by Gary E. Martin
"Honouring the Spirit of Wisdom and Guidance"
In August 2008, the Ontario Victim Services Secretariat launched the Aboriginal Victims Support Grant Program, which provides funding for community-based projects that help First Nations, Inuit and Métis victims of crime. The program supports victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, historical abuse and hate crimes in ways that respect Aboriginal cultures and languages. The following Testimonial was written by Gary Martin of Timmins, Ontario, whose community received an Aboriginal Victims Support Grant.
I was born in Cochrane, Ontario and I am a member of the Moose Cree First Nation. In the early part of my life, I was raised in a small village along the Ontario Northland Railway, Moose River Crossing, which is approximately an hour south of Moosonee. My father worked on the railroad and my mother was a stay-at-home mom raising 14 children. I have seven sisters and six brothers. Moose River had a population of approximately 100 people. I had much pleasure growing up in the north, with plenty of things to do like fishing, hunting and swimming, which are still an important part of my life, as they give me a sense of identity.
Most of the people residing in Moose River either worked for the railway or lived off the land, as hunters and trappers, to support their families. My grandparents were dependent on the land for their food and livelihood. They hunted, fished and trapped animals such as beaver, moose and geese. My mother also contributed to the household by sewing moccasins, mitts and other types of clothing from moose hide. Beaver pelts and other furs were sold to Northern Stores, formerly known as the Hudson's Bay Company. Moose River was a summer gathering place for a lot of our people. This is where freight, carrying food and supplies, were dropped off and where some children attended a one-room school.
Moose River was a very happy place to live during this time. Unfortunately, at times, there were traumatic events that affected young people, such as me, like when the community was introduced to alcohol. During this time of my life, I didn't understand what alcohol was. I did not understand what it did to a person's mind or the things it made them do. I never could understand why individuals had children, if they were going to raise them in an alcohol filled environment. All I knew was that I didn't like it, nor did I enjoy the level of violence my parents and extended family exhibited. At that time, I never knew anything about residential school and its impact on our people and, most importantly, the impact it had on my father. I later found out, after my father had taken his own life, that he had experienced all forms of abuse while attending the residential school in Pelican Falls, Ontario.
As I grew older, I made a promise to myself that, if I ever had children, I would not expose them to violence or alcohol. I decided that I did not want my children to feel what I felt. I was scared, alone, insecure and wanted so much to be anywhere but home. As a single father, I went through my own struggles while raising my children. Alcoholism was one of them. Not realizing that these traumatic events growing up were keeping me from keeping this promise I had made to myself. This promise was difficult most times. However, my need to be able to understand what was going in this situation told me to keep going or seek other means to find myself.
I left Timmins to move away from my family and to find myself. It wasn't until about twenty years ago that I started my healing journey. I discovered my culture and my spirituality. It was then, through teachings, ceremonies, a residential treatment program and counselling, that I gained a lot of insight as to how my identity and childhood were taken from me. During this time, the young boy who was raised in an environment of violence made some life altering changes. There were many good memories. However, as a child who grew up around alcoholism and violence; this was all I could remember: the swearing, the drinking and the physical fights between my parents.
As a man today, I learned from these experiences that I cannot change what has happened and that I can only make the necessary changes to make a good life for myself and my family. As I moved forward, I took these life experiences and made small steps to heal from the pain and anguish I carried for so many years. It was time to let it go. Today, I forgive my parents, as this was the best they could do with the tools that they had.
My personal life experiences have drawn me to help others that are struggling with the same issues. Many of our people suffer from multi-generational impacts of the residential school legacy. As a helper in my community, I continuously advocate for people who suffer from trauma. I have been advocating for a program in our area to address violence. Unfortunately, we still do not have such a program.
It was through the spirit of a young girl and a grandmother that it came to me: a vision that didn't necessarily have all the answers. It gave me a fairly good idea what it was all about and I what I had to do for this to become a reality. I sought spiritual guidance and wisdom from our elders to interpret this dream. The dream was about a young girl walking, holding hands with her grandmother and talking about what was missing in her life and what she needed to develop into a strong, healthy aboriginal woman. The surroundings in this dream were in the bush, with a dwelling that looked much like a teepee. The grandmother spirit was her guide and, through this medium, they came to me with a message.
I shared this dream with community partners and discussed the need to help our women and families. Not long after sharing my dream, a call for proposals from the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General was announced to address violence against women. The same group of individuals who realized the need came together to start the process. The proposal just seemed to come together. It was women who came to me in this dream and it was women who gave me direction - the elders, the children and the spirit helpers.
This initiative became a reality. It was a very moving and spiritual journey, not only for me, but also for those children yet to come. It is our hope to have this in operation by June of this year to make sure they have a place that is safe and free of any type of violence, so they too can begin their healing journey. I realize this isn't going to happen overnight. But, through this dream, people in the spirit world have come back for a short visit to provide our people direction for what is missing and a place where the healing can begin.
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