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?

2 thoughts on “Identity Politics”

  1. Your thoughts in this are surely my thoughts too. Its not an excuse for us Aboriginals when asked the question “what is your take on your communities and substance abuse?” I mean just last summer alone, 3 cousins gone due to a forceful impact of substances. We all have demons. I wish there were a support group. I too have had my share of spiraling deeper and deeper into booze, as much as I still drink its a concious decision that I did on my own to not get drunk anymore. Maybe it only takes one person to bring you down but the main person who will dilute the matter is and always will be, yourself. P.s. I love you more than words.

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