Mama, I am SO Sorry!


I am awake, I am alive, and this morning I remain in awe of the clarity I receive from pondering questions on long road trips. The answers never fail to arrive although they are rarely what I thought they would be. Yesterday’s clarity was definitely not anything I saw coming but before I explain, I have to say one very important thing …

“Mom, I am so incredibly sorry!”

So back story …

I was travelling to Chapleau yesterday and since I am totally prepared for today’s event, I was instead pondering a last minute talk I have been asked to give on Friday. Again, it is to a diverse audience, an agency with diverse staff (Indigenous and non) and the misunderstandings that result.

I was pondering what I would say, how there are differences I see often play out between those of Indigenous descent and those raised with Euro-Canadian views and values.

One such difference I see come up often is the difference in concern between “I” and “we”. Whereas Euro values have an individual focused on what they need and what they can acquire and the status they can attain, many Indigenous nations instead focus on the other, the next, the student, the next 7 generations and so on.

This becomes evident in those that carry teachings. Someone tainted by colonialism (and truth be told, all Indigenous have, to varying degrees), brags of his knowledge, his sacred items, of just how much he can “teach”.

However, an Indigenous man or woman who has held on to our world views and values would never want the focus on them. Instead they focus on what the student needs, helping those who have asked for help to find the answers on their own.

This thought process lead me to the grammatical English rules of “teach” and “learn” and the revelation that “teach” is all about the teacher and “learn” is all about the receiver.

And that is when it hit me. I had to pull over to let tears fall.

She never said “teach”.

My Mother never used the word “teach”.

She would ask what we learned at school on any given day. She didn’t mean math or history. She was asking what we learned about people, relationships, or ourselves. And she would often say, “Go talk to (whomever). They will learn you”.

It breaks my heart to know that thanks to a western education, I corrected by own Mom, a woman trying to use the language of another culture, one that didn’t fit her values.

And I corrected her!!

My Mom, like so many I know, was focused on the student. There wasn’t an egotistical bone in her body and she wasn’t about to let some grammar rule change who she was.

I sat there yesterday on the side of the road, hating on an education system that had me looking down on my own Mother. Education has long been weaponized to split Indigenous families and I see now that little has changed. Today, kids will go to school and they won’t receive aid to help understand their parents challenges whether they be lack of education, unemployment, addiction, or so many other things Indigenous parent’s have been burdened with by a country born of white supremacy.

Today, they will feel shame and embarrassment over who their parents are and the wedge will begin to separate child from parent as assimilation whispers, “Join us”.

I was left thinking that any education that divides families must be condemned and abandoned.

And I was left knowing that my Mom was so multi-faceted, so amazingly authentic, so beautifully complicated that 14 years after her passing, I am still realizing just how beautiful she truly was. As I shed colonial interpretations, restrictions and judgments, her essence, beauty and smile just grow even more memorable. She isn’t fading in time. Rather it just took this long for me to shed enough blinders to finally truly see her.

The journey continues.

If you are so lucky, go hug your Mom or Dad today my friend. Don’t condemn what they say or do. Ask instead “why”. Ask instead “who taught them that?”

And if you have a young child, ask them what they learned today. Instruct them to tell you if ever they hear something that distances them from you and when it happens, armour up. Prepare to do battle against anything or anyone that would split up your family.

The journey does continue and I so love that we get to travel together. Thank you for accepting every little language quirk I use. Thank you for letting me speak my language, even when I am using English.


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