I am still reclaiming my voice

I work with the  Indigenous Service Canada. My role involve working with many First Nations in Manitoba, supporting them in their effort to build Jordan’s Principle in their individual communities. This is a role I am proud of as community developer and a Registered Nurse, it gives me opportunities to learn, to listen and also share my African indigenous ways of knowing. Recently, I was attending a  meeting with one of the First Nations to discuss opportunities of how they were building their Jordan’s Principle land based healing processes for their children and youth. 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 they had coordinated 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 was 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 begun, “ she smiled sweetly. I wanted to hear more. 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 chose to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. Their story shone like a brilliant light star, journeying from horror and pain to hope and redemption. The stories were somehow both bold and tender and utterly, truthfully shared, leaving us, the listeners wanting to hear more.

The team went on to tell how 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 with compassion, She continued to say, “ 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 whispers, of all women who are waiting to be heard.” In silence and contemplation, we all stayed in a moment of  beautiful release, I wanted to hold that moment, to hold the words of the elder forever, that was my moment in as much as it was the moment for the community, in me lit  a fire, a fire full of joy and all kinds of emotions, every inch of me was trembling, but not from the cold. but something is familiar like a dream I can reach but not quite hold, my memory was calling me to go on a journey, a journey back to my home in Kenya.  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 kick start 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.

Dad went on to explain that 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 with tears on his face, he was hurt by telling me these. He stopped and couldn’t move for a long time, he sat back on his wooden stool, looked to the roof of our thatched kitchen, looked at me, then in a prolonged gaze he looked outside the door for a long twenty or thirty minutes, it felt like eternity, I could see fury and shame written all over his face. From what I could tell, his mind was full of things he wanted to say to me but held his words back for those long minutes . He probably wanted to, “There’s nothing wrong with me and the many men and women who fought in the Mau Mau rebellion, you know,” or “what did we do to loose of our land,” or “Why did the British punish us in our own land, what do wrong to deserve their punishment?” I saw all this painful questions written all over his face and deeper into his long gaze.

“The colonial government had resorted to open violence and routinely displayed the corpses of executed Mau Mau prisoners at crossroads. And those who followed the new way were given new names by their masters, they were not supposed to use their Kenyan names. What came after was loss of our own self and community identity, we were no longer our own, our future was not shaped by our self-determination but just with the labels given by the settlers,’ he raised his voice, now talking with anger. Grabbing his walking stick, he hit the floor three or four times, “boy, I hate what the British did to me, “ he said it with great wrath. Then another silence followed, I also stayed quiet. Then took a deep breath and looked at me.

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 continue to say that when the British left Kenya in 1963 Kenya they left the country at a crossroad, “ We had to ask ourselves, where do we start in our journey of self-remembrance? This was 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 that helped us to realize what the colonizers knew way too well: Africa is wealthy. The wealth is not just material dad would later tell me, but also in the form of values–love, generosity, kindness and the spirit of ubuntu. 

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? 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 baggage imposed on us by others or by ourselves can put you and I 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.

One Comment Add yours

  1. cindy knoke says:

    You rock! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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