start a garden as a Squatter. He could stay there, but at the cost of 270 days of unpaid labor per year as rent — days which correspond to the planting and harvest seasons.
To keep all of this straight, the British imposed a pass system, called kipande, a paper document that all native African males over 15 had to wear around their necks. The kipande listed the worker’s classification level and included a few notes about the man’s history and character, so that any police or farm official would know at a glance whether he could be trusted with a job or should be hauled off to jail for another whipping.
“Settler began to restrict the natives’ freedom of movement to an obscene degree. Majority of Kenyan natives were relocated to rural “villages,” ringed with barbed wire and trenches and patrolled by guards with orders to kill escapees. Outside of the camps, reservations, and “villages,” dad explained, you could see hurt on his face and eyes.
“The colonial government had resorted to open violence and routinely displayed the corpses of executed prisoners at crossroads as a warning. Unfortunately through the imposed culture, rights to individuality and community was taken away from the Kenyans, as they were given new names by their masters, therefore branding them as their own. By imposing a new name on them, the masters ensured that their natives had to give up part of who they were, are or will be. What came after was loss of self and community identity, they were no longer their own, their future was not shaped by their self determination but just labelled by what the settlers called them,’ he stated.
Dad told me that Kenya and the rest of Africa are paradise on earth, “we are kings, queens, princes and princesses. However, the colonialist made us feel lesser than who we are, preventing us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes–our cultural wealth.”
Dad told me that when the British left Kenya in 1963 Kenya was at a crossroad, “ We had to ask ourselves, where do we start in our journey of self-remembrance? This is the first step to remembering the identity of ourselves, we must start by questioning the lies we have believed for so long.” That began the resurgence to healing and cultural identity for the new Kenya.
Dad told me that taking this journey was answer to these question of self-remembrance, a vault that opened our eyes to the truth. The answers helped us realize what the colonizers knew too well: Africa is wealthy. The wealth is not just material but also in the form of values–love, generosity, kindness and the spirit of ubuntu. These qualities should enable us to be independent. Values we are slowly losing in the name of development or capitalism.
Dad told me that after the Independence, Kenyans had to look at themselves clear of the lies that had been told, remembering all the reasons to love being Kenyans. Self-love inspired by self-knowledge will cure us of self-doubt or self-denial, which in my opinion is the greatest crime to a humanity.To know oneself is to return to these origins of experience. Obliging the unconscious to return to the conscious mind its concealed memories of our past experiences is liberating, for therein we discover the forgotten influences that have made us what we are. The memories recalled re-establish our sense of continuity with the past and hence show us the truth about ourselves. In reaching back to origins to recollect lost fragments of our experience, memory makes us whole once more by reaffirming our connection with the past.
Has your voice been silenced in some way? Are you able to speak out in the workplace, in your community or in your relationships? Or do you feel somewhere deep inside you that you have no voice and no one will listen? As you read this story, you are probably going through a journey of reclaiming your voice, your identity, your self image, your own space and your location. Maybe your voice have often been silenced or repressed through experiences of cultural conditioning, personal or collective traumas, for others reading this story, you are probably an ally and advocate for those who have lost their voice or maybe you are of those that have taken voice from others, whichever side you are in, I want you to know that you are joining many of us who re in this journey too.
Past traumatic and emotional baggages imposed on us by others or by ourselves can put you in a bit of a deep freeze or even dissociation. That’s what happened to me over the past year. Your brain and body will know how much and how fast to let out the painful emotions but if you aren’t picking up your body’s and brain’s signals due to trauma or shock, you can end up with physical body pain or illness from emotions lodged inside you. Do your best to let the tears flow, and let go of whatever is coursing through you, right in the moment if you can, or at the very least, soon after when you’re in a safe space. How to release emotions?
The process of reclaiming and rebuilding a strong, healthy sense of self requires first and foremost looking critically at your life. What is your life reflecting back to you and where are you focusing your attention? What is the common story you tell yourself when things go right? When things go wrong?
Here below are a few tips that have helped me and others in this journey.of reclaiming our spaces, voices and identity:
Retell Your Story
Each of us has a story about who we are and why. Often we have several. These stories express what we believe we can do and who we believe we can be. They define who we think we are. Stories can be positive. Narratives like “I’m great with numbers,” “ Tomorrow will be a good day” “The best is yet to come” “Kids love me,” or “Music is my calling” can inspire us to develop and give our best gifts; they encourage us to show up confidently and authentically in our relationships with others. Often, though, our inner accounts and repressed emotions have less-salutary effects. Stories like “People always let me down” or “I can never do anything right” become self-fulfilling prophecies. They convince us that we’ll never have what we want or be what we were created to become.
What’s Your Story? John Sanford, in his book “Healing and Wholeness,” essentially says: “Our life must have a story in order for us to be whole. This means we must come up against something; otherwise a story cannot take place.” I daily tell communities I work with that they hold their own pens to write their own stories. I reclaim with them new stories, stories of hope and self determination. We cannot change our past. But if we stop blaming mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, ex-spouses or former lovers — or our heritage — we can redesign our future. Fear and anger keep us entrapped and, therefore, deprives us of the good life.
Connect with like-minded People.
We learn about ourselves and thrive in relation to others. Your identity and social space is in part of the social environments you put yourself in. We are relational beings created for connection. When we are in community with others who are striving for the same goals, embarking on the same journey of self-improvement, and can encourage and motivate us when we need it, we win. There comes a time in your life where the circle you are part of no longer helps you to grow -where you fall into old patterns of behavior, rather than soaring to a new level of yourself. That’s a clear indication that a new identity, a new space and a new voice of yourself is wanting to be re-generated, it just needs the right opportunity to grow.
Work towards accepting yourself.
If you are in a constant state of self-judgement it’s like trying to see yourself clearly through a rain of fired arrows- you aren’t letting yourself just be long enough to see yourself, let alone feel strong and confident. How can you, when you are focusing on the negative? Of course being told to accept yourself is all well and good, but if you do feel down on yourself already it can be that sort of advice you feel worse for hearing.
The secret is to not focus too long on the idea of acceptance, but to as quickly as possible focus on real actions that lead you in that direction.
Re-Defining Who are now
The way you see yourself directly affects the way that you perceive the world around you; everything is filtered through the prism of your identity, from the way you interact to other people to the way that you think. Your “self” lies before you like an open book. Just peer inside and read: who you are, your likes and dislikes, your hopes and fears; they are all there, ready to be understood. This notion is popular but is probably completely false! Psychological research shows that we do not have privileged access to who we are. When we try to assess ourselves accurately, we are really poking around in a fog.
Princeton University psychologist Emily Pronin, who specializes in human self-perception and decision making, calls the mistaken belief in privileged access the “introspection illusion.” The way we view ourselves is distorted, but we do not realize it. As a result, our self-image has surprisingly little to do with our actions. For example, we may be absolutely convinced that we are empathetic and generous but still walk right past a homeless person on a cold day.
At the core of all human behavior, our needs are more or less similar. Positive experience is easy to handle. It’s negative experience that we all, by definition, struggle with. Therefore, what we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings.Here are a few examples we all struggle to achieve:
- People want an amazing physique. But you don’t end up with one unless you legitimately appreciate the pain and physical stress that comes with living inside a gym for hour upon hour, unless you love calculating and calibrating the food you eat, planning your life out in tiny plate-sized portions.
- People want to start their own business or become financially independent. But you don’t end up a successful entrepreneur unless you find a way to appreciate the risk, the uncertainty, the repeated failures, and working insane hours on something you have no idea whether will be successful or not.
- People want a partner, a spouse. But you don’t end up attracting someone amazing without appreciating the emotional turbulence that comes with weathering rejections, building the sexual tension that never gets released, and staring blankly at a phone that never rings. It’s part of the game of love. You can’t win if you don’t play.
God calls us to go deeper
Each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry; an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. God calls us to go deeper in our search for the spot of grace that issues peace,to look again and again, to discover the Divine Beauty in the people we meet and the circumstances we find ourselves. In all the seemingly ordinary, poor, broken, vulnerable, small experiences of our day, we begin to see our God – the One who was born in a poor family, helpless and vulnerable; the One who hung broken and disfigured on the cross; the One who stood a wonder to behold in His Resurrection. He is here with us.God had created man with characteristics that He possessed and He desires for man to live that out. I believe strongly beloved, that God in that moment was saying, even as how I have dominion in the heavenlies I am granting you that dominion in the earth.
My friend, you are working with your false identity until you feel good about yourself. You don’t need a reason to feel good about yourself. You are good enough. You deserve a great life. You are worthy of having great relationships. When you know this in your heart – not just your head – your life will transform.Determine your direction and your purpose. Without a direction, it is easy to be at the mercy of those around you. By establishing your purpose, it infuses everything you do, and you can easily remove all odds, interactions and activities.Remove toxic people in your life and find those that embrace you for who you are. This step has been one of the hardest. You can’t thrive in the same environment you got sick in. This might mean something different to everyone. Maybe you just need to delete that contact, or maybe you need to switch schools. It may be lonely for a while, but once you find your true friends, it will all be worth it. If you already have supportive friends, spend time with them!
Remember, you are a beautiful work in progress. You are so much more than a body, a label, a grade, or a number. You are fearlessly authentic. I hope these tips will inspire you to support you in your journey to reclaim you space, your identity or space. If you have tips about reclaiming your identity, share them below!