Identity Politics

Yesterday was the second anniversary of my older sister Joy’s death. Or should I say, my half-sister on my father’s side.  I have three other half-siblings on my mother’s side. I am the sole child of my parents respective second marriages. I grew up with my mother and three half-siblings.  I did not grow up with my father or Joy, but they each have left their own impact for sure. I am currently in the process of writing a piece about my sister for the CBC Creative Non-Fiction Contest.

A part of the whole thing about my father and Joy is that they are/were Native. Or I suppose Aboriginal is the word of the moment.  And why is that important? Because I feel it has everything to do with where they ended up. One dead because of substance abuse and one virtually so after living on the streets for 10 years and drinking himself into dementia.  Bet you didn’t know that could happen huh? Neither did I until I had to track him down two years ago to make sure he knew his eldest daughter had passed away.  I’m still not 100% sure he understands that fact.

I can’t speak for Joy as I did not grow up with her, and perhaps her other siblings know better, but I cannot help but feel she got pulled into, trapped in, the cycle of substance abuse that affects aboriginal people across our country.  And why does that happen? I’m sure better, more scholarly people than I have tried to tackle that question.  But I do have my own thoughts on the matter:


  • I’ve heard that native people have a lower tolerance for alcohol/drugs and higher propensity for addiction.  I could be totally pulling that out of my ass, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.
  • There is a culture of acceptance of drugs and alcohol amongst native people, almost as part of a “Fuck You” to white people I think. If you’re gonna paint us all as drunks we might as well be, right?
  • Culture, or lack thereof. The residential schools did a number on native people, and not only on the generation that actually attended the schools. You had an entire generation who then couldn’t relate to their culture or white culture, who couldn’t teach their children language or cultural traditions, who didn’t necessarily even know how to parent because they’d been “parented” by the residential school system.  Then you have the abuse suffered in these schools.  Anger, trauma, depression and substance abuse tend to go hand in hand. And abuse tends to get visited on the next generation which causes them to turn to alcohol and violence in turn.  It’s a difficult cycle to break.
  • My sister and father are both « obviously » native, and I know they both were on the receiving end of comments and remarks that must have hurt and bothered them. It’s hard not to feel something systemic like that.

These are all my opinions of course.  And maybe they will anger a lot of people. But I too am native, though raised white.  I can pass for white and haven’t received the discrimination and such that I talked about above.  But I do have the genetic heritage (along with my mother’s side of course), I have been blocked from my culture because my father was not there to provide his experience and to be the gateway into the community. I experienced the culture of violence and substance abuse through my father, as did my sister.

Sure there are reasons I have lost my father and my sister.  There are demons with anger and substance abuse that I fight as well. We have more than enough reasons for why things are the way they are, but certainly the reasons not to keep that cycle going outnumber them. These are damaging things, and while we (can I say “we”? Do I count?) focus our efforts on pipelines and energy concerns, when will we say we are Idle No More about the way we are killing ourselves?

Try, try again

I have spent my life struggling to find contentment and happiness. I know I’m not unique in this. No one is perfectly happy all the time. And the reverse is also true – I am not unhappy all of the time, or even a majority of the time. I certainly feel a lack of something, like something is missing, sometimes. But that is the ‘fun’ of depression, it tricks you into thinking you’ll always feel like shit.

I’m rambling and none of this is a revelation to anyone I’m sure.

But the idea of not looking for happiness in the same place I lost it is new to me. I keep doing the same things hoping something will change – isn’t that the saying about insanity? Anyway, that is not to say that everything in my life needs to change. But there are things we all can do to make us happier. Or at least attempt to be so.

  • Stop hanging around with people who treat you badly. I’ve done this already, for the most part. It never hurts to remind yourself though.
  • Stop hanging around negative people. Or people who make you negative. We’re not always shiny but constantly negative people do drag you down.
  • Stop hanging around people you don’t actually like. I have a bad habit of doing this. I still do it now. I think it’s because I keep hoping something will click and I’ll actually like the person. Instead I’m just insincere and annoyed. How fun!
  • Stop hanging around people who don’t like you back. Also true. You can’t make someone like or love you. You just can’t. And staying around them is tantamount to torture. This one is also, not coincidentally, the hardest one to actually DO.
  • Go outside more. Yes, even when it’s cold. Dress warmly. Especially when the sun is shining. It helps the mood so, so much.
  • ACTUALLY go to the gym. No, not every day. Just some days. Exercise and moving and other people are good.
  • Talk to strangers. When it’s appropriate. No, this one may be the hardest. I need to learn to talk to people. Like, actually talk, converse, make verbal contact. I hate it. A lot. But it’s necessary.
  • Read more! I love reading. Why don’t I do this more? Because I waste SO MUCH TIME on the internet. Must unplug more.
  • Take yourself out on dates. Movies, dinner, long walks in Chapters. Just do it.
  • Socialize. More. Ugh. Trying. Sort of successful. You can’t socialize more if no one invites you anywhere.
  • Dress for success. Not all the time, but maybe I can look a little snappier even when I’m not at work. I KNOW. The idea blows me away too. But when you look good you feel good.

Do keep in mind that these are NOT resolutions. Not even the slightest bit because the minute I say I’m definitely going to do all the things, I set myself up to fail. But having a list of things that are the opposite of where I lost my happiness couldn’t hurt right? Sitting at home reading Metafilter and Reddit all day certainly isn’t going to improve things. New friends and loves are NOT going to come knocking on my door. I will not learn to be content with a life of singledom, of being alone, if I don’t learn to enjoy it.

Somewhat unrelatedly, read parts III and IV, of the Assassin by Eric Desmarais. I have not yet had a chance but I have faith that they are good.

On a similar note, stay tuned for my short story “The Procedure”.